Friday, May 31, 2019

From DJs to Dinner Service

The owners of District 5 have opened the Annex, a small, cozy taco and tequila joint in the Fan.

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2019 at 10:48 AM

Consider the humble taco. Whether from a roadside cart, an upscale restaurant or a drive-thru window (come at me, bro), it's hard to go wrong with any variation of protein, veggies, cheese and heat inside a folded tortilla. Believed to have originated in 18th century Mexico, the taco has proven a divisive subject matter in 21st century Richmond. Corn or flour tortillas? Cilantro and onions on top, or the Americanized lettuce, cheddar and sour cream? Guac or sliced avocado? Where does the ever-debated topic of "authenticity" come in?

The team behind the newly-opened Annex is here to tell you that none of it is wrong. Tacos in Richmond continue to get more abundant and more creative, and luckily for us, there's room for all of them.

The Annex is a new spot in the Fan slinging tacos and tequila. Located at 1919 W. Main St., catty corner from Bacchus, it's the latest endeavor from the owners of District 5, the nearby restaurant and bar known for attracting the college crowds with its pub fare, buckets of Bud Light and nightclub atmosphere. The Annex is smaller, with a cozier, more neighborhood-like vibe. And according to Roland West, who opened the restaurant with partners with Hani Atallah and Gary Wenzel, that was intentional.

"I'm ecstatic. We're getting a positive response, but in a different way," West says, comparing the Annex to District 5. "It's more geared toward the food and dinner experience rather than a DJ and the bar."

West says he and the guys had lengthy discussions about creativity and authenticity, and where they wanted their tacos to land on that spectrum. Seems there's something for everybody, and West says they'll continue playing with the menu.

Build your own street tacos with barbacoa, chicken tinga or carnitas with your choice of toppings in either a flour or corn tortilla. Signature tacos include white fish with creamy slaw and avocado, carne asada with cojita cheese and avocado sauce or tequila-lime grilled shrimp with peppers and tomatillo-jalapeno ranch. You'll also find less traditional options, like the bahn mi taco with ground pork, pickled veggies, Thai basil and chili soy peanut sauce, and the fried eggplant topped with charred corn, goat cheese and cilantro.

If, for whatever reason, you're not in the mood for tacos, there's plenty more to choose from. Starters include an octopus tostada, chicken tinga taquitos and beef empanadas, plus a spring salad topped with fresh fruits and veggies if you're looking for something a little lighter. Chicken, steak and shrimp fajitas come with all the fixin's, and burritos served on 12-inch tortillas come with rice and corn salad.

Now let's talk about the bar. Frozen drink machines churn our four varieties frozen margarita: regular, strawberry, watermelon and Sour Patch Kids (which, yes, has candies floating in it), and all four flavors are also available on the rocks. Margaritas come in a standard 16-ounce glass or a giant fishbowl called 40 Ounces to Freedom. Dozens of tequila bottles line the shelves for mixing and sipping, and West says that number will soon hit 100.

"We can serve it any way you like it," West says. "Especially the higher-end stuff, you wouldn't see anyone drinking any other way but on the rocks or otherwise."

The Annex made its quiet debut on May 23, and the Tex-Mex joint is officially open for dinner seven days a week. West says the team is still determining "how the crowd's going to flow" each night, and to expect late-night specials on Tuesdays but probably not lunch any time soon.

The Annex
1919 W. Main St.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Frozen, Not Stirred

Nightingale rolls out a Manhattan cherry ice cream sandwich in collaboration with Reservoir Distillery.

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2019 at 10:44 PM

Nightingale Ice Cream Sandwiches unveils its newest flavor tonight — Manhattan cherry. It’s a collaboration with Reservoir Distillery, featuring fresh black cherries macerated in Reservoir bourbon, then simmered and thickened until the alcohol cooks out.

The flavor will debut at the sold-out Full Disclosure Live: A Night with Nightingale this Thursday evening. The live event, hosted by Roben Farzad and broadcast on local NPR radio stations, will showcase Nightingale owners Xavier Meers and Hannah Pollack.

“Nightingale makes the best ice cream sandwiches around, and we like to think we make the best bourbon around,” says Jay Carpenter, co-owner and distiller at Reservoir Distillery. “It was a natural joining of forces.”

Carpenter worked with Meers and Pollack to develop the new flavor. It wasn’t as simple as dumping a Manhattan’s mix of bourbon, sweet vermouth and cherry syrup into an ice cream base.

“It’s a fine line because ice cream and alcohol don’t play well together,” Carpenter says. “Alcohol doesn’t freeze.” The partners also wanted an alcohol-free ice cream sandwich that non-drinkers and children could eat.

Although the commercial version is alcohol-free, Meers says the pair also experimented with an adult version that has actual bourbon.

“Of course we had to make something a little different for us,” Meers laughs. “We have a private collection.”

The Manhattan Cherry fits right into the decadent line of sandwiches that Nightingale is fast becoming nationally known for. The rich ice cream is tinged pinkish purple and studded with chunks of dark cherry. It’s nestled between two crispy brown-sugar cookies.

If the flavor isn’t bourbon-forward enough for you, Meers and Carpenter suggest pairing it with Reservoir’s new Hunter & Scott Rye, also being released today, and available by special order at ABC stores.

Look for Manhattan cherry sandwiches next week in stores and at Reservoir’s tasting room.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Chef Joe Sparatta's next venture is a restaurant at Hardywood West Creek.

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2019 at 6:59 AM

Three of Richmond’s culinary golden boys have something new up their sleeves. Hardywood owers Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh have teamed up with chef Joe Sparatta of Heritage and Southbound with plans to open a restaurant inside the brewery’s West Creek location, which sits on 24 acres overlooking Tuckahoe Creek. “The picnic mentality is something we keep going back to,” says Murtaugh. “We’re just trying to get people to reconnect with the outdoors, and make really high-quality food that people can enjoy without worrying about formal sit-down service.” The menu isn’t finalized yet, but Sparatta says to expect sandwiches, soups, salads, chips — no-fuss food that transports easily to a picnic blanket and pairs well with the ample beer selection. While the concept is a bit of a departure from what we’ve come to expect at Sparatta’s restaurants, he’ll continue to honor his commitment to local, seasonal ingredients.

“It’s a whole new challenge,” Sparatta says. “I kind of like doing things out of my comfort zone. That’s usually when I have the most growth, and I’m ready for a new set of challenges.”

The fast-casual concept doesn’t have a name, and the guys say they’ll probably keep it that way.

“Our initial feeling was just that this is a new element to what we offer at Hardywood West Creek,” says Murtaugh. “I think at the end of the day we feel that our goal at our facility is to create the ultimate beer experience, and to complete that picture is to have really high quality food to enjoy with the beer.”

Construction on the space is scheduled for this fall, with plans for the restaurant to be up and running by early 2020.

Hardywood West Creek

820 Sanctuary Trail Drive



Monday, May 13, 2019

Fat and Happy

The newest restaurant from Eat wants to be Richmond’s barbecue crossroads.

Posted By on Mon, May 13, 2019 at 10:06 AM

Barbecue has a way of being both a great equalizer and a polarizing culinary battleground. Everyone can agree the slow-cooked meats and hearty sides deserve a permanent and hallowed place in Richmond's dining world, but where do your loyalties lie? Are you drawn to the tangy vinegar-based North Carolina sauces? Memphis-style dry rubs? Brisket inspired by Texas? The sugar-forward variety that we call our own in Virginia?

Maybe you don't have to decide. One of Richmond's most prominent restaurant groups believes there's room for everyone, not just in the same city but under the same roof.

Introducing Fatty Smokes: A Barbecue Joint, the newest concept from Eat Restaurant Partners, known for spots like Foo Dog, Wong Gonzalez, Pizza and Beer of Richmond and Hot Chick. The new restaurant is on the 300 block of East Broad Street, and hospitality manager Chris Staples notes that nearby street parking is free in the evenings. Executive chef Mike Lindsey is at the helm, and the menu is framed with his extensive culinary background, which includes a stint as a pitmaster in North Carolina.

"Having Mike with all this wisdom and also a background in barbecue allows us to confidently say that we can be a barbecue mecca here in Richmond," says Staples. "There isn't a style under that roof that doesn't hold up to someone who specializes in it."

The menu includes standbys like beef brisket, sausage, pulled pork, smoked turkey and ribs, plus starters like fried green tomatoes, smoked wings and barbecue egg rolls. But much like many of Eat's other restaurants, Fatty Smokes offers up unusual twists on classics, like the Virginia lasagna — pimento macaroni and cheese topped with Brunswick stew and fried collard greens. Ribs are deep-fried and served alongside waffles, and a bowl of ramen features a pickled egg, collard greens, carrots and your choice of meat in smoked pork broth. Sandwiches include the Big Poppa with pulled pork, sausage, bacon and slaw, and El Jefe with beef brisket, beef hot links, pickles, fried onion straws and spicy ranch, both topped with Kansas City barbecue sauce and served between two chunks of toasted jalapeño cornbread with a choice of side.

Speaking of sides, Staples says they're enough to draw even nonmeat-eaters to the restaurant. The list includes green beans, herbed potato salad, jalapeño creamed corn, vegan collard greens and farm-style fries, which he says are like a hybrid between hand-cut and steak fries.

Over at the bar you'll find an extensive selection of spirits, local and otherwise. Six whiskey flights, each featuring three one-ounce pours, range from $15 to $32, with the priciest option offering tastes from Copper Fox, Tarnished Truth and Peerless distilleries. House cocktails all cost $10, with riffs on classics like the ManFattan, featuring bacon-infused rye and bitters.

The 24 taps include local and regional beers, of course, but Staples says barbecue doesn't necessarily lend itself to a hoppy, hyper-local selection. Familiar brews include the Brandy Barrel Wee Heavy from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and Tropic of Thunder from Stone Brewing Co., plus rotating taps from Bingo Beer Co. and Three Notch'd Brewing Co. Happy hour is every day 3 - 7 p.m. with $2 off draft beer and $1 off cans and bottles.

If somehow you save room for dessert, you have half a dozen sweet options to choose from, including sweet potato cheesecake with marshmallow fluff, peach cobbler bread pudding and a bourbon-pecan ice cream sandwich from Nightingale.

For the next week or so, Fatty Smokes is running a social media special, offering a free order of cheddar cornbread popovers to every table from Tuesday to Saturday between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. Check the restaurant's Facebook and Instagram for details.

Next on the horizon for Eat is an iteration of Wong Gonzalez in the GreenGate shopping center in Short Pump, which Staples says will be heavily taco-focused but not identical to the original.

Fatty Smokes
328 E. Broad St.

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