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Block Party 

Here's to a lunch that works overtime.

click to enlarge food27_stronghill_200.jpg

File Stronghill Dining Company between “single-needle, black ink tribal” and “super-sport cycle shop” in the latest edition of the Richmond Hiptionary. In the blocks around North Boulevard, Stronghill also becomes an excellent example of mixed-use, smart in-fill, giving the area a much-needed shot in the arm after the Braves' departure.

In that way it joins the new Bowtie Cinemas, which has given a boost to the area, showing mainstream and art-house flicks in a revitalized train foundry. There's a distinct vibe to these blocks in the heart of Richmond, which transform defunct industrial to super-urban neighborhood creation.

You may wind up here before too long — standing at the bar enjoying a well-crafted cocktail, soaking up the candlelight and the live music on a Monday night or having a nightcap after the picture show. Drink in the richness of the tattoo-inspired, subtly exquisite woodwork and the depth of the shadows and glasses reflecting the streetlights. But what do those same dark corners yield up to the daylight?

Some of the best taverns and public houses are places you wouldn't want to inspect too closely by daylight, but that would miss the point. Stronghill is of a different ilk; it can do the bar, party all night and still not miss the morning shift. After all, there is sausage to grind and bread to bake. As with any craftsman worth his salt, these are the chores that make up the chef's daily grind, and the daily grind is the whole point. Fine-tuning and performance. All signs show the seriousness of craftsmen and the delight of artists doing what they enjoy most.

The lunch menu features the same flavors as dinner, in many cases served on a seriously crusty baguette or fresh-from-the-oven focaccia rather than over starch of various Southern origins. Sandwich prices stray into the double digits, but justify their cost in volume. The 1200 is worth coming back for with its prosciutto, goat cheese, roasted tomatoes and onions. The sausage and peppers on a torpedo roll with homemade mustard will get a second look as well. And the rainbow trout po'-boy is so intriguing that I have to go back a third time to try it. And it's good, really good, a nice, big fillet of trout with curried shrimp salad and jicama coleslaw. I could see myself craving any one of these, or the cashew-encrusted shrimp, when I'm feeling a bit elevensesish on a weekday at work.

Good choices from simple soups with single-word names (potato, tomato) to classic salads round out the offerings. House-made fries are variable in their crispiness from visit to visit, so I suggest going with the standout fingerling potato salad. The “creative Southern” self-description of the joint is most evident in the desserts such as chocolate banana bread and in the creative libations of the daytime variety, orange-basil iced tea and strawberry limeade.

It is beyond my understanding why anyone would want to offer up barbecue within sight of Buz and Ned's shaded patio right across the street. As soon as I read the word, I look up and out the vaulted glass wall and almost decide to jaywalk. In writing we call that breaking the suspension of disbelief. But you gotta give it to the new kid on the chutzpah, eh? And there are few joints in the light of day or the glow of night that have this kind of authenticity in design and purpose, such as the motorcycle with a sidecar parked out front. This is by far the better hangout. All the space lacks is a pinball machine to lean on in the corner. Thankfully, there's a place to get one right down the block. S

Stronghill Dining Company ($$)
1200 N. Boulevard
359-0202
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner nightly
www.stronghillrestaurant.com
Nonsmoking
Handicapped accessible

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