Foretaste Fever 

Belly up to new Richmond restaurants opening in 2010.

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They're coming fast, furious and best of all, affordable. Among the first new restaurants to open here will be the Urban Farmhouse at 1217 E. Cary St. The former retail space has been redesigned in the tradition of a French farmhouse with whitewashed woods, recycled glass tiles, soft seating, rustic tables and crate-loads of fresh produce to support the open kitchen and farmers' market selection of groceries.

Owner Kathleen Richardson, who gained national experience marketing Panera and Starbucks, is contagiously enthusiastic about the Urban Farmhouse brand, its service standard, and mission to encourage locally-sourced eating in a relaxed but attentive environment. She's hiring “people who are interested in organics, healthy lifestyles, people who have worked in gardening or cooking capacities and have a real passion for that,” she says. “I consider myself a foodie; I've been in the business a long time. If you're eating healthier and being active, you'll feel better and be better situated to face your life.”

To that end, she'll offer simple foods prepared to order, with gluten-free selections and other healthy options. The restaurant will open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and groceries daily. Look for an early January debut, with regional offshoots when this one gets off the ground.

Also opening this week, the much-anticipated Bonvenu at 2915 W. Cary St. is ready for its close-up. Owners Susan Doyle and her sister Anne Stewart have transformed the space from its days as the Track into a bright, contemporary cafAc.

Another new business, “the anti-Fan bar, with no popped collars” McCormack's Whiskey Grill & Smokehouse, at 204 N. Robinson St. should be open in late January. Owner Mac McCormack, whose punk-rock Irish pub in Shockoe Bottom has earned its 12-year survival through loyal customers and his charismatic leadership, installed the cedar walls himself. “It's very man-happy, like a lodge, and it's actually very beautiful it smells so fresh,” McCormack says of the 55-seat space.

He'll be working with former Buckhead's chef Thor Levesque — a guy he met in a street fight years ago — turning out barbecue and “low-brow comfort foods,” even funnel cakes with a tray of toppings for dessert. The bar will be stocked with 25-year old bourbon, 500 types of whiskey and aged cognacs, but it won't have a happy hour, and thus no frat-boy behavior. A soundtrack of pre-1975 country, blues and rockabilly will tie into the menu and the not-like-other-Robinson-Street-bars approach. McCormack's gets bonus points for serving food until 2 a.m.

Bellytimber Tavern, from the partners at Mezzanine in Carytown, is set to open Super Bowl weekend, if possible, in the former Border restaurant at 1501 W. Main St. Co-owner Patrick Stamper says they've gutted the circa-1874 building down to the joists, added new windows “to get air and light into that cave.” New partner Mike Marunde, a drummer and carpenter, is providing the sweat equity during the build-out. 

Bellytimber is a Victorian term for food, and this 80-seat place will have plenty, including thin-crust pizzas, a raw bar and house-roasted, hand-cut meats for sandwiches. The bar is the Fan's largest at 37 1/2 feet, and Stamper will work it with partner Randy O'Dell. “We miss crazy, big-volume bartending when it's three-deep, slinging as fast as you can,” Stamper says of their nine years at the Border. They'll be open every day for lunch, dinner and bar hours with weekend brunch.

From Brian Munford, owner of the 12-year success story that is Patina Grill in Short Pump, comes Parkside CafAc,  due to open in late winter at 3514 Forest Hill Ave. The neighborhood cafe will be “heavy on the family thing,” Munford says, serving lunch and dinner daily and weekend brunch. South of the border and Asian influences will spice up the menu, herbs will come from the adjacent garden patch, and the warm and woodsy, 40-seat haven is being crafted of cypress and bamboo.

A taste of the Greek Festival comes to Carytown when Basili Tsimbos opens Basili's Greek Restaurant and Carry-out at 3107 W. Cary St. in the next few weeks. He'll serve moussaka, pasticcio, pork, chicken, beef and lamb souvlakia, gyros, salads and nine traditional pastries in the 30-seat cafe.

Nearby, the long-awaited Secco wine bar, from the folks at River City Cellars at 2931 W. Cary St., is getting closer to completion. Winter menu sampling and details about the space are online via the wine shop's blog on rivercitycellars.com. This one has a ton of foodie interest already.

Also getting ready to open, the Grill at Patterson and Libbie, a casual neighborhood spot; Sprout Market & CafAc, a local-foods shop with casual seating at 1 N. Morris St.; Empress, light fare in the former Enoteca Sogno space; Sakura Sushi & Steak, near Virginia Commonwealth University at 711 N. Lombardy; Pie, diagonally across from CenterStage downtown (its sister business is open in the Fan.) There are others, too, which we'll feature in this space in the next few weeks.

Two restaurants that won't be coming, despite plans and announcements:  Currant, a cafe in Rocketts Landing that fell through when the tenant filed for bankruptcy last month; and Outer Banks Seafood, not coming to Stony Point Fashion Park as reported elsewhere. Mall officials say that deal never got done. The seafood business might resurface elsewhere in town.

Diets be damned; this town is cooking with renewed energy once again.

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