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Monday, August 15, 2022

Superior Sourdough

Europa Crust’s delicious loaves have powered the bakery’s rapid rise.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 15, 2022 at 12:07 PM

Jeff Laine didn’t start experimenting with sourdough in the first wave of the pandemic when homemade bread became all the rage. However, after he lost his job in food science due to COVID cuts at a spice company, baking loaves became his main source of dough. With years of experience in recipe development, he figured the style of bread most closely associated with San Francisco couldn’t be too hard to perfect.

“I started doing the bread thing to make ends meet at home, and I was so blown away by how good sourdough bread is,” Laine explains. “The majority of the country is not eating sourdough and doesn’t even know about it. If they do, it's probably fake and the producer just adds acetic acid in to make it taste sour.”

Laine began his business by delivering loaves to a few dozen homes around town, unsure of how to transform his newfound talent into a fully-fledged way to pay the bills. The taste of his sourdough was always on point, but it took him a year to figure out how to ensure a beautiful exterior every time.

After that, business really began to boom.

“I went from baking in my kitchen, to my garage, to my wife saying, “Get this out of my house!” he says.

His brother-in-law at the time, also an entrepreneur, believed in Laine’s abilities to turn his superior sourdough creations into a career and helped him secure a three-year lease on Europa Crust’s current location, a demure storefront at 14th and Main in Shockoe Slip.

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

When Laine chose the name Europa Crust, the goal was to convey the crisp, chew, and quality that bread from the continent connotes. This week marks one year since the bakery’s founding. Currently, Laine’s only staff consists of his family and one full-time baker. As Europa Crust closes in on producing 1,000 loaves per week, Laine is already contemplating how his business will expand.

With spots at the farmers' markets in Bryan Park, City Stadium, and On The Square —not to mention vendor spots pending in Williamsburg, Charlottesville, and Woodbridge, the demand for increasing production is already there. Just this past weekend, Europa Crust sold 120 loaves in four hours in Bryan Park.

“Farmers’ markets are really our focus,” says Laine. “The whole goal eventually is to have a route truck that drops off around 100 to 150 loaves of bread a day. Long-term we’re looking to move production out of this facility and into something real with dock heights. We want to serve as broad of a community as we can.”

Although Europa Crust’s style of bread making has sour in the name, that doesn’t mean all of the bakery’s creations pack an acidic edge.

“Sourdough baking is a misnomer,” Laine explains. “Whereas most bakers get up at two in the morning to prepare everything they want to sell when they open their doors that day, we mix everything the day before and put them in the refrigerator just as they start to proof so it slows down the process, letting the flavors get better and stronger. It’s absolutely the best tasting bread you can eat.”

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

For folks who love a classic sourdough, Europa Crust has three varieties to choose from. The San Francisco sourdough is an all-white loaf made with a starter named Henry from the Golden State. The French sourdough is a take on Boulangerie Poilâne’s iconic creations which the Parisian bakery sells over 5,000 loaves of each day. The 50% whole grain also gives this loaf a deeper flavor. Lastly, the rye sourdough makes the perfect base for a pastrami or a reuben sandwich.

Europa Crust also sells a few varieties that you’d never know came from a sourdough process. The five grain’s combination of sunflower seeds, oats, rye, white flour, and flax seeds makes for a loaf that is “like a meal unto itself, it’s so hearty,” according to Laine. Preparing the rustic Italian begins with pounding down chunks of imported French sea salt and ends with bread that is good for dipping and great for pastas. If you love that loaf but want it littler, try the baguette.

One surprising success on the menu is a cardamom-braided sweet bread, a Finnish staple over coffee that Laine made as a small homage to his grandparents. Although Europa Crust will never sell cakes or croissants, Laine is working on Japanese milk bread dinner rolls to sell during the upcoming holiday season. Pain au chocolat, sliced sandwich bread, and green olive loaves are all also on the list for experimentation.

Laine credits his ability to so freely play with different flavors and forms of loaves to his background in food science: “You have to have a brain like a scientist in this business because it’s half-science and half-artistry.”

Europa Crust is located at 1321 1/2 E Main St. ste 111 in Richmond, although there is no dine-in service. For more info, visit their website.

Exterior of Europa Crust at 1321 1/2 E. Main St. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Exterior of Europa Crust at 1321 1/2 E. Main St.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Lactose Love Affair

Spotty Dog Ice Cream is bringing New England style ice cream to Church Hill.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 4, 2022 at 3:22 PM

When Hannah Sager and Alex Miller first met on a date in the Big Apple 10 years ago, their mutual love of lactose made for an instant connection.

“We originally bonded over a shared love of ice cream and our belief that Northern ice cream is better,” says Sager. “Alex being from upstate New York and me from Vermont, we both have very nostalgic and special memories of ice cream.”

Now married and living in Church Hill, the couple has been producing pints of from-scratch ice cream for the last five years. Their dairy dessert experiments began shortly after they moved to Richmond in 2015. Twelve months of testing eventually earned them their own signature recipe with which they now make all of their varieties.

As a lawyer, Sager knew the duo couldn’t sell ice cream out of their house, so Spotty Dog Ice Cream began its life as a free sample service to their bravest neighbors willing to take a chance on ice cream amateurs. “We used to put out flyers telling people to text us for free samples, and surprisingly people trusted strangers dropping flyers in their mailbox,” Miller says.

Just over four years ago the couple received an official business license, moved their operations to a commercial kitchen, and began organizing pop-ups almost every weekend at Union Market, breweries, and any shop that would have them. “We always had the idea that one day we would have our own shop—that was our goal,” says Sager.

The dream of a brick and mortar had to be put on hold when COVID-19 broke out, forcing the duo to shift gears from pop-ups to home pint delivery. As society and the economy have slowly returned to the pre-pandemic normal, Spotty Dog Ice Cream is finally getting its own standalone home at the end of this month.

Half of the new space at 2416 Jefferson Ave. in Church Hill will be a large production kitchen where Sager and Miller can pasteurize their bases, mix up their avant-garde flavors, and package pints for sale. The other half of the shop will feature a counter containing all of their flavors for sale as well as booths and bar ice cream seating.

“A real deal ice cream parlour”

Pop-ups and pints have proven a great way to grow their business, but the couple couldn’t be more excited about hosting customers in their new shop to enjoy the social side of ice cream—the exact element that brought them together a decade ago.

“This is gonna be a real deal ice cream parlor with people coming in getting cones, specialty sundaes, and seasonal creations,” Miller explains. “We’re looking to go from this faceless underground pint model to a real deal neighborhood spot. It’s a big change, but we want to reconnect to our customers and feel a sense of community with our neighbors. It’s what we’e been envisioning since we got into ice cream.”

Besides being the only ice cream shop in Church Hill, Union Hill, and all of the East End, what the duo hopes will truly set them apart is their focus on New England style ice cream—a high in fat, low in air style that enables Spotty Dog’s flavors to pack a bigger punch on your pallet and to linger in your mouth longer.

“The texture and mouthfeel is denser, creamier, and richer,” Sager says. “It feels like how ice cream back in the day would taste when the process wasn’t as mechanized and things were made more in small batches. We want our ice cream to feel authentic to what you would be served at a parlor in the early 1900s.”

Although the way they churn their product may be old fashioned, the flavors are far from it. Miso peanut butter and jelly, tahini brownie sundae, and black pepper honeycomb are just a few of their more fashionable flavors. For folks feeling a tad less adventurous, Spotty Dog also serves up the classics with dreamsicle, salty chocolate chip cookie, and a key lime pie variety.

Crumbles, crackers, and crusts add a textural element to keep customers' mouths entertained no matter which Spotty Dog flavor they are savoring. “We try to strike a balance by elevating lowbrow flavors to something a bit fancy,” explains Miller. “Nothing that we make is overly sweet. Oftentimes I find our ice cream is more for grownups than for kids.”

Regardless of which flavors Sager and Miller whip up for the new shop, all varieties must be approved of by their muse and the parlor’s namesake—their pet aussie, Mr. Brown & White. Before the couple moved to Richmond, they used to live above an ice cream shop.

“Our dog used to lick their cups clean so much that he became addicted to anything in a cup or with a spoon!”

Spotty Dog Ice Cream will be located at 2416 Jefferson Ave. in Church Hill when it opens later this month.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Heat Wave

Grab your Duke’s, it's a hot tomato summer.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2022 at 2:43 PM

It was supposed to be a one-off. A weeklong event in 2021 that would highlight, and hopefully benefit, local businesses after their doozy of a 2020. But Duke’s Mayo diehards are, well, diehards, and Hot Tomato Summer is back for year two, this time with nearly triple the number of participating restaurants.

“We opened it up to everyone,” says Duke’s marketing manager Rebecca Lupesco.

From pop-ups like Oro and SmashedRVA to mainstays like Can Can, more than 50 Richmond restaurants are participating in this year’s campaign, running from Monday, July 18 through Sunday, July 24. There are also about a dozen Greenville, S.C. restaurants (home of Duke’s creator, Eugenia Duke) hosting their own Hot Tomato Summer.

Lupesco says the only stipulation for participating restaurants was to add one to three new dishes combining tomatoes and Duke’s to their menu for the week. “We try to leave it as open as possible so chefs can really make it their own,” she says.

This autonomy means that restaurants can share the details of their dishes far and wide on social media, or they may choose a more enigmatic approach.

Whether or not they research the menu ahead of time, diners are sure to stumble across traditional offerings like River City Roll’s BLT made with “meaty” Hanover tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon and the perfect smear of Duke’s.

Or perhaps a classic Southern staple will beckon, like newly opened sweet shop Pies and Cakes Bakery ‘s tomato pie, made with a “buttery, flaky pie crust filled with Duke’s Mayo and mascarpone custard and topped with amazing tomatoes from Village Garden and fresh basil.”

Diners looking to mix things up will also find food—and drink—that pay homage to the classic summer pairing in unexpected ways.

Take, for instance, the Smoky Mug’s “Rickey at the Garden Party,” an original cocktail by bartender Danny McDermott featuring “tomato and pineapple Duke’s mousseline-washed gin, tomato and lime cordial and Topo Chico.”

And then there’s JewFro and Soul Taco owner/chef Ari Augenbaum, who seized the opportunity to go full ‘Chopped’ and use the simple summer staples to whip up some truly inventive, nuanced dishes. Augenbaum says that Soul Taco’s Hot Tomato contribution was inspired by the ultimate nostalgic, tomato-centric comfort dish—tomato soup and grilled cheese. The riff on the classic will feature a cheese pupusa stuffed with confit tomatoes and bacon jam, served with a charred tomato aioli using Duke’s.

“On the JewFro side, we really wanted it to feel like a real summer dish,” says Augenbaum. In true JewFro fashion, the dish is inspired by both Jewish and African cuisine while also blending in true southern, American flavors. Please see: Mr. Pibb glazed ribs with a side of mashed taters and slaw.

Of course, the ribs are beef (no pork at JewFro), and will also feature a tomato shakshuka glaze, plus spices like cilantro and garlic and cumin. The coleslaw brings in the Duke’s plus Ras el hanout, a Tunisian spice blend, while the potatoes incorporate more African elements like the Ethiopian spices niter kibbeh and berbere.

“We went in this direction because this dish screams ‘American summer’ but also imparts our JewFro vibe,” says Augenbuam.

In addition to sating his culinary creativity, this year’s campaign also marks the beginning of what Augenbaum hopes will be a long and fruitful partnership with the iconic Southern brand.

“We’ve tried our best [in the past] to do dishes with Duke’s and post our pictures and videos on social media hoping they would pick it up and every time they didn’t,” says Auguenbaum, who feared the brand was simply not interested in his creations. “When they reached out to us this year, we realized it wasn’t us! So not only are we retroactively very happy about that, but we’re very excited to be included this year.”

JewFro partner Nar Hovnanian
  • JewFro partner Nar Hovnanian

Augenbaum’s business partner Nar Hovnanian says they’ve been rocking their Duke’s swag in the kitchen in anticipation of the big event. “We’re really excited, we saw the event floating around on Instagram last year and we thought ‘This looks so cool,’” says Hovnanian. “When they reached out to us we did a little giddy dance.”

While the highlight of the event is the celebration of tomato season, Duke’s and the local food scene, the campaign also has a philanthropic bent—something like Duke’s-flavored icing on a tomato cake, perhaps. Duke’s will be donating $5,000 to support nonprofit Shalom Farms and Sauer Brands will be matching this with their own $5,000 donation.

“I hope we can expand this every year,” says Lupesco. “Cities like Charleston and Nashville— there’s just so much potential.” Here’s to hoping the brand can continue spreading twangy joy for many more hot, hot summers to come.

To find a full list of participating restaurants, head to the Duke’s website. For updates on fun giveaways and to see the Duke’s team chow down on every available Hot Tomato dish around town in real time, follow them on Instagram, @dukes_mayonnaise.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Jamming for Joy

Dayum This is My Jam is producing pickles and preserves with pride.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 18, 2022 at 4:00 AM

Andy Waller hated their job. Beset with boredom and in search of a creative outlet, in 2015 they turned to an equally tuned-out best friend for help. After she pulled out her great-grandmother’s hand-stitched downhome country cookbook to give Waller a lesson in pickling and preserves, they were hooked. The duo’s love of puns and music quickly led them to a name for their fresh born jam brand: Dayum This is My Jam.

Seven years later, Waller manages the business as the sole owner, but they still name every new flavor with a pun based off of a musical reference. Dayum This is My Jam has come a long way since that first flat of blackberries Waller transformed into a couple dozen jars of jam.

The kitschy fabric over the top, tied down with burlap string, has been replaced by labels printed with the official firm logo. With two employees managing the company’s production and events, Dayum This is My Jam finally feels like a full-fledged business even if Waller is not full-time yet.

Pre-pandemic Waller viewed jam-making as little more than a hobby job, but when COVID hit they faced a fork in the road: give up the dream of turning preserves and pickles into a career, or double down on the business and see what’s possible. They chose to keep fighting.

“Over the last two years, I have put so much more effort into growing this business because now my wife and I have two kids and I'm the sole breadwinner,” Waller explains. “I’ve ached to make this my full-time because I’m so immersed in the small business food scene and I feel a lot safer in my work with the community as a trans[gender] non-binary person.”

The pandemic caused a huge drop in sales as most Dayum This is My Jam sales happened at in-person events like farmers’ markets, pop-ups, and festivals. “Back then I didn't have my stuff in stores, and my main way to earn money was through events which came to a total stop,” says Waller.

Sales quickly shifted online, however, as Waller and their team devised a way to do local delivery. Several shops around town host a jam shelf where Dayum This is My Jam products are available to buy including Stir Crazy Café, the Smoky Mug, and Morr Donuts in Mechanicsville. An additional ten stores in Central Virginia stock a variety of pickles and preserves for purchase.

To celebrate seven years of business, Dayum This is My Jam is teaming up with Stir Crazy and Morr Donuts on July 19 for a “jamiversary” party featuring two new products: pancake and waffle mix and a strawberry fruit syrup to douse them in.

Such events are second nature to Waller as the creator of both the Lakeside Local Makers Market and Safe Space RVA, a pop-up makers’ market that showcases Black- and queer-owned businesses without brick-and-mortars. Their heart for a cause also led them to begin regular fundraisers for the RVA Community Fridges, donating the proceeds and a jar of jam to the fridges for each item sold.

At first, the thought of being so open about their beliefs and identity was terrifying. But the community support and record sales Waller has witnessed since then have proven such fears to be unfounded.

“Being openly trans isn’t a death sentence to your business,” Waller says. “Humanizing trans people has been good for me and my business. I think people appreciate that I am open, candid, and working hard to let folks know that nonbinary people exist and always have. If folks don’t support that, then they can just buy other jams and pickles.”

The price of such prejudice would be missing out on some mesmerizing marmalades and palette piquing pickles. Waller tries to source all ingredients as local as possible, a feat made far easier thanks to Dayum This is My Jam running operations out of the Lakeside Local Makers Market’s commercial kitchen. Many of the herbs Waller grows themself.

Ironically for a jam company, the top selling item is the Psycho Diller pickle spears, which pay homage to a song by the Talking Heads. Packing a punch of tang and garlic, Waller says “they do not shortchange you on flavor” although they aren’t spicy spears the way some customers fear.

Those looking for a taste of the holidays all year round should try the Feast of Bourbon, a cranberry compote perfect on everything from fresh waffles to a turkey sandwich. The Hot for Peaches preserves features a jalapeño kick which pairs nicely with crackers and cream cheese. The Whiskey Golden Pear Surprise also offers a nuanced set of flavors without being overly sweet.

Perhaps Waller’s favorite flavor is the newly added Transgender Dysphoria Bluesberry, a blueberry citrus blend dedicated to their own journey to feeling comfortable in their body. This variety was the winner of a six month, LGBTQ-themed flavor competition that also included assortments such as Glitterbomb, An Elderlastin Love, and Born This Gay with a Splash of Rosé. With their own gender-affirming (and medically-necessary) hysterectomy on the horizon, Waller relishes any opportunity to talk about the queer and trans experience in a fun way.

Once the surgery and recovery are complete, Waller hopes to scale up Dayum This is My Jam’s production even further beyond the roughly 400 jars they currently sell each month. As a proselytizer for preserves, they want Richmonders to think beyond toast when reaching for a jar of jam.

“Jams are more versatile than people think,” Waller explains. “I would like to do a cookbook eventually to show folks how to turn a strawberry jam into a salsa, a vinaigrette or a cocktail, for example. There’s so much more you can do with jam.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Lakeside Local Makers Market.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

A Passion for Smashin'

Smashed RVA looks to make a juicy splash in the local burger scene.

Posted By on Sun, Jul 10, 2022 at 4:00 AM

Whether you’re an omnivore, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or flexitarian, chances are you love crushing a burger from time to time (sans beef for some). This sentiment is something Michael Marshall Jr., owner of Smashed RVA burger pop-up, thrives on.

Before Marshall became a burger-smashing fiend in the streets, he attended school to master the culinary eats. He went to a high school in Caroline County that was rebuilding its culinary arts program, so he decided to join. “That’s where I kinda started loving food,” he says.

After high school, Marshall continued his culinary pursuits at Reynolds Community College in Richmond.

“I didn’t want to go to school, but I wanted to try to go to school,” Marshall says. “Then I learned in the industry you can learn and make money, so I was like 'Oh, I’ll do that.'” With that thought, Marshall dropped out to pursue his career more directly.

After working in restaurants throughout high school and his brief stint in college, Marshall began his more serious pursuit as a kitchen manager at the Iron Horse in Ashland. His schedule proved stressful until moving over to the Caboose. Then Marshall left a brief time later, wanting something more high-pressure. That's when he worked at Lemaire, the acclaimed restaurant inside the Jefferson Hotel, which put him back into his high-stress comfort zone. Marshall thoroughly enjoys the chaos of a busy kitchen, specifically when “everything around me is on fire, but I’m just gonna keep moving. I love it.”

During his time at Lemaire, Marshall was furloughed for eight or nine months due to the pandemic. Amidst the uncertainty, Marshall started the Smashed pop-up, which began slowly, starting as a once-a-week gig. As time progressed, he gradually escalated pop-up appearances while cutting back hours spent at Lemaire. Marshall recently went all-in at Smashed, but notes his final day spent at Lemaire was “a bittersweet moment.”

As for the decision to specialize in the smash-burger style [which as it sounds, smashes the ground beef into a thin patty when it hits the grill for more flavor], Marshall notes: “Asking for a temperature for ground beef is just a weird thing to me… Smashed burgers will always be the superior burger in my opinion.” Don’t expect any pink burgers coming off these flat tops.

smashed3.jpg

The idea for the burger pop-up was somewhat inspired by a high school project Marshall had to complete where students planned a makeshift restaurant. He went with burgers and milkshakes, of course. “Probably because it was the easiest thing to do…but I always knew I wanted to do burgers,” he adds.

Marshall keeps four burgers on the menu year-round with a rotating special or two that varies week to week. Out of the four mainstay menu items, Marshall very much recommends first timers “go OG or Chopped Cheese. If you’re gonna go OG, you gotta go double OG.” The OG Smash features Seven Hills beef, American cheese, onions, Smash Sauce. As for doubling down on the patties, Marshall says, “when in Rome, right?”

Their signature Smash sauce is a play on a sauce by Sean Brock, founding chef of Husk restaurant. This version features more mustard and more relish. Marshall notes, “I kind of love mustard on beef” and he didn’t realize how much he loved mustard until they started making Smashed Sauce. Given the success of this pop-up, customers seem to agree.

Marshall’s long-term goal for Smashed is a brick and mortar, but not just your average burger joint. Due to the abundance of burger spots in Richmond, they want to set themselves apart. “We don’t want to do just a normal burger shop…we want to do something a little different. Almost like a bodega-style Five Guys.” A convenience store serving burgers and chopped cheese? I think we’ve transported to NYC in a hurry.

In the meantime, Marshall would like to work more weeknights, specifically Monday nights to feed his fellow industry workers. Given these sentiments and the multitude of collaborations Smashed RVA has participated in with other local business owners – most notably (in Marshall’s opinion) the McSmashed collab with 1115 Mobile Kitchen and Jiji Frozen Custard – Marshall is a huge advocate for the RVA food community.

Check out Smashed RVA on Instagram (@SmashedRVA) to find out where they will be smashing next.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

From Stockholm with Love

Axelsdotter is serving up Swedish treats at cafes around town.

Posted By on Tue, Jul 5, 2022 at 9:48 AM

Ingrid Schatz can’t pinpoint the moment in her childhood where she fell in love with baking, but summer strolls through the Swedish countryside picking blueberries for pies with her mother and grandmother proves a top contender. Since Schatz left her post as Ellwood Thompson’s head baker in 2020, she has been channeling her heritage and passion for posh pastries into her own small baking business: Axelsdotter.

Schatz’s American father first met her Swedish mother while they both worked at the U.S. embassy in Stockholm. Although her mother served as a translator, her closely held hobby of baking was the gift she passed along to her daughter. The family’s prowess with dough and batter can be traced all the way back to Schatz’s great-grandfather who owned a Konditorei (sweets shop). To brand her own small business, Schatz hearkened back to the Scandinavian naming tradition of a surname plus a role; Axelsdotter means “the daughter of Axel,” her great-grandfather.

The idea of launching her own bakery was a fantasy Schatz had toyed with for the better part of a decade. Bored with the drudgery of a menial marketing job in her 20s, Schatz suddenly quit, left her life in London, and moved to Paris to begin classes at a culinary academy. An internship with the famed French bakery, La Duree, transitioned into two years of intense patisserie production. The long distances between Schatz and her parents and sister eventually persuaded her to return to the U.S. for a pastry chef postion with the W Hotel in Washington, D.C.

A job posting for a head baker at Ellwood Thompson’s provided the perfect opportunity for Schatz to make the move to Richmond, a city that seemed ideal for her and her kids to settle in. Although she loved her stint at Ellwood’s, the pandemic prodded her to take a leap of faith on an old dream she had been deferring.

“I wanted to finally break out on my own,” explains Schatz. “It was something that had been at the back of my mind for about ten years, but I always thought I needed more experience. Then finally I said, ‘Ingrid, if you don’t do this now, then you never will.”

All of Axelsdotter’s flavors feel taken straight out of a cookbook of Scandinavian classics. Cardamom and almonds form the contours of her flavor palette yearround while saffron takes center stage throughout the winter. Whether she’s baking vanilla buns or vegan chocoloate tarts, Schatz takes pride in preparing all her products just like she used to enjoy it in the motherland.

“Everything is inspired by my Swedish heritage,” she says. “One of the top comments that I get from my customers is that American desserts are too sweet. What I make is not quite so toothache-inducing.”

The result has been a booming business with more customers than Schatz can easily serve, including a surprisingly large contingent of authentic Europeans who consume her creations with the same fervor as a cult classic.

On Mondays, Axesldotter delivers cardamom buns, cookies, and cakes to Sefton Coffee Co. downtown. On Fridays and Saturdays it’s vanilla danishes and vegan tarts to Afterglow Coffee Cooperative in Scott’s Addition.

For folks looking to sample an assortment of Axelsdotter’s best-sellers all at once, Schatz suggests ordering a “fika box.” Every Tuesday she posts a menu with the list of baked goods awaiting eager customers on Saturday. Orders close promptly Thursday morning to allow her enough time to hand prepare each pastry and product.

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Fika box fan favorites include Schatz’ cinnamon buns topped with pearl sugar for an added crunch, Maseriner almond pastries with either a raspberry marmalade or glaze, and little green logs dipped in chocolate on either end whose name means “vacuum cleaner” in Swedish for the 1950s appliances they resemble. Perhaps Axelsdotter’s most famous creation is the Princess Cake, a sponge base layered with raspberry jam and vanilla pastry cream covered in whipped cream and a thin layer of marzipan to create the illusion of a perfectly formed semi-sphere sweet treat.

For a pastry chef of Schatz’s caliber, such complex creations are no longer a challenge. “Everything is hard before you try,” she says with the matter-of-fact tone only a true Northern European can muster.

With business booming, what’s next for Axelsdotter?

“I eventually would love to have an actual cafe and bakery here in town,” explains Schatz. “With a 3-year-old and two older sons, I don’t think I'm at that point yet. My medium-term goal is to move into a bigger space and bake more than two dozen buns at a time so that I can serve more customers and don’t have to cut off my orders anymore.”

Until she can find the perfect place to expand operations, Axelsdotter’s legions of loyal customers will have to settle for finding her cakes, cookies, and pastries at cafes around town. Whether you enjoy her creations at a local coffeehouse or in your own home, the flavors will always reflect Schatz’s childhood favorites.

“Every time I write a post about my products I say, ‘This is one of my favorite things,’ but it is all true!”

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

From Waffles to Wings

Brunch and bar food blend seamlessly at The Riviere.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2022 at 1:49 PM

Time knows no bounds at one of Broad Street’s newest establishments. All-day brunch and bar food beckon customers to The Riviere whether they’re in the mood for French toast bites or lollipop lamb chops. The strength of this new Black-owned restaurant is in its ability to mix Richmond’s communal food culture with the vibrancy of the city’s nightlife.

In less than a year, The Riviere has become a top spot to dine in the arts district by offering rich breakfast fare as well as luxurious late-night favorites. The hustle and bustle of Broad Street increasingly chows down here, especially on Taco Tuesdays where dinner is served until 1 a.m.

The restaurant’s rhythm is founded on the kitchen and bar’s close relationship.

“Richmond doesn’t really have a place that brings together nightlife and good food,” says owner Javontae Jones. His many years spent working in late-night entertainment endowed him with a special appreciation of a good meal at the end of a long day. Jones returned to Richmond with the goal of satisfying such late-night desires in a more elevated, yet approachable way.

“What gets people out? If it’s not music, it’s food,” he says. With his vision for a new hot spot in downtown Richmond fast forming, Jones began to seek out a chef in the fall of 2020 to help bring his dream to life, regardless of the uncertainty that was unfolding thanks to the pandemic.

Through friends, Jones came across Pacq’s Kitchen. This pop-up operation was started by three brothers whose home cooked food drew crowds and kept the neighborhood connected, despite the social isolation triggered by the pandemic. Nurdeen Nasir, also known as “Chef Mar Mar,” and his two brothers quickly began serving up warm meals to a growing number of neighbors, friends, and soon Jones too.

Exterior of The Riviere, located in the heart of the arts district. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Exterior of The Riviere, located in the heart of the arts district.

The Riviere’s owner witnessed firsthand the impressive popularity of Pacq’s Kitchen and took note of their sublime, yet subtle, menu offerings. What was the missing ingredient? A business plan to move operations out of the house and into a professional restaurant. Jones pitched the collaboration to Chef Mar Mar, who describes the unexpected partnership as “an exciting collision of talent."

Today, Chef Mar Mar is proud of their new elevated menu where soul rolls, a Southern twist on a classic Asian egg roll, sit comfortably next to pan-seared salmon. “We offer combinations people don’t know that they like yet,” he says.

Although much of the menu makes meat the main star of the dish, Chef Mar Mar also serves up vegetarian items made with just as much love (of butter and seasoning) as any fried chicken or shrimp dish. Even those who need more than plant-based protein will gladly veg out on classics like the crispy hand-breaded cauliflower bites while maybe attempting to finish off an oversized veggie Philly sandwich!

Whether you’re looking for a new spot for Sunday brunch or a place to order tacos after 12am on a Tuesday, The Riviere has got you covered. It's located at 506 W. Broad St. For online reservations, visit the website.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Rhythm and Booze

Northside’s beloved Boogaloo’s Bar & Grill gets a rebranding as Harlym Blue’Z.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2022 at 10:28 AM

ShaMecca (“Mecca”) and LaTeshia (“Teshia”) LeSane knew they wanted to open a music venue in Richmond, but finding the right spot proved more complicated than they could’ve imagined, especially during COVID.

Teshia, a mental health counselor by day and musician by night, and Mecca, a full-time teacher, sought to combine their respective passions within whatever storefront they could secure. The pair, who met playing basketball, dreamt of making the space a center for youth enrichment during the day and a venue for aspiring musicians, like Teshia herself, during the evening.

Their search for a location gained momentum after they told Nerisa Ford, owner of Boogaloo’s in Northside, about their fruitless efforts. Teshia was a regular weekly performer at Boogaloo’s. The pair’s story struck a chord with Ford and she agreed to allow them to slowly take over her space. First, the pair continued to operate under the Boogaloo’s name when they started in January, until they were ready to fully rebrand as Harlym Blue’Z.

The restaurant’s fare, “cultured bar food with a southern twist,” according to Teshia, offers an effortless blend of both women’s roots; Mecca is originally from the Bronx, and Teshia was born and raised in Richmond. Mama Lo’s seafood salad is a recipe handed down directly from Teshia’s mother while Mecca’s mac and cheese, and Teshia’s shrimp and salmon soul rolls sit comfortably on the menu alongside options like empanadas.

The drink menu is an ode to the music they love with signature drinks named after songs like Liqueur Purple Rain and the WAP (Weak A$$ punch). One of their most popular drinks is the Karaoke Kool-Aid, beloved not only for its refreshing, fruity flavor but also its affordable $6 price. Ongoing happy hour is proof of the pair’s belief that you shouldn’t need a ton of money to have a good time. Signature drinks are $2 off on Wednesdays from 5-9 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays from 5-7 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 4-6 p.m. Other happy hour specials include $10 off hookah, $6 house sangria, $2 hot dogs, and several other discounted food options. The ladies also offer daily specials such as Taco Tunesday, when tacos and jello shots are just $2, and W.A.P.’N. Wingzday when W.A.P. drinks are buy one, get one.

And what would a music-inspired bar be without the music? On Tuesdays, Harlym Blue’z hosts a Name That Tune contest with prizes. On Wednesdays and Fridays, they have open mic sessions and karaoke; on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, they have live music by up-and-coming local artists.

With well thought-out food and beverage service and events nearly every night of the week, the LeSanes hope to attract a steady stream of patrons. Teisha says that the pandemic has been the biggest struggle they’ve faced while getting up and running, noting that constantly changing restrictions and the public’s decreased appetite for dining out have made things more difficult.

Their goal for the space is “to nurture the community.” They hope Harlym Blue’z will grow to become more than just a restaurant or bar, but a neighborhood spot where the community can come together and thrive. Building on Teshia’s background in mental health and Mecca’s teaching experience, the pair ultimately wants to start a nonprofit that would provide enrichment to local kids in the afternoons and summer. With the restaurant as its hub, kids could learn the fundamentals of a music club and running their own business. In the meantime, they’re hosting events to help uplift the community, like the upcoming Making A.M.E.N.’s Night on July 16th, where men come together to acknowledge and discuss common issues in manhood.

As a Black lesbian couple, the LeSanes understand the power of creating community and caring for each other through tough times. They hope their presence [and community involvement] on increasingly thriving Brookland Park Boulevard will highlight the impact of acceptance and local engagement. Quality service and memorable experiences may expand perspectives and bring patrons together, and if people can enjoy live music, home-cooked food, and creative libations while making connections, that’s even better.

Harlym Blue’Z is located at 210 W Brookland Park Blvd and is open Tuesday-Thursday from 5-10 p.m., Friday from 5 p.m.-1 a.m. and Saturday, 4 p.m.-1 a.m.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Taking it to the Streets

The husband-and-wife duo behind the ValerEats food truck looks to improve breakfast options.

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2022 at 4:00 AM

Like many others, March 2020 was a defining time for Monica and Jayson Fuentes. Current owners of ValerEats food truck, the two sought more out of life than their previous jobs in insurance. While simultaneously working and caring for their four children from home during the pandemic, the Fuentes’ decided they needed a change.

Besides Monica’s past waitressing job and Jayson’s brief stint at a Jersey Mike’s during his college years, the pair had no background in the food industry. However, a fascination with food was always there. “Food is a passion we both have and love,” says Jayson.

Launching their very own food truck seemed like a good way to indulge that passion.

The truck’s namesake comes from Monica’s late Aunt Val who passed in September 2020. The memory of her aunt provided the initial inspiration for pursuing a food truck life. “She loved to eat but didn’t cook,” says Monica. “She was basically like a second mom to me growing up.”

When it came to deciding what type of food to provide, they took a strategic approach. Observing the lackluster number of breakfast trucks in the area was plenty enough motivation to fill “the niche Richmond needed based on the recipes and ideas we had,” notes Jayson.

Having frequent pop-ups at local hospitals, they took great pride in serving frontline workers during the pandemic on a regular basis. “If we can go to hospitals and serve nurses, EMS workers, and doctors – people who save lives – that’s more inspiration for us,” says Jayson.

While a truck’s first pop-up almost never goes as planned, the Fuentes’ truck has become a well-oiled machine since their debut in August 2021. “[We] can do it with our eyes closed now,” says Jayson. “We work efficiently and really well together.” Couple goals.

When you scope out the menu, you might notice that several items are named after the couple’s children. Their signature sauce, “Val’s Sauce,” also bears the truck’s namesake. This operation is truly a family affair. And when it comes to ordering, the couple insists you check out their three hottest items (figuratively): Claire’s Texas Burrito, Kai Philly Burrito, and Poffertjes (Dutch mini pancakes).

The Poffertjes come in varying sizes – 5, 10, or 15 – with several toppings to pick from. These sweet treats are quite popular amongst the kids. As for the burritos, they come in one size – large and in charge. With so many drool-worthy options, decision-making can become a challenge.

When asked what’s next for the pair’s new full-time gig, they have a couple thoughts, but one goal stands out: A small diner-style brick-and-mortar location is their ideal next step. There are unforeseen challenges that come with a kitchen on wheels, so a standalone would aid consistency. But while that remains in the works, their current rotation of local pop-ups remains gratifying for the duo.

Find ValerEats’s next pop-up location by following them on Instagram (@valereats_rva) or finding them on Street Food Finder (https://streetfoodfinder.com/ValerEats).

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Pupusa Pilots

The Cocina Calle food truck is out here perfecting the yucca tot, y'all.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 8, 2022 at 12:29 PM

When Zack Phifer returned to Richmond from a two-week excursion in El Salvador, a pupusa-sized hole was left in him. According to Phifer, he “ate pupusas for every meal two to three times a day” for the entire trip.

With 17-plus years’ experience cooking for various musical artists and organizations and few local options to fill this void in his heart, he did what he does best when he got back to Richmond: He crafted the foods himself.

Alex Britland – a good friend of Phifer’s and fellow lover of the culinary arts – always had a dream of owning and running a food truck. Pair these aspirations with Phifer’s pupusa fixation and dream of being his own boss and bam – Cocina Calle was born.

From a young age, Phifer and Britland always just clicked. Both very motivated individuals, they made for good business partners. “Let’s do this together,” was the resounding answer for both as they decided to follow their dreams with a new food truck venture.

But when the pair took to the kitchen to perfect the recipes prior to launch, there was always some level of anxiety. “Yeah, these pupusas are good, but are they that good?” was a common sentiment according to Britland.

After bringing their food to the masses, it became apparent that their pupusas were popular. One of Britland’s neighbors who once lived on the edge of Guatemala that borders El Salvador will frequently call up them up to cater any small, backyard gathering. That good.

The food truck is also a family affair. Monica Britland, Alex’s wife, is another co-owner. She is mostly in charge of logistical work -- social media, scheduling, masterminding -- you name it, she’s on it.

If you’re wondering what to order, consider these options: the bean and cheese pupusa, vegan tot-co (they sling tacos too), yucca tots, and everything else in between. These were the team’s selections when asked by Style Weekly what was most popular among their regular customers.

The aforementioned bean and cheese pupusa did not always top this list, though. In the beginning, their pork pupusa would have come out on top. They use their own house-smoked pork in it, cooked low and slow. Over time, vegetarian options like the bean and cheese and newly released spinach and cheese pupusas have gained momentum, overtaking the carnivore options in popularity.

Highlighting Cocina Calle’s laborious yucca tots is a must. Along with being the perfect accompaniment for your pupusa(s) and/or taco(s), they are a true labor of love. From start to finish, it takes about two hours to transform raw yucca into its fryer-ready mash. The process is clearly worth it, as patrons are currently consuming about 70 pounds of the fried root vegetable goodness every week. Among the fried yucca options on the menu: yucca tots with house-made aioli ($6) and loaded yucca tots with choice of protein, topped with slaw (curtido) and cheese and served with choice of salsa. The truck also offers a sweet version of tots for those craving something more dessert-y.

Going forward, this street kitchen is hoping to maintain the momentum they’ve gained and expand their offerings. Brunch service is on the horizon, where their two-hour yucca mash will be prominently featured. Expanding their catering business is another aspiration.

Besides broadening business, the Cocina Calle team has major goals for the future. Ideally, they would love to have their own commissary kitchen to host other food trucks. Their vision comes with endless possibilities: a food truck court, an in-house brewery that also pours local brews, featured food and beer pairings, etc.

But for now, the team is cultivating motivation through seeing repeat customers come back time and time again. As put by Alex, “Seeing people truly enjoy our food and show up at different places, it’s [those] regulars that keep us going.”

Find Cocina Calle’s next pop-up location by following them on Instagram (@cocinacalle) or finding them on Street Food Finder (https://streetfoodfinder.com/cocinacalle).

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