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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.
384-9988
fattysmokes.com

Monday, April 29, 2019

Planting a Seed

Plant Baz burrito bar joins the ever-growing ranks of vegan options.

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2019 at 4:30 PM

Being vegan in Richmond continues to get easier. On Saturday, April 20, Plant Baz made its debut on West Franklin Street, serving up an entirely meat- and dairy-free menu of burritos, tacos, bowls and salads.

"It's a place where people can come and eat good food without worrying about the environment or animals," says owner Jason Jackson, who's been vegan for about two years.
Like a lot of people who choose plant-based diets, Jackson found himself answering a lot of questions when he transitioned to veganism. The lifestyle is becoming increasingly popular, but he says there are still a lot of misconceptions about being vegan.

"A lot of people think we just eat salads and vegetables," he says. "There are plant-based meats out there and a lot of people think they just aren't good. They think you're going to lose weight and not going to have any energy, all this stuff that's not true."

Also the owner of the nearby NuVegan Richmond, a fast-casual franchise based in Washington, Jackson wants to make plant-based dining more accessible to everyone. He says he's seen "a good mix" of pescaterians and carnivores among the vegetarians and vegans at his restaurants, and he meets a lot of folks who are interested in eliminating meat and dairy from their diets. His advice for those who are curious?

"Give it a try, at least," he says. "Go to a place where there are some good options for you and give it a try."

The menu at Plant Baz will look familiar to anyone who's frequented a burrito bar: Pick your base, pick your protein and pick your toppings. Meat alternatives include soy- and wheat-based steak, soy fish and shrimp, pulled pork and pulled chicken both made with shredded jackfruit, and vegetables. The menu is also entirely nut-free, so the nondairy cheese, queso and sour cream are friendly to people with nut allergies. The usual suspects like guacamole, lime rice, black beans and salsas are available as toppings, along with chickpeas. Sides include chips, fruit, churros and Mexican cake, and fruit popsicles are available for dessert.

Jackson says he eats everything on the menu, but his go-to is a burrito with chickpeas, brown rice, pico de gallo, corn salsa, guacamole and sour cream.

Plant Baz
900 W. Franklin St.
658-1754
plantbaz.com
Mondays and Tuesdays 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Wednesdays-Saturdays 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Sundays noon - 6 p.m.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Leading Lights

The reopening of Jackson Ward’s beloved Stoplight Gelato Cafe under new owners is just around the corner.

Posted By on Mon, Apr 22, 2019 at 2:49 PM

Mike Wilbert vividly remembers the first time he entered Stoplight Gelato Cafe in Jackson Ward. The sweetness of fresh gelato and homemade waffle cones filled the cozy space, and he and his fiancee Caitlin Kilcoin, both 33, were immediately drawn to then-owner Barbara Given.

"She was just running around making jokes, hugging people, kissing people," Wilbert recalls. "We were kind of taken aback, like, is this someone's living room? It felt like you had just walked into your grandmother's house."

Given, now 83, opened the quirky gelato shop nearly three years ago in honor of her son, Bryce, who died the previous year. Known as the neighborhood matriarch, she has a warmth and comforting presence that regulars say makes the cafe more than just a place to get gelato and coffee. Devout gelato lovers expressed profound sadness but also compassion and support when Given announced her decision to close up shop last December due to health concerns. What she didn't make public at the time was the plan for Kilcoin and Wilbert to take over and continue her legacy.

"From the get-go, when we started these discussions with Barb, it was clear that this is not a business transaction," Wilbert says. "This is a transition of ownership where she's guiding us, walking us through everything."

Kilcoin, a senior account manager at EAB, has picked up front-of-the-house shifts at the Hill Cafe since she moved to Richmond for graduate school in 2006. Wilbert worked in restaurants before moving to Richmond eight years ago, and currently works for Apple Hospitality REIT. Both plan to remain in their full-time jobs after reopening Stoplight.

Most of what people love about the Jackson Ward sweet spot will remain the same, like its interior with the old traffic light. The couple has undergone intense gelato-making training over the past several months. Kilcoin recalls their first successful batch with a chuckle.

"They say you learn something new every day, and I thought, I just made six pans of gelato, which is something I never thought I'd do," she says. "Then we had the good problem of, well, now we have to eat these six pans of gelato."

Stoplight earned a reputation for its creative gelato flavors like fig and goat cheese, rose, blackberry sage, fruit punch and lemon-berry cake. Kilcoin says she's partial to the sorbettos, a vegan alternative to the dairy-based gelato, and she's committed to maintaining a regular rotation of flavors for the dairy-free crowd.

As for changes, the new owners are excited to add beer and wine to the menu. They plan to offer booze-and-gelato pairings, possibly adding beer- and wine-flavored frozen treats to the case. "Whether you want it separately or in your gelato, we can accommodate," Kilcoin says.

Fresh pizzas and updated sandwiches will also be on the new menu.

"It won't be a diner-style menu by any means," Kilcoin says. "We know our signature items. We do small things, but we do them really well."

Other new developments on the horizon include wholesaling gelato to Richmond-area restaurants, which Wilbert says was successful in the past but Given didn't have the manpower to make it sustainable, and a potential cart to roll the stuff out to events around town.

"Barb didn't have a real presence outside of the neighborhood," Wilbert says. "It would be great to share gelato in a cup at any of the public events or festivals, and there's no shortage of them in Richmond."

Kilcoin says she's always surprised when someone tells her they "just never make it down that way" to Jackson Ward, and she'd love to shine more light on the neighborhood she calls home.

"Jackson Ward as a whole is a well-kept secret of Richmond. It's mysterious in a sense, in its own little pocket," Kilcoin says. "Just putting our presence out there, we would like to be a well-known secret."

Keep an eye on Stoplight Gelato Cafe's social media pages for announcements and opening dates. If all goes according to plan, the shop's doors will reopen within weeks.

Stoplight Gelato Cafe
405 Brook Road
644-9400
stoplightgelatocafe.com

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Twice the Slice

Benny Ventano’s makes its debut in the Fan with gigantic pizzas.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2019 at 3:24 PM

The pizza scene in Richmond just got a lot bigger. Literally.

At 2501 W. Main St., where Continental Divide used to sling tacos and margs to late-night Fan revelers, Benny Ventano’s is serving up the biggest slices of pizza in town. The corner spot opened for business on Monday, April 8, and manager Daphne Collins says each day has gotten busier than the last.

This is the newest iteration of Benny’s, a regional joint launched by two Virginia Tech grads back in 2011. The concept has been simple from the beginning in Blacksburg: good pizza, and lots of it, at a reasonable price. A 14-inch slice with toppings, which is large enough to require two paper plates, is $5 even. For purists who just want plain ol’ cheese, it’s $4. A full 28-inch pizza, large enough to feed a family for a weekend or cure at least two hangovers, is $30 for cheese and $38 with toppings.

At any given time, at any given location, you’ll find three regular options of cheese, pepperoni and sliced Italian sausage, plus two monthly specials. Those vary from one location to the next — in Richmond for the rest of April we’ve got Buffalo chicken and garlic mushroom. Benny Meleto’s in Winchester is serving up mac ‘n’ cheese and a breakfast pizza with eggs, crumbled sausage, ricotta and bacon, and in Norfolk it's got bacon cheeseburger and a veggie-heavy option with onions, olives and bell peppers.

Listed on the menu as “Not Pizza” are Joe Tea kettle-cooked potato chips, available in regular, jalapeño and sour cream and toasted onion, for $1.50 a bag. The liquor license hasn’t come through yet, but Collins says a selection of local beer and cider will soon be available by the can.

Each location, most of which are in Virginia, has its own Italian-inspired second name. The original, Benny Marzano’s, was christened as such in the name of San Marzano tomatoes, which are traditionally used on pizza. Here in Richmond it’s called Benny Ventano’s, a play on venti, the Italian word for “twenty" — this is the company’s 20th store.

The people behind Benny’s knows their audience, and they’re leaning into it. Doors open for lunch (or a late breakfast, depending on who you ask) at 11 a.m. seven days a week, and it’s always open until at least midnight, with extra-late hours on weekends.

Benny Ventano’s

2501 W. Main St.

716-1632

bennysva.com/locations/benny-ventanos

Sundays-Wednesdays 11 a.m. - midnight

Thursdays 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.

Fridays - Saturdays - 11 a.m. - 3 a.m.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Early as ABC

Starting this summer, liquor stores will open two hours earlier on Sundays.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 10, 2019 at 12:28 PM

If your bloody mary bar runs out out of vodka on a Sunday morning in July, just run to an ABC store.

Virginia's state-run liquor stores will open at 10 a.m. instead of noon on Sundays starting this summer.

The reason?

Craft distilleries in the state successfully lobbied to keep more of the profits from bottles sold in their tasting rooms — 20 percent instead of 8 percent. The General Assembly passed a bill this year and Gov. Ralph Northam signed it.

To make up for that lost revenue, ABC stores will open two hours earlier on Sundays.

"This is a signal that the state is starting to embrace our burgeoning distilled spirits industry," said Amy Ciarametaro, executive director of the Virginia Distillers Association.

She thinks it could raise Virginia's reputation for its spirits.

"What we're going to see happen rapidly is an enormous amount of growth."

Thriving craft distilleries and Sunday morning liquor sales are a far cry from the way things used to be in Virginia. Only in the past 30 years or so have ABC stores have been able to sell on Sundays. Before that, "Blue Laws" prohibited it.

Today there are 61 licensed distilleries in Virginia — approaching a dozen in this region — and 11 more in the process of opening. Many have retail stores, which Virginia considers to be state-run ABC stores. But the distillers still have to pay the overhead costs for running those stores.

For the past two years, distillery owners and the Virginia Distillers Association have been working to be able to keep more of their profits. This year, they teamed up with the ABC, which championed the legislation.

Spirits are the only kind of alcohol in Virginia whose sales are treated differently. ABC does not add markup to wine or beer sales.

For Josh Canada, one of the partners for Tarnished Truth, a distillery located inside the Cavalier hotel in Virginia Beach, the change means more money to invest in his business. He said he's hiring another sales person because of it.

Ciarametaro said the move brings "fiscal stability" for on-site bottle sales that's critical for the growth of the industry, especially in the tourism sector. When ABC stores start opening earlier on Sundays, it means the distilleries can, too.

"We are not a Monday to Wednesday business. We are a weekend tourism industry," she said.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Virginia's Oldest, and Arguably Most iconic, Microbrewery Turns 25

Posted By on Tue, Apr 2, 2019 at 3:47 PM

When Tom Martin wheeled the first keg of Legend Brown Ale into Richmond’s Commercial Taphouse & Grill in early 1994, it was a huge deal. Banners celebrated his arrival; staffers and customers gave him a standing ovation.

In an era when craft brewing was an upstart industry, battling to gain traction on the West Coast, Martin had done the unthinkable: launched one of the East’s first microbreweries.

The brewery’s current vice president of operations, Dave Gott, was then working as a Richmond-based beer distributor. He remembers the event well. “If you loved beer and were living in Richmond, you were hyped,” he says. “What Tom was doing was essentially unprecedented. If you weren’t studying brewing science and hadn’t been to Europe, you’d probably never heard of a microbrewery, much less tasted one of their products.” Enamored, Gott befriended Martin and paid a visit to the Legend facility, which was located down a busted gravel road, on an abandoned street, in a decaying industrial district, and on the subterranean-level of a mostly rundown building.

Legend’s Vice President of Operations Dave Gott, Vice President of Distributor Relations Rick Uhler, head brewer John Wampler, and President Tom Martin.

There was a little 15-seat tasting room with a bar and a kitchen that served sandwiches to meet Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control requirements. In an adjacent garage were four, 10-barrel fermenters and finishing tanks. The beer menu consisted of a quartet of traditional European brews — a brown ale, lager, porter, and pilsner. Gott tried the fleet. “The taste was unlike anything available in the region,” he says. “I considered myself something of an aficionado. And yet, this beer absolutely blew my mind.” Gott could see Martin’s vision. Forget the seedy neighborhood; that would change in time. The building overlooked the James River and offered southwest views of Richmond’s downtown waterfront. Put in a big deck and quality restaurant upstairs, and you’d have a drinkers’ paradise.

“I remember thinking, ‘This guy might be a little crazy,'" says Gott with a laugh.

But from today’s perspective, the foresight appears uncanny. Not only is Legend Virginia’s oldest craft brewery, but arguably its most iconic.

Adding a 180-seat deck, full-service restaurant, and 30-barrel brewing and bottling facility that produces around 15,000 barrels of beer a year, the Richmond location spearheaded revitalization in the surrounding Manchester neighborhood.

Among a sea of accolades, its Brown Ale was named grand champion at the U.S. Beer Tasting Championship in 2005. In 2017, the company opened a sister-brewery in a historic building on the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth’s Olde Towne district. Legend beer is now carried in more than 350 establishments ranging throughout Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.

“It’s impossible to underestimate Legend’s significance for the Virginia brewery scene,” says Lee Graves, author of the 2018 book, Virginia Beer: A Guide from Colonial Days to Craft’s Golden Age.

“These guys were pioneers. They helped acclimate Virginians to the taste of craft beer, and paved the way for the vibrant, complex, and incredibly diverse scene we have today.”

The idea for Legend began with Martin’s father.

In 1972, Martin the elder was named brewmaster for Anheuser-Busch’s new Williamsburg facility and was soon promoted to vice president of European operations. The positions introduced young Tom to brewing, and later, Old World beer culture. Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps, he matriculated to University of California, Davis to study brewing science in the early '80s.

There, Martin was surrounded by the dawning craft beer revolution. Accompanied by classmates, he frequented newly launched breweries like Sierra Nevada, Anchor Brewing Company, and New Albion.

“I saw what they were doing and came away totally inspired,” says Martin. Though he tried his hand brewing for Anheuser-Busch in Tampa, his heart wasn’t in it. He longed to bring what he’d seen in Europe and California to his native city.

“I started thinking: ‘I love Virginia, and I love Richmond,’” he says. “‘If I’m careful and build things really slowly, and educate people as I go along, I can make this work.’”

Operating on a shoestring budget, Martin pieced together used brewing equipment and found cheap space. With the help of his father, he perfected recipes for Legend’s four flagship beers by the close of 1993. The Brown Ale proved particularly promising: Its debut at the Commercial Taphouse won a small but devoted following.

Still, there were major hurdles to overcome, including convincing additional area owners and managers to carry Legend beer.

“Back then, most people drank one brand and that was it,” says Gott. Palates were attuned to beers like Coors Light or Budweiser, and brand-loyalty reigned supreme. “It took a lot of education and legwork to convince people to give us a try,” he says. “But, once they did, the doors opened pretty quickly.”

Then there was the problem of distribution.

Accustomed to selling beer by the truckload, distributors considered five or six pallets-worth laughable. This forced Legend to establish a separate distribution company and sell for itself.

“Our primary focus was getting kegs into local bars and restaurants,” says Gott. “We did zero advertising and everything was word of mouth.

Distribution meant one of us making deliveries in a van—and I mean, any day, any hour. If it was snowing? We’d borrow somebody’s pickup.” The devotion and hard work paid off. James Talley, Commercial Taphouse founder and former president, dubbed Legend “Richmond’s beer” in a 2013 Richmond Times-Dispatch article. “People were sold on it. They identified with it and were proud of it. For me, I still have that original Legend Brown tap handle; it’s become part of the Richmond lore.”

Since opening 25 years ago, Legend has witnessed the birth of a thriving craft beer industry. Though there were just 26 licensed breweries statewide in 2006, Virginia now boasts more than 200. Together, they employ 28,000 people and do more than $9 billion in business a year.

The majority of the growth occurred following the passage of landmark legislation in 2012. Regulatory changes made it easier to establish breweries and sparked an increase of 468 percent. With a sudden influx of options, the market shifted rapidly.

“Everything has changed in the past six years,” Gott says. “There’s so much out there – you can literally try a different beer every time you turn up a glass. And nowadays, that appears to be the dominant mentality.”

Legend brewmaster, John Wampler, calls the trend a double-edged sword. On one hand, competition for brick-and-mortar customers and retail shelf and tap space has gone through the roof. On the other, it gave the 25-year veteran brewer license to experiment.

Subsequently, Legend now keeps 12 brews on tap. Bolstering its five flagship varieties (the Golden IPA was added in the late-‘90s) are rotating seasonal offerings, reserves, and special collaborations. Leading up to the company’s 20th anniversary, Wampler kicked off an annual Urban Legends series in 2013. Inspired by what he calls “old-school Richmond legends,” he crafts three or four beers a year with some of “Virginia’s most legendary brewers.”

This year, Wampler will release a trio of 25th anniversary double IPAs, each featuring a different combination of hops. The first, released in January, is made from Centennial and Amarillo varieties.

“These are dual-purpose hops, so they combine clean bittering and rich aromatic properties,” Wampler says. “Expect a deep, layered hop profile backed by a sturdy malt base. Notes of citrus and stone fruit are followed by an herbal, floral bouquet, and a dry, balanced finish. ABV is 8.6 percent.”

Considering Legend’s present legacy, Graves says the company has been a guiding light for Virginia breweries. Its success proves longevity is possible. Furthermore, Legend achieved it crafting solid, go-to beer.

“I’ve made a career writing about beer and try literally hundreds of new varieties a year,” says Graves. “I drink Legend Brown Ale regularly and it blows me away every time. That reaction is what’s kept me coming back for 25 years and running.”

Friday, March 29, 2019

Bon Appétit

RVA Hospitality joins the growing team of chefs behind the French food festival.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2019 at 2:57 PM

For the 11th year running, local chefs will donate their time and skills to the French Food Festival, a two-day event benefiting the Catholic charity Little Sisters of the Poor. The idea originated when the French nuns running the nonprofit nursing home asked why Richmond was home to so many food festivals but none featuring cuisine from France. Beloved local chef Paul Elbling had recently retired from La Petite France, and he’s been involved every year since the first.

Little Sisters of the Poor spokesperson Corinne Waldrop says the festival has grown consistently, and this year six chefs representing local restaurant group RVA Hospitality are on board to prepare dishes.

Other participants in this year’s lineup include Perch owner and chef Mike Ledesma, Michael McClure formerly of Lulu’s, William Erlenbach of Stratford University’s Glen Allen campus and, of course, Elbling.

“It’s important to note, all these chefs donate their time. We purchase the food, ingredients and supplies,” Waldrop says. “They do this for free, they don’t take home any money. We’re really grateful for them.”

The festivities kick off at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 26 at the Little Sisters of the Poor St. Joseph’s Home in Henrico. Entrance is free, with a suggested $2 donation at the gate, and it’s pay-as-you-go for the food and drinks.

Elbling will serve four classic French dishes: a crusty salmon filet with spinach and lobster sauce; beef burgundy with noodles and veggies; creamed scallops, shrimp and crab in a French pastry crust; and puff pastry with veal, chicken and mushroom. Other dishes will include a fried shrimp po’ boy, Cajun style gumbo, ratatouille, duck confit with grits, braised short ribs and crab cakes, plus breads, croissants, pomme frites, sweet and savory crepes, chocolate mousse, assorted cookies and cream puffs. Ledesma and Benjamin Jackson of Little Saint plan to experiment with French-Asian fusion, serving up a fried chicken banh mi and a vegan version, respectively. French wine will be available for $5 per cup or $20 per bottle, along with wine slushies, sodas and water.

And while it’s all about the food, there will also be live entertainment, Parisian marketplace featuring clothing, jewelry and home goods, and a children’s area on Saturday.

RVA French Food Festival

Friday, April 26 4-8 p.m.

Saturday, April 27 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

1503 Michaels Rd

288-6245

rvafrenchfoodfestival.com

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Blanchard’s Will Soon Open Two Coffee Shops in Richmond

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2019 at 1:09 PM

For more than a decade, devoted coffee drinkers have been begging the team at Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. to open a cafe. That time has finally come.

Well, almost. The local roastery, which has been roasting sustainably-sourced specialty coffee since 2005, announced its plans to open not one but two coffeehouses in Richmond this summer and next spring.

“We get tons of interest from people who can’t make it to the roast lab during work hours,” says Stephen Robertson, director of sales and marketing. “We want to make a space for people who are expecting more of a coffee shop experience.”

The first location, in a historic building on the 3100 block of West Broad Street, is slated to make its debut in June or July of this year. In the spring of 2020, the second shop will open near the intersection of Forest Hill Avenue and Westover Hills Boulevard, in the same development as the Veil Brewing Co.’s small-batch brewery and tasting room.

Beloved blends like the Handshake and Dark as Dark will be available at the coffee shops, of course, and Robertson says the menu will also provide opportunities to branch out a little with more single-origin coffees. A piece of equipment by Marco Beverage Systems Ltd., which Robertson describes as a “somewhat automated pour-over system,” will allow the shops to offer more by-the-cup variety.

“We’ll have a lot more selections, and we can serve based on the market price. So if people want to get adventurous and try something a little different, they can try it by the cup,” Robertson says. “It also reduces waste and keeps everything consistent.”

The team drew inspiration from Longoven for the decor, and Robertson describes it as “really warm but also minimalist.” They’re working with local design group Fultz and Singh Architects to design both spaces, which will feature clean lines, soft white tones, natural light and “nothing that doesn’t need to be there.”

Robertson says they’re still finalizing the food, but you can expect a simple menu with things like locally-made pastries and prepared items from Stella’s. A handful of beer and wines may also be available.

“Everything’s going to be super simple, and a lot of it will be featuring local partnerships,” says Robertson.

In the meantime, the roastery will continue to operate as usual, with products available online and at the Westwood Avenue lab and public cuppings (like a wine tasting, but for coffee) every Friday at 10:30 a.m.

Plant-based Mind Your Belly Deli in Short Pump provides a range of vegan options

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2019 at 1:00 AM

During a Starbucks pit stop on a family road trip, Halini Brune asked her husband to bring her anything vegan. Some kind of dairy-free coffee beverage and whatever plant-based snack item he could find would be fine.

"He came back with a cup of coffee with almond milk and a bag of potato chips," Brune says.

The lack of healthy, vegan options at ubiquitous chains was so disappointing that she decided to take matters into her own hands. A native of Brazil who moved to the U.S. with her husband about four and a half years ago, Brune has never been a fan of meat. As a child she fought back when her mom put beef or chicken on her plate, and she says she's just never liked the taste, the texture or the fact that it comes from an animal. Because meats are so prevalent in Brazilian cooking she learned how to eat it, but it never felt right to her.

Around the time she moved to the States, Brune drastically reduced meat from her diet, and eventually transitioned to entirely vegan. She loves experimenting with recipes at home and cooking plant-based meals for herself and her family, but finding options outside of the house was consistently challenging. Equal parts frustrated and inspired by the lackluster bag of chips, Brune began to conceptualize a store of her own.

"I came up with this idea, instead of cooking just for myself, I might be able to cook for other people," she says. "I could offer things that places are not offering right now."

Introducing Mind Your Belly Deli, an entirely plant-based bakery and deli at 201 Towne Center West Blvd. in Short Pump. The doors opened Jan. 30, and six weeks in, Brune says she's constantly experimenting with new ideas and recipes. Some items, she says, are already staples, like the Brazilian cheese rolls, featuring yucca flour, which is naturally gluten-free, and nondairy parmesan cheese. The jackfruit Philly cheesesteak with mushrooms, onions and the creamy, cashew-based cheese made by local startup UnMoo, became an instant hit, she says, along with the air-fried yucca fries, served with Sriracha vegan mayo.

On the sweet side, Brune says the corn pudding with coconut, which she named Kika, already seems to have a loyal following. Several cupcake flavors are always on display, she says, and other baked good include cinnamon rolls, brownies and cheesecake.

While much of the menu is healthy, like the new chickpea-based riff on a classic chicken salad sandwich, Brune notes that a vegan diet is not always inherently healthy.

"Eating vegan can also mean eating a lot of carbs, a lot of sugar, a lot of fat, you know," Brune says. But she goes on to note that items like her cupcakes, which contain a lot of powdered sugar, are healthier than many grocery store alternatives that are full of artificial dyes and preservatives.

Within the next couple of weeks, Brune plans to expand the menu to include weekend brunch, featuring things like tofu scrambles and biscuits. Don't expect to order a mimosa with your Saturday morning meal, though — Brune is resisting any temptation to include alcohol or sodas on her menu. Instead, drink options include coffee and espresso drinks, hot cocoa, infused waters and kombucha.

Brune doesn't consider other local operations, like the food truck Go Go Vegan Go or Sweeter Days Bakery, whose products she now carries her shops, her competitors. Instead she's looking at giants like Starbucks and Panera Bread, keeping a close eye on their prices and doing everything she can to stay in that range.

"However much Panera Bread would charge for a pastry, I don't want to charge much more than that," she says. "I don't want people to not try our food because it's so expensive."

Eventually, Brune would love to franchise her concept.

"That would be my dream come true, having this store everywhere," she says. "I would love to have a vegan bakery everywhere, so people could walk in and not worry, because they know whatever they order is quality and is made out of plants."

Mind Your Belly Deli
201 Towne Center West Blvd. No. 707
728-3757
Wednesdays - Saturdays 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Sundays 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
mindyourbellydeli.com

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Top Chefs

Five Richmond names appear on this year's list of James Beard semifinalists.

Posted on Wed, Feb 27, 2019 at 3:20 PM

It’s awards season, and appropriately enough, nominations for the Oscars of the culinary world were released today. Unsurprisingly, several familiar names are on the list.

This year’s list of Restaurant and Chef Award semifinalists released by the prestigious New York-based James Beard Foundation includes five Richmond-area names. For the second year in a row, An Bui of Mekong and the Answer Brewpub is named in the Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer category. Sibling duo Evrim and Evin Dogu, owners of Sub Rosa Bakery, also received their second nomination for Outstanding Baker.

New to the list this year are Mama J’s and Sandeep “Sunny” Baweja, in the Outstanding Service and Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic categories, respectively.

Other Virginia nods include Ian Redshaw of Lampo Neapolitan Pizzeria in Charlottesville as Rising Star Chef of the Year and Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church for Outstanding Service and Rutger de Vink of RdV Vineyards in Delaplane for Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer.

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