Food Review: With a Packed Brunch, District 5 Brings Saturday Night to Sunday Morning 

click to enlarge District 5 is routinely packed on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Scott Elmquist

District 5 is routinely packed on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

No matter what kind of night precedes your arrival, brunch is supposed to make it all better.

Come Sunday, and increasingly Saturday, the brunch-industrial complex rumbles to life in Richmond with knots of people gathering at Millie’s Diner, the Black Sheep or Heritage, intent on sustenance and socializing.

David Shaftel in The New York Times deemed brunch “a twice-weekly symbol of our culture’s increasing desire to reject adulthood. It’s about throwing out not only the established schedule but also the social conventions of our parents’ generation.”

To that, I would add all-encompassing entertainment. For local proof, look no further than District 5, the latest offering from Hani Atallah, owner of Southern Railway Taphouse and Off the Hookah.

On a recent Sunday, I bypass a full patio only to walk into a scene lively enough to qualify for Saturday night status, albeit in broad daylight. One of the largest bars in the city has not a single unoccupied stool and the only available table is a two top all the way in the back.

A DJ is stationed at the front by the hostess stand and he’s pumping club beats — a booming “Shake It Off” remix greets me — as if it’s 12 hours earlier. Big screens lining the walls show every imaginable football game.

The breakfast buffet ($15) attracts a line of eager diners with its array of typical suspects executed solidly: an omelet station, cheddar grits, corned beef hash, chicken alfredo, sausage gravy biscuits, french toast strada, fruit, bagels, bacon and sausage, and desserts.

Playing the role of a centerpiece on most tables is a bottle ($12) or magnum ($20) of J. Roget sparkling wine, the better to fashion personalized mimosas or poinsettias tableside. Servers scurry about, dodging buffet hounds and food runners.

It’s brunch madness.
Oddly enough, despite brunch lore suggesting that restaurantst usually rely on the B team in the kitchen and a week’s worth of leftovers, District 5’s brunch is also the tastiest meal of the three I experience at the new spot, named after the location’s City Council district.

Make no mistake, District 5 announces itself as a beer destination with 45 varieties on tap and another 30 in bottles. Nineteen of those are Virginia-brewed. Compare that with the wine list, where you won’t find a single Virginia offering.

Both my dinner visits deliver more misses than hits. Dried-out half-pint pork shanks ($8) retain none of the falling-off-the-bone goodness of braising, and a Southern chicken biscuit ($10) involves no biscuit but instead, a roll, and seared ahi tuna ($10) tastes like a dockside fish market smells on a hot summer day.

Instead of the gooey, drippy sandwich I hope for, the big steak sandwich ($12) arrives with a wedge of brie — not melted — atop grilled sirloin in a hero roll. If the kitchen is going for a deconstructed steak sub, this isn’t it. Only andouille sausage saves jambalaya pasta ($13), a generous but bland take on a seminal Creole dish that sorely misses its rice. A few more shrimp wouldn’t hurt, either.

Better in every way is a Mobjack pizza ($11), heavy with chorizo, shrimp, roasted garlic and fontina sauce, two other kinds of cheese and spicy Mobjack seasoning, Virginia’s take on Old Bay. Occupying an entire section of the menu, the gourmet grilled cheese trend is well served by the homey, three-state grilled cheese ($7), layering Wisconsin white sharp cheddar, New York mild cheddar and California yellow sharp on thick-sliced artisan bread.

Service in the huge space must be a challenge, but the young staff could use some lessons in basic hospitality and service. When a customer leaves all but one tiny piece of sliced tuna uneaten, clearly something is amiss. Our server doesn’t flinch, just whisks the plate away. After ordering the Little Italy pizza, what shows up is the Mobjack, and when I point out the error, she makes no attempt to right the wrong. Instead, she shrugs.

When I arrive at brunch, I marvel to our server about the packed midday scene reverberating in the space. Wearily, she tells me it’s been like this since they opened at 10 a.m.

Bring on the magnums and revel in the brunch party. Who knew so many Richmonders like a side of electronica with their eggs? S

District 5
1911 W. Main St.
658-1113
Mondays-Fridays 3 p.m.-2 a.m.;
Saturdays 10 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sundays 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
district5rva.com

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