Carytown's Weezie’s Kitchen
is improving its game. Owner Todd Gelsomino has brought in key players to elevate service, the cocktail program and the food. Bar manager Vanna Hem has been mastering cocktails for 13 years at top Richmond bars, including Vagabond, Postbellum and Can Can. The new chef, Brian Brown, also worked in the kitchen at Can Can.
Both the new cocktail and food menues will change with the seasons and draft beer includes local rotating brews.
I experienced these improvements at a Hardywood Park beer dinner on Sept. 25, which paired four creative courses with limited-release Hardywood beers. Hem and Brown had visited the brewery to sample and choose the beers for the dinner, and Brown created dishes tailored to them.
We began the dinner with oysters on the half shell. The fresh mignonette and the salty seafood played well with the introductory beer, the slightly sweet and tart Pineapple Mango Berliner Weiss.
The next course, a salad of kale and lentils, lightly grilled tuna, cantaloupe gazpacho and shaved pecorino, presented a clever mix of bright and earthy flavors. The salad was paired with a French farmhouse saison, a small-batch ale brewed on Hardywood’s Charlottesville pilot system. The spicy notes from the saison yeast — as with most farmhouse-style beers — paired wonderfully with the earthy flavors from the salad.
The main course featured quail in the style of chicken and waffles. The chicken-fried quail perched atop a Belgian sweet corn waffle with drizzles of sweet huckleberry syrup. Hardywood presented its 2016 rye whiskey barrel-aged farmhouse pumpkin, a rich amalgam of fall flavor touched with spicy rye whiskey.
Arguably, the dessert best demonstrated chef’s creativity. Savory predominated in the surprising and delightful foie gras Melba: A slice of foie gras rested on balsamic custard and brûléed peaches and was topped with rich, slightly sweet raspberry sauce and arugula. The beer pairing — Cuvée Gold Belgian Pale Ale — complemented the dessert with an equal intensity and appropriate dryness.
I also sampled the new cocktail menu, via a full-flavored fall concoction that blended dark rum and apple — a marriage that worked surprisingly well.
Besides a creative mix of flavors, Hem’s cocktail list includes plenty of infusions and other ingredients not in a home bartender’s arsenal. The Tokyo Drift, for example, is made with duck-fat-washed Woodford Reserve rye and red wine and plum reduction with mole bitters, lemon and star anise.
As Hem explained to me, Weezie’s is a Carytown institution, serving Richmonders for more than 10 years. The goal now is not just to make Weezie’s better than ever but also to “make Carytown great again.”
Based on my experience, I have great expectations.