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Monday, August 31, 2015

Best Beer Bar Competition

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2015 at 12:04 PM

Mekong has won the Great American Beer Bar competition, a contest sponsored by CraftBeer.com, the last two years running.

And the annual contest is up and running again. Who knows? A Richmond spot, now that the city is packed with breweries and beer-centric bars, could easily win again. The competition has been expanded to include each state — previously, winners were calculated by region. You can vote here for your favorite and hold your breath for the results that will come a month from now.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Natural Expansion

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2015 at 1:35 PM

Richmond and its battling grocery stores -- here’s one quote from an out-of-town friend: “What’s up with this place? It’s like Crazy Cucumber Town.”

Take the exit from Interstate 195 to West Cary Street and you’ll find Kroger, Martin’s, Fresh Market and Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market -- all within a four-block radius. Throw in a couple of major drugstore chains, and there isn’t lot you can’t buy on your weekly shopping trip.

Ellwood Thompson’s has held firm in its niche by steadfastly supporting local vendors and offering as many organic and nongenetically modified products as it can. It’s diversified through the years, adding a meat-and-seafood counter, a vast hot bar, sushi, growlers and most recently, a juice bar.

In its last expansion, the store added a community room that proved to be enormously popular. But owner Rick Hood and Colin Beirne, Ellwood Thompson’s marketing manager, thought it could use a makeover.

“We wanted to invest in the space,” Beirne says -- “really make it feel like the rest of the store and less like a classroom.”

They also were thinking about how they could expand the store’s prepared food options, along with its café. “We looked towards the parking lot and noticed we were crazy at lunch time,” he says. That left breakfast and dinner -- two times that didn’t see as much eat-in business.

Inspired by Busboys and Poets, a progressive coffee shop and community space that has six locations in Washington, Hood and Beirne re-imagined Ellwood Thompson’s community room as a bar -- with beer and cider on tap, wine, music and film screenings. With garage doors separating it from the original dining area, the room could still operate as an event and meeting space at other times.

The Beet Café opens Sept. 3. Because Ellwood Thompson’s has a liquor license for the entire store, you can not only choose your own spot to quaff a glass, but also buy a bottle from the wine department, have it opened without a corkage fee and keep it chilled behind the bar while you sip.

Food options are expanding beyond prepared food and the hot bar to an open, made-to-order kitchen called Create. It serves waffles and omelets, sandwiches and what the store is calling earth bowls -- things such as quinoa, chickpeas, peppers and baby kale heaped high and lavished with a basil-tahini dressing, for instance. Plus, the sushi selection has doubled.

Only a few weeks ago, the store’s juice and coffee bar expansion was the first to be finished. Taps from Barefootbucha and Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co.’s cold-brewed Hair of the Dog were recently added.

“We’re really trying for this space to be that third place,” Beirne says of the Beet Café. “You know, a hang-out place for folks that aren’t really bar people -- this is more of a healthy outlet for them.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Weekly Food Notes

Shellfish Caution, Trails and Ales Fest + More

Posted By and on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 3:39 PM

Charlie Horner, a Mechanicville grandfather and veteran, died from a puncture wound he received while fishing in the Rappahannock River late last month. After his death, Vibrio vulnificus suddenly was in the news, often characterized as flesh-eating bacteria. That’s true, but it isn’t the whole story.

Vibrio more commonly is known as a warm-water-loving bacterium, which can infect unsuspecting diners who eat raw shellfish. And a lot of us like our shellfish — particularly oysters — raw.

You often hear that you should eat oysters only in months that contain the letter R. That’s because summer water temperatures are ideal for the bacteria to grow. Nevertheless, whether we like it or not, there’s a low level of Vibrio in the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia rivers throughout the year. That doesn’t mean it’s dangerous — although for the elderly, people with liver disease and the immune-compromised, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise avoiding raw shellfish.

There were only 11 cases in the state confirmed last year. So far, there have been 17 this year. And Virginia has tough regulations on the books for harvesting shellfish.

During the summer months, for example, oysters must be harvested and back at the dock by 10 a.m. and put into refrigeration. While the boat is out, all oysters must be shaded.

In June, boats have only three hours to go out to harvest, and during July and August, that time is reduced to two hours. If you want to bring in oysters later in the day, you must put a Virginia Marine Resources Commission-approved GPS tracking device on your boat to make sure you get back within the time limit. Any other transportation after the oysters leave the facility also must be refrigerated.

“[The] industry has invested hundreds of millions of dollars on ice makers, refrigerated trucks, shade, coolers,” says Robert Rheault, president of the East Coast Shellfish Grower’s Association, “and almost every state has been forced to tighten post-harvest refrigeration regulations.”

Rappahannock Oyster Co. co-owner Travis Croxton says his farm takes a few more precautions on top of the ones required.

“We harvest under shade and ice down the oysters on the boat,” he says. His crew goes out at 5 a.m. to avoid the heat later in the morning. And because Rappahannock ships across the country, he says, “Every mode of transportation has temperature checks.” At each transfer, bags are tested to make sure the oysters are between 33 degrees and 45 degrees.

Although the number of cases of Vibrio has grown each year, that has more to do with a rise in demand. Last summer, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that the state’s oyster harvest rose 25 percent since the previous year and exceeded 500,000 bushels.

“Yes, Vibrio vulfinicus is disturbing,” says Rheault. “Thankfully, it is also exceedingly rare.” -- Brandon Fox

The ol’ chug and run: The Sports Backers have announced a new entry into Richmond’s festival lineup with the Trails and Ales Trail Run and Craft Beer Festival on Oct. 3. On the trail-running side of things, the festival will feature an 8-mile Tall Boy course and a 5-kilometer Pint Glass course in the Buttermilk and North Bank trails in the James River Park System, the organization says. The food-and-drink portion will feature the standard array of Richmond festival players, including music, food trucks and drinks provided by Hardywood, Isley Brewing, Legend, Strangeways and Bold Rock Hard Cider. To top it off, donations will be collected to help install a human- and canine-friendly water fountain on the Pump House Drive trail. sportsbackers.org. — Colby Rogers

Cruising into fall: In case you haven’t had your fill of seafood this season, you may want to check out Saison’s End of Summer Riverboat Takeover on Sunday, Aug. 30. Diners will enjoy a paddle boat river cruise from Rocketts Landing, featuring buffet-style eats, Anderson’s Neck oysters a la carte, an array of beer, wine and cocktails, and a DJ. There are only 100 seats available, so act quickly if this sounds like it’s up your alley. For information or reservations, call 269-3689 or visit saisonrva.eventbrite.com. — C.R.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Buz and Ned's Announces Wage Increase For Employees

Posted By on Thu, Aug 20, 2015 at 9:12 AM

Richmond institution Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue will be raising starting wages and adding more benefits for its employees.

Starting on Aug. 24, baseline pay will be bumped to $12.50 per hour, or $8.00 for servers who accept tips, the restaurant announced Thursday.

"During a time when an increase of the minimum wage is on the political battlefield, making a living wage is becoming increasingly difficult. Buz and Ned’s has come out on the side of their employees," the restaurant said in a press release.

In addition to the wage increase, the restaurant said it is also moving toward a mostly full-time work force and will be providing healthcare benefits for its employees.

Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue joins Ellwood Thompson's Local Market and Martin's with employee wage increases this year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Talley's Is Coming to the Old Estilo Space

Posted By on Wed, Aug 12, 2015 at 1:19 PM

Fans have been waiting for a reveal ever since co-owners Jessica and Josh Bufford announced a new venture in the old Estilo space in the Village Shopping Center. Well, count that wait as over because Josh Bufford contacted me today to reveal some new details on their upcoming restaurant.

Named Talley's after Josh Bufford's great-grandfather, a Georgia farmer, the menu will be styled after what Bufford calls a "Meat and Three" cuisine. That's grilled, baked or fried meat accompanied by three vegetable sides, plus bread. To true believers in old, Southern cooking, this may be a familiar -- and comforting -- premise.

"This’ll be a from-scratch kitchen, like our others," Bufford says in an e-mail, "So we’ll be making all of our dishes in-house, including homemade desserts."

Bufford says the idea is to capture his memories of preparing, cooking and eating meals using food grown and harvested on his grandfather's farm. And that family emphasis will carry over into the prices and atmosphere, Bufford says, with special emphasis placed on kid-friendly dining.

As previously reported, the restaurant is shooting for a mid-September opening. In the meantime, you can check out the Buffords' other food ventures around town at Toast, Hutch Bar & Eatery and Shoryuken Ramen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Weekly Food Notes

Church Hill Hiatuses, Brewville Cometh + More

Posted By on Tue, Aug 11, 2015 at 3:56 PM

It’s only temporary: Both Church Hill’s Proper Pie Co. and the Dog and Pig Show will be closed for the month of August — the first for the owners’ much-needed annual vacation and the latter for renovations.

Beer news: Brewville, a 56-tap growler store that also will sell canned and bottled beer, soon will open at 9357 Atlee Road in Hanover County, as reported by Richmond BizSense.

Cold coffee: The eight-month-old, Washington-based Confluence Coffee Co. makes its cold-brewed, nitrogen-infused and barrel-aged coffee exclusively from Richmond’s Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co.’s beans. It can be found in bottles at Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market. Soon the company plans to launch its creamy cold brew in cans, according to the Washington Post. confluencecoffeeco.com.

Happenings: Just when you thought there was no way you’d have a beer in one hand and a pulled pork sandwich in the other at yet another festival, the most comprehensive one of all, the RVA Brew-B-Q Festival, isn’t even happening until Sunday, Aug. 16, from noon to 5 p.m. at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market. All of the area breweries will be there, and you’ll find barbecue in its myriad forms from producers large and small. If you’ve missed the other beer and barbecue pairings or can’t get enough of the combo (and who can’t?), you’ll also get to enjoy live music, and a plethora of craft and produce vendors. facebook.com/17thStreetFarmersMarket.

For Sale: One of the very last hold-outs to Virginia Commonwealth University’s monolithic takeover of West Grace Street, the old Sahara restaurant, is now for sale, reports Richmond BizSense.

Openings: The expanded JKogi, now with sit-down service in the former Thai Corner space at 327 N. Second St., opened on Friday, Aug. 7. ... Pho So 1 plans to open a second location in the former Famous Dave’s space at 10201 Midlothian Turnpike in September, according to the Times-Dispatch.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Creamy Goodness

Old Church Creamery comes to Saison.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 6, 2015 at 2:38 PM

I have a weakness for dairy — butter, cheese, ice cream and just plain old milk. I once owned a cow share from Avery’s Branch Farms — in Virginia, you have to buy a “share” of a cow because it’s illegal to sell raw milk — but one daughter turned out to be lactose intolerant, so we had to stop getting it. It was the best glass of milk I’ve ever had.

Pasteurized milk from small farms that raise dairy cows on grass the old-fashioned way comes very close. Usually heritage breeds, these cows produce richer milk with more butterfat. Virginia has a number of outstanding dairy farms. Here in Richmond, you can easily find products from two — Homestead Creamery and Old Church Creamery.

One restaurant wants to show you how much better dairy can taste. On Sunday Aug. 9, from 2-4 p.m., Saison will hold an Old Church Creamery milk and yogurt tasting, with the dairy's Sean Eubank on hand to answer questions. The farm raises Jersey cows, a breed of smaller, cuter cows — not that cuteness should be a factor — that produces a lot of extra creamy milk relative to their size.

“We will be making some espresso drinks as well to showcase that baller butterfat that Jersey milk provides," Saison owner Jay Bayer says. "I'm still holding out hope for an on-site cow!"

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Coffee Over Ice

Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.'s new cold-brewed coffee comes by the growler.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 5, 2015 at 3:53 PM

Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co.’s David Blanchard and Stephen Robertson offered Michael Woitach a full-time job, but he turned them down. He lived in Washington and had worked part-time doing product demos for Blanchard’s in the area's Whole Foods.

“We liked him a lot,” Robertson says. “But he told us, ‘Actually, me and a friend are opening a cold brew company and we’ve been using your coffee to test it.’”

When Robertson heard about the new venture — now Confluence Coffee — he helped Woitach and his business partner, Terry Darcy, figure out a flavor profile that would work with their brewing process, which involves aging the coffee in oak or injecting it with nitrogen in steel kegs.

In the end, they decided on a bean from a fair-trade, certified organic farm in Honduras, roasted on the darker end of the spectrum. “It’s got a naturally leathery, smoky profile that works well with the oak,” Robertson says. It’s also a bean that’s available year-round.

Robertson originally met Woitach when he was a student at University of Richmond and his enthusiasm for coffee was infectious. The two kept in touch.

Based in Washington, Confluence Coffee hit the ground running, Robertson says. “Cold brewing in general is blowing up in the coffee world.” Blanchard’s now delivers 100 pounds of coffee to the company each week.

Once they tried the final product, Blanchard and Robertson were so impressed, they’ve now contracted with Confluence to sell a concentrated version of its own coffee, Hair of the Dog, by the keg to wholesale accounts. For a customer, this means that you can grab a Blanchard’s 32-ounce growler ($7), fill it up ($13) and have about a week’s worth of coffee sitting ready for you in the fridge. You can bring in your own growler, but it needs to be marked with gradated measurements — the concentrate sells for 40 cents per ounce in that case.

Right now, Hair of the Dog is only available at Harvest Grocery and Supply on West Main Street, but it'll be available at Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market in about two weeks and shortly after that, at the Fan's Kuba Kuba as well.

Curious how to use the concentrate? Robertson says a half-and-half combo with water works great, but if you like cream or milk in your coffee, you’ll get a great cup or glass if you use that instead of water. For more recipes, check out these helpful videos on the Blanchard’s Coffee site.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Heavyweight Praise

A local restaurant receives the nod from a major food publication.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 4, 2015 at 12:17 PM

The praise never stops: Southbound, opened last year by Lee Gregory, also owner of the Roosevelt, and Joe Sparatta, who owns Heritage, has been nominated as one of the 50 best restaurants in the country by Bon Appétit magazine. “These are the spots that killed it this year,” says the magazine.

Restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton, along with associate restaurant editor Julia Kramer, write, “Southbound strikes the right note between ambitious farm-to-table restaurant and neighborhood gem.”

On Aug. 18, Bon Appétit will release the names that made the final cut in the Hot 10.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Weekly Food Notes

New Richmond Gin, Filipino Festival + More

Posted By on Mon, Aug 3, 2015 at 3:11 PM

Tax man: Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and the city of Richmond have been in conflict over a $61,118 bill for back meals taxes. But that dispute may be settled, the Times-Dispatch reports. Rules for breweries have changed through the years, and now Mayor Dwight Jones has introduced legislation that would make the bill “legally uncollectible.” City Council must approve before the deal can be sealed.

New spirits: James River Distillery released its Navy Strength gin last week — a strong, 114-proof spirit named after the daily allotment to British sailors in the 19th century. It will join the distillery’s Commonwealth and Continental gins, but won’t be joining its siblings on the shelf. Navy Strength gin is available only by special order at your local ABC store. rdistillery.com.

Reopening: Max’s Positive Vibe Café opens Friday, Aug. 7 — bright, shiny and new after a summer renovation. positiveviberva.com.

Festivities: The 10th annual Filipino Festival will be held Aug. 7-8, with traditional music and dance, plus all the lumpia you can eat at Our Lady of Lourdes Church at 8200 Woodman Road. filipinofestival.org.

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