Forget the usual restaurant death watch that many of us have come to loathe. In 2013 there were more openings than closings, more festivals and benefits, more wine and beer dinners, and apparently more customers lapping it all up. Whether food was elitist or egalitarian, it brought powerful flavors to most prices, although some diners confess they spent large chunks of pay just to stay current on the restaurant scene. Here are some highlights:
Neighborhood character: Opening just under the wire in 2013 is Jackson Ward charmer Lucy's. The handcrafted project of Jason and Amanda Lucy served its first lunches Friday. The couple bought and rebuilt a former Chinese food shop using wood from an oak tree on Monrovia Farm, a fourth-generation business in Westmoreland County run by Amanda's family. Lucy's menu focuses on the farm's black Angus beef, all cuts, with changing specials in a style they're calling classic, simple and laid-back. Vegetarians aren't forgotten, and there's a balance of staples and specials aimed at keeping regulars' interest. The space has 40 seats, a long bar, rustic textures and garden boxes on the wall near the front windows. Booths are named for the family and friends who helped the 15-month project open just before the new year. 562-1444.
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New this year: Nearly 80 independent restaurants opened or expanded in a range of styles and locations. Here is a partial list by cuisine:
Barbecue: Deep Run Roadhouse, Q Barbeque, Bigs BBQ, Beagle's BBQ.
Gastropubs: Savory Grain, the Pig and Pearl, American Tap Room, Southern Railway Taphouse, Cask Café & Market, Broad and Thirst, Hurley's Tavern. Also breweries Strangeways, Isley Brewing Co., Lickinghole Creek and Blue Bee Cider.
Vegetarian: Green Leaf, Café Verde.
French: Max's on Broad, Divine (Chester).
Italian: Veranda Ristorante, Pesce & Vino Ristorante Italiano, Mamma Felicia's Italian Ristorante and Pizzeria.
Moroccan: Riad Moroccan Grill.
Reopened and revamped: Carena's Jamaican Grille, TaZa Coffee n' Crème.
Closings: Because it's Richmond, there's always an outcry when a once-solid thing melts away. Perly's downtown, a 50-year power bastion for eggs and lunchmeat, did a sudden fold-up in September. It's now leased to a new operator, so stay tuned. Skilligalee, the nautical anachronism on Glenside Drive, probably made more money selling off its artifacts than its food in its final months after a 43-year run. Osaka Sushi & Steak, one of the first independent players in Short Pump, sold and closed (River Road remains open). Sushi at the Carytown café Moshi Moshi ended after five years in business. Racine, somehow off the path even on Robinson Street in the Fan, slipped away (now Pizza 304), as did the Midlothian locations of Emilio's and Awful Arthur's. Feathernesters retail shop closed its tearoom on Lakeside, and Padow's Hams and Deli left Willow Lawn. Anthony & George's Steakhouse serves its last meal this month to make way for Amtrak parking. A fire last week at hot dog stand the Boardwalk forces its owners to decide what's next for the 20-year forerunner to food trucks on Henderson Road. Bogart's in the Fan closes Dec. 31.
Some restaurants had surprisingly short runs. Johnson's Southern Comfort in Church Hill (now a market) took longer to build than to operate. Others were Eat Oregon Hill (a rebrand from Pescado's China Street), Maximo's, Nuevo Mexico downtown, Boo's Brown Bag (now Chow House), Mediterranean Bistro and Luckie's Bar and Grill at the same Fan corner spot, both closed. Dixie Chicken in Westover Hills (now Beagle's BBQ), Major Willy Mayo's stopped serving, and downtown neighbors A2 and Les Crepes shuttered within months, soon to sell Indian food and doughnuts. Former hot spot Bonvenu closed (now Curry Craft); Estes Bar.B. 'Que returned to food truck only; Coriander Café and the Luncheonette didn't open as scheduled. Crossroads Coffee made way for a new Lamplighter on Morris Street.
Re-brand redux: Lucky Buddha became Society, Avalon is now Social52 and Mulligan's changed owners and is Postbellum. Cous Cous became the Well and closed, Republic is now the Pig and Pearl, deLux re-branded as Pearl Raw Bar, Café Diem is Viceroy, and Water Grill got a name change to Water Coastal Kitchen. The Phoenician switched to Al Dente and closed for the holidays. Athens Tavern merged with Greek Grill Café. Sette became 23rd and Main Kitchen & Taproom.
Multiple choice: Success led to siblings at a number of local businesses. The Daily in Carytown added to Richmond Restaurant Group's holdings. Pasture opened a Charlottesville branch, as did Pearl's Cupcakes. Max's on Broad sprang from Tarrant's Cafe. Dinamo added to the Mamma 'Zu family. Postbellum grew from its Station 2 and Baja Bean roots. Viceroy joined its half-siblings Caliente and Bandito's. Estilo made a second Toast. Also opening with connections in 2013 was Casa Del Barco (Boathouse) Southern Railway (Off the Hookah), Riad (Plaza Azteka), En Su Boca (Bellytimber Tavern) and Portrait House (New York Deli, Don't Look Back). New locations opened for Lamplighter Coffee, Big's BBQ, Urban Farmhouse (Midlothian and Church Hill), Suzanne's at the John Marshall Hotel, F. W. Sullivan's Canalside; Q Barbeque, Burger Bach (Short Pump). Many of these are expecting again in 2014.
Truck race: Many local restaurants added carts, while some trucks got bricks and mortar: Boka Kantina, the Lair and Café Verde. Notable new food trucks include: Cristina's Cart, Popping Mealies, Grate Pizza, the Meatball Company and Slideways Mobile Bistro.
Gastropubs to the 'burbs: Brew and the Bucket Trade in Chesterfield.
Popular pop-ups: Among many special events this year, a few big wins were the Tiki takeover at Ipanema Cafe, Toki Underground ramen benefit at Rappahannock, Ideas in Food dinner at Heritage and Savor for the Hospital Hospitality House, Broad Appetit, and festivals as wide-ranging as Armenian, French, pumpkin, bacon, cider and beer.
Well prepared: Yellow Umbrella moved to larger quarters in Westhampton and added meats, fine comestibles and prepared foods. Specialty grocers and caterers opened in several parts of town — most notably Mosaic, which added a showroom and catering kitchen on Cutshaw Avenue.
Benevolent chefs: One of the most heartwarming aspects of the food scene is the camaraderie that exists among chefs (at least a certain subset), and the willingness with which they give time, money, food, effort and support to many community causes. Benefits for Sub Rosa Wood-Fired Bakery after a fire damaged its building in April were instantaneous and successful, and the bakery should reopen any day now.
One of the year's best food benefits was Folk Feast, a first-time precursor to the Richmond Folk Festival and the brainchild of corporate chef Thomas Arrington. He pulled together a dozen of downtown's best chefs for a tented buffet with seafood pot pie, beef cheeks, crispy pig-head torchon, smoked porchetta toast, goat meatballs, brisket chili, catfish nuggets and rum cake, washed down with a signature Folk Fest beer and wine on tap.
Some chefs could reel off dozens of charity events they helped feed in sublime fashion, specifically Jason Alley, Randall Doetzer, Joe Sparatta, Tim Bereika, Michael Braune, Owen Lane, Lee Gregory, Dylan Fultineer, Ed Vasaio and Walter Bundy. Richmond Restaurant Week continued its twice-a-year mission with new participants, giving FeedMore the exposure it needs to help solve the area's hunger problem. S
Next week, we'll have a preview of new restaurants opening in 2014.