Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Weekly Food Notes: Moonshine, Fern Bars + More

Posted By on Wed, Aug 31, 2016 at 1:40 PM

Food News: Two other Family Meal restaurants, in addition to the one in Richmond, shut down in Baltimore and Hagerstown, Maryland, and its Ashburn location closed earlier this summer, the Times-Dispatch reports. That leaves the original Family Meal in Frederick, Maryland, standing all by its lonesome.

Laura Lee’s, the latest from Ipanema Cafe, Garnett's Café, the Roosevelt and WPA Bakery’s Kendra Feather is set to open in about 10 days at 3410 Semmes Ave., the former White Horse Tavern space. It’s an updated fern bar, Feather says, and named in honor of her mother.

The Richmond-area will soon see a new Ethiopian place, Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant, at the Lexington Commons Shopping Center, reports Richmond BizSense, in just a few weeks.

Belle Isle Moonshine is expanding, the Times-Dispatch reports, and the old Colonial Downs off-track betting parlor will be transformed into the latest entry into the grocery market, German-based discount store Lidl, just as soon as the Henrico County Planning Commission approves the plan.

Happenings: The PrideFest kickoff party will be held Sept. 1 on the Quirk Hotel rooftop. Center of the Universe Brewing Co., Ardent Craft Ales, OutRVA and Virginia Pride have collaborated on two new brews — Georgie Mixed Berry Pale Ale and Porgie Chocolate Pudding Porter — and you can get your first taste at 6 p.m. while you enjoy a little music and sample food provided by Quirk. The hotel will donate $1 from each beer sold that night to Virginia Pride and OutRVA. Barcode Restaurant & Bar, at 6 E. Grace St., will hold a party after the event.

You can try Garden Grove Brewing Co.’s newest release, Old Virginia Spruce Porter, an ale that takes its inspiration from a recipe from “The Virginia House-wife” by Mary Randolph for spruce beer and another by George Washington for a molasses, grain and hops-based porter on Saturday, Sept. 3, from noon-5 p.m. A portion of the proceeds on Saturday will go to Building a Better RPS, and the brewery will also donate $1 of each glass of the historical ale to the group throughout Labor Day weekend.

Four different wineries will get together at James River Cellars Winery for the Harvest Wine Festival, also on Saturday, Sept. 3, starting at noon. You can grab a bite to eat at one of the food trucks, enjoy live music and attend a wine 101 seminar.

And don’t forget about Sunday, Sept. 4 — Ardent Craft Ales will host its first beer brunch at noon with J.M. Stock Provisions. Feast on ham biscuits and breakfast burritos stuffed with housemade ham, bacon and sausages — plus beer Bloodies made with Richmond’s own Texas Beach Bloody Mary Mix.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fear Not the Pumpkin Spice

It's not as bad as you think.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 30, 2016 at 9:40 AM

It’s almost fall!

Not really, but every retailer in the country is gearing up for season. And you know what that means in the food world, right?

Pumpkin spice.

Yep, it’s on its way, like the massive herd of wildebeest lumbering en masse across the Serengeti on their annual trek even as you read this. I was sent a few packages of Thomas’ English muffins version, plus a few of their pumpkin spice bagels. Also included were salted caramel bagels and English muffins — another new and limited run you’ll see in stores shortly.

My first reaction upon hearing about them? Blecch. Must pumpkin spice invade everything we eat in the fall? And much as I adore salted caramel, I really couldn’t imagine how it would translate into what’s basically bread.

Do the flavors of the (past two or three) years, I thought, have to spread so widely throughout the food chain? You know pumpkin pie is out there screaming, “Why can’t you just love me for myself? Why, why, WHY?”

But I really should have stopped my musings about the existential nature of dessert, because the reaction from my co-workers was surprising.

Style copy editor G.W. Poindexter, as he was eating half of an un-toasted, unadorned salted caramel English muffin, said, “It’s delicious — it tastes like ice cream. Usually I think of an English muffin as a vehicle for orange marmalade and butter. That would be like putting maple syrup on fried chicken.”

“It wasn’t sweet,” editor in chief Jason Roop said of the salted caramel muffin he tried. “It was not bad. Cinnamon would definitely go well with it. And it definitely smells good.”

Ed Harrington, creative director, was surprised by the subtlety of the pumpkin spice flavor, too. He tried the English muffin version and noticed that the flavoring was concentrated in little nuggets scattered throughout the nooks and crannies. “It’s very mild,” he said. “It’s very pleasant.” And that’s high praise indeed from Harrington.

“Ate part of a bagel and thought it was delicious!!!” senior account executive Toni McCracken wrote in an email. “And I am a bagel expert!” She didn’t specify which bagel and I can’t ask her because she’s on vacation, but I’m guessing it was the pumpkin spice bagel. Those went quickly in the office kitchen — perhaps because they were labeled while the salted caramel variety came in plain plastic bags.

In fact, most of the English muffins and bagels disappeared — disproportionately to our staff size, which leads me to believe some people had more than one. However, an email I sent out asking for reactions went largely unanswered. Interpret that as you will.

In sum, if you think raisins are yesterday’s losers and fall means incessant Proustian moments that render real pumpkin pie superfluous, if the marriage of salt and caramel seems to you to be a genius combination — which it is — that makes everything it touches better, if you’re looking for a breakfast treat that doesn’t actually take you on the wild side but kind of makes you think it might, you may be in luck. Thomas’ limited editions go on sale Sept. 12.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Opinion: Would a Soda Tax Be a Bad Idea For Richmond?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 26, 2016 at 2:41 PM

A soda tax is always controversial. I included a link to an article on Vox in my Wednesday newsletter, the Bite. Vox’s title characterized the 1-cent-per-ounce tax that Berkeley, California, levies as tiny -- and so did I. There were objections, so I thought I’d drill down on the numbers.

A reader notes that if you calculate the tax on a 12-pack of 12-ounce Cokes, you’d see an almost 50-percent increase in the cost of those sodas.

Here’s how it works: A 12-pack of Coke at Wal-Mart costs $3.33 -- that’s around 2 cents per ounce. With the soda tax added, the multipack comes to $4.77 total, or about 3 cents an ounce. That seems like a big jump in price -- because it is.

But individual, 12-ounce cans are around $1.19. That’s about 10 cents per ounce. With the tax, it would cost an extra 15 cents per bottle, equaling $1.64. That's only a 10-percent increase, roughly.

To sum it up: An individual can of soda will cost 14 cents an ounce with the tax and $1.64 total, while a multipack of Coke will cost 3 cents an ounce and around 40 cents a can. (I rounded up the numbers.)

Obviously, buying in bulk is the better deal, whether or not there’s a soda tax.

But taxing soda isn’t about raising revenue for a locality. It's a strategy to curb sugar intake and obesity. Although it’s a complicated problem, as my reader acknowledges, the Vox article notes that since the tax was implemented in 2015, soda consumption has decreased 21 percent while water consumption has risen 61 percent. Although these are preliminary numbers, the story emphasizes, they’re compelling.

And remember, the loudest protesters of the tax are large soda companies. They may be upset that prices would go up, but if you look at the profits of Coca-Cola, which made $44 billion last year, and Pepsi, which came in at more than $18 billion, the big companies are doing just fine. They’ve also raised prices already by making packaging smaller so that they can charge more for less soda -- this despite soda taxes getting little traction in the United States.

Much of the obesity epidemic is concentrated in a section of the population living below the poverty line. Because most people in this group are stranded in food deserts and must rely on convenience stores, the grab-and-go model of single-bottle purchases is more common. Those who buy in bulk usually have easier access to grocery stores.

I have my own qualms about the “nanny state” that so many descry. But the cost of obesity and the stress it puts on the health care system is troubling.

And remember, we’re talking about soda here, people. Soda -- not milk, eggs or bread, but a heavily marketed product that costs pennies to produce and is full of empty calories. The profit margin is enormous. It seems to me that perhaps those above the poverty line could fork out a little more for a product that no one needs to drink anyway to help curb obesity in the overall population.

It may turn out that in the long run the tax experiment doesn’t work -- but shouldn’t we at least try something?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Weekly Food Notes: Closings, Beer and a Celebration of Food

The good news sort of, kind of, tempers the bad.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2016 at 1:00 PM

It was a week of closings: Family Meal, brought to you by Brian Voltaggio of "Top Chef" and "Top Chef Masters," swept into town on a tsunami of press. He’s truly a nice guy, despite this legal dispute, and Voltaggio hired acclaimed Richmond chef Travis Milton when Milton left Comfort. Milton’s off to Southwest Virginia now to open his own restaurant, and the news was announced last week that Richmond’s branch of Family Meal is now closed.

An “Beer is the Answer” Bui of Mekong Restaurant also announced that his venture in the Fan, Commercial Taphouse, would close at the end of the month and reopen later in the fall with a new concept, name and owner. More details to come.

Main Street Coffee at 1110 E. Main St. shut down after just over a year since its opening, reports Richmond BizSense. The spot had previously been filled by Sugar Shack Coffee.

I usually avoid writing about chain restaurants and focus instead on local businesses, but holy cow, this news caught my attention: Ruby Tuesday is closing or has closed 95 locations, Inside Business reports, and eight are in Virginia, including one in Ashland.

In better news: The 2016 Virginia Craft Beer Cup has announced its winners. Final Gravity Brewing Co.placed first in three different categories and the Answer placed first in two. Other first-place finishers included Ardent Craft Ales, Legend Brewing Co., Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, Strangeways Brewing and Triple Crossing Brewing Co., with Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Garden Grove Brewing Co. and Steam Bell Beer Works receiving second- or third-place wins.

And speaking of beer, the latest on the scene, Kindred Spirit Brewing Co., opens on Saturday, Aug. 27, at 1 p.m. at 12830 W. Creek Parkway in Goochland Count, with music and food from River City Wood Fired Pizza and Smok-N-Pigz BBQ.

Tickets are now on sale for the whirlwind celebration that is Fire, Flour & Fork. James Beard Award-finalist Ed Lee, owner of 610 Magnolia and author of one of my favorite cookbooks, "Smoke & Pickles," and Vivian Howard, James Beard-award semifinalist, star of the PBS series “A Chef’s Life,” and owner of Kinston, North Carolina’s Chef and the Farmer, as well as the near-impossible to find Boiler Room — where I had excellent oysters last week and my daughters bought borderline salacious T-shirts — are just a couple of the folks you can meet at the event.

In addition, Questlove (yes, that Questlove) will be at Fire, Flour & Fork to talk about his book "Something to Food About: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs." Tickets to the panel discussion ($60) can be obtained here and to the dinner later ($225), here.

And finally, Aldi, the discount grocery chain, reports Supermarket News, is planning to build a regional headquarters and distribution center in Dinwiddie County, at a cost of $57 million. If you'd like to read a little more about the ultra-rich family that owns the company, Bloomberg has the surprising details.

CORRECTION: Kindred Spirit's opening date has been corrected.

In addition, this story has been updated to include information about the appearance of Questlove at Fire, Flour & Fork announced after its publication.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Owner of Tarrant’s Café, Tarrant’s West and Max’s on Broad Dies

Ted Santarella had been battling cancer.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 10, 2016 at 12:06 PM

Things are a little bleaker in the local food scene today. The announcement came last night that Ted Santarella, owner of Tarrant’s Café, Tarrant’s West and Max’s on Broad, has passed away from cancer. Santarella opened the original Tarrant’s in 2006 in a former 19th-century drugstore.

His wife, Frances, told Style that Santarella had an infectious personality and a passion for the restaurant industry.

"One of my fondest memories of him was our sailing trip from Deltaville to Annapolis, MD. The water was choppy, the boat leaned quite a bit, and the weather changed dramatically. His ability to navigate through the water with sureness and confidence was how he lived his life," she says. "His passing hasn't sinked in yet, I keep hoping he's going to come home and say 'where's my Franny and Maxy!' I love him so much, I miss him terribly. It makes me sick that he's gone. There's so much we wanted to do together."

“Ted attributed his success in business and life to the relationships he built,” spokeswoman Liz Kincaid wrote in the news release. “The Tarrant’s restaurant group will continue to maintain those relationships. Ted’s wife will be assuming an active role in the restaurants and will continue to commit to Ted’s legacy of hospitality.” All three restaurants will be closed Thursday, Aug. 11, for his memorial service at 4 p.m. at Bliley’s Funeral Home, at 3801 Augusta Ave.

Regards may be sent to Tarrant’s Café, at 1 W. Broad St., Richmond, VA 23220.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Peter Chang's Ninth Restaurant Opens Today

Noodles and Dumpling by Peter Chang is a few doors down from his original Short Pump location.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 8, 2016 at 10:38 AM

Peter Chang has extended his empire once more. His latest restaurant, Noodles and Dumplings by Peter Chang, opens today at 11. As reported in our May 11 cover story about the celebrity chef, Chang eventually would like to open a series of shops that focus on one dish — noodles, dumplings or steamed buns — and perhaps franchise them. This spot, a few doors down from his Short Pump restaurant in the old Bella's Restaurant space, is wholly owned by Chang. You’ll see cooks stretching noodles and crimping dumplings in the bar space and in the back of the restaurant.

In the near future, the chef wants to offer cooking classes to parents and children. He says that much of the younger generation of Chinese immigrants or those born in the United States haven’t learned how to make these traditional dishes at home, and it’s his way to help continue the tradition. And of course, anyone is welcome — who wouldn’t want to learn how to cook from one of the best chefs in the country?

Noodles and Dumplings by Peter Chang

11408 W. Broad St.

Lunch and dinner daily, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A New Owner Takes Over Patina Restaurant & Bar

It's a fresh start for the longtime West End restaurant.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 4, 2016 at 11:33 AM

An ad for a restaurant sale caught Joel Hagman’s eye a few months ago. It was for a familiar place -- one of his favorite restaurants, Patina Restaurant & Bar.

Hagman was ready to get out of medical sales. His territory spanned 11 states, and the Richmond native and father of two was ready to stay put.

“I love food and I love supporting the local community,” he says, “so for me, this was perfect.” For the last couple of years, Hagman had actively looked for a restaurant to buy. When he found out Patina was for sale, he knew he wanted to keep the place open.

The deal took longer than he thought, but Hagman was able to start Patina’s face-lift and menu overhaul in late July. The plan is to reopen Tuesday, Aug. 9. Sperity Real Estate Ventures represented the seller in the sale of the business. Hagman is leasing the space. He's the third owner in 17 years.

The change will be more of an update. Chef Todd Hicks is staying on and the two are collaborating on a menu that brings prices down from $20 and above to about $15. Hagman is expanding the bar to include six beer taps and a wider selection of cocktails -- while retaining old favorites. The interior will be brightened and wood flooring will replace the carpeting in the dining room.

Hagman’s main focus is making sure that Patina sticks to its mission of staying local, he says: “If anything, I want to push it as far as I can push it.”

Instead of calling farms, Hagman and Hicks want to visit their local suppliers every Monday while the restaurant is closed. They want to see the produce up close and buy it directly from the people who grow it.

Hagman and Hicks are figuring out which dates throughout the year they want to change the menu to keep it seasonal. Hagman also is working on a new sign and logo for the restaurant to signal its new beginning.

“[We] want to support the local farms, fresh ingredients,” Hagman says, “but what’s most important to me is giving back to the community.” patinarva.com.

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