TasteBudz – May 24, 2019 – Brunch With the Bird

Jesse Andrews Brown shows off the ceramic vessel in which the Flamingo is served.

What is a Flamingo Brunch? The name intrigued me and led me into Bar Solita. Now, follow along as  I make a short story long..

SO, THIS FLAMINGO WALKS INTO A BAR: I had a chance to sit down with an old friend, Jesse Andrews Brown, this week at the relatively new Bar Solita at 123 W. Broad. Bar Solita, which opened in October 2018,  is the latest venture from the RVA Hospitality Group, which is run by Frances Santarella and Elizabeth Kincaid. The group also owns Tarrant’s Café at 1 W. Broad, as well as Tarrant’s West, Max’s on Broad and Little Saint.

Jesse is the assistant GM at Bar Solita. The new owners have done a great job transforming the former Graffiato into a beautiful, bright downtown dining spot. I think the new look reflects, perhaps the fact that the group is run by two ladies. Graffiato had a somewhat stark, industrial feel. I won’t make any further comments about the place or what happened to Graffiato. You probably already know that story.

The new place takes good advantage of the wood-fired pizza oven that the Graffiato folks had installed. While the menu features some delightful tapas, as well as a host of salads, soups and other fare, I decided to try the pepperoni and cheese pizza. Let me tell you, it was as good as any pizza I’ve had in Richmond. It’s crispy and delicious.

Jesse says that management is also taking advantage of Bar Solita’s huge (6,200 square feet) space, including a main and an upper level, to promote the facility as the perfect spot for private functions. The smaller spaces can accommodate from 12 to 100 guests, but they can rent the entire restaurant out for groups of up to 250.

Bar Solita is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. daily. And if you’re looking for a cool late-night hangout, the place stays open ‘til 11 p.m. on Monday through Wednesday and til 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. It does close at 10 on Sunday night.

I kinda wormed my way into an invite to the place when I texted Jesse to ask about the Flamingo Brunch, which runs from 11 until 3 on Saturday and from 10 ‘til 3 on Sunday. I wondered about the name. Surely, no birds were harmed in producing the brunch? Thankfully, no. The name is in reference to a specialty drink by that name. The drink, which features rum, tequila, Aperol, pineapple, orange, lemon, lime and honey is served in a ceramic flamingo, about the size of my head. In case that reference doesn’t help, I’ll just say that the menu says this cocktail serves two to four people. And while you’re sharing, you may want to try their “Shareable Cinnamon Bun,” on the brunch menu. The bun is smothered in a bourbon cream cheese icing. I know where I’ll be this weekend.

Jesse Andrews Brown shows off the ceramic vessel in which the Flamingo is served.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Derek Stroud, who takes over as Bar Solita’s new bar manager this week. With a variety of refreshing cocktails along with an excellent wine list, I think you may agree that Bar Solita would make for a cool downtown hangout. It’s also proving to be quite popular with guests at the Quirk hotel, which is just across the street.

SMOHK SIGNALS: I got the word from Roby Williams, co-owner of Smohk, one of my favorite BBQ joints that there was going to be a “quiet” opening of the new Smohk and Strangeways combined restaurant/brewery at 3110 W. Leigh St., yesterday (. So, as any fan of great barbecue and beer would do, I went. This place is going to be a winner. I’m guessing more of you are familiar with Strangeways than you are with Smohk. But that’s going to change. And I think you’ll discover what I discovered when I first tried Smohk’s exceptional barbecue a couple years ago. Smohk is as good as it gets.

Smohk’s problem was, however, that it was hidden in a small spot in Scott’s Addition and not that easy to find. Now that it’s being brought into the spotlight with the opening of Strangeways’ Scott’s Addition brewery, that’s about to change.

In addition to a large dining area indoors, the place also offers a cool patio on the side of the building. Yesterday, Smohk was serving a limited menu, but I’m told that come Saturday (May 25) when the place has its grand opening (11 a.m. ‘til midnight), Roby will be introducing a new menu that includes a vegan barbecue. I won’t reveal the secret. You’ll just have to check that out for yourself.

BARB IS BACK: I was walking into one of the city’s most beloved gelato shops this week when I was greeted with the chalkboard announcement: “Barb is Back.” The shop is Stoplight Gelato at 405 Brook Road in Jackson Ward. The Barb is, of course, Barb Given. You may know the story. Barb, in her early 80s, opened the shop, which had been a longtime dream of her son Bryce. Cancer had claimed Bryce’s life in early 2015, but, determined to see her son’s vision become a reality, Barb went ahead with plans to open the shop in 2016. Due to poor health, Barb was forced to shut down the shop last year and eventually to sell it to Mike Wilbert and his fiancee Caitlin Kilcoin, who have now reopened the cozy, little ice cream (make that gelato) shop.

But I guess you could say gelato is in Barb’s blood, She has recently made a return to the shop, spending a few hours each week helping out and visiting with the many regulars who had come to love Barb as much as they love her delicious gelato. The shop is also offering sandwiches and other fare, as well.

By the way, we had stopped in to share with the new owners just how well their shop is doing in River City Magazine’s ongoing Favorite Ice Cream Parlor promotion. We’ll be showcasing some of the city’s favorites in the July/August issue of River City Magazine. While you’re hear on our website, take the time to vote for your favorite and to tell us why it is your favorite. We’ll be picking a winner from those who respond and giving away an ice cream party for up to 10 people.

We’re going to wrap up this week’s TasteBudz with a post from a lovely young Taste Bud, Bailey Stewart. I’m hoping we hear a lot more from Bailey. She has a flair for this sort of thing and, I’m told, she loves to explore the city’s dynamic dining scene.

SAY HI TO AÇAÍ: Açaí bowls are all the rage right now so I decided to try The Pit and the Peel‘s Açaí Bowl. They have many delicious options. You can even get a bowl with local bee pollen in it (Bees Knees)…take that allergies! I personally went with the House Bowl because, well quite frankly, I’m basic. Who doesn’t love bananas, granola and peanut butter (YUM)? I had them add some strawberries. I’ve had quite a few Açaí bowls and The Pit and the Peel is by far have the best tasting Açaí. The bowl’s presentation, itself, is so pretty and totes Instagram worthy. Remember guys…#Phoneeatsfirst! As an added bonus, this trendy eatery offers its customers a fun activity in the way of chalk tables while enjoying your delish Açaí bowl. The staff is super friendly and eager to answer any questions about their menu, because sometimes you just gotta ask…What exactly is in the Beets don’t Kale my Vibe Juice (I’ll give you a hint, it’s beets and kale)?

The Pit and the Peel’s Acai Bowl

We’d love for you to become a Taste Bud. Share with us a pleasant dining experience or your restaurant news. Email us at TasteBudz@RiverCityMag.com.

Steve Cook
Author: Steve Cook