Just Be Better…

The year is up AGAIN. What in the hell man? I did NOT see that coming…

So I guess it’s time for a New Year’s resolution. You know, that one promise that people spend weeks anguishing over to make sure that it is a realistic, sustainable and productive goal that benefits not only themselves, but the people around them. Right? That’s what New Year’s resolutions are, 100%. I can promise that they aren’t word-vomit that has no particular meaning other then some vague reference to personal health or “doing good things” that people spew out when pressed in order to fit into the conversation. Right, that doesn’t sound backwards at all. I feel like we’re getting somewhere now.

I’ll admit, I’ve given up on more of my New Year’s resolutions then I’ve followed through on. In fact, I think the only one I can really remember actually acting on the whole year was where I vowed to stop being picky when I ate out. I wanted to start eating more stuff I didn’t like, fruit in a salad for example, in order to experience things that are worth experiencing at least once. You know, grow a little as a person. So, I have been thinking about my resolution for this year for a few weeks now (I’m being honest when I say that). I think I finally figured one out that is simple, beneficial to myself and others and completely sustainable. I just want to be better.

Profound right? Just be better? That’s something a 7 year old would say (if they were awesome). “Nice one Nick… you truly are the master of this game. Be better? Psssssh. Idiot.” I know you are all thinking that. Let me explain though. Judge me after. Just not loudly. I cry.

Everyday we wake up at a base level. It’s how it is. Let’s call the moment you wake up zero. Zero is nothing, neither good nor bad. It doesn’t lean in any one direction (which is weird to me as an oval like that would most certainly tip one way when set on it’s end…). That very first nano-second of the day when your eyes open and your brain orients itself is the perfect and only null moment of your day. From there, you determine where it goes. So, it’s my resolve to be better.

To start off I want to get-up and workout on a regular basis. I started working out with a group called  X-Team (X-Team Fitness) in September.  It’s been a lot of fun. The people are extremely supportive and the workout is truly intense. It’s been a big boon for my health. I’ve lost weight, gotten stronger and feel healthier. I just need to make sure I get up and go. I can’t slack. I need to be better.

I need to be nicer to people. Not stupid people, but regular people. Especially when I drive. Maybe someday I won’t understand how cars work. Or merging. Or turn signals. Or where the gas pedal is… Be better.

I’m a blogger, but based on my output in 2014, you wouldn’t know it. Same can be said for the ForkItRVA podcast (Fork It RVA). I need to actually produce. I need to focus on my chosen “craft”. When it comes to being a blogger/podcaster… be better.

Volunteering needs to happen more. I didn’t really do crap this year. 2014 was NOT what one would call a year of servitude. There are plenty of things that I could do. Hell, the RVAFC (Richmond Food Coalition) is a food-based organization. We NEED to do a food-related charity event. Or I could just man up and volunteer at the food bank. Shit man, be better.

Finally, I need to stop hating people for their race, hating the police for the few bad apples, executing people based on their beliefs, judging people based on their sexual orientation, allowing mental illness to be the cause of great tragedy, not talking about suicide and generally being a shitty person. Whatever happened to the treat others as you want to be treated philosophy that was forced on us as kids? When did I forget that, as humanbeings, we were all crafted to be individuals? That we aren’t of a hive mindset? That religion isn’t the end all be all of rules? Since when did a few people that do something stupid/violent define an entire profession? What happened to me celebrating the return of our soldiers? When did I stop giving out medals to our medical personnel who put aside family and personal safety to treat a killer disease halfway around the world? Man, I must really have become a head-in-the-sand moron during 2014. Really lost the morals and integrity that I pride myself on… Oh, how silly of me. I meant America, specifically the general public. We have certainly lost our way in 2014. We’ve pretty much become the definition of ass-clowns. What the hell is wrong with us? When did this become the American way? BE BETTER EVERYONE!!! 2015 is a new year, a fresh clean slate. Be better. Stop blaming everything on everyone else and take responsibility for you. Be better. Work hard to make yourself a people that the newest babies, the first children of 2015, can be proud of. Stop being a giant set of ass-clowns. We all need to be better.

At the end of the day, I think my New Year’s resolution is pretty solid. It sums up so much in just 2 words: Be Better. We all can strive for it. As a matter of fact, we should. Any day that you don’t is a waste. So, let’s shrug off the shames of 2014 while making sure to celebrate the positives. Let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s be better. It’s so simple, yet encompasses so much.

Here’s to 2015. Here’s to an interesting 2014. Here’s to my family, who I don’t get to see as often as I wish. Here’s to friends who were a big part of my life. Here’s to friends I haven’t gotten to see. Here’s to a decent today and a better tomorrow. And here is to being better. I hope we all strive for it and I truly hope we all accomplish it. Happy New Year everyone.

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Foo Dog

I will be the first to admit that I probably know about as much about Asian street food as I do about the intricacies of the theory of Qualia, which is to say I know nothing. So when the suggestion was made to go to Foo Dog to try their version of Asian street food, I was on board.

 

Foo Dog (Foo Dog) is located in the Fan at 1537 W. Main St. It is a nice corner location with decent street parking surrounding it. The restaurant is rather large, but can start to feel a little cramped when it’s packed as it was the day we went. We put our name in with the hostess and waited by the bar. I appreciated the size of the bar. It was long and provided a lot of seating. It’s was full when we arrived and stayed that way the entire time we were there. We never got a chance to visit the patio, but from the outside it looked pretty decent.

 

After about a 30 minute wait (which wasn’t bad considering how busy it was) we got seated. Even with 5 of us at the table, there was plenty of room for everyone’s elbows. Our waitress was very pleasant irregardless of the fact that she was tending quite a few tables. I appreciate that because it shows she cares about doing her job well. She handed us our menus, took our drink orders and bustled on her way. The menu is concise and neat. I felt that the descriptions were comprehensive enough so that I felt confident in knowing what I would receive. We began our process of making some choices.

 

We all agreed that appetizers to share was something that needed to happen. Natalie, being a vegetarian, went with the fried tofu. I’ll be honest, being a meat-eater has not stopped me from developing a deep love for tofu so I was pretty excited about those. I had never had it fried before. We also got an order of Foo Wings, Shazam Shrimp, Pork Gyoza (which are dumplings) and Edamame. The variety was vast which allows for proper menu sampling. We also ordered some entrees. A lot of us got ramen as we were coming off a ramen pop-up not long before this that was amazing. I went with the classic Japanese style plus shrimp and a soft boiled egg. Someone else got the Malaysian Style, which featured a coconut curry broth and fresh ginger. Unfortunately, that’s all I can remember being ordered though I know there was more.

 

Our appetizers came out first and we didn’t hesitate splitting them up and digging right in. I will start with what disappointed me, the tofu. It looked awesome, all crispy with a great topping. And the outside was super crispy, but then you got to the center. It seems because the pieces were so big it didn’t allow the center to cook. It was cold and slimy compared to the hot crunchy outside. It really threw off the bite, which is unfortunate. Otherwise, I was fairly pleased with the appetizers. The gyoza was delicious. The filling was juicy without ruining the texture of the dumpling. I could have housed several orders of those.  The sauce on the wings was excellent. It had a ton of flavor with a touch of heat. the wings themselves were meaty. All around a nice wing. I was very much looking forward to the shrimp and was not disappointed. The jalapeno honey aioli sauce was spicy and sweet in the same bite. The shredded coconut gave a refreshing crunch to the tender shrimp. I would love to have put the dish in a soft taco.

 

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As our forks aimlessly milled around the remains of the appetizers the waitress brought out our entrees. Everything smelled great. Prior to the arrival of our dinners, one consensus we came to at the table was that the soft boiled egg should be standard in a bowl of ramen instead of extra for $1. What good is a delicious bowl of noodles and salty broth without the creamy rich egg yolk? Sigh, c’est la vie I guess. The first thing I noticed about my ramen was that it was a wonderful size. It was between a normal soup bowl and a punch bowl. Big enough for people to take home leftovers (as several table-mates did). As a big eater, I appreciate a big bowl. I grabbed my spoon and dug right in. The broth was as I hoped, salty and tasty. I won’t go out on a ledge and say that I feel they simmered pork bones for 72 hours to make it, but it certainly didn’t taste like it came from a can. There was a slight glisten to the surface and I truly mean that in a good way. There was a nice richness to the broth from the pork. The noodles were chewy and springy as one would expect from alkali noodles. I wish the shrimp had been dumped into the broth prior to serving as opposed to being on a skewer. I felt they would have imparted a touch of their shrimpy flavor, but they were still good. The egg yolk was creamy and gave a wonderful silkyness to the dish. All in all, a very good bowl of ramen.

 

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We all sampled each others entrees with gusto, each contributing a strong opinion for or against. The minute I saw the Malaysian style ramen come out, with it’s coconut curry broth I had faint twinge of buyers remorse. Tasting it caused that twinge to grow into a full-on volcanic eruption in my brain. It was excellent. Sweet with heat, to put it simply. A must get for me next time.

 

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At the end of the trip I was quite satisfied. I felt full and not over-taxed in the wallet area of my life. Now, was I convinced it was authentic Asian street food? As a white untraveled American, I would say yes. As a food-enthusiast with several Asian food-friends who have traveled to the motherland, meh… I would say it is the “NY-Style” bagel places found anywhere outside of NY. You like it  & you feel certain that it is fairly authentic unless you have actually tried the real thing first hand. So, I’m good with the claim of Asian street food and fully satisfied with the quality of what was made. Foo Dog, you are the Asian street food dealer of RVA in my mind.

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The Black Sheep

Sandwiches hold a spot in my heart. They have since I was little. Peanut butter & jelly, when slapped upon two opposing slices of white bread and then forced together in sandwich-mony is a thing of bliss. Bologna and cheese stacked ever so sweetly together with a light spread of mayo to keep them warm inside their sub-roll home is a personal favorite. So, when I heard tell of The Black Sheep’s massive subs, I became a man driven. Thankfully, Chris and Sally were ready to dig in with me.

 

The Black Sheep (The Black Sheep) is located in the Carver District on W. Marshall St. in what looks to be a converted old home. It’s not incredibly big, a fact they recognize by not taking reservations. It was packed by the time we got there so we placed our name on the list with the hostess (who appeared a bit harassed and stressed out) before proceeding to the back patio to wait. The back patio was fairly spacious. There are a fair amount of tables to sit at, but only if you are willing to share with strangers. We were so we crashed with a nice party of 4. The waiter/bartender came over and gave us a drink menu. The drinks are reasonable and the offering was good. We each got a beer and chatted while we waited for our table. The hostess finally called us and we set off for our seats.

 

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The inside of The Black Sheep is fairly nice. There are only about 12 tables which helps to keep the noise level tolerable. The exposed brick is a very nice touch, but that’s a personal preference of mine. I also really enjoyed the big front windows. We were lucky enough to be seated next to one. Once we sat, our very pleasant waitress gave us our menus and a quick rundown of things. She then left us to make our monumental decisions.

 

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The menu is fairly large with a variety of offerings. All of the breakfast options were quite mouth-watering. I was especially struck by the Breakfast Batteau (I LOVE duck with an unhealthy passion) and by the French Toast (gingersnap cookie crust? Are you serious??). But I knew what was here for, the sandwiches. So, I flipped to the page titled The War of Northen Indegestion and allowed my eyes to feast. All of the sandwiches are called battleships and hence are named after battleships. These bad boys come in full or half size. Let me break that down a little more for you. The full is roughly 2 foot long. That’s right, 24 inches of sandwich. More than even I could finish. So, a half it was, but which kind???

 

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Sally decided that she wasn’t going with a battleship. She instead settled on the Ms. P, which seemed like a winner. It’s avocado, bacon, pimento cheese, tomato, horseradish and pickled red onion on Texas toast. Ummmm, yes please. Chris was feeling a battleship so he chose the USS Congress. This is a bunch of roasted pork cooked in a tomatillo BBQ sauce with grilled pineapple and a salad of pickled peppers & cabbage on a baguette. I anxiously tottered back and forth, hopping from one choice to the next. I finally was forced to choose and I went with the SS Sultana. It was a step out of the box for me, but not for the reason one would think. It is a baguette stuffed with spiced lamb & beef with chopped romaine, cucumber, green onion, tomato and Russian dressing. I’m not a Russian dressing fan usual, but I took a risk.

 

Our food came out surprisingly quick for being so busy. When our waitress set our sandwiches down, I knew I had made a smart choice by only getting a half. This thing was big. And I was going to eat almost all of it. I shared some with Chris (in exchange for some of his) and some with Sally (a bite for a bite, the fairest of all systems). I made sure on my first bite to get a bit of everything. What an amazing combo!! The meat was well seasoned and juicy. The veggies provided a refreshing crunch while the dressing added a cold creamy texture. The bread was outstanding, which is most important. This sandwich had it all and I couldn’t get enough. Chris’s USS Congress was also great. The roasted pork was slightly spicy and smokey. The pineapple provided a sweetness while the pickled veggies gave it tang. It was a great choice. Sally’s sandwich, the Ms. P, was a home run from first bite to last. All of the elements played so well together it was insane. The crunchy salty bacon gave texture while the avocado provided that fatty-goodness. This is a sandwich I know I’ll be making at home.

 

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Overall, The Black Sheep nailed my craving to the floor. They took monster sandwiches to a whole new level for me. They left me satisfyingly stuffed, but with my eye on which was next for me. I promise that I will see you and your fleet again real soon.

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Vacation Over

The practice of sitting down to write is always easy to say. “Today, I will write a post! It will be engaging, honest and insightful. People will want to read this when I’m done.” A simply wonderful thought process that I know I have on a fairly regular basis. Then it’s time for the execution. Easy peezy, right?

 

I pull out the old computer and the iPod full of my music tastes, questionable as my friends think they are. I generally make my way out of the house as the couch in my home is motivation crushing while still being cozy and soft. Add in the fact that the tv is there and I have bingewatch-itus, perfect recipe for doing nothing. So off to a coffee shop I go (tried a bar once… not a good place when you love beer).

 

After I order my mocha (because I am a man. YES to the whipped cream) I post up at a table and get all ready to go. My phone sits next to my iPod, in case anyone feels the need to text me about awesome plans (… someone text me…). Earphones are placed into my headholes and we are off!!! Almost…

 

I think that the one thing most people, including myself, forget is that getting ready to write is more than what I have described above. You also have to be there mentally. There is a lot of pressure when you write. It doesn’t matter if your words are read by everyone or no one. The stuff you put down in writing reflects who you are. For some of us, it just pours out in rambling, nonsensical self-inflated word ooze, like for myself. For others, it’s a tight, concise, logical beautiful piece of work that engages the reader without isolating them and requires editing & care, like in the case of broadappetite.com, grublikeagirl.complatenconquer.blogspot.com, or livingswellrva.com. I know these folks and they work hard to post meaningful things. And the mental focus that takes is a giant part of the battle.

 

For the past few months the thought of writing for me has produced a lackluster stirring in my soul. There were so many great places to review and great events, like Fire Flour and Fork (fireflourandfork.com), to attend. So many festivals and events to blog about. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to sit down and write. I certainly could attend, but the idea of follow-up caused me to sigh. I felt like I was stirring the embers of a fire the next day. The passion for writing was still there, just very faint and buried very deeply in a bed of cold grayness.

 

I feel like I have finally got my mind back on track. A few things in life have settled, some good & some bad. Still, they have settled. I know a giant positive jump has come from the fact that ForkItRVA.com is moving forward. We got stalled for a bit, but we are back working in what looks to be a great way. I feel positive about writing again. I’m not worried about getting caught-up on old dining experiences before starting on recent ones. I just want to get back on track and I’m feeling good about it.

 

In summary, I appreciate all of you who expressed concern over my absence. I appreciate all of you who encouraged me to get refocused. I appreciate all of you have firmly seated yourself in my corner and encouraged me to get myself together. And, I appreciate all of you who didn’t even realize I was gone, but still are reading this anyway. The vacation is over. Let’s get back to spouting off about Richmond, shall we?

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Fire, Flour & Fork: Saturday Game Plan

I don’t know if you have noticed lately Richmond, but our food scene has been dusting it’s shoulders off, a la Jay-Z’s instructions. We’ve stepped our game up and are pretty close to looking some “big city’s” food culture in the eye. And we WON’T have to stand on the bleachers to do it either, a la me in 8th grade to be as tall as any of the girls in my class.

 

Not only do we have great chefs and stunning restaurants, but we also have amazing events happening. One such upcoming event is Fire, Flour & Fork.

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Fire, Flour & Fork is a 4 day gastronomical enlightenment session for everyone from the master palette to the fast-food maven. There are dinners, receptions, sessions, book signings and talks. It’s a gathering of writers, owners, chefs, growers, historians, creators, mixologists, brewers and everyday eaters. In short, it’s a celebration of all we put into our stomachs from the where to the why to the how. And it’s going to be epic.

Unfortunately, I can’t afford to do everything, as much as I want too. I had to pick one day of events, a decision which tore at me. Thankfully there is a tried and true way to solve these kinda issues and the coin flip led me to Saturday. Now to agonize over my selection of which sessions to attend. Here is what I came up with:

Saturday morning is all about the Fire for me. A little heat is the best way to start the day. That being said, off to session 1.

 

Session 1 @ 10 a.m.:

     – The Pope of Peppers with Dave DeWitt is up first. I love spicy peppers, almost in a detrimental way. At least that’s what my doctor said. Dave DeWitt is one of the worlds leading guru’s of the capsaicin, the Pope of Peppers if you please. Knowing this session will mix spicy foods and BBQ had me hooked from the first read. I can’t wait to up my spice BBQ game.

 

Session 2 @ 11:15 a.m.:

     – The second session, The Tao of Bark with Chris Fultz, was a no-brainer followup. I love to grill all the time and I dream to one day be a professional grill master. This is a good step in that direction. Chris Fultz will teach us how to use rubs, charcoal and smoke to achieve the perfect bark on brisket. My mouth waters with anticipation.

 

The afternoon I back away from the heat and get into the Flour. Both of these sessions hit me on a personal level.

 

Session 3 @ 2 p.m.:

     – I felt a serious connection with this session. Mike Isabella will be showing us how to make Gnudi based upon his grandmothers recipe. I relate to this because my sibilings and I learned to cook some of our grandmothers old world recipes. Being in touch with your heritage is a big thing. Sharing in a chefs heritage doesn’t hurt either. Mike Isabella, bring on the goat cheese and the old school.

 

Session 4 @ 3:30 p.m.:

     – I love pumpkins. I know that’s kinda weird, but it’s the truth. So much so that I have a pumpkin tattoo. So when I saw the Three Sisters session by Stephen Tuzeneu, I knew I had to attend. Beer made with pumpkin is a staple of the Fall. I really look forward to this session to see it all brought together. It’s the one I’m looking forward to the most.

 

I’m stoked for these sessions. I’m stoked for Fire, Flour & Fork. It’s going to be a great weekend. If you don’t have tickets, I need you to get them RIGHT AWAY. You can buy them here: http://www.fireflourandfork.com/speaker-series/ . If you miss this, you will be sad. So pick your sessions, buy your tickets and I’ll see you there.

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Tay Do

3/13/14:

 

 

Stars: 4.1 out of 5.0

Pros: Building has Character, Lot of Seating, Nice Menu Selection, Quality Food, Cheap

Cons: Limited Parking, Weird Wall Art, Cash Only

 

It was time for a mini RVA Foodie Coalition dinner date. It just so happened to be a night that my friend AF was in town for interviews/apartment hunting. Add BN to the mix and we have a group for dinner. The suggestion for pho (apparently pronounced fu) was made and Tay Do in the West End was selected as the destination. Away we go.

 

Tay Do is located at 6328 Rigsby Rd. It has no website, limited signage and is literally just there… It’s an old house (and not a mansion) converted into a restaurant. They paved the front yard to make their limited parking. If I were to just be driving by one day, I might not have even noticed it. That’s kind of it’s unique charm. It’s hidden in plain sight making it just a touch more Richmond. While that in itself can be a slippery slope, it works for Tay Do.

 

The first thing you notice when you walk into the giant (for this size building) dining area is the wall art. Let me just put it this way… allllright? Lot of murals with a plethora of Asian women with very ill-fitting clothes. To say there are a few boobs on the wall is an understatement. Not that I’m hating, just saying. It was just between acceptable artistic expression and creepy, but I’m no art critic.

 

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A very pleasant, yet quiet, woman brought us menus. While we browsed the menu she went and got our drinks. The menu is a few pages and contains not only pho (a popular street soup in Vietnam) but a selection of salads, rice bowls and stews. It’s a varied menu containing all sorts of meats, like tripe and soft tendon. Don’t get nervous when you look at the menu. Be adventurous and try something different. I myself went with a large bowl of Tai Gan, which is round eye steak and soft tendon. I also got an order of Cha Gio (crispy pork egg rolls) to start.

 

Food came out very quickly, starting with ML’s papaya salad. I tried a bite and was an instant believer. It was crunchy, fresh, crisp and sweet. It was also a giant salad to start out with even after all of us had some. My Cha Gio came out of the back piping hot. They were perfectly crisped and not greasy. The filling was flavorful and rich. I could have eaten a dozen of them. My digestive tract would have hated me, but c’est la vie. My large bowl of Tai Gan was a monster. I tried a bite sans add-ins (sprouts, lime, hot pepper & basil) because one must appreciate the basic before it’s doctored. That bite had a piece of soft tendon in it. As soon as it washed over my tongue, I was satisfied. The rich fattiness of the soft tendon mixed beautifully with the savory flavor of the slow cooked broth. It was truly the perfect pho bite. I then added a little heat and a little lime to cut the richness a little. It was an amazing bowl of soup and I was sad when it ended.

 

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Everyone else seemed to enjoy their food as well. We pretty much cleaned all our plates. When you go to pay keep one thing in mind: IT’S CASH ONLY. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know that theory still existed, but apparently it does. Thankfully, we all knew about this ahead of time. I’m sure plenty of people get caught off-guard though. I’m sure there are plenty of reasons a business would be cash only, but I personally feel that in 2014 you are truly being ludicrous to NOT take cards. To me it makes you seem behind the times. People will argue with me of course, but this is my post so I can say what I want (insert tongue sticking out here).

 

Overall, Tay Do is excellent. Their food is spot on and very filling. Their prices are insanely reasonable. If you are looking for an out of the way joint, they would be one of my top 5 suggestions. Just remember to have that cold hard cash on you.

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Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery

3/8/14:

 

 

Stars: 4.2 out of 5.0

Pros: Beautiful Location, Friendly Service

Cons: Far Away, Mostly Not My Beer Style

 

 

It was a beautiful Saturday for an exodus from our normal watering holes to try something new. So, BN and I got in the car and committed to a trek to deep Goochland to check out Virginia’s first farm brewery, Lickinghole Creek. In route we had a small distraction (see previous post), but we finally pulled into the long driveway which led us right up to the beautiful white barn we had been driving for.

 

Lickinghole Creek (http://www.lickingholecreek.com/) is, as I said, Virginia’s first and only farm brewery.  They are very unique in how they approach the brewing process. They grow a lot, if not all, of their own hops and barley. They grow their own “flavorings”, like pumpkins & blueberries. All the water they use is sourced from their well and upon it’s use it’s purified & returned fresh to the local watershed. It’s pretty much a beautiful example of an eco-friendly, small footprint brewing operation. It also helps that being located on farmland gives a sweet, earthy and clean feel to the whole experience. The views are wonderful. It’s really a great location.

 

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The layout of Lickinghole is very simple. I would say 90% of the barn is taken up by brewing/bottling equipment. The bathrooms are set off to one side in their own little area. The serving “station” is a long counter that runs along one end of the barn. There the taps are set into the counter. It is clean and efficient looking. All of the seating is outdoors at picnic tables. While we were there, people brought not only their own chairs, but their own folding tables to enjoy their beer at. The outdoor seating overlooks some of the active growing fields. It makes for a pleasant setting to enjoy a fresh brew.

 

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As BN and I walked up to the “bar” I spied a sticker for the Four Pillars DIPA. I am a HUGE IPA fan so I got very very excited. Unfortunately, I was to suffer a great disappointment. The Four Pillars had not been finished yet so there was none to drink. With a feeling of sadness in my heart I began to search for an alternative. While I looked at my options, BN got a bottle of the Enlightened Despot, which is a Bourbon Barrel Russian Imperial Stout. It’s a big boy beer at 11.3% alcohol by volume. I am personally not a bourbon barrel guy so I kept looking. I finally decided on the Magic Beaver which is a Belgian-Style Pale Ale. It was light and easy to drink so I was ok with my choice. Unfortunately, the style of beer served at Lickinghole Creek is really not my style for the most part. Sure, they have the IPA, but they mostly do light, Belgian-style beers. Just not my forte. Still, I made do.

 

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Now, here are my 2 pieces of advice to everyone who plans to go to Lickinghole Creek:

1) It’s quite a drive from Richmond. Make sure you bring one person who is completely commited to driving home. Make sure they are good at directions/reading their GPS. It’s a commitment of a trip.

2) Bring some snacks. While we were there a group showed up and they had food with them. I’ve never been more jealous. If only we had planned ahead, but alas…

 

If you get a chance, go visit Lickinghole Creek. It’s a great place to visit. They have a few different beers on tap. Bring a snack and a blanket. Enjoy a nice trip out in the country at an eco-friendly brewery. And now that it’s out, get the Four Pillars (it’s really good).

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My Soapbox Moment

3/8/14:

 

 

I think that I do a very good job of keeping my personal beliefs and views to myself for the most part. I never talk politics or religion. I stray from really blasting people based off what they think, feel, or say. But on the occasion, I need to step up onto my soapbox and blast someone. And I don’t do this as an anonymous blogger. Or a hateful spiteful person. I do it as a human being speaking for something that can’t. I will warn you that some of the photos I post are distressing. Please know that without these photos, my words would not mean anything. Seeing is believing, thus they must be presented.

 

BN and I had decided that with the nice weather we should venture out to a brewery in Goochland. It’s about a 45 minute drive from door to door, which is not a quick trip. When we got off I-64 we stopped to grab some lunch. We were pretty sure that there was going to be no food offered at the brewery, so Dairy Queen was our best choice. We got our lunch to go and continued on our journey. As we are driving down Riddles Bridge Rd. we just so happened to be talking about how there are probably a ton of hunting dogs out this way when BN says, “Speak of the devil”. Up ahead of us crossing the road was a tan-colored dog. As we passed him we both uttered close to the same expletives. We looked at each other shocked for a moment before we whipped a u-turn.

 

As we approached the dog again, he was attempting to slowly make his way up a berm on the side of the road. To say he was struggling is quite the understatement. We stopped and got out of the car. We both slowly approached the dog, who stared at us with sunken, but alert eyes. We were, in essence, staring at a walking fur covered skeleton. I have never seen a dog in real life look so awful. Every step he took looked painful. He shook with what I can only assume is weakness as he stood there. He was one of the saddest creatures I have ever seen. And here we stood, separated by a mucky stream of water, staring at each other.

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I immediately went back to the car and grab what was left of my lunch. As I stood there coaxing the dog back to road with french fries, BN searched his car for dog food. Relunctant at first, the dog seemed willing to ignore us. But, after eating a few fries I tossed, he got over his shyness and came over to us. He quickly polished off the rest of my lunch and the powerbar BN had in the car. We began to pet him while quietly talking to him. Slowly and with a whimper of pain, he lay down on the ground and offered us his belly to rub. Starving, alone and weak he still offered his belly. As we were petting him and discussing our next move another car pulled up. A young guy hopped out to see if he could help us. He lived in the area and wanted to make sure everything was ok. He had the same immediate reaction of disgust and sadness we did when he first looked at the dog. He immediately began spitting out info on who we could call. We finally got Goochland County Animal Control on the phone and they agreed to send someone out.
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As we sat there waiting, we were able to really examine the dog. He was very clean with no signs of mange. His eyes were clear, alert and responsive. His ears were clean with no visible bugs or dirt. His nails were trimmed. He was an older dog, with patches of grey around his muzzle, but otherwise looked to be in decent shape. Except for the fact that he was starving. Bones were visible from every angle. His ribs were outlined neatly through his skin. There wasn’t a visible scrap of fat or meat on his body anywhere. We began to ponder if maybe he had gotten lost or had run away. That’s when we noticed the BRAND NEW collar around his neck. Not only was it shiny, new and spotlessly clean, but it was fitted for his current neck size. There wasn’t room to run your fingers underneath it. This means that there is no way this dog had been lost in the woods for weeks. Someone just wasn’t feeding him.

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We chatted with the guy who stopped while we were waiting. During our conversation he said, “I think I know who’s dog that is.” He said he had driven by the house a bunch of times and recognized the dog as one that lies on the porch. He then turned and pointed right at the berm we first saw the dog on. “The house is actually right there…” So, apparently we interrupted this dog heading home. Lucky for him. While we were discussing how someone could go out of their way to buy a new collar, but not dog food a car passed us by, slowed down, eyeballed us and then drove off. “Holy crap! That was the guy who owns the dog!” our new friend said. So, he now knew we had his dog and STILL didn’t care. Then he drove by us a little later on his way BACK to the house. Still didn’t stop. Unbelievable…

 

Finally, Goochland County Animal Control (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Goochland-County-Animal-Control/466258540125781) arrived on the scene. The officer pulled up, looked at the dog, told us he would be right back and went around the corner onto Bexley Wood Run. Apparently, he ALSO knew whose dog it was and he lived right there on the corner. When he finally came back he said that he had spoken to the owner 3 weeks prior regarding the size of the dog, as it was thin then. This time, the owner denied that the dog was even his. The officer asked him several times and he time he said it wasn’t his. Finally the office left the house and came back to us. We caught him up on all we knew while he pulled some food out of the truck. At this point, we also helped him pull out a giant dog crate. We attempted to coax the dog in with food, but he wasn’t interested. We attempted to pick him up and put him in the crate. No go on that as well. Finally the officer had to loop a catch pole around his neck and pull him in. It was quite sad to see.

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Once the dog was safely stowed away on the truck, we asked him the important questions; what was he going to do for the dog and would he be put down. He assured us that the shelter hadn’t put a dog down in over a year. He said that once he got back to the shelter the dog would be fed and washed. The vet would come on Monday to give him a check-up. If all went well, he would eventually go up for adoption. We all were good with that. It seemed like a reasonable plan. So, we gave our last pats on the head and off he went. Hopefully to a better life.

 

There is a lot about this world that is just down right messed up and shitty. Plenty of it I can understand. But why a person chooses to abuse an animal, I cannot quite grasp. You chose to take this creature into your home which means you chose to be responsible for it. Yet here it is, slowly starving to death STILL trying to make its way home. Even homeless people do the best they can for their animals, while they themselves have no food. This miserable excuse for what you could call a human has 5 cars, some of which look brand new all parked out front of a massive house. He can’t find $20 a month to buy a 40lbs. bag of dog food? I can’t grasp that concept at all. I hope that karma is true and that it comes back around with a vengeance on this pathetic collection of cells in the shape of a person.

 

We did get to the brewery that day. Granted, it was a  very different day then we expected it to be. But, we felt better for our experience. I hope you all will excuse this post, but I felt it must be said. This blog is all about Richmond. That can’t be just the good stuff. It has to be the real stuff too.

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Tour of Church Hill

3/1/14:

 

 

So, for all those who don’t know, I am part of a new group rolling around Richmond. We are the Richmond Food Coalition (https://www.facebook.com/groups/RVAfoodcoalition/), a group of food bloggers and food enthusiasts that try to get out and experience all the Richmond culinary scene has to offer. And we have done a pretty good job at it. Like, for example, the first Saturday outing that most of us were able to attend. We decided to take a small tour of Church Hill, a neighborhood I have not spent much time in. It was quite the day.

 

We started out our day over on 25th St. at the newly reconstructed Sub Rosa Bakery (http://www.subrosabakery.com/). Sub Rosa caught fire in April 2013, just 4 months after opening. Thanks to a ton of support from the people of Richmond, funds were raised to have this wood-fired bakery repaired and it reopened in January of 2014. I did not have the chance to visit pre-fire, but the word on the street was that it was truly a fabulous place to eat. I brought SB with me and we all met up around 11:30 am.

 

Sub Rosa is in a big gold/mustard/yellow (I’m colorblind) building. It takes up the ground floor in what is a very large, yet homey space. The front windows are big and really add a brightness to the place. The counter and oven take up roughly 60% of the ground floor with the rest left to seating. The place smells constantly like fresh-baked bread (so weird, right?). The menu is laid out on a big chalkboard and there are just baked goods everywhere behind the counter. The minute you walk up you just want to lay your wallet on the table and say “I’ll take it all” with the authority of a Viking conquer. Pace yourselves my friends and really pick out a few good things.

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SB & I went very simple with  a few things I felt could do me no wrong; a salami & cheese croissant, winter greens & feta tart and shortbread cookies. She also got a few extra goodies, but I can’t remember for the life of me. My tart and shortbread were ready fairly quickly, but the croissant was still cooking in the oven so I had to wait on that. Always a shame when you have to wait for fresh warm food straight out of the oven (please read that with the appropriate sarcastic tone of fake exasperation). The tart was the first thing I hit up. The first thing I noticed was the feta cheese. It provided that salty crumbly texture to the earthyness of the greens. The shell was flaky and crisp. It wasn’t particularly heavy which was a little surprising as it was loaded with filling. I ate my shortbread cookies next. They were buttery, which I like in a cookie. They weren’t overly sweet, but provided an excellent palate cleanser after the tart. A woman brought out my fresh croissant and the smell immediately blanketed my section of the table. I cut into it and was rewarded with gooey cheese leaking out onto my plate. This was probably my favorite dish of the 3. The salami was wonderful, not too salty or overpowering. It played nicely with the cheese. The croissant itself was a golden picture of perfection. I could have eaten 10 after which I would have died happy.

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As we all finished up, someone suggested we take a bit of a walk around the area. I wasn’t truly familiar with Church Hill and seeing as SB & I had nothing else to do, we agreed. We wandered along discussing the various buildings we passed and the merits of furniture scavenged off of the street when ML expressed her desire to go to Dutch & Co. to get their special Saturday hot dog. I think I have expressed my feelings on hot dogs before, but in case not I will do it again here: I LOVE HOT DOGS!!!! They are one of my top 5 favorite foods of all time. I was excited and more than willing to walk whatever distance required to obtain one.

 

Dutch & Co. (http://dutchandcompany.tumblr.com/) is located on North 27th Street. As we approached, the first thing I noticed was a man in a chefs jacket standing over a charcoal grill under a flag with a hot dog on it. Apparently, every Saturday from 12-1 Dutch & Co. pulls out the backyard charcoal grill, lights a few briquettes and toss some custom-made dogs on the grill. The concept is brilliant and one I fully support. On this particular day they were cooking up pigs face hot dogs (as big as sausages) that were topped with a horseradish cream and pickled mushrooms. It is served with a “stoop fry” which is basically 2 flattened pieces of waffle cone held together with a brown sugar frosting. All of this for a mere $6. We all got in on this deal and man, was it a great one.

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The dogs were grilled beautifully with excellent grill marks and the smokey taste that only charcoal covered in wood chips can provide. The meat on the inside was fantastic. Parts of the pig’s head, like the cheeks, are said to be some of the best bits to eat. The dog had a strong pork flavor which mixed so well with the smoke from the grill. The sauce and pickled mushrooms on top did nothing but add a wonderful complimentary flavor to the pork. I want to try pickling mushrooms after eating those. The stoop fry was sweet and fun. If they sold those by the box, I might buy 1 or 4.

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While we ate our dogs I remembered that Proper Pie was in Church Hill. I have long been craving pie, but had yet to find my way to Richmond’s premier pie institution. The girls all seemed willing to commit to yet one more round of eating so off we headed to our third stop of the day.

 

Proper Pie (https://www.facebook.com/ProperPieCo) is located right on East Broad St. across from the Suntrust Bank. It is always always ALWAYS packed ane it was no different when we got there. The line was long, but the staff does a great job of moving people along. If you aren’t in the mood for one of their many dessert/sweet pies you can opt for a savory one, like Thai Curry Chicken. As we had already eaten lunch, it was time for dessert. SB and I decided to split a piece, but what kind??? Hardest question I had been asked that day. Thankfully, SB knew what she wanted. a slice of Mango Coconut Custard. Ok… I’m in.

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The pie was amazing. It is all made fresh each day and that is evident. The crust was just as you want a pie crust to be. It was crisp and strong. It was a wonderful shell to hold the filling. The custard was smooth and rich. The chunks of mango were so fresh and delicious. Even the coconut added great flavor and I usually don’t like it. The slice was served with a generous helping of whipped cream. All told it was the perfect finish to a great “mini-food tour” around Church Hill.

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As we walked back towards the cars we all reflected on how great Church Hill is for the curious eater. It’s a wonderful example of up and coming Richmond not only dining but a neighborhood/community as a whole. Next time you find yourself up for a random adventure on a nice weekend, check out Church Hill. There is way more there then just these 3 stellar places and they are all bringing it big.

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2113 Bistro

4/4/14

 

Stars: 4.9 out of 5.0

Pros: Big Layout, Handicap Accessible, Friendly & Knowledgeable Staff, Good Drinks, Excellent Food

Cons:

    Another Sunday arrived which could mean only one thing; it was brunch day. Sunday has always been and will always be the day for brunch. It’s a recovery day. A quiet time to catch-up with friends, allow your body some recovery and enjoy a solid meal. This brunch I was feeling like heading to Shockoe Bottom despite this dumb bike race. Actually, that was part of my motivation for heading that way. I saw all the pleas from the businesses down there for people to come out. So, BN and I headed out to a new place for me, 2113 Bistro with high hopes and empty stomachs.

 

2113 Bistro (https://www.facebook.com/2113rva) is located at 2113 E. Main St. in a nice brick building (I say it’s in Shockoe Bottom and others argue that it’s the edge of Church Hill). It’s signage is flat against the building, so make sure you pay attention. The entrance is very modest and quite elegant in its modesty. When you walk in one of the first things you notice is there is an elevator for wheelchairs. The whole restaurant is designed to be handicap accessible and unless you were paying careful attention or an architect, you would never notice. I’m glad to see they spent the extra money to accommodate everyone. Kudos to your forward thinking 2113 Bistro. The restaurant itself is a nice space. The bar is big and right next to the piano that gets used for jazz on Friday and Saturday nights. There is a large amount of seating including a beautiful outdoor courtyard. The kitchen is tucked neatly in the back near the giant bathrooms. It’s the kinda layout that accommodates big groups and intimate couples with equal ease.

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We were greeted immediately by the host who asked if we preferred inside or outside seating. The answer was obvious as the weather was amazing, put us out in the courtyard. After we were seated our waiter, Alex, brought over menu’s and glasses of water. As usual, my first concern was drinks. Alex recommended both “The Clam Digger” and the mimosa’s. “The Clam Digger” is Crusty Clam bloody mary mix with Stoli, muddled jalapeno and muddled olives. I’ll be the first to admit that tomato juice/bloody mary mix does not settle well in my stomach, but mimosa’s always sit nicely. I chose to go with the mango flavored one and BN had the habanero lime flavored one. As the bar was crafting these beauties we got back to choosing a little brunch.

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We hadn’t been looking at the menu long when Kim, the owner, stopped by our table to welcome us. It is nice to see an owner so involved in their restaurant. Kim told us how she opened 2113 Bistro in March of 2012. She said since then their base of regulars has been slowly creeping up and she is grateful for them as they are really what drives her to provide an all around experience. She said that a restaurant should be so much more than just the food and that everyday they try to make that a reality at 2113 Bistro. We switched to the topic of the menu and Kim proved to be key in our food choices. She explained a lot of the dished and talked about their origins/inspirations in the restaurant. She was clearly very in touch with her kitchen staff and the things they made. She recommended a few specific things and then let Alex take our order.

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The menu is a well-groomed one side page. It has a variety of brunch items that really leave an option for almost every reader. I had a very hard time picking one item so I went a little crazy and ordered several. I ordered the crab cakes Benedict, the BTO mac & cheese, the chicken and pineapple naan bread pizza and a side of the spoonbread. BN went with shrimp & grits and a side of the spoonbread. The menu had left me anxious for dinner which equated to me finishing my mango mimosa quickly. Thankfully Alex was paying attention and I was able to order a 2nd mimosa, this time desert pear, to fill my empty hand.

 

The food came out in short time and filled our table. You would have thought we were trying to feed a small crew of circus folk with the amount we received. I will break here to say the portions are fairly large. I’m not a small man and I know my way around a brunch plate. Any one of the dishes I ordered would have filled me up let alone the 4 dishes we ordered. I started out with the spoonbread first as Kim had given me explicit instructions to do so. Spoonbread is a cross between cornbread and corn pudding. It is almost as if someone took the cornbread from the oven right before it was finished. It was sweet with an earthy corn flavor. Some of the bites had the savory taste of butter to heighten the richness. I could have eaten a pan of spoonbread and died happy. But, alas, I had much more to sample. I moved on to the naan bread pizza. The first thing I noticed was that this pizza did not lack toppings. It was piled high with grilled pineapple, grilled chicken, blue cheese and marinara sauce. The naan bread was an excellent crust because it held up to the weight of the pizza and wasn’t an overpowering flavor. The pineapple and chicken both had a perfect set of char lines to them, but remained moist. The blue cheese added a little tang that helped cut the pineapple nicely. It was a great personal pizza. The crab cakes Benedict were next up on the fork. They are served with a bed of potatoes and sans english muffin. I thought that was a smart choice as the crab cake itself held the rest of the dish quite nicely. The eggs were done perfectly. The hollandaise sauce was complementary instead of dominating the taste buds. I also thought the crab cakes had a nice 70/30 ratio of crab to binder. That was a solid dish. I sampled the shrimp and grits before BN housed it (which he did with gusto). He said that they were some of the best he has had since moving from North Carolina. I really enjoyed them. They didn’t convert me, but they were what I hope all grits strive to be. The grits were an excellent consistency. There were big hunks of shrimp on top. It gives me hope that someday I’ll be a grits man. I finished with the BTO mac & cheese. This contained smoked bacon chunks, grilled Roma tomatoes and sautéed onion. It was one of the best mac & cheeses I’ve had since I lived at home and Mom would bake some. It was cheesy and packed with flavor. Some bites were smoky salty with bacon. Others were crunchy and tangy with tomato & onion. It was an awesome dish.

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After we had stuffed ourselves silly, Alex was kind enough to clear our plates and pack our leftovers. Then he asked if we had any room for dessert. I’ll be honest, the thought made me want to explode. So, we passed. Then Kim stopped by again. She said that we just must try the peach cobbler. I’m weak when it comes to cobbler so we relented. When it came out to the table, the first thing that you noticed was the smell of the warm cinnamon and brown sugar. I dug my spoon in making sure to get ice cream, crust and peaches to ensure the best bite. The first bite was pretty much perfect. The peaches were fresh and soft. The crust was sweet and delicious. The cold ice cream contrasted nicely with the warmth of everything else. It was a superb dessert (as evident by the fact that I ate pretty much the whole thing).

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We finally made our way out of 2113 Bistro stuffed to the max carrying leftovers. On the way out I noticed that the music I had been hearing playing softly in the background of our meal was being performed by a gentleman at the piano up front. 2113 Bistro does a lot of live jazz, like on Friday and Saturday nights. If the gentleman playing during breakfast is an indication of the talent they get, then I will certainly be back for a jazz night.

 

2113 Bistro provided one of the best brunches I have had in a long time. The staff is an excellent team from waiters to bartenders to chef. They all are well versed in their duties and super efficient in executing them. Kim is the kind of owner you see in all great restaurants; dedicated and caring. She has her finger on the pulse of the restaurant and really runs a tight ship. I cannot encourage you enough to go to 2113 Bistro for your next meal. It’s what Richmond small business is all about.

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OnTap

4/12/14:

 

I’m going to start off right away by saying that my standard rating system of stars with pros and cons will not be used in this post. It wouldn’t be fair due to my massive prejudice involved. What is it you ask? Well, I have a vested interest in the company that threw OnTap this weekend. This humble (ok, cocky & awesome) blogger has started to pick up a few odd jobs here and there. One of which will be with RVA Rock$/RVA Live in the future. So, it’s not fair for me to review this post, but merely relate the details of the event. Look for more info soon.

 

The first beer festival of 2014 in Richmond couldn’t have happened on a nicer day or in a better location. OnTap (http://www.rvarocksontap.com/) was held on Mayo Island which is a fairly underrated and underused gem in Richmond. Parking was plentiful for both VIP and regular ticket holders which tends to be one of the biggest issues with festivals. You approached the gated entrance where you were immediately greeted by the folks at the ticket tent. We were on the will call list so we gave our names and showed our ids. We were given a blue wrist band (we were lucky enough to have VIP tickets) and our sampling cups. The glasses were an excellent size for being merely sampling glasses. Several people I talked to throughout the day noted the same thing.

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The island was set-up perfectly for a beer festival. The brewery tents were set up along opposite edges of a giant open center square. It was completed with the stage on one end and the food trucks on the other. Each tent had a lot of space all around it which was wonderful because it relieved any feelings of crowding. The lines of beer testers that formed at each tent was clearly defined with great organization and not the mob-blob technique you see so often at festivals. The music from the stage was able to comfortably reach everywhere without being overwhelming. You never found it drowning out your conversation which is a blessing. The bands were also great, which helped.

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     In the beginning of the festival, pours were very very generous. On an empty stomach, that got a touch dicey. But, after the second hour, they settled out to what you expect a taste to be. The range of beer was very good, but I was glad to see a lot of the breweries brought IPA’s with them. The weather was warm which made a cold IPA a good choice. All of the beer was excellent. I even got to try some beers I would most likely not have tried elsewhere, like Isley Brewings Peanut Butter Porter. It was also an excellent opportunity to meet some of the people behind the beers we all love.

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     Every tent that I stopped at I got to have a great conversation and not just about the beer. There was a lot of talk about the future. Rusty Beaver Brewey, for example, talked  about how they plan to turn their farm into a brewery. And Hardywood chatted about future hopes of expanding distribution to North Carolina someday. Ardent Brewery spoke about their June opening in Scotts Addition and made the honey ginger beer they are brewing sound heavenly. Midnight Brewery gave the low-down on their new, bigger brewing area & soon to be expanding selection. This festival was a great chance for the average Joe to really learn a lot from the ones that make the beer we all love.

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     As the day progressed the crowd grew & grew, but you never felt crowded. By the time 5pm rolled around it seems most, if not all, of the breweries had tapped all of their kegs. The food vendors began the process of cleaning their grills. The band slowly packed away it’s instruments. The crowd had been satisfied and maybe even impressed. Richmond’s first beer festival of 2014 was a smashing success. Here’s to next year!!

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Dash: Kitchen + Carry

4/6/14:
Stars: 4.75 out of 5.0
Pros: Bright Space, Unique Décor, Well Priced, Fast Friendly Service, Great Food
Cons: 
     I couldn’t have been more excited when I found out Jessica & Josh Bufford, owners of Toast & Estilo in the Village Shopping Center, were opening a new joint near VCU. When I had the opportunity to talk to Jessica about it a month or so ago her excitement was palatable and contagious. So when she sent me a Tweet inviting me to come give Dash a test run prior to their scheduled 5pm opening on 4/7, I couldn’t resist. I picked up SB, and off we went for a late dinner.

     Dash (Dash Kitchen+Carry Facebook) has moved into the former home of The Well and Cous Cous on VCU’s campus. It’s not a massive restaurant space, being decidedly smaller than both Toast and Estilo, but it seats roughly 65-70 people. Also note that seating around the perimeter of the dining area has little storage cubbies underneath, perfect for stuffing all those book bags & computers hauled around by folks from VCU, one of Jessica & Josh’s target clienteles. It has massive amounts of windows which will make it bright and cheery during the day. To those who were familiar with Cous Cous, in contrast, at night Dash is nicely lit thanks in part to a floor to ceiling lighted wall dividing the ordering counter from the seating area that Josh made himself. Jessica explained to SB & I that back in school she and Josh were both theater kids (I was one myself). Josh specialized in lighting design and has carried that passion to each of their restaurants. This center divider is a great example.

     The concept of Dash is that you order from the counter, get a number and find a table. A server brings you your food and will occasionally be around to ask if you want refills or condiments. The concept is a beautiful fit on a college campus if you think about it. College students usually take lunch to accomplish one of two things: study or socialize. The laissez faire-esque approach of Dash is perfect for both activities as it eliminates the hovering server from the picture. Jessica also expressed her hope that this will be more than just a college hot spot. She told me there have been plenty of times when she and her mom would come down to the Altria Theater to see a show after getting of work around 5pm. If the show is at 6 or 6:30, that didn’t give much time for a full sit down meal. That makes a place like Dash ideal because you can be in and out quickly while still enjoying a quality meal. I love this idea and hope to get the chance to utilize Dash for this purpose.

     SB and I took a moment to review the menu. It’s not very big consisting of burgers, salads and sandwiches. What amazed me is that for such a small menu, the variety in choices was huge. And the prices were super reasonable. You can build your own burgers with an amazing amount of toppings starting at just $6. Granted, that doesn’t come with a side, but $6 for a burger is a steal. After eyeballing the menu for a few moments, we decided to split a Fire Roasted Caesar Salad. SB also ordered the Costa Rican Chicken Salad sandwich and I went with the Estilo’s Cubano. The employee behind the counter gave us a number to put on our table and we sat down.

     Our food came out very quickly; faster then I expected really. When we were talking with Josh later on he said the kitchen aims to have most of the dishes out in 7 to 10 minutes tops. That right there is speedy folks. The server who brought us our food also walked around the seating area keeping up on people’s drinks and clearing away the dishes. All of the staff was wonderfully friendly and helpful. Even on a night where they were still getting down the gist of the system they were great.
     The Fire Roasted Caesar Salad was excellent. SB asked what made it fire roasted, as the romaine itself isn’t. It turns out the cherry tomatoes chopped up (SB & I both agreed that we loved the chopped tomato as opposed to whole ones) in the salad are garlic infused and fire roasted. They aren’t overpoweringly garlicky either, which was pleasing to me. The Caesar dressing that is on the salad is nice as well because it’s a vinaigrette which means it’s not as thick as regular Caesar dressing. The portion was perfect for 2 people to split or a solid meal for a single person.
     SB’s Costa Rican Chicken Salad was spot-on wonderful. It is essentially two split top rolls packed with chicken salad and topped with arugula. We both could have used a little more of the arugula, but the chicken salad itself was all that chicken salad should be. It wasn’t too dry or sopping wet. It had a little crunch from the cashews and a bite of tangy heat from the lizano sauce. SB got sweet potato tots as a side, which I’m usually not a fan of. She loved them! They were very good (I did try one) but sweet potato is not my bag of oats. She said she could eat them as a side every time so they must be good.

     I wanted to try something new, I really did. But when I saw that Estilo’s Cubano staring up at me from the menu, I caved. Pork, ham and salami with mustard and pickles makes for a complete and happy sandwich. I loved everything about this Cuban. I would venture a guess and say that it wasn’t pressed in a typical Panini press, but perhaps a waffle iron. I only say this due to the uniform criss-crossed press pattern. The bread was amazingly soft on the inside with a beautiful crust on the outside. And the meats were wonderful. The pork was beautifully marinated and cooked. I could have eaten just that as a sandwich and been very pleased. The mustard added a tang to cut the saltiness of the meat. This sandwich did not disappoint. I also went with the hand cut fries as my side. I would have liked a little more salt, but otherwise these are delicious. They have great crisp to the outside. Dip them in the house made ketchup that comes along with it and you have a delectable combination.

     Dash Kitchen + Carry certainly impressed both SB and I with their décor, service and food. The concept is wonderful. Their execution looks to be spot on. VCU students, faculty and staff are in for a real treat having this in their yard. I look forward to my return trip, maybe after SB and I see Wicked later this month. There is a custom made burger with my name on it.

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Filed under Dash Kitchen + Carry, fresh food fast

Burger Blast

2/21/14:

Stars: 4.5 out of 5.0
Pros: Lots of Restaurants, Lots of Breweries, Excellent Food
Cons: Super Crowded, Some Places Out of Food

     I have a deep affection for burgers. Something about patties of meat with toppings on a bun just gets me going. When my new boss offered to take me to Burger Blast, an all you can eat & drink event, I was an immediate yes. So, we all headed down to the Richmond Convention Center, got a tasting glass and walked into a room filled with greatness.

     Burger Blast (Burger Blast) is held the night before the VA Wine Expo. It is basically an event that brings in 15 different chefs/restaurants who will each create a slider-size burger with all sorts of different ingredients and toppings. You can eat as many as you want and are free to try all 15 locations. There was also over 25 VA craft beers and various VA wines for sampling. You could try all of those as well. It’s pretty much heaven in a room.

     I will say right off the bat that this event draws a crowd. They sold out of tickets and the room was packed. There were lines and groups of people every way you turned. It made negotiating with full hands very difficult. It also meant that some burger lines were super long. It also meant you would start out in one beer line and randomly end up at another tap. I wasn’t such a huge fan of the crowd.

     As soon as we got through the door, we got some beer. I started out with Lickinghole Creek’s Magic Beaver. It was excellent. With a full beer in hand, it was time to focus on burgers. We jumped in the closest line, which turned out to be Mezzanine’s line. They were serving up what was easily top 2 non-beef burger I tried. It was ground chicken & avocado with a red onion pineapple relish. The chunks of avocado mixed into the ground chicken gave it a fresh taste. The relish was citrusy and bright. It accented the earthy taste of the burger well. My boss went back for a second later in the night. I can’t blame her.

     We started to make our way around the room. We stopped at the Brew booth. The burger was beef laced with pepperoni, onion & garlic. It was topped with mozzarella, goat cheese & marinara spread. It was very good. I’m a big fan of goat cheese so adding that is always a winner for me.

     We also grabbed a burger from Reynolds Community College. This group of culinary students put together bison & short ribs with a VA dark lager/bacon glaze on a house made bun topped with cherry tomato jam, smoked Muenster cheese, pickled red onion and watercress salad all finished off with a grainy mustard. This burger had a lot of things going on. It was richly flavored with all of the flavors blending nicely. I was very impressed because I thought it was going to be to busy. Kudos to the culinary students.

     Next up was Toast with the other of the top 2 non-beef burger I tried. It was a salmon burger topped with dill cream cheese, poached shallot and a Cabernet Franc wine reduction. First off… WHOA! This burger was a phenom. The salmon was fresh and fantastic. I love love LOVE dill and I think it’s hard to have salmon sans dill. Add it with cream cheese and you have a luscious topping. The shallots added that light onion flavor while the wine added a little tang. I wanted to sit at the Toast booth and eat these salmon burgers till I died. Nicely done.

     In the midst of filling my glass and wandering around, I stumbled upon Carytown Burgers & Fries offering. It was a chopped sirloin burger with mushrooms, peppers, onions, lettuce, tomato, mayo, Italian dressing and provolone cheese. It was a basic burger in my book. And one thing Carytown Burgers & Fries can do is a basic burger. It was perfect. This is just one more reason they are one of Richmond’s top 5 burgers in my book.

     In all I ate 9 sliders that night. That is roughly 3 lbs. of meat over the course of 2 hours. I wanted to hit all 15 places, but some ran out of burgers. Granted, they could only prepare so much food and bring so much product with them, but damn it!!! I wanted all of the burgers! Next year I guess I’ll just have to get there earlier.

     Burger Blast is every carnivore booze-hounds dream. I know for a fact that I will be going back next year. It’s worth every penny of admission. It’s well laid out, well organized and I was well fed. High fives to everyone involved!

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Filed under Burger Blast, stacks of sliders

Toast

2/16/14:

Stars: 4.8 out of 5.0
Pros: Pro-Active Twitter Presence, Accommodating Staff, Fun Menu, Fresh & Flavorful Food, Dessert
Cons: 

     Now that all us food bloggers had met, we decided we needed to get together more often and review new places. An email chain got started one night and we all decided to descend upon Toast for a Sunday night dinner. It’s a place I had yet to visit for food, but it was on my list. Once it was agreed, the massive tweet conversation began. The excitement was palatable and it tasted awesome.

     Toast (Toast) is located in The Village shopping plaza on the corner of Patterson and Three Chopt. It isn’t hard to find as it’s big, simple sign sticks out. The front isn’t gaudy or pretentious, blending in well with the rest of the storefronts. It’s a surprisingly big place, being much deeper than outside appearance leads you to think. It’s not very bright inside, but lighting is sufficient for dining.

     I will be the first one to tell you that I am almost 30 years old and I forget that making reservations is a real thing. Don’t ask me why, because I truly don’t know. It just never occurs to me that with large groups, restaurants would love a heads up. I’m not that important (yet) that places will just accommodate me whenever I see fit. Thankfully, there are others out here who have embraced being a grown-up. Due to their vigilance on social media, Toast picked up on our (probably excessive) chatter. They reached out to us to see if we had reservations. When I told them no, they took care of us right away. They set us up with a table and a person to talk to when we got there. I appreciate that they look out for their customers like that.

     We all arrived a few minutes apart from each other, but we were able to wait at the bar. We got some drinks while the group assembled. As soon as we all arrived (plus our newest member Bethany) the manager seated us at a big table perfect for 6 people. She left menus and promised our server would be right with us. As we sat chatting over came Mira. She was truly an exemplary server. She was friendly, attentive and helpful. As you all know, I’m big on service. Mira was the picture of a perfect server. I hope that Toast holds on to her as long as they can.

     The menu at Toast is pretty impressive. It’s not a big menu, which is always a positive. The type is big enough to read without squinting. All the choices looked great. Toast is an American gastropub so most dishes would be easily recognized by the average Joe. The specials that rotate all looked fantastic. The standard menu items were all intriguing which made deciding hard to do. Thankfully, appetizers were bought to give us some time. Someone ordered the polenta corn dogs and someone else ordered the bacon cheddar fritters. Between placing the order and getting it we all focused on figuring out our order.

     The polenta corn dogs were excellent. I think the polenta brought a little sweetness to the batter. The hot dogs themselves were cooked well. I could have easily eaten a few of these and called it a meal. The bacon cheddar fritters were an awesome combination of flavors. They were salty and sharp from the cheese & bacon. They were served with both a chive aioli and maple syrup. The aioli certainly added to the flavors, but the syrup is what knocked these out of the park. That sweetness really helped these flavors muddle together in an artistic way. You could hand me a dozen of these fritters and some maple syrup everyday for a month & I would celebrate the taste like it was my first time each time.

     Time came for us to order and I was ready. I went with the Cuban Reuben (with veggies) for a few reasons. First, I love Cuban sandwiches with what could be considered a deep passion. So much pork, mustard and pickles! Second, I have been trying to appreciate Reuben’s more. I like all the ingredients separate so I’m sure I’ll like them together. Finally, that is a fun name to say. Because it rhymes. And I’ve the mind of a 6 year old. I make no apologies. Moving on, the others ordered a wide selection off the menu, but I can’t remember exactly what, See the photos below if you want to take a stab at it.

     When the food arrived I was impressed by the fact that it was all the right temperature. That is hard to do when cooking for a large party. Some things cook faster than others and timing it all out is a skill. Glad to see the kitchen at Toast has that skill. All the food looked wonderful. My sandwich was a monster stack. I liked the presentation, all the sandwich pieces stuck on a skewer. It was accompanied by a big bright side of veggies. It was a visually appealing plate, which is a good start. The sandwich was a combination of amazing on my palate. Here’s what is on the sandwich: pulled pork, VA ham, pickles, Swiss, corned beef, smoked mustard, grilled cabbage and 1000 Island dressing. A lot going on, but all blends so well. I was very very impressed. And the sandwich was so big that I, of all people, had some to bring home. Now THAT is a sandwich.

     After we had all stuffed our face, Mira informed us that we had dessert coming. Dessert? Well, if you insist… Next thing we know a slice of cranberry cheesecake, chocolate peanut butter cake and an order of doughnuts with honey mascarpone appeared at the table with 6 forks. I will start with the doughnuts. These warm little pillows of dough were topped with cinnamon and sugar. They were sweet and delicious. The mascarpone was creamy and added a touch of honey flavor to the dough. I want an order fresh made for me every Sunday for breakfast. The cheesecake was just how I like it. It was dense and silky. The cranberry wasn’t overpowering, instead lending a hint of tartness to it all. It was all New York style and that’s the only way to be. The winner for me was the chocolate peanut butter cake. This is made fresh in the back and it shows. The cake was moist like a good cake should be. It was rich and delicious. The peanut butter frosting was absolutely killer good. I’m a peanut butter freak and this could curb my cravings for a week. It was phenomenal. I will be requesting one for my birthday in June.

     Toast totally stood up and smacked this meal straight out of the park. They did everything just right and have solidified themselves as a go-to restaurant for me. Add in the amazing company I was graced with and this Sunday night meal was all aces. If you already have great dinner company and need a great restaurant, make your way to Toast.

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Filed under chocolate peanut butter cake, Toast

Dishcrawl in The Fan

2/11/14:

Stars: 4.7 out of 5.0
Pros: 4 Restaurants for 1 Price, Great Food, Fun Side Trip, New Friends
Cons: Some Venues Were Tight, Chilly Weather

     The concept behind Dishcrawl is fascinating of itself; bring together a large group of foodies at 4 local restaurants to introduce both entities to each other for an affordable price. To watch it executed is even more amazing. I was fortunate enough to once again attend a Dishcrawl in Richmond, this time in The Fan. After my wonderful experience at the first one in Carytown, I couldn’t wait for the night to arrive.

     Dishcrawl (Dishcrawl), for all who don’t know, is a 4 for one price outing. What I mean by that is you pay your $45 for a ticket and what you get is a meal at 4 restaurants. No planning ahead. No calling for reservations. No waiting around for a table to free up. No agonizing over menu choices. You show up at the first place and just enjoy the journey. It’s an easy way to eat your face off on a Tuesday night.

    Our Dishcrawl Ambassador for our journey was a fellow food blogger that I had followed since her arrival in Richmond, Sarah Choi. According to Dishcrawl law, she did a great job of keeping all of the 4 locations a secret, slowly leaking hints and clues until the day before when she sent us all an email with our first stop revealed, Heritage. All of us arrived primed and ready to eat.

     I will say that Heritage is not built for a group of 30 people, plus the general public. It was a very tight squeeze. Elbow room was at a premium and that was the situation for a lot of the evening. The places we went to aren’t huge chain restaurants with massive dining areas. They are small local joints built for small groups and couples. That’s just the way it is and is no one’s fault. Still, as a husky guy, it made for a slightly rough going.

     Heritage  (Heritage) led off the group with a nice plate of their offerings. They presented us with a beet & arugula salad covered in a horseradish creme, a pimento cheese croquette and a house-made pasta with a pork belly sausage. All the food was wonderful, but to me the salad was the star of this plate. I loved the spice of the horseradish creme with the bite of the arugula. It was spicy and flavorful. Definitely a great start for me.

     Next we made a quick pit stop on our brisk walk to the next restaurant. We stopped at the Visual Arts Center (Visual Arts Center). We met with Caroline Wright who is the Director of Exhibition Programming. She brought us in and gave us a short little introduction to the Visual Arts Center. It’s an awesome place offering classes and free exhibits open to the public on a regular basis. The exhibit we saw was work by Tom Condon. It was pretty fantastic stuff. I’ll certainly be looking into visiting the Visual Arts Center in the future.

     After seeing the exhibit, it was back out into the cold for our trip to the next restaurant, Rowland Fine Dining. It was cold as all get out outside. Not that I will deduct any stars for weather, but I still need to say how much I hate the winter. It made these walks between restaurants pure misery. But it made getting in the door at the next place even more satisfying.

     Our second restaurant was Rowland Fine Dining (Rowland Fine Dining). When we got inside, we all spread out through out the restaurant. Everyone found a spot to sit where ever there was an open table. I found a seat with 2 fellow food bloggers Dana & Shakir. They were people I had been following on Twitter for a long while and was anxious to meet. So, we sat and talked until our delicious plate arrived. When they arrived, they contained 3 fantastic little bites. There was a carnitas spring roll, a black bean cake with fried egg & pico de gallo and a house-made ravioli stuffed with chicken & topped with a cilantro/caper sauce. I give my vote for favorite bite to the ravioli. It was amazing, and possibly my favorite bite of the night. The flavors were spot on with just a hint of kick to it. The pasta was fresh and unimaginably good. It is on my list of things to get again in the future.

     After we cleaned our plates it was time to move on. We headed down the street to Lady N’awlins Cajun Cafe (Lady N’awlins), a place I’ve visited before. Once again, we spread out when we got inside the restaurant as it’s not really set-up for a group of 30. This time I found myself seated next to another food blogger, Marcella. Again, a person that I have followed on Twitter for a long time now and I was so excited to meet. We sat and chatted foodie things while the kitchen brought us our food. The plate held the following goodness: Oyster (Rockefeller), shrimp on top of grits cooked in cream with lots of butter, a fried green tomato with blackened shrimp & mustard sauce and a wedge of corn bread. Who was the winner here you ask? Well, I vote the fried green tomato with the blackened shrimp. The crisp of the breading was pronounced. The flavor of the breading helped mild the tomato’s tart-esque flavor. And the blackening on the shrimp was spot on. It was an excellent part of the dish.

     The time to get ready to end our night was approaching, but we still had one stop left so we all made our way down to Mint Gastropub (Mint Gastropub) to polish off some dessert. When we arrived, the restaurant was almost empty so we were able to all sit as one big group. By this time of the night a lot of new friends had been made among the 30 of us. I got to meet some fellow food bloggers and I’m grateful for that opportunity. It has been wonderful getting to know them since. Any who, back to the dessert course. Chef Malcolm Mitchell prepared a dish that I normally wouldn’t order, bread pudding. But not just any bread pudding, but a brioche bread pudding with Don Julio dolce leche sauce & a touch of vanilla ice cream. It was an unreal combination of flavors. It wasn’t overburdened with sweetness making it much simpler to enjoy. While we were eating, Malcolm Mitchell came out to chat with us. It was great hearing about what they offered at Mint and what he was trying to accomplish. I wish him luck.

     We all finished up our dessert and began to drift out, a little at a time. Just like the first time, Dishcrawl was a huge success. I left there feeling full and I know that I got to experience 4 new restaurants. And I met a few new friends that I would possibly never had had the chance of meeting. If you get a chance, go to a Dishcrawl. It is a great way to experience a piece of Richmond’s dining scene in a fun exciting way.

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Filed under Crawling the Fan, Dishcrawl