Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Lively Up Yourself

Eat for more than a mission.


You feel it as soon as you hit the double-wide, automatic accessibility doors — this joint really lives up to its name. On a recent Friday evening, as my wife and I waited for a booth, we were chatted up by a host dressed in suit and tie who treated us like family. Habit, perhaps. After all, it was his father, owner Garth Larcen, who showed us to our seats, and his sister cheerfully took our drink order.

Aside from family, the Positive Vibe Café's wait staff is made up of professionals from other Richmond restaurants — waiters and waitresses who volunteer a few nights a week to serve in exchange for tips. The food they serve is quite good, better than you might expect at a family-run joint — but then, they've had a little help in that department.

Many prominent local chefs have contributed signature dishes to the Vibe's menu. The emphasis is on big flavors. (Entrées range from $9.95 to $19.95.) From Chef Jay Frank come jumbo-lump crab cakes with red pepper sauce. From longtime Richmond restaurateur and partner Bob DeCapri comes a fantastic seafood potpie with shrimp, crab, salmon and scallops broiled in a rich béchamel and topped with puff pastry. From Chef Rob Hamlin comes a truly authentic jambalaya featuring andouille sausage, chicken and shrimp paired with dirty rice and enhanced by the deepest brown roux I've tasted in a while. For the vegetarian, Chef John Maxwell, who has helped train the kitchen staff, offers a delightfully tasty alternative: griddled white bean and sweet potato cakes with avocado and corn salsa.

But the biggest flavor of all comes in the Vibe's own signature entrée: buffalo. Whether you try the burger, the dog, the stew, the sirloin, or Chef Jim Stevenson's buffalo meatloaf, you will notice the difference that free-range, grass-fed organics can make. This is meat that tastes like meat, and in the capable hands of the Vibe's kitchen staff, that's a good thing.

The bold flavors don't end there. The homemade cornbread pyramids are moist and paired with a scrumptious honey butter. The steamed shrimp, available in a half and full pound, are nicely spiced and of a good size. The most interesting appetizer, however, is something called Dippity Do Dah, a choice of various chips and dips, everything from tortillas and salsa to hummus and pita and a rich crab dip. Available in various sizes, it makes a good grab-all appetizer for groups.

There's an adage in the food world — if you can't master subtle, go big. That's successfully at play at the Vibe. From the beach-themed menu, to the fresh-squeezed lemon-, lime- and orangeade, to the constant crash of surf on a flat-screen beach above the bar, to the tang and sparkle of each plate, Positive Vibe Café promises big appeal for Richmonders. Family night out? It's kid friendly. Date? Impress 'em with your sensitive side. Foodie? Try it. How often can you chow down and clean your karma? S

Positive Vibe Café ($-$$)
2825 Hathaway Road
Stratford Hills Shopping Center off Forest Hill Avenue
Tuesday-Friday: lunch, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.; dinner, 5 - 10 p.m. Saturday: noon - midnight. Sunday: brunch, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.; dinner, 4 - 9 p.m.

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The Musical Vibe

Max Larcen, the Positive Vibe's wheelchair-bound inspiration, maitre d' and musical impresario, has put together a varied menu of performances. "We have a lot of blues and bluegrass, but it's not by design, but by default," he says. "Everyone is playing for free to support the project."

Performances are scheduled Wednesday nights (called, tongue-in-cheek, the "7:30 Club"), Saturdays 10 p.m. to midnight, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Sunday brunch. Regular fare includes Harry Gore (of the Good Guys) re-enacting the British Invasion and John Leedis' acoustic rock. The Carter Family tribute Engine 143 returns Aug. 3, and Larcen is working on a repeat performance of local vocal duo The Goodfellows.

"It's amazing how good they are," Larcen says. "The first time they were here, their band didn't show up, so they sang this fantastic old soul music a cappella. And they are both in wheelchairs; it's a perfect fit."

The object, Larcen says, is to bring people in to eat. The energetic, idealistic atmosphere is a canny business strategy; the setting is so uplifting that even the richest dessert is guilt-free. — Peter McElhinney

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