Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Snake Juice

Newly opened Cobra Cabana embraces kitsch, humor and neighborhood charm

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2018 at 1:00 AM

The tiny corner spot on Marshall Street, formerly home to the Black Sheep, has a new tenant: a quirky bar and restaurant called Cobra Cabana. It's the brainchild of Herbie Abernathy, better known as Valient Himself, lead vocalist of the Southern rock and heavy metal band Valient Thorr. And don't be quick to judge this long-haired rocker — he also has a master's degree of fine arts in drawing and painting, collects comic books and loves vegan food.

Abernathy is backed up by two partners: former East Carolina University classmate, restaurateur and DJ Josh Novicki, and Rob Skotis, a bassist in the band Iron Reagan. Their connection? Music, and the myriad places it's taken them.

Abernathy cycled through several ideas, including pizza and barbecue, and several partners before landing with this combination. Novicki, who already owns a restaurant in Wilmington, North Carolina, heads the kitchen with vegan chef Lauren Vincelli. Skotis is in charge of the bar and Abernathy takes the business side.

The menu centers on burgers and sandwiches, about half of which will be vegan. Abernathy himself is vegan and saw a need for more plant-based options on restaurant menus.

The opening week menu featured a vegan lobster roll called the Prince of Tides, with hearts of palm tossed in vegan mayo, celery, peppers, onions and Old Bay seasoning ($12). Diners can look forward to upcoming items like El Pasta, a "vegan pasta burrito" and a meatless meatball sub with mushrooms as a key ingredient. Abernathy expects the menu will continue to change as the kitchen finds its niche with both vegan and nonvegan creations.

The name of each entree comes from inside jokes between Abernathy and his friends that require back stories and feature obscure references, but that's part of the charm.

"Some people call it kitsch, but it's really heavy nostalgia and inside jokes," Abernathy says. "That's what our restaurant is based on."

Case in point: the name Cobra Cabana came from a vintage action figure from a Marvel comic. Yes, Abernathy was thinking about G.I. Joe's nemesis, Cobra and his troops, when the name popped into his head.

"I just think of bad guys on vacation," he says with a grin. In his dream world, the bar is for "cobra troops, when they're not being bad guys."

The drink menu features an array of aptly-named cocktails, or Snake Juice. There's a take on a margarita, the Copperhead, and a dairy-free White Russian called the Dolph Lundgren, served in a pint glass and made with coconut milk.

The crown jewel of the drink selection, though, is the distinct honor of being the only bar in Richmond that, to his knowledge, serves the champagne of beers on draft.

"I've lived in town for six years, and I've never seen High Life on tap," he says. Abernathy acquired High Life swag like a vintage sign, wall clock and tap handle, so of course he had to convince his distributor to make it happen.

"They're the champagne of beers, and we're like the champagne of bars. … I just made that up," he admits with a belly laugh. "It's stupid, but it's funny, which is kind of like everything here."

There are flat screens to watch the game, plus a vintage Coca-Cola menu letter board and original art featuring snakes covering most of the limited wall space. The back wall is stained reclaimed wood, and the new bar top is a mosaic of old pennies. Behind the bar, a giant metallic painted cobra's head juts out of the brick wall. The sculpture was commissioned by local artist Margaret Rolicki, who also created decor for Gwar Bar.

"She's such an incredible artist; she can make anything. She can make nightmares come to life," he says admiringly. Rolicki's Etsy shop, currently featuring shoes that transform one's feet into werewolf claws, seems to confirm this observation.
It's clear that Cobra Cabana wants to be a homey bar with a decidedly accessible menu.

"We're obviously rock 'n' roll dudes, but we're aiming it at everyone," Abernathy says, noting that Virginia Commonwealth University students receive 10 percent off food. And he's seen a diverse crowd already. "We had wrestling and anime on the other night and there were two completely different crowds watching and both were loving it."

And it goes without saying that when musicians open a restaurant, there has to be a jukebox. That's been a crowd pleaser already.

"They're playing their songs and they're getting their kicks, and they're having a beer, and it seems like a good time for a neighborhood bar," Abernathy says. "That's all I can say." S

Cobra Cabana
901 W. Marshall St.
Every day 11 - 2 a.m.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Dairy Defector

Local cheesemaker is empowering the vegan movement with UnMoo.

Posted on Fri, Oct 19, 2018 at 12:48 PM

It started with eggnog. Josh Kadrich doesn’t get along with dairy, but he’s a self-described eggnog fiend, so a couple years ago he started making a vegan version using cashew and coconut milk from scratch.

“So I started hustling jars to my friends of this vegan, tequila-sherry eggnog,” he says with a chuckle.

Around that same time, he also started experimenting with making soft cheeses for his dairy-loving partner. A microbiologist working in a lab at the time, he found it to be a relatively simple yet fascinating process, and it occurred to him that he could use the same techniques to make plant-based cheeses.

“Food is about more than the product in front of you. Food is also about the story and the history behind it and the care that goes into it,” Kadrich says. “So for me to actually try to make this cheese became a bit of a mission and a little bit of an obsession.”

The obsession continued and he’s now the founder and sole proprietor of UnMoo, a Richmond-based producer of small-batch cheeses made from plants. He starts with making milk using fair-trade organic cashews and then puts it through a traditional cheesemaking process of culturing, brining and aging.

He’s careful to avoid making direct comparisons between his products and dairy cheeses, though it’s tempting to do so, especially when they look so similar. As creamy and meltable as his cashew-based Notz (which comes in the form of smooth white ball) may be, it’s not mozzarella. Kadrich doesn’t want people to be disappointed when they take a bite expecting mozzarella, and he describes a common Coke-vs.-Pepsi moment that he often encounters when people try his products at the farmers market.

“You go to drink Coke and you get Pepsi and you have a negative reaction, and it’s not because it wasn’t good, it’s because you didn’t get what you expected,” he says. “So in building expectations around a product that people assume is imitation in the first place, I then have to completely redefine those expectations.”

He also makes a sweet, tangy, spreadable raw product called AM that he recommends smearing on a bagel or dolloping on top of Mexican food, and a plant-based butter called Nutter. Kadrich says he doesn’t get to spend as much time experimenting in the kitchen as he’d like, but as the company grows you can expect to see more varieties become available.

There’s a common misconception that something made from plants can’t be cheese, Kadrich says, but he pushes back against those notions.

“It’s a product that underwent a culturing, brining and aging process,” he says. “It’s closer to cheese than the slice of American in the back of your fridge.”

For Kadrich, the business has grown beyond his obsession with creating nut-based cheeses. Now that his products are available in restaurants and markets around town, the feedback he’s getting from customers makes him feel like he’s doing something that matters — something that makes people genuinely grateful.

“I’m impacting people’s lives,” he says, adding that fair-trade sourcing and sustainability are also high on his priority list. “Building out UnMoo is less about making crazy cheese and more about building this lifestyle company that we can all kind of grow together in.”

You can find UnMoo at Idle Hands Bakery and Union Market, plus the South of the James, Birdhouse and Williamsburg farmers markets. And if it’s not on the menu at Pizza and Beer of Richmond by the time of publication, it will be soon, and it'll hit the shelves of Ellwood Thompson's before too long. The list is rapidly growing, so keep an eye on UnMoo’s social media pages.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Christmas in October

Hardywood will soon take orders for the 2018 Gingerbread Stout complete set.

Posted on Thu, Oct 18, 2018 at 2:50 PM

It’s about that time again. For years devotees have come out in droves, lining up at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and scouring local market shelves for the coveted and limited Gingerbread Stout. “Beer Advocate” magazine gave it a perfect score of 100 after its initial release in 2011. The imperial milk stout comes in at 9.2 percent alcohol, and with its notes of milk chocolate, vanilla, honeycomb, ginger and cinnamon, it tastes like the holidays in a bottle. The brewers at Hardywood have since developed spin-offs, like the Christmas Morning, which adds the flavors of coffee beans from Black Hand Coffee Co. to the stout. Then there’s the Kentucky Christmas Morning, which brings both coffee and bourbon into the mix.

This year the beer is available in 11 varieties, including brandy barrel-aged, rye barrel-aged and port-barrel aged. And you might be able to get your hands on 11 Gingerbread Stouts, plus a limited edition glass, together in a set. Family Tree Beer Club members, who have access to exclusive beers and deals, plus merchandise and pre-release options, get first dibs, and at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 24, however many $175 sets are left will become available to the public.

There’s a one-per-person limit, and pickup begins Friday, Dec. 14.

Snag yours here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Grocery Gains

Stella’s Grocery will soon open its third location.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 16, 2018 at 1:00 AM

Stella's Grocery purveyors Katrina and Johnny Giavos will open yet another location downtown later this month. Kohlman's Market, already owned and operated by the dining power couple, will undergo a quick re-brand over the next couple weeks to look more like its sister locations. The colorful art deco storefront at 109 E. Grace St., next door to another Giavos-owned location, Perly's, will morph from the current mod pharmacy feel to a cozier grocery store. The second location opened in April in — where else? — Scott's Addition, revealing how much demand there really is for the Dean and Deluca-type spot with a rustic Greek flair.

In addition to a full coffee bar and various oversized baked goods, the new Stella's will carry the same standout dishes near West End neighbors have come to rely on in the event of an empty fridge. Count on your favorites in the case, which may include its famous moussaka, giant Greek salads with slabs of feta, that spinach parmesan orzo with lamb meatballs in marinara (this dish is what dreams are made of), and our current favorite: the pumpkin cream sauce pappardelle topped with pancetta and sage. The lemon chicken soup that's basically Stella's answer to a sick day. The hummus that is better than everyone else's hummus. The list goes on, but they all have the same magic touch: fresh ingredients and tons of flavor. Nothing needs to be seasoned. Every serving is generous.

Don't want to go out? That's OK, especially since the restaurant remains one of the hardest reservations to get in Richmond (seriously — check OpenTable three weeks from now). Instead, enjoy Stella's entrees at home. Most dishes at Stella's Grocery are packaged for dinner portions and lend themselves well to an upscale date night in. Desserts like the tres leches cake and Snickers cake sweeten the deal.

Stop on the way home from work. And if you don't know what to try first, start with the hummus.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Garden Party

The 10th annual Golden Trowel awards recognize excellence in food accessibility.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 15, 2018 at 4:04 PM

Local chefs doing their thing, craft beer flowing, live music, all in an urban garden for a charitable cause. It doesn't get much more Richmond than that.

On Friday, Oct. 26, Tricycle Gardens will hold its 10th annual Harvest Celebration at its urban farm in Manchester. It's a night of all things local and community-oriented, and the event's crown jewel is the presentation of the Golden Trowel awards (yes, the trophies are exactly how you picture them), which recognizes people and organizations for their dedication to FOOD: Focus on community needs, Outreach and education, Opportunities for healthy food access, and Design of beautiful spaces. Recent winners include Allen Pearcie, the creator of a church's community garden, "Living in a Food Desert" filmmaker Jesse Vaughn, and former first lady Dorothy McAuliffe for "eliminating childhood hunger and improving access to Virginia's agricultural products."

"We really look for people who are doing something different, helping to combat all the food insecurities around Richmond," says the charity's Sarah Pentecost. "Someone who's really given back to the community in terms of food."

Tickets for the event cost $100 per person, and the proceeds go straight to Tricycle Gardens' mission of growing "healthy future through urban agriculture." A ticket covers an all-you-can-eat buffet, with stations hosted by chefs like Patrick Willis of Lemaire, David Crabtree Logan of the Broken Tulip and Megan Phelan of Longoven. Coffee from Blanchard's and booze from Belle Isle Moonshine and Stone Brewing Co. will also be on hand.

"We like to buy something from Tricycle each week and be able to tell our diners when they are eating vegetables grown just 3 miles away and picked that morning," says Logan, who's participating with his wife and business partner Sariann Lehrer. "If it opens some people's mind to eating more vegetables and supporting local agriculture, that would be a benefit."

Tickets are available here.

Thursday, October 4, 2018


Bar Solita, by Tarrant’s restaurant group, opens this Friday.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 5:12 PM

When the team at RVA Hospitality signed a lease on the old Graffiato space, they knew they wanted to utilize that wood-fired oven. A few short months later, they’re ready to introduce Bar Solita, a Mediterranean restaurant and bar with Spanish, Italian, Greek and Portuguese influences.

A hefty renovation of the interior gave the restaurant a softer, homier feel with more rounded edges, plus bold details like the mustard yellow banquette and new black and white floor tiles. Co-owner Elizabeth Kincaid says they made an effort to reuse and repurpose as much as possible, like the booths along the right side, which they reupholstered with a turquoise fabric. The two long, 14-top communal tables by the bar didn’t quite fit with the desired vibe, so they sawed each in half and rotated them, filling the space in a way Kincaid says is more functional. Couches and a coffee table create a cozy lounge area to the left of the host stand.

“We just wanted to make it more homey, a little more feminine,” Kincaid says. “Before it was very masculine, very sterile, very industrial and we wanted to create different phases and experiences.”

The management team includes familiar faces — corporate chef Michael McGhee and executive chef Danny Kelly from Tarrant’s Cafe are in the kitchen and Sean Rapoza of Max’s on Broad is on board as sommelier. New to RVA Hospitality and to Richmond is bar manager Parker Girard, who just relocated from D.C. to curate Bar Solita’s cocktail program. Determining which spirits and flavors complement Mediterranean cuisine isn’t entirely intuitive, and Girard jumped at the creative opportunity.

Among the cocktails available is the Tahini Time, a concoction of white rum, honey, lime and salt that’s reminiscent of a classic daiquiri with a small spoonful of savory, toasty house-made tahini shaken right in. Another drink embracing Mediterranean flavors is the Sultan of Shake, a smooth, frothy mix of za’atar-infused gin, aquafaba, lemon and honey. There’s also the Holiday in Catania with vodka, pomegranate liqueur, honey and lemon, pale pink in color and similar to a boozy pink lemonade.

“To them Mediterranean didn’t just mean Greek, really, it meant the whole scope of the Mediterranean,” Girard says. “There are so many flavors down there, I really got super excited about all the flavors I get to play with.”

On the food side, the menu is built around shareable, tapas-style dishes like miniature spicy beef tacos, pork and veal meatballs in tomato sauce with garlic bread, garlic mushrooms in a sherry sauce and house made hummus with wood-fired pita. Personal-sized pizzas with slightly charred, garlicky crust include a classic Margherita and the cod brandade, with marinated tomatoes, a runny egg, parsley, tarragon and chives. Chef McGhee says they’ll make as many things as possible in house, like the feta, mozzarella and smoked almonds.

Entrees will include plates such as half a roasted chicken and a whole fish, prepared with Mediterranean spices and sides, plus housemade pastas. McGhee says the kitchen will source as many local ingredients as possible, like meat and seafood, but the Mediterranean nature means some items simply can’t come from nearby.

The dessert menu includes baklava and scoops from Gelati Celesti, plus galaktoboureko, the classic Greek sweet of semolina custard between layers of philo.

Bar Solita, which will roll out its entire menu gradually, opens to the public at 11 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 5.

Bar Solita

123 W. Broad St.


Every day 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

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