Side Dish 

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No Sour Grapes: Tlusty Laughs It Off

Matthew Tlusty, once the lauded chef of Limani who was later criticized for the ill-fated Duro in Carytown, is trying something different: a humor store where both restaurants used to be.

"I'm a big practical joker," he says, still cracking up about the time he hired a stripper to come in for a job interview at a friend's brewery or when he rigged his buddy's office computer with X-rated materials.

So he's turning the space at 3125 W. Cary St. into LOL — instant-message code for "laugh out loud" — and will offer comedians' DVDs and vinyl, T-shirts and stickers, Bad Taste Bears and a range of gag items from classic comics to potty humor housed in the former restaurant's former ladies' room.

"This is something I am passionate about," Tlusty says. "I want to do for humor what Plan 9 does here for music."

Tlusty continues to move ahead with his Jack's Burgers & Fries, set to open at the former Kitchen Table in Shockoe Bottom by December. But he says that the food business gets harder as more chain eateries come to the suburbs and that most local chefs share his complaint.

"I've been real happy doing what I'm doing," he says, "but when it comes down to it, I'm sick and tired of people swarming these big franchise restaurants when they could be patronizing the small businesses that live or die by the numbers." It's a common refrain, softened by Tlusty's belly laugh and his desire to bring more humor to a place that really needs it — Richmond.

Trash-Talking Food Writer Signs On

Kendra Bailey Morris, a former restaurant critic for Style Weekly, is surprised by the success of her new cookbook, "White Trash Gatherings: From-Scratch Cooking for Down-Home Entertaining," which sold out its first press run and is in its second printing.

She'll autograph the cookbook — which also includes craft ideas, folk remedies and country wisdom — at Book People Oct. 28 and at Chop Suey Books Nov. 11. Expect to grab some vittles at the signings, but don't expect the gorgeous Morris to fit the white-trash stereotype, no matter how much fatback she can sling into a family recipe.

Food for Thought

Positive Vibe Café kicks off a new feature, First Sunday Guest Chef night, starting with John Maxwell Nov. 5. He'll prepare a specialty menu and some of the café's regular favorites. Tummy Tuesdays returns Halloween night, when local belly dancers shake things up during dinner.

"Anything to bring in all the Richmonders who haven't been to the Vibe yet," says owner Garth Larcen, who created the café to help people with disabilities learn how to work in the food-service industry.

The March of Dimes 16th Annual Richmond

Signature Chefs Auction, one of the city's best food events, returns to the Sheraton Richmond West Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. Participating restaurants and caterers include Catering by Jill, Comfort, Cous Cous, Dining Room at The Berkeley Hotel, TJ's, Legend, Old City Bar, Pescados, Mise En Place, Positive Vibe, Roslyn Retreat Center, Shula's, Sin é and The Flying Chef, all of whom will compete to create the best gourmet sandwich. Tickets to the black-tie-optional event are $125. Call 968-4120 for information. S

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