Of all the Richmond chefs who get excited about food, one of the most obsessed is John Maher (pronounced May-er), who turns 30 next week and unveils his pop-up restaurant Spoon in May. "I'm extremely excited about this town right now," he says. "I think it's really on the verge of greatness as a food town — the right people, the right mindset."
Maher, who was born in Powhatan, left the area for culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, which connected him to a stint at the French Laundry, Thomas Keller's game-changing California bastion of seasonal cuisine.
It was a colleague there, chef Ryan Fancher, who helped Maher move ahead at other California restaurants. Fancher "taught me an incredible amount," Maher says. "I like who he is and his style." Returning home, Maher says, "If you taste my food, you can understand my past." He'll show his emphasis on technique and classic flavors with a five-course dinner at the temporary restaurant Spoon on May 20 from 6-11 p.m., set up downtown at Pasture.
Maher realized quickly that his plans for an $80 tariff, plus beverages, tax and tip, might be off-putting for an untried young chef. So tickets are now $70. Cocktails by Mattias Hagglund of Comfort and wines are additional. "I want to show what I can do," Maher says of this first in a series of trials that could lead to his own restaurant. "As events go by I'll get a little more avant-garde with color and textures and plating — to show what food is and what food can be." For information see spoonrva.com.\
What you'll be drinking: In one of the best-attended beer tastings in recent memory, the folks at Brown Distributing showed that smaller, local brews are gaining big momentum. Industry buyers came April 2 to taste dozens of beverages, ranging from hard ciders to ales, including new-to-the-scene Midnight Brewing of Goochland. Its Rockville Red and New Beginning are small-batch, unfiltered products from owner Trae Cairns. Nine more Virginia brewers are about to debut products, and another 28 are on the Brown list and available in stores and bars. The company's Taste the Local promotion is taking off as beer buyers recognize customer interest and the economic benefits and bragging rights that follow.
Dinner at the Inn: Chef Travis Brust presents a 75th-anniversary gala dinner at the Williamsburg Inn on April 14, including a champagne reception and a menu of guest favorites through the years. The event showcases the inn's history — it was built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1937 and has served as host to royalty, celebrities and heads of state ever since. Tickets are $75 and paired wines are priced separately. The reception is at 6 p.m. and dinner is served in the Regency Room at 7:15. For reservations call 757-229-2141.
Don't Look Back: New spot for Mexican in Carytown with Nate Gutierrez making tacos and other favorites. Enclosed back patio, bar, open daily 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. daily. 2929 W. Cary St. 353-8226. Dontlookbackrva.com.
Tio Pablo: Tamales, tacos and tequila in small, mural-covered spot from owner of Millie's and LuLu's. Lunch, dinner and bar. 1703 E. Franklin St. 643-4828.
2113: Colorful new lounge for weekday lunch, dinner, bar and nightlife Monday-Saturday; seafood, snacks, salads, entrees, cocktails. 2113 E. Main St. 343-2113. 2113main.com.
Mint New Casual Cuisine: Southern-inflected seasonal fare, sandwiches and salads, peanut soup, fried chicken and waffles, chops, steaks, fish, pasta, sweets. Lunch weekdays, brunch weekends, dinner and bar nightly. 2501 W. Main St. 359-9690. Mintrichmond.com.
Hawk's BBQ: Bologna burgers, fried lake trout, burgers and fish sandwiches, desserts for take-out. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. 10449 Midlothian Turnpike. 330-2966.