March 28, 2007 News & Features » Cover Story


First Taste 

As Style celebrates its 25th anniversary, we asked our food critics to recall their earliest encounters with Richmond restaurants.

click to enlarge pagliacci100.jpg

As a native Richmonder, my very first memory of a restaurant would probably be of hot dogs with my parents at the New York Deli, but my first memorable restaurant moment came just down the street from my house at Bogart's one summer early in the evening.

There, I always ordered a Dixon Steele steak and my sister always ordered a Babyface Martin. Our funds were limited, so which song to play on the jukebox was worth fighting to the death for. As our money dwindled down to one last quarter, the waitress came to our rescue, filling the jukebox with change from her pocket, probably unaware that the 11-year-old customer and her 7-year-old sister had already blown her tip. We, however, walked home satisfied, full to the brim with Coca-Cola refills and the confidence of negotiating a meal at a restaurant all by ourselves. — B.P. Fox

I knew Richmond was going to be a great place to live even before we had a place to live here. It was the summer of 1985, and we had come down from Bethesda to house-hunt. On our first night here, we had dinner at Caffe di Pagliacci on Lombardy Street in the Fan. It was a great neighborhood place, with Italian food downstairs and jazz up.

In the next couple of days, we also ate across the street at Bogart's, and Alexander's on Broad (now Cabo's), and realized that if we bought nearby, there were three restaurants that had decent food and live jazz. The drugstore at the corner of Lombardy and Park (now Kuba Kuba) had a lunch counter, and Richard, the druggist, said he'd send over a bowl of soup if we ever got sick. So when we found a Monument Avenue house (for less money than we had sold our little suburban colonial in the D.C. area), we knew we'd found home. — Don Baker

In 1999 I drove all the way from Portland, Ore., to start graduate school at VCU. I was supposed to get here early — in plenty of time to find an apartment — but hadn't planned on the tractor-trailer that would try to crush my car outside of Reading, Pa. When I finally arrived, school was in session and I had nowhere to stay. Between classes, I hung around a Grace Street rental agency next door to a basement restaurant. The first time I entered Ipanema's cool cavern, it resounded with the rasp and hiss of Tom Waits' "Heartattack and Vine."

Punk-regaled regulars lifted tattooed fists of Pabst to their lips and scarfed up excellent vegetarian tavern fare. Ipanema was my first lesson that Richmond is a discover-it-yourself town of nooks and crannies — welcome news considering the West Broad Street Chain Restaurant Hell I thought I'd moved to when my barely repaired yellow Ryder truck limped into the city all those years ago. — Joe Cates

Despite the inevitable encroachment of high-end chains, it's the neighborhood joint (old and new) that constitutes Richmond's dining drumbeat. I moved here in 1993, but my earliest dining experiences predate my arrival: the lemon poppy-seed muffin at World Cup, the gimmicky bathtub at Strawberry Street, the quaint reserve of The 2300 Club.

My favorite at that time and now is Legend Brewery. Before there was a giant deck and post-work crowds of the young and attractive flush with cash, there were grizzled beer lovers crammed in a tiny basement with excellent brew and the best vegetarian chili and hummus in the city. And no one knew it. I miss that Legend, but at least the beer is still great. -— Patrick Getlein S

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