Like Green Tater Chips

raw baby spinach in a plastic container
raw baby spinach in a plastic container on my lap

Part of what’s helped me maintain healthier eating habits over the past year (in addition to being scared stiff by a frightening medical visit in late 2021) is having some go-to veggies that I can just grab out of the fridge and start eating. Lucky for me I’ve liked carrots and spinach for most of my life, raw or cooked. The raw bit is critical here, because it removes most of the resistance to me eating the healthy stuff. All I have to do is grab some out of the fridge and start putting it in my face.

So nearly every day, for over a year now, I eat a serving of carrots after lunch (even if I get take-out or go to a restaurant) and a serving of baby spinach after the kids go to bed at night. Most people eating raw carrots (sticks, chips, peeled carrots, etc.) eat them with their hands. But the spinach? Well, I just get in there like it’s a hand salad. I like a lot of veggies, but I’ve never cared for salad (nor most salad dressings), so why eat greens with a fork? My wife laughs at me most of the time while I sit on the sofa with my approximately 71 grams of raw, baby spinach, eating it by the bunch like chips out of the bag.

So I had to chuckle at myself when I visited Garnett’s a few weeks ago and ordered a plate of spinach while chatting with a pal behind the bar. A huge plate of unadorned spinach arrives at the bar in front of me and I stared at it for a minute before realizing it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to tuck in to my food with my hands. I settled for a fork 😛

Hot RVA Chick(en)

I was prepared to be disappointed by this place. Anywhere I’ve eaten owned by Eat Restaurant Partners has been overpriced mediocrity drenched in buckets of “local”, “natural”, and “sustainable” marketing puffery. Fat Dragon, Blue Goat, Boulevard Burger and Brew, Foo Dog, etc. It’s not bad food, and I don’t pass over food based on price alone, but there are plenty of better options in their respective price ranges around town.

Now there’s Hot Chick (har har, another cheeky name like…ugh…”Wong Gonzales”): the restaurant group’s take on Nashville-style hot chicken. I adore RVA’s dining scene, but we have a habit of picking up on food trends after everybody else has had a turn, don’t we? I love spicy food, though, and Nashville is too far a drive for a busy dad to try the real deal that is “hot chicken”. My options are limited (but please do check out the fancy chicken biscuit at Saison Market – it’s leaning in the same direction), so today I took my daughter to the new joint for lunch.

It’s good. Like, really dang good.

I got the basic sandwich, with a brutally hot fried chicken breast on a sweet and tender roll. I’m picky, so I excluded the pickles and slaw, but this meant it was just me and the chicken. I can’t speak to authenticity, nor the difference between its progenitors and the gentrification version of hot chicken, but Hot Chick is HOT. At the very least the chicken breast was dipped in some kind of hot oil or sauce, though there may very well have been some heat in the marinade and/or batter as well. But the crucial element here was the flavor—it was spicy but still tasted delicious. The waffle fries on the side were seasoned to perfection and helped mitigate the heat.

This was a $12 sandwich with a side. That’s not cheap for something in this category, but is the quality worth the price? I think so. Hot Chick won’t be a regular lunch stop, but I’ll go back when I get a hot chicken craving in the future.


Spatchcocked, roasted turkey was a rousing success. But more than the lovely, even cooking and all-over crispy skin, it was the prep that had the biggest impact, I think. I picked up the bird fresh on Tuesday after lunch, already cut by the butcher. So I laid it out flat on a wire rack in a sheet pan and liberally salted both sides before putting it in the fridge. This means that for two days I was essentially curing the turkey, intensifying the flavor and prepping the muscle tissue so that it would lose a little less moisture. I’m a dark meat guy, and the thigh was some of the best non-smoked turkey I’ve ever tasted.

Oh, and I guess my mashed potatoes were alright, too.

Sunday Supper Series: Louisiana Flair

crawfish boil

This past weekend was the second event in The Marinara’s “Sunday Supper Series” – and this time it was on a Saturday night. I was on hand, once again, as the photographer. The venue was Louisiana Flair, and HOLY CRAP, was it ever a feast.

Chef Nate was a true entertainer if ever there was one, and he dutifully taught the crowd how to eat crawfish. The ensuing feeding frenzy around the spread in the picture above was a sight to behold as friends and strangers literally rubbed elbows in pursuit of perfectly cooked and seasoned mud bugs. Everybody eventually settled in around their tables sipping on the beverages they had brought and anticipating the next courses. And oh! the rest of the food was delicious. The gumbo threatened to steal the spotlight from the crawfish boil and, while I had never yet tasted the dish, I fear I may have been spoiled already. Any future gumbo will have big shoes to fill. There was also wonderfully crispy fried catfish (and some delicious, fiery hot sauce) and lake trout. Our dessert was king cake – a kaleidoscopically-colored confection that tasted like a cinnamon roll.

It was a great success, I thought, and I met a number of new folks including RVAFoodie. I will, tragically, be out of town for the next event. But I’m told the next Sunday Supper will be May 22nd at The Empress. Keep a sharp eye on The Marinara’s site for details in the intervening weeks.

wistful grill

The website for McCormack’s Whisky Grill heralds its own eventual arrival with a nonchalant “Coming Soon.” That’s funny because, while the Whisky Grill has been operating for months now, it feels like a restaurant that shouldn’t be open yet. I was in the mood for trying out a couple of whiskies while I met up with some friends for a chat, and having not yet eaten, I figured I’d try the food as well. That was a mistake.

First problem: the menu. The variety was impressive, for a minute. Short of splitting whiskey (or whisky, as the case may be) in to Scotch, North American, and Irish, there was little to indicate what you were getting into if you were a newbie. I’m not, but I’m no expert, either. Which of the North American offerings were bourbon? Rye? Scotch-style single malt? Maybe this is to encourage interaction with the staff to ask for help? I’m not really sure (though the bar tender seemed knowledgable).

The menu was a bit overwhelming in general. The whole thing was something like 11×14 inches (or bigger?) and contained multifarious laminated pages held together in one corner by a little chain like you’d use for dog tags. There was a tiny page of beers (decent selection, all in bottles/cans), a half-sheet of wines (“exclusively Italian” said the waitress, but without further explanation), two double-sided full sheets of booze, and one double-sided full sheet of food ranging from humble to $20+ entrées. I saw a brisket sandwich, and after confirming with the waitress that they smoke it in-house, I decided on that for my dinner with a side of fries. Nothing fancy – just simple, stick-to-your-ribs neighborhood bar kinda food. Right?

I wish. The fries should have been cooked longer. The roll used for my sandwich had all the flavor and character of the bread served at Outback Steakhouse (looked like it, too). And the brisket? They wasted the use of their smoker. The meat wasn’t tender – almost chewy in fact – had no smoke flavor, and bore no visible evidence of having been smoked (like a smoke ring). Maybe I would have tasted the smoke if it wasn’t for their overpowering sauce. It’s not that the brisket was swimming in sauce, but it tasted and smelled despairingly like a sloppy joe sandwich. The lack of tenderness in the meat would also have been less of a factor had they not cut the brisket into 1/2-inch thick slabs. Taking a bite felt like mandibular gymnastics as I tried simultaneously to cut through the meat with my teeth and not pull the contents out from the bread. I finished neither the fries nor the sandwich.

My two friends and I thought it might be fun to share an order of the funnel cake on the dessert menu, but no dice. The waitress explained that it’s been on the menu for something like six months without ever having been available. Six months! What else are they pretending to serve at this restaurant? So instead I opted for their homemade vanilla ice cream. This was truly unfortunate, because it was almost right, but ultimately came up short. The flavor was great; complex real vanilla flavor with nutmeg and sweet creaminess. A pleasant companion to some George Dickel #12 bourbon. But the texture of the ice cream was way off. Tough, almost crumbly. It didn’t taste freezer-burned, so maybe they just stored it too cold? I haven’t made enough ice cream myself to know what could lead to this, but it improved as it melted down.

The interior of the Whisky Grill is pretty nice – for my tastes at least – and the four level shelving behind the bar is an impressive sight for lovers of fine spirits. But the food here makes me never want to return. Maybe it was just a case of the Mondays, but I felt like so little care was put into my dinner that I wouldn’t want to try anything else on the menu. Huge list of whiskeys? Sure, but staggering variety doesn’t automatically mean a good dining/drinking experience (or we’d all be eating at The Cheesecake Factory…). Give me a well-curated list and it’ll be good whether there are 5 or 50 choices.

Skip this place. If you want passable bar food and some quality adult beverages on Robinson, you’d do far better at Commercial Taphouse.

eating my way through charleston, sc

I’ve been home from a long weekend in Charleston, SC since Tuesday afternoon this week, but I haven’t had the time/energy to write about my dining experience with the attention it deserves. Granted, I have little excuse; I’m still on my spring break from grad school and I took the entire week off from work, but I’ve had film to scan and pictures to edit and all that good stuff, so here we are.


I normally research where I’m going when I travel, but for whatever reason I did no research whatsoever on Charleston. I relied, instead, on the recommendations of my wife’s friend who knows more about that town than most folks do about their own hands. She gave Valerie a list of good restaurants and stuff to see and do, and off we went, neither of us having been to Charleston before. What I didn’t know was that Charleston is a serious food town. Sure, lots of it is the kind of traditional southern coastal fare you might expect – crab cakes, oysters, some kinda seafood bisque, shrimp and grits, and so on – but there were a few surprises that caught me off guard in the best possible way. So rather than walk through every dining experience I had, I’ll give you the highlight reel, which could be long enough on its own.

We had lunch on Saturday at an excellent little out-of-the-way place called Cru Cafe on Pinckney St. One of the specials that day was a house-made pastrami sandwich. House-made pastrami! In South Carolina! I had to try it, and I didn’t regret it. I’m not kidding when I say this was some of the best pastrami I’d ever eaten. Smokey, salty, richly-flavored, and sliced up super thin in a generous pile on marbled rye bread. I could eat this sandwich for lunch almost every day. Valerie had an arugula salad with duck confit and fried onions, and we both thought the sweet tea was the perfect level of sweetness. Dinner that night at Slightly North of Broad (figure out the acronym on your own) was good, but not memorable.

We had Sunday brunch at Magnolias on E. Bay St., and while Valerie thought her smoked salmon frittata was okay, my meal was quite delicious. It was a variation on “pigs in a blanket,” but in this case was made up of buffalo chipotle sausage wrapped in orange buttermilk pancakes. A fine elevation of a diner mainstay.

Sunday dinner was at Poogan’s Porch on Qeen St, and it was absolutely tasty. And speaking of “a fine elevation of a diner mainstay,” I can’t recommend the macaroni and cheese appetizer enough. The menu stated, simply, that it had Tasso ham and smoked gouda, but the more-than-an-entrée-sized pile that arrived was the richest and creamiest macaroni and cheese I’ve eaten. Valerie, who’s not a huge fan of macaroni and cheese, had to force herself to stop eating it in order to have room for her main course. I thought it was so good that I attempted my own variation (with Serrano ham) once I returned home.

Monday was our last full day in Charleston, and while we had a nice-enough lunch at Melvin’s BBQ, our best eating and drinking of the trip lay ahead of us.

Neither Valerie nor I brought anything nicer than jeans, sneakers, and comfortable shirts, so while many of the restaurants downtown looked nice, we felt underdressed for most of them. We shared this concern with our cab driver that afternoon, and he assured us that with the exception of a handful of establishments in town, we had naught to worry. Armed with this advice, we made reservations at McCrady’s Restaurant on Unity Alley. I double-checked the dress code and the host assured me that we would have no trouble. So wearing a long-sleeved New York Giants t-shirt, jeans, and running shoes, I showed up at the restaurant of James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock. Not only has Brock worked under Alinea’s Grant Achatz, but he also worked his way up to executive sous chef at Lemaire in my beloved Richmond’s own Jefferson Hotel. The food was almost all local/regional, with many of the ingredients coming from the restaurant’s own farm in nearby Wadmalaw Island. While credentials are nice it’s the food, of course, that matters. Valerie and I both agree that McCrady’s was the finest meal we ate in Charleston.

This was modern haute cuisine without a doubt, executed masterfully in preparation, appearance, and flavor. We shared a first course of butter poached lobster and sea scallops with “sorrel bubbles” (an airy green foam) and a little parsnip croquette in the middle made up of a parsnip slice, parsnip puree, and coated in panko bread crumbs. The entire dish was also sitting in a popcorn purée and had little pieces of spiced popcorn as well. Valerie’s dinner was grilled swordfish with shaved root vegetables, and she enjoyed it. My entrée, though, was called a “duo of pork.” It looked like a zen garden with a little meat hill in the corner, and it was extraordinarily enjoyable in every respect. There was an exquisite peanut “granola,” banana purée, and a number of preparations of salsify root. There was braised salsify that was savory and rich, a deep-fried stick of salsify that looked like a miniature log (but tasted much better), and an intensely flavorful salsify purée. The pork duo turned out to be a small piece of deep-fried pork belly from the restaurant’s own farm, along with succulent slices of pork loin from the same. A little stream of cooked-down jus flowed under the pork across the plate. This dish was so good with all the flavors combining perfectly, and Valerie was completely distracted by the striking visual arrangement of my plate of food. Such inventiveness, attention to detail, and execution make me weak at the knees.

Bellies full of awesomeness, we shambled up the street to check out The Gin Joint, our final destination before heading home the next morning. This place is what would happen if you took the craft bar of Acacia here in Richmond, and mixed it with the casual small-plates atmosphere of Secco. Looking at their food menu made me wish I’d discovered it earlier in the weekend (I was too full for any more food), but the cocktails were some of the best I’d ever consumed. Whether it was the house-made cola syrup or the perfect proportioning and mixing of ingredients, or just the right amount of ice, this place knows how to serve some booze. I appreciated the careful pairing of the right gin or whiskey with the right juices and syrups, too. Be sure to check out the short video of the owner mixing up a libation (and ignore the cheesy Acoustic Alchemy music). Details, my friends. You know what? It’s probably better that this place is 7 hours away or my friends and family would think me an alcoholic.

So there it is. I drove further south looking for nothing more than relaxation and a change of scenery, and I came back with a few extra pounds (like I needed that) and a well-satisfied palate. We saw some interesting historical sites in a beautiful town, but I’d go back to Charleston in a heartbeat just for the food.

Sunday Supper


This past Monday evening I was fortunate enough to participate in a practice run for the upcoming Sunday Supper series, organized by The Marinara himself, Matt Sadler. I was on hand to take promotional photographs, but my wife and I were also sharing in the event and the delicious food that came with it. This practice session, and the first official event in the series, focus on chef Carlos Silva of Bistro 27 in downtown Richmond. Matt is selling tickets for the meal on March 27th at 7 PM.

Now I’m biased because I was working for/with Matt on this practice run, but I did still eat the food, and it was delicious. The experience of sharing a meal with the chef in this intimate setting was fantastic, and the conversation built up by the end of the evening added to the convivial nature of the event.

So go ahead! Get a ticket or two while you still can. Let’s make this first event a smash hit so Matt can organize more of them in the future.

jaks bagels

Look, I wanted to like Jaks Bagels. So Badly. The prospect of bagels in Carytown was wonderful. I like Cupertino’s well enough (though they’re no Bagel Oven up in Jersey), but they’re all the way out near Innsbrook and I live downtown. Having a shop about ten minutes from home would be great. Sadly, it is not (yet) to be.

Now let me get this straight – I don’t want any of this to come across as mean, because I understand that these folks are new. Not just new to a Carytown storefront, but new to bagel baking as well. But I’m not going to sugar-coat my review for the sake of politeness either. This is a business, and they want people to spend money on their wares.

I went in on Saturday morning with my wife. She had one bagel with cream cheese, and I had two different bagels, each with butter. Rather than a long, draw-out narrative, here are a few long, drawn-out points:

1. Service was terribly slow and inefficient from the start, with the people ahead of us already having ordered. The woman who took my wife’s order was having some serious issues cutting the bagel with the knife and nearly mangled it in the process. There should be a better bread knife, or a drop-in slicer, I think. If a knife, I’m hoping a week of customers has been enough practice to speed that up.

They were also using a 4-slot consumer toaster. This is less than ideal for more uniform, commercially-produced bagels, but for Jaks, it was worse. These bagels were more amorphous and, having been cut unevenly, had to be shoved into the toaster slots. After the slow toasting time I watched as another server had to dislodge half of a bagel with the slicing knife.

Also curious was the storage of the butter and the cream cheese. The servers used individually packed condiment cups even for our eat-in bagels. I can understand keeping those around for take-out, but pulling little cups out of the bottom of the fridge case meant extra firm, barely-spreadable condiments that added more time to the order as our sever struggled to coat the surface of the bagels (the second of my two bagels was missing butter entirely).

I’m going to cut a lot of slack on these service issues – I understand they only opened on 2/2 and I visited on 2/5. I wish they had better prepared for customers, but these problems can be ironed out.

2. The bagels. Oy. Where to start? The outside, of course. I had a salt bagel and an asiago cheese bagel. The mention of salt bagels on their website had me excited about the place prior to their opening. It was a sign that, perhaps, the owners were familiar with proper bagels from Up North. But this salt bagel seemed to have only a light dusting of…kosher salt? Yeah, I think it was kosher salt flakes. The outer skin of the bagel was rough and uneven, as if it had been stretched but not rolled afterward. There was no faintly crisp skin, no shine to its surface. The asiago, on the other hand, was just so covered in the cheese that the skin/crust/whatever was less of a factor.

Taking a bite out of the bagel highlighted the real problems, though. The dough was too dense, so instead of the expected slight, tender chewiness it felt more like the bagel simply tore apart. The density wasn’t uniform, though, so each bite varied slightly, and you could see some darker spots inside on my wife’s bagel and mine where it seemed too much moisture had prevented part of the bagel from cooking all the way through. It wasn’t un-cooked or doughy, but perhaps not as cooked as it could have been.

The flavor really wasn’t there, either. I’m no baker myself, but It seemed to me that the floury taste hadn’t fully cooked out of the bagels. But there may have been something else, too; if they par-boil their bagels – as any proper shop should – perhaps they are using baking soda in the water (some shops do this instead of honey or malt)? If so, maybe they’re being a bit heavy handed with it? Not sure. I only ate the top half of each of my bagels.

I give a lot less slack for the food than I do for the service. I feel like something as simple in concept (though certainly not simple in execution) as a bagel should be all set before you open to the public. This reminds me of Pie in The Fan, a restaurant where the branding appeared more fully-formed than the dough recipe when they opened. People have strong opinions about pizza and bagels, so it’s risky to serve something that isn’t ready for prime time.


I want Jaks to succeed for selfish reasons. I want good bagels closer to my house. But I cannot tell my friends to go eat bagels that I don’t like just to keep a restaurant alive. I may not have to, though. Plenty of people might love Jaks. They may very well survive on the palates of Richmonders, and that’s fine, I suppose. Most folks in my fair city did not, after all, grow up in the Tri-state Area, so they have different tastes and that’s okay. But if other people feel the same way I do, it could be a rough road for the new shop. One of the most important parts of a brand is what you’re actually selling, and no website or clever slogans can hide that.

For the time being, I can only hope the new Cupertino’s location (now open on Main between 12th and 13th) is open on weekends so I can get a serviceable bagel without having to drive out to the West End. If anybody DOES repeatedly eat at Jaks Bagels, however, and notices improvement over time (and consistency is established), I’d love to give it a second try. But I’m not going to pay to be a test subject.

tough gristle

A friend of mine informed me that Belmont Butchery’s Tanya Cauthen is suing Sausage Craft, the nascent wholesale sausage company started by former employees Chris Mattera and Brad Hemp. While the Style Weekly article and Mattera suggest this is about the sausage itself, Cauthen intimated that the wholesale sausage business was the cause for concern. I don’t know the main parties here on a personal level, and I don’t think I could expect Tanya to discuss this during business hours with a semi-regular customer like myself, but I do have some lingering questions about the whole situation, because this whole thing leaves a bitter taste in my Richmond-food-scene-loving mouth…

1. What IS the suit really about? Is it the recipes? The wholesale sausage concept/business model?
2. Did Mattera and Hemp actually plan and start executing on this idea while Cauthen was away?
3. Is Sausage Craft actually an idea stolen from Cauthen? That is, was it a firm plan in motion (about which at least Mattera or Hemp was aware) that Sausage Craft preempted? Did Mattera and Hemp work with Cauthen on the idea under false pretenses?
4. Most important, I think…Was there any kind of non-compete contract?

Without a contract I don’t think there’s much support for this suit because, regardless of the ethics behind the formation of Sausage Craft, this is a lot closer to a carpenter saying he’s going to start building cabinetry, and his partner parts ways to start a cabinet business first. Making and selling sausage is trade craft, not trade secrets, and the concept of wholesale commerce is older than the city of Richmond. If Mattera and Hemp did anything sneaky (and I don’t know enough to say whether they did or not) than it sure dues suck, but I just don’t see grounds for legal action.

Now I like Chris and Brad and Tanya, and I like their work a lot. I always liked chatting with the guys when they were still at Belmont, and I still like chatting with Tanya when I go in there. I’ve always felt like, for a layman like myself, they were able to assist and inform me when I needed help or suggestions. I don’t really want to take sides here, but I’m honestly kind of miffed that this lawsuit even exists.

Why not simply try to compete instead? Belmont Butchery is already well-established. Wouldn’t they, then, have an advantage over Sausage Craft if they wanted to move into the wholesale business? They have an existing reputation on which to trade and existing facilities to get started. That, at least, could have been a head start over Sausage Craft. But Sausage Craft is making deliveries today and Belmont, to my knowledge, doesn’t yet have a wholesale operation. I say just let the market and consumers decide this one. I buy sausage from both outfits, and I buy plenty of other products from Belmont Butchery that Sausage Craft never intends to sell. Perhaps we’ll find that Richmond has plenty of room for both companies.