TASTEBUDZ

There’s so much cool stuff going on in the city that I didn’t have room to talk about the suburbs in this issue. But we’ll keep you up to date on all that’s new in the dining scene throughout the Metro area. But I’ve got so much to tell you about right now. Read on…

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: If you’ve ever commented, “There’s nothing new and exciting in Richmond,” have I got something to tell you about. I’m talking about a new bar at 13 W. Broad Street, downtown. Its name is Switch. Actually, it’s two bars. No, make that an infinite number of bars. Hold on. Let me explain.

Have you ever had a dream that you were in a wonderland of sorts, enjoying a delicious beverage, mingling with your friends, and listening to your favorite music?

Well, that’s sort of what a visit to Switch is like. The concept comes from the Richmond-based LX group, which is run by Neal Patel and Kunal Shah. Managing partner Crystal Shah, Kunal’s wife, has curated the two distinct and separate bars that are housed in the building. Although Crystal modestly speaks of Switch as a team effort (and I’m sure that it is the product of considerable collaboration), I get the feeling that a lot of her and her husband’s creativity and imagination have gone into the two pop up bars.

By “pop up,” I mean that the bar presents a specific theme, which has a relatively short-lived existence before it switches to a different theme. At the aptly named Switch, there are, and will continue to be, two bars – one upstairs and one downstairs. Crystal says any given theme may be around from a few weeks to a few months. But with the concept, she says, “You better experience it while it’s hot and before it’s gone.”

Let me tell you about the initial themes. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil the surprise. “One of the main elements (of Switch) is, indeed, the surprise,” Crystal tells me. 

I met with her, first in the downstairs bar, where the theme is “Back in ’93.” With the music, the décor, the food and the drinks, it truly is 1993 down there.

Upstairs is perhaps even more surprising. How can I explain this without giving too much away? Upstairs, the theme is “The Rabbit Glass.” Hmmm, what could that be? The décor, which includes whimsical furniture and a huge, colorful mural, will give you a pretty good idea when you first enter this amazing nightspot. Step up to the bar. Your bartender’s garb provides additional clues. Take a look at the imaginative cocktail menu and it all begins to come together. You order the White Rabbit. This tasty concoction, which features Stoli Raspberry and Tequila Rose, mixed with almond milk and dairy-free whipped cream is served in a white rabbit-shaped mug, which Crystal and her crew especially designed for The Rabbit Glass theme. You can even purchase the mug to take home. That’ll provide some proof the next morning that you weren’t dreaming. This place really does exist – right here in the River City. My favorite beverage is cleverly dubbed Advice from a Caterpillar. You’ll have to visit to discover the secret of this drink and to discover the other delightful secrets that await.

As Crystal says, “Switch is different from anything that Richmonders are used to.” I agree wholeheartedly. Check it out and tell me what you think.

The LX Group is also poised to open a more family-oriented restaurant next door in the near future. Nama will feature Indian cuisine. But I’ll tell you more about that as opening day gets closer.

SO, THIS FLAMINGO WALKS INTO A BAR: I had a chance to sit down with an old friend, Jesse Andrews Brown, recently at the relatively new Bar Solita at 123 W. Broad Street. Bar Solita is the latest venture from the RVA Hospitality Group, which is run by Frances Santarella and Elizabeth Kincaid. The group also owns Tarrants Café at 1 W. Broad, as well as Tarrants 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 in-town 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. 

The new place takes good advantage of the wood-fired pizza oven that the Graffiato folks had installed. While the new menu features some delightful tapas entries as well as a host of salads 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 a great spot for private functions. The smaller spaces can accommodate 12 to 100 guests. 

Bar Solita is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. daily. 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. on Thursdays through Saturdays. It does close at 10 on Sunday night.

I kinda wormed my way into an invite when I texted Jesse to ask about the Flamingo Brunch, which runs from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. ‘til 3 p.m. on Sunday. I wondered about the name. Surely, there are none of the pink birds on the menu? 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 mug, about the size of my head. In case that reference doesn’t help, I’ll just say that the menu recommends this cocktail as serving 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.

 I also had the pleasure of meeting Derek Stroud, who has recently taken over as Bar Solita’s new bar manager. With a variety of refreshing cocktails along with an excellent wine list, Bar Solita makes for a cool hangout spot. It’s also proving to be very popular with guests at the Quirk hotel, which is just across the street.

 

WEDDING BELL BREWS: “It’s a marriage made in heaven.” That’s the way Neil Burton, owner and founder of Strangeways Brewing, describes the recent union of the Scott’s Addition edition of his brewery with a small, but outstanding barbecue restaurant by the somewhat strange name of Smohk. It all came together rather fortuitously. 

 I’ve been enjoying Roby Williams’ and his business partner, Elizabeth Sexton’s fantastic fare at Smohk virtually since they opened their doors in a rather hidden little piece of property across from the Circuit Arcade Bar.

The problem is that, despite the fact that the little BBQ joint has garnered more than its fair share of awards, the bigger boys with the louder voices were garnering most of the attention in the city’s hottest neighborhood/grown-up playground. 

But while I was worrying my pretty little head about Smohk’s future, Neil was busy looking into leasing the adjacent space.  The combination of Strangeways’ exceptional (and exceptionally creative) craft beers with the delicious smoked meats and homemade sides that should have been making Smohk famous already, is now giving locals and tourists, alike a further reason to head over to Scott’s Addition. 

Is it the wafting aroma of the top-quality meats smoking on the grill or is Strangeways’ well-earned reputation for its beers that’s filling this place up with happy diners and drinkers? Obviously, it’s a mix of both. The Smohk/Strangeways complex has “Winner” written all over it.

Acknowledging that this “marriage made in heaven” is a departure from the norm, Neil says, “Strangeways is always trying new things.” Ain’t that the truth?

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 in the future. 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 the strawberries. I’ve had quite a few Açaí bowls and The Pit and the Peel  by far has 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)?

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

 

Steve Cook
Author: Steve Cook