The hotter the weather, the colder the drink. You agree with that philosophy, don’t you? Because we have some summertime cocktail suggestions that are sure to provide some relief from what will most likely be a typical Richmond summer. While it’s hot and muggy outside, it’s cool and refreshing inside some of our favorite River City restaurants.
The Drink: Greek Sangria
The Place: Greek Taverna | 1903 Staples Mill | 804-477-6216 | TheGreekTavernaRVA.com
Toula Suleymanian Returns to Her Roots
In May 2017, Toula Suleymanian returned to her roots when her parents Greg and Kitsa Panos, opened The Greek Taverna. Well before Toula had even been born, the Panos had operated a popular Greek restaurant at the same location. “I grew up in that restaurant,” Toula says.
Even after her parents sold the restaurant (but not the building) in the mid 90s, Toula kept her hand in the hospitality industry. Despite the fact that her career was in the corporate world, she continued to help out at restaurants owned by friends and other family members.
But her first love is now her career. Actually, It’s the careers of both Toula and her husband Gagik, who operate the Greek Taverna together. With virtually a lifetime in and around the business, it would come as no surprise that this young woman knows her way around a bar, creating delicious cocktail.
Toula is introducing a new cocktail menu this month, including what sounds to be a delightful Pandora’s Punch featuring both dark and white rums and fruit juices. But for our visit, she chose to serve her house specialty, the Greek Sangria. “The seasonal fruit makes this a refreshing summer drink,” she says. The Metaxa 7 Star Greek brandy (in reality, a wine) and Merlot don’t hurt, either. When she makes her sangria with white wine, Toula uses Bacardi Dragon Berry flavored rum instead of the Metaxa.
Regardless of what’s she’s serving at the bar, Toula pours passion in to her job. The restaurant business has always been in her blood. “When my parents sold their restaurant (in the mid-90s), I cried,” she says. “I told my mother that my plans were to one day fix the place up and make it really nice.” It took 20 years, but Toula and Gagek have done just that.
The Drink: Prickly Pear Plata Margarita
The Place: Lalo’s Cocina |2617 W. Broad St. | 804-257-9930 | LalosCocina.com & Chicanos Cocina | 523 E. Main St. | 804-644-0740 | ChicanosCocina.com
Suzetty Cruz – Living la Vida Pura
“Pura Vida” is a popular Costa Rican expression that literally means “pure life.” It’s an expression, which truly epitomizes the philosophy of Suzetty Cruz, a native of Pérez Zeledón, located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. If you’re a regular at either Lalo’s Cocina or Chicanos Cocina, you know her better as Suzie. She works behind the bar at both of the in-town Mexican eateries that are owned and operated by Eduardo “Lalo” Macias.
Beyond its literal translation, in Costa Rica the term carries the idea of life being good. Suzie says that if someone asks you how are you doing or how is your meal, you might reply, “Pura vida.” It conveys approval and positivity.
Despite having been uprooted at the age of 11 and brought to America and to Richmond, where she spoke no English, Suzie personifies that positive attitude. Her beautiful smile is infectious.
Recalling her move to Richmond, she admits that it was difficult. “I cried a lot at first.”. But she’s quick to tell me how thankful she is that her parents brought her here so that she and her brother and sister could enjoy a better life with greater opportunities.
Although school was difficult at first, Suzie learned to speak English over the next couple of years. She went on to graduate from Huguenot High in the city’s Forest Hill community. Shortly after graduation, her parents had to return to Costa Rica, but Suzie and her siblings remained. To support herself, she took house-cleaning jobs before she began working in the restaurant industry. She’s now enrolled in J. Sargeant Reynolds community college where she is studying business administration.
“I want to own my own restaurant and bar one day,” she tells me. She has a plan in her head, which she says she’ll pursue once she finishes her education.
As for now, it’s school during the day and the restaurant at night.
“This is a really nice place to work,” she says. “You meet a lot of people. The bar gets crazy sometimes, but I think we give all of our customers fast, friendly service.”
As Suzie sets out to prepare our summer cocktail, Lalo is on hand providing the recipe. This is a new drink, which had not yet introduced to guests on the day of our visit.
“It’s the Prickly Pear Plata Margarita,” he says. “It’s’ made with Jose’s Plata (Jose Cuervo Especial Plata Tequila). Nobody else is serving this drink.”
In addition to this prickly pear lemonade margarita, Lalo says that his restaurants will be offering some additional fruit-flavored Margaritas this summer. He’s also working on some special additions to the menu designed to appeal to his guests on those sizzling summer days.
Suzie serves the drink. I have one more question for her. She has already mentioned that her restaurant concept involves a steakhouse with a sports bar. “What will you name the place,” I ask.
Her reply: “Pura Vida.”
The Drink: Frosé
The Place: Beauvine Burger Concept | 1501 W. Main St. | 804-592-5592 | BeauvineBurger.com
Colton Wade – Keeping it Social
Colton Wade is a good fit for Beauvine Burger Concept. Beauvine is a cool, laid back, rather unassuming Fan District restaurant. Their burger concept is to take the simple burger and elevate it with ingredients and cooking techniques that distinguish the experience.
But don’t let that description scare you off. Basically, Beauvine is a friendly, neighborhood burger joint where you’ll feel comfortable regardless of whether you’re a regular, or are in town for the weekend and looking for an easy place to chill.
Kelsey Aiken, the restaurant’s co-owner and GM, describes the place this way, “Beauvine is a meeting of a bunch of different ideas. It’s a neighborhood spot, but a little more upscale…a good mix of college students, families, and professionals.
Colton, a native of Williamsburg, has been living in the River City for about a year and a half. He says he worked in other restaurants after moving to town, but they didn’t fit him as well as does Beauvine. He, too, exudes a quiet, laid-back personality, perhaps not what you might find in all bartenders, but perfect for Beauvine’s atmosphere.
Perhaps Kelsey came up with the perfect one-word description for both the restaurant and for her young bartender. Actually, she is describing Beauvine’s bar scene when she says, “We are not necessarily a craft cocktail bar. Our cocktails are fun and approachable.” Approachable, yeah that’s the word. Isn’t that what you want to find in your favorite bar and the folks running it?
Kelsey’s pretty much like that, herself. Every time I’ve been in, she takes a few moments to stop what she’s doing and chat. I’m guessing her personality has some bearing on the overall feel of the place.
As for the drink, what could be more fun and approachable, especially on a hot day, than a Frosé (short for Frozen Rosé)? Kesley says the drink “brings in some floral notes with rosé, elderflower liqueur, rose syrup, lemon and lime. She calls it “A frozen floral lemonade with a good balance of light and refreshing and the right amount of sweetness.”
Colton, sums it up in three words: “The perfect Slurpee.”