Richmond media have dubbed the trio behind Heritage restaurant as a triple threat on the local food scene. Triple treat is more like it: Barkeeper Mattias Hägglund, his manager sister, Emilia Sparatta, and her husband, chef Joe Sparatta, revel in their respective roles, making Heritage one of the best dining experiences I've had in Richmond.
The seasonal bar menu reflects Hägglund's reputation as an accomplished mixologist. Cooler weather calls for cocktails such as stark words ($8), made of Buffalo Trace bourbon, local apple cider, lemon and spice. Inspired by classic drinks, many from the Prohibition era, the improved Holland gin cocktail ($11) — Bols genever, Luxardo maraschino, bitters and absinthe — revisits the times when Holland's sweeter genever was America's gin of choice. For designated drivers, the grown-up-looking teetotaler ($5) of house ginger beer, elder flower and citrus will make you forget it's nonalcoholic.
Honoring national heritage, the wines and beers are domestic. Given the rapid growth of American microbreweries, I appreciate the concise beer menu showcasing local darlings Hardywood Park, Legend, Devil's Backbone and Bold Rock hard cider. The wine list leans toward the West Coast. It shouldn't be taken as an affront to burgeoning Virginia wines, and there are a handful listed, but accepted as a commitment to serve wines that pair with the chef's creations.
After leading the kitchens of well-regarded restaurants (the latest are LuLu's and Pasture), Joe Sparatta finally steps out of the shadows of his employers — and the limelight suits him well. The menu shows creativity and playful confidence with flavors and textures.
A talented chef ensures that each component tastes good individually, and when combined, every forkful delights the senses. Here, the plates are well proportioned as snacks, first courses and entrees. Sharing plates seems to be the best strategy given the variety and the numerous ways your senses will be teased.
Pimento croquettes ($4) turn the humble cheese into a wonder of inner creamy against crunchy outer devoid of grease, and smoked tomato aioli deepens the taste. The smoked potato "butter" is a terrific accent to the gentle flounder ($17), perfectly cooked and savory under a crumb crust. Tiny dollops of lemon sauce perk me up for the next bite.
Heritage's beet salad ($7) is a welcome change from the usual orange vinaigrette and blue cheese combination. This is a flavor party: roasted beets tossed with sour apples, candied pecans, spicy horseradish and arugula. Alas, the beets are too good and sweeter than usual this night, effectively muting the bold flavors. I won't fault the chef or quality produce. It's a winning concept that I'll order again.
Bourbon-barrel-smoked pork belly ($10) is a winner. The tender belly is smoked using leftover bourbon barrels from Hardywood Park's bourbon stout. The accompanying sauce is too sweet on its own, but puréed butternut squash tempers it while tart and crunchy kimchi, rolled up in bok choy, brings beautiful contrast.
Fall vegetable risotto ($14) is satisfyingly creamy yet light, thanks to the kitchen's toasting of the arborio rice to bring out its starch, and folding puréed winter squash into the risotto to add creaminess without butter or cheese. For extra decadence, a soft poached organic egg ($2) can be added.
The desserts are stylish. Chocolate cubes ($6) are mousse sprinkled with ground hazelnut and coffee, alongside tangy bourbon dulce de leche. The cubes are too sweet for my taste, but will please milk-chocolate lovers. We love the crumbled peanut butter cake ($6), which is moist and crispy around the edges, paired with airy peanut mousse quenelles and smoked apple caramel.
The meticulous attention given to dinner puts me on high alert when we return for brunch. Aside freshly squeezed orange juice ($3.50) and Heritage house-blend coffee by Rostov's ($2.25 includes refills), we enjoy the chicken and waffle ($11), which is deliciously gourmet with a cheddar waffle and hot honey, both spicy and served warm. The chicken strips are so crispy the batter shatters upon biting, exposing juicy meat that needs more seasonings.
Pastrami hash ($12) is a rare miss. Each component is good — the pastrami, the fried potatoes with tangy sumac and mild togarashi peppers, the soft poached egg and the hollandaise sauce. But after several bites, the dish tastes too rich and needs some acidity for balance.
Great food and drinks won't mean much if service is subpar. Emilia Sparatta understands that and is a gracious and attentive manager. She and the service staff engage with guests easily, but effortlessly pull away when another table needs tending. I like that when we ask for recommendations, our servers list their favorites with explanations, making our ordering decisions easier. With many menu items I have yet to try, I look forward to becoming a regular. S
1627 W. Main St.
Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.
Brunch: Sunday 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.