Some two dozen restaurants are about to open in Richmond, with more lurking as deals get finalized in certain hot neighborhoods. So in 2014, diners again will be forced to choose what, where and when they'll partake from an array of options. Here are some starters:
Supper: "Decadence is how to describe my food," says Rick Lyons, a longtime Richmond restaurant figure who's adding on to his Lunch space with Supper early this quarter. The red building adjacent to his Scott's Addition diner used to be headquarters for the late Sergeant Santa. Now it's gained a long bar, big kitchen and seats for 40 guests — a relief to diners who arrive earlier and earlier in the day to snag tables in the tiny Lunch storefront.
Lyons does catering work, including some high-profile parties over the holidays, adding delay to the finish. The Supper build-out has "been a road," he says, "one disaster after another." But the project is coming together in a rustic style Lyons calls quaint and intimate, with intentions to be more creative with the food, now that there's room for more equipment. 1213 Summit Ave. 353-0111. lunchrva.com.
The Rogue Gentlemen: Patience is a virtue, whether or not owner John Maher and executive chef Aaron Hoskins are feeling it after their ultra-long Jackson Ward project. Maher broke his ankle just weeks before final inspections, and now expects the business to open by mid-January.
Drink and drinking guru Steve McKenna built the large back bar, his first in Richmond, from century-old heart pine. The 15-foot-tall piece is stunning, Maher says, with custom shelving that will display four barrels used to age cocktails such as Manhattans. Barrel-aged cocktails are an international trend and new to this market.
The final menu is in place, lighting and furnishings are in, and the gold-leafed logo painted on the front window is a welcome sight for those who await entry. The Rogue will open daily for bar and dinner except Tuesdays, and will offer Sunday brunch until 4 p.m. Come spring, a patio and pergola will be established along with a kitchen garden. 618 N. First St. 477-3456. theroguegentlemen.com.
Rancho T: Morris Street gets a makeover when Lamplighter comes in to replace Crossroads Coffee, and Rancho T transforms the tech-focused Sample into a Southwestern cafe. For the latter, owners Ed Vasaio and Tuffy Stone raised the floors, added hardwoods, and "have pored over every detail," Stone says.
"It's taken a lot of thinking," he says. "We're still revealing what we're going to be. There's probably not going to be a smoked meat on the menu. We're figuring out what the food is going to be, to make sure whatever goes on the plate has a nice chew and good flavor and makes people want to come back."
Wooden booths and tables, carefully selected art and fixtures will give warmth to the place. "There's a story behind every detail," Stone says of each decision in the collaboration. Expect an opening in January, 1 N. Morris St.
Pelon's Baja Grill: In an emerging food destination on industrial Dabney Road, the third link in this Virginia Beach-based business is in launch mode. Its food truck is operating weekdays with breakfast and lunch burritos, tacos, posole and other Mexi-Cali specialties. Behind the red truck, the building has a 3,000-square-foot commissary kitchen, bottling Pelon's salsa fresca for national distribution and supporting the company's restaurant, coming in March.
"The concept is popular in California," owner John Muscara says of the storefront setup. Businesses might make their tortillas or salsa in back, and run a restaurant or food truck in front. Pelon's Baja Grill will open daily at 8 a.m. and serve lunch, dinner and bar with a Sunday champagne brunch.
Because the neighborhood is still being discovered — Strangeways Brewery recently opened nearby — Muscara says he'll run "aggressive specials" such as $1 taco nights to entice students and others to the restaurant, which will have 100 seats, a patio and ample ways to try the firm's Baja cream sauce, verde, habanero-pineapple and picante salsas, and food that's won awards in Hampton Roads. Construction started last week at 2231 Dabney Road. pelonsbajagrill.com.
Pane e Vino Wine Bar & Trattoria: Opening any day now is this project in the Lopresti restaurant family (Maldini's, Mary Angela's and others). A complete redesign of the former Julian's, itself a Richmond institution, brings a more upscale approach to Italian. 2617 W. Broad St.
Pomegranate: Kevin LaCivita says all of the major work is finished at the former Moshi Moshi, soon to become a new version of his Shockoe Slip bistro Pomegranate. He's in shopping mode now, choosing glassware and dishes for the space at 3321 W. Cary St.
Market forces: For Jackson Ward the arrival of Saison Market is a timely plus. The quirky, intimate gastropub expands this month to offer craft-beer-growler filling, lunch, desserts, pantry items and more seating with extended hours at 23 W. Marshall St. saisonrva.com.
A similar concept comes to the fourth Urban Farmhouse, planned for 3031 Norfolk St. in Scott's Addition, with a larger market lineup to suit the underserved neighborhood and its growing number of residents. The third location in Church Hill's Lava Lofts building opened last month. theurbanfarmhouse.net.
At the other end of the spectrum, the luxury food retailer Southern Season is expected to open this spring in Staples Mill Centre just north of West Broad Street. It's a 49,000-square-foot, regional variation on the Dean & Deluca approach — fine meats, seafood, cheese, chocolates, wines, flowers, and thousands of specialty items, such as 500 hot sauces, that you didn't know existed, or that you needed. A casual seasonal-menu restaurant is part of the scenario, which is highly popular in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Charleston, S.C. southernseason.com.
Sugar Shack downtown: The short-lived cafe Les Crepes gives way to a second location of the cult-fave Sugar Shack Donuts. Though owner Ian Kelley emphasizes the Zeke's coffee that will be served, office workers predict even more infatuation with the sweet stuff in the hand-stamped white boxes. But an espresso, tea, juice and smoothie bar will be part of the mix at Sugar Shack Coffee, 1110-B E. Main St. sugarshackdonuts.com.
Too soon to tell: One of the most successful Shockoe Bottom restaurants gets a total switch-up in the new year, with an ownership change and reinvention. Watch this space for details later this month.
New operators lining up: Perly's downtown has been leased, and deals are being finalized for the Well and Belvidere at Broad, a space in Rocketts Landing and another in Shockoe Bottom. "People from outside the market are getting interested in Richmond," commercial realtor Nathan Hughes says, "because they see that our food scene is exploding." Stay tuned for details.
Foo Dog: An open kitchen and street food concept comes to the former Main Art storefront at 1537 W. Main St. in April. EAT Restaurant Partners (Fat Dragon, Blue Goat, Osaka Sushi & Steak, Wild Ginger) is adding its smallest restaurant to the group with Foo Dog, named for the guardian dogs that offer prosperity and good luck in Asian cultures. Wok cooking will involve "lots of fire and excitement," partner Ren Mefford says, and the concept "embraces the food stalls and street foods you'd find in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Hong Kong," at moderate price points. A small covered patio in the back will seat 16. Construction is underway. S