Moving is difficult, especially for a restaurant. You must reconfigure your kitchen equipment into different nooks and crannies. You must find your rhythm with your staff in new surroundings. Most importantly, you must convince your patrons to visit you in your new space.
821 Cafe's shift certainly faced some of these challenges, save one: coercion of patrons. The restaurant moved right next door. The old space is being used by Ed Vasaio of Mamma 'Zu; I heard there could be some coffee and pastries popping out of there in the very near future. The new cafe next door is a bit larger than the old digs, and has a little more light, cleaner hardwood floors and bigger bathrooms. Visiting the sparkly new home, I hope for a culinary upgrade as well. I find a conflicted menu.
A 1-pound burger sandwiched between two grilled cheeses sounds interesting — at least to my dining companion; I fence sit. Served with cheese fries, the burger has so much filler it could pass as an extremely dry meatloaf. The grilled cheeses are laden with grease and mashed flat. The combination is, to me, horrid. Vegan chorizo nachos (a special) are plasticlike and sweet. The vegan chorizo just doesn't pack the punch you'd expect from spicy faux sausage; instead piquancy is replaced by a sweetness.
The hummus platter ($8) has a fantastic rendition of mashed chickpeas teeming with tahini. Unfortunately the vegetables served with the platter are browning and losing their viability, but the generous portion of toasted pita makes up for this error to some extent. A piece of pumpkin pie is, at one point according to our disinterested server, “made in-house,” but when served to me is, she reconsiders, “probably from Costco.” A highlight of a curious nature is the peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich ($5). Grilled on a choice of bread (I choose white), the sandwich is captivating. Add honey, and it changes the flavor subtly to give a whole new angle to salty and sweet.
Breakfast is served until 5 p.m., a shot aimed at soaking up a multitude of sins. Stick with biscuits and other bread items here. I run into hiccups when straying from this guideline. Where the biscuit ($1.75), dense and fresh, is a revelation, the omelet of salmon and dilled cream cheese ($8) is hard to stomach. The cream cheese and strong fish battle each other, overwhelming everything. The big fancy ($6) is a large portion of heavily rosemary-ed roasted potatoes and cheese. Vegetables are sparse, but when located are flavorsome. I yearn for more of them in this letdown of a dish.
I'm thrilled to the gills with the beer selection. Bell's is represented well as are unknowns by draft and bottle. I see some Full Sail Session beer and get a bit excited for the easy drinkable lager and black lager. Happy hours are pleasantly busy and the crowd is a combination of trendy gauge-sporting students and a few suit-wearing beer connoisseurs.
If you're content to drink from a well-thought-out beer selection and soak up some Virginia Commonwealth University knowledge, you're definitely in the right place. If you're searching for upgraded food to match the upgraded space and not the same somewhat old in someplace new … uh, the PBR is still 2 bucks. S
821 Cafe ($)
825 W. Cary St.
Tuesday-Sunday 8 a.m.-10 p.m.