Mouths of Babes 

click to enlarge food31_lede_kitchen64_148.jpg

Situated on Boulevard nearly in the shadow of its namesake highway, Kitchen 64 is the newest in Johnny and Katrina Giavos' restaurant empire, which includes Sidewalk Café, Three Monkeys and Kuba Kuba. This one is distinguished by its rare north-of-Broad location and its stated goal. As Katrina Giavos told Style last fall, it would be a "family type of restaurant."

When the restaurant industry says "family," that means parents and young children, and it's usually accompanied by a rolling of eyes from spawn-free diners. This none-too-glamorous label tells would-be diners three important things: the atmosphere, attitude and food (in that order of importance) will make parents of small children as relaxed as possible during their meal.

Toward that end, Kitchen 64 has far exceeded its goal.

The entire interior space is smoke-free. It's attractive, with blond maple booths, a pressed tin ceiling and tasteful artwork. The stainless-steel window to the kitchen and the revolving dessert case impart a touch of diner chic, and the spacious patio is furnished with palm-frond fans and canvas umbrellas that keep it appealing, even on summer days. All make for casual comfort, and this aesthetic (not cartoon-themed decor) makes a place family-friendly.

So the word is out, and folks are flocking. Imagine waiting for a table at 5:30 on a Wednesday. The place is drawing lots of families, but also more sophisticated diners ranging from retirees to 20- and 30-somethings. The size and placement of the bar in the front window shows Giavos hasn't forgotten that when all the kiddies are snug in bed, a good portion of his profits will be generated from liquid sales.

Yet despite this presence of mature diners, Kitchen 64 passes the scream test, critical in a so-called family restaurant. It works like this: When a little person bites his tongue, or spills her milk, and lets it be known, how do adjacent tables react? Pursed lips and shaking heads? Not family-friendly. Compassionate smiles? Friendly. At 64, the upbeat music and boisterous crowd mean most folks won't notice the outcry. And the servers I observed talking to children looked as if they might moonlight as baby sitters.

I recognize some of the staff as Richmond veterans; others seem to still be cutting their teeth. Case in point: On my first visit, my companions and I were still eating our way through enormous appetizers when a parade of servers arrived bearing five entrees. Without an inch of space in which to deposit them, the parade turned right around and headed back to the kitchen.

That brings us to the food. The portions are supersized to a degree that's actually off-putting -- at least on the first visit. No one could possibly polish off the mountain of starch — fries, mashed potatoes, risotto, etc. — that serves as a foundation for the appetizers and entrees. Even the salads are colossal. It's just too much to finish, and as a lover of good food, I hate to see it wasted. On subsequent visits, I ordered accordingly and split plates. At these prices (entrees start around $10 and top out at $22 for the filet) and with this quality, dining family-style turns Kitchen 64 into the city's best bargain.

The pasta, burgers, pizzas, and variations on grilled cheese and quesadillas mean little ones will never suffer from too few choices. And neither will adults, with entrees like "Duchess of Pork" with caramelized onions and demi-glace, filet mignon topped with jumbo lump crab, macadamia-encrusted trout topped with coconut-mango salsa, and a grilled lamb salad with goat cheese over spinach and field greens.

Appetizers lean toward bar food, like the Buffalo chicken minis. The shrimp and Gorgonzola in phyllo is an exception with its artistic presentation, though the complexity of flavors proved hit-or-miss with my group. The crab-cake bruschetta featured average crab cakes atop average bruschetta.

At lunch, sandwiches include enormous slices of grilled bread topped with combinations such as smoked turkey with cranberry and herbed goat cheese, or roasted chicken with apple confit and brie. Both came with sprouts instead of lettuce — an unusual but good call.

There are several dessert options, but I challenge any appetite to survive to the dessert course.

Regardless of their intentions, proprietors can't control who frequents their restaurants. Right now it looks as if 64 is attracting an equal mix of families from the North Side and Giavos loyalists from the Fan. We'll have to see if the urge to turn tables eventually outweighs the desire to maintain a family-friendly pace and attitude. S

Kitchen 64 ($-$$)
3336 N. Boulevard
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-midnight.
Saturday-Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m.,
5 p.m.-midnight.

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