FOOD REVIEW: The Expanded Beet Cafe From Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market is a Hit 

click to enlarge You can order a Drunken Sailor made with pastrami, muenster, and sautéed peppers and onions at Ellwood Thompson’s new Create Bar and then take it over to the Beet to enjoy with a glass of beer or wine.

Scott Elmquist

You can order a Drunken Sailor made with pastrami, muenster, and sautéed peppers and onions at Ellwood Thompson’s new Create Bar and then take it over to the Beet to enjoy with a glass of beer or wine.

Wine shops become wine bars and food carts give up wheels for brick-and-mortar spaces. So is anyone really surprised when a natural foods grocery store carves out a cafe and bar?

Colorfully decorated and sun-filled during the day, Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market’s new space, the Beet, gets an artistic and local boost from Chris Milk’s mural and Tom Brickman’s striking patchwork wall of wood reclaimed from the old Coca-Cola bottling plant in Scott’s Addition.

The space doubles as a community room used for classes, and it can be rented for other events. I dig everything about the space except for the metal chairs and stools, which are uncomfortably cold this time of year.

Unlike a typical eatery, the Beet has the advantage of sitting in a diverse market, which means that if you don’t care to order from the Create Bar’s made-to-order counter adjacent to the cafe, you can mosey over to the hot food bar in the back of the store or pick up nigiri from the sushi case. Between the bakery counter and cookie station —both products made in-house — dessert choices alone can be dizzying. A friend informs me that he sometimes avoids the market solely because the number of options can cause paralysis.

Not for me. On a dreary Sunday morning, I dive into a satisfying autumn hash breakfast bowl ($6.99), bolstered by a hash of crisp Brussels sprouts, onions, sweet potatoes, kale, avocado and grape tomatoes under an oozing pasture-raised egg. I’m inclined to think a person could conquer the world after this sublime breakfast, but you needn’t hash it out to warm up to the Beet’s breakfast offerings. Say good morning with waffles — Belgian or gluten-free — omelets, scrambles and breakfast sandwiches or create your own combo.

Sandwiches span the spectrum of eaters, from the Drunken Sailor ($7.99), thick with black Angus pastrami, to the Ellwood’s veggie burger ($6.99) composed of house-made organic quinoa. But my go-to is the baby bleu ($7.99) delivered on house-made ciabatta with an appealingly chewy crust. Fair warning though, make no date plans for afterward because the turkey sandwich boasts a bonanza of red onion, garlic aioli and stinky cheese that’ll leave you with less-than-kissable breath.

It’s not breaking any new ground, but the classic Cary flatbread ($6.99) covered in marinara, garlic aioli, mozzarella and bacon satisfies a pizza craving in a reasonably sized portion.

But let’s be real here, it wouldn’t be much of a cafe without alcohol, so the Beet accommodates by opening the bar from Thursday to Sunday, serving local beer ($4-$6) and wine ($4-$6, bottles $24.99-$29.99), with happy hour from 4-7 p.m. I’m impressed that local libations extend beyond the beer mug to the wine glass, with both the house red and white from Virginia. You can also buy a bottle from the store’s wine section and enjoy it without a corkage fee. On my Friday evening visit, I discover live music playing and the Beet lively with dining music lovers.

Like Marcel Proust and his madeleine, I revisit childhood with an oversized, dark chocolate-iced gingerbread cookie ($2.49), a throwback to my mother’s chocolate-frosted gingerbread, a combination I only learned in adulthood is far from commonplace. Worth noting is that it’s just one of many gluten-free baked goods.

A good part of the appeal is friendly, fast service. Order at the Create Bar and it’s ready in minutes or you can load up a plate at the hot bar ($8.99/pound) and you’re eating before a restaurant kitchen might deliver your appetizer. It’s not one-stop shopping, though, because you’ll need to pay for your beer or wine at the bar when you order it, so you may end up at a few registers before you’re able to dig in.

Three visits have upended that complaint about the abundance of choice. Sorry, friend, but Richmond eaters can never have too many locally sourced meal options. S

The Beet
Mondays-Fridays 7 a.m.-10 a.m., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturdays 7-11 a.m.; Sunday 7 a.m.-2 p.m.; bar open Thursdays and Fridays 4-9:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays noon- 8:30 p.m.
4 N. Thompson St.
359-7525
ellwoodthompsons.com

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