The Great Divide 

Food Review: If you love Charlottesville’s Continental Divide, brace yourself for its Richmond location.

click to enlarge Fresh, rare tuna arrives on top of black bean purée and sprinkled with goat cheese at Continental Divide.

Scott Elmquist

Fresh, rare tuna arrives on top of black bean purée and sprinkled with goat cheese at Continental Divide.

The Continental Divide in Charlottesville is ridiculously busy. Its hard-hitting margaritas, rare tuna and curt service are part of the University of Virginia culture. Collegiate memories begin or end with its tequila list. So when a location in Richmond was announced, the familiar “Get in Here” sign couldn’t be hung fast enough in the old Mint Gastropub spot on West Main Street in the Fan. Local Wahoos swooned.

A little renovation opened up and lightened the place significantly, and the new Divide now is packed with fans of its sister establishment. The clear-cut service specifications — absolutely no separate checks and if your baby is crying, take it outside — are printed conspicuously on all the menus. And if that doesn’t hammer home the tenor of the service, the brusque servers will help. Each visit finds one more churlish than the last.

The long list of tequilas and margaritas ought to mean that variations are a snap for the bartender, but that isn’t the case. Two very specific orders arrives incorrectly. A no-salt margarita shows rimmed with salt. And a margarita containing mescal, easily detected by its slightly smoky smell and taste, is listed on the menu, but on three separate visits, the mescal in it never materializes.

The tuna tostada ($14.95) is brilliant. This successful dish is simple: Fresh, rare tuna is barely seared and placed on top of a semi-spicy black bean purée and crisp flour tortilla. Goat cheese is sprinkled on top and gives the dish flashes of tartness that mesh well with the jalapeños and red pepper. Red, hot and blues ($7.95) — one of Continental Divide’s upscale versions of nachos — is composed of blue corn chips, goat cheese and red onions for the ultimate hangover food. The combination should be a fail-safe, but stale, cold chips, chilly cheese and no onions is a big disaster.

Mexican menu stalwart chili con queso can be prepared with black beans or Black Angus beef chili. Neither is warm and both are unappealing visually — and their gluelike texture makes them almost impossible to eat. The Santa Fe enchilada ($12.75) essentially is a Mexican pizza. Round and oversauced, its tortillas are layered with chicken and cheese.

Pungent — and not in a good way — shredded pork ($12.75) is stuffed into two soggy tortilla shells. It’s supposed to be served with corn salsa and mango, but neither is on the plate. Beef tacos ($11.95) are passable, although you can easily find them cheaper and better at plenty of other spots.

On every visit, when faced with any minor issue, Continental Divide’s servers respond with increasing distaste. When I mention the missing mescal in the margaritas and the salt-rimmed glasses we didn’t want, our server merely shrugs and begins to speak to an adjacent table.

Three dishes on another visit — there were only four of us at the table — go visibly untouched, and all are cleared without comment or concern. On a separate evening, our table is overlooked completely even though the restaurant is less than half full. Perhaps it’s because we are in the back, the bar was lively — or just nobody cared? Whatever the reason, it’s tough to overlook all the errors at Continental Divide’s inaugural location in Richmond. You can ride on the coattails of a sibling only for so long. S

Continental Divide
2501 W. Main St.
Mondays-Wednesdays 5-11:15 p.m.; Thursdays 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sundays 10:30 a.m.-8:45 p.m.


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