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Chef’s Choice

We checked in with folks from every corner of Richmond’s food industry to find out where they’re going and what they’re eating these days.



Jay Metzler
Idle Hands Bakery, owner

Favorite restaurant of 2017: Galley Go-To. Manny is awesome and Giustino's fennel and sausage pizza is life for me.

Best dish I ate last year: The gnocchi at Dinamo. It was perfectly done, the sauce was amazing and I loved the whole experience. That was also the first time I was served my own bread at a restaurant and the first time I'd ever seen anyone else eating my bread in that kind of setting. It was surreal.

Late night snack: I may have to forfeit this category … bakers' hours and all. Though sometimes I do go and grab a cornmeal cookie at Ellwood Thomson's.

Go-to guilty pleasure: Chocolate or ice cream. My sweet tooth is insatiable. Dark chocolate with English toffee or basically any kind of ice cream.

Current drink: The Veil's Master Shredder is my favorite beer. It's a killer lower-alcohol, full-bodied IPA. I'm pretty sure they use a bit of wheat in the brewing process, which gives it a really nice mouth feel.

  • Scott Elmquist

David Shannon
L'Opossum, chef and owner

Favorite restaurant of 2017: I may be cheating on the time frame, but I really like Little Nickel. Lamb shank tacos, shrimp ukoy, pu-pu platter and banana split.     

Best dish I ate last year: Everything at Oriole in Chicago because chef Noah Sandoval is a genius. (Sandoval cooked at Fire, Flour & Fork in 2017.)

Late night snack: Sometimes when service is winding down, I will change and eat at the bar alone. My current favorite is sweetbreads with giant prawns and grits, and a Meyer lemon meunière.

Go-to guilty pleasure: My snow-day indulgence is Shake 'n Bake pork chops with Uncle Ben's wild rice and Green Giant Brussels sprouts in butter sauce.   

Current drink: The Bam Bam soda at Roaring Pines' soda counter.

  • Scott Elmquist

Olivia Wilson
Brenner Pass, pastry chef

Favorite restaurant of 2017: Pupatella because it's nice to get a wood-fired burrata pizza delivered.

Best dish I ate last year: Tuna crudo at Rapp Session because, black garlic tonnato.

Late night snack: Kimchi. I keep experimenting at my house and always have at least a gallon in the fridge. Love that stank.

Go-to guilty pleasure: Old Bay cheese curls. Because I remember that blue crabs exist and life is OK.

Current drink: The Aspect Detective at Brenner. Tommy Nelson created a delightful vegetal drink with bubbles. It rules.

  • Scott Elmquist

Sunny Baweja
Lehja, owner

Favorite restaurant of 2017: Honestly I haven't been to any new restaurants that opened last year, but I really want to go to Brenner Pass and Flora.

Best dish I ate last year: One was escargot from the Rogue Gentleman with cream, parsley, citrus, fennel, pickled mustard seed and grilled bread. It was just a perfect example of execution. The second was pork schnitzel at Metzger. It had the perfect crunch outside, tender and juicy inside, and perfectly seasoned. And those fingerling potatoes in duck fat. Couldn't be any better.

Late night snack: Avocado and jalapeño toast or spicy hummus with pita chips. So comforting and soul satisfying at midnight or later while watching cricket.

Go-to guilty pleasure: A perfect margherita pizza. A thin, crunchy crust when you can hear a crackle noise at the same time that the fresh mozzarella wants you to love it. To top that, quality basil for taste and aroma: heaven.

Current drink: Caribbean Kween at the Jasper. That's a perfectly well-balanced, refreshing cocktail I can drink again, and I don't say that often.

  • Ash Daniel

Ian Kelley
Sugar Shack Donuts, owner

Favorite restaurant of 2017: iThaiz. This place is the unknown Thai place I selfishly don't want you to know about. Hands down the best Thai in the city, if not the state. Try the dumplings with coconut curry, Thai hot.

Best dish I ate last year: iThaiz has these secret menu Thai tacos, and I usually eat three or four every time I go. Think basil chicken meets street tacos.

Late night snack: Chips and salsa. There is never a wrong time or too much chips and salsa. I make my own salsa spicy enough to make me sweat profusely, and accompany it with Doritos salsa verde chips instead of regular tortilla chips.

Go-to guilty pleasure: Birdie's has a buttermilk pie that they were famous for back in the day. They've brought it back to their new South Side spot. I could eat a whole pie a day if my kids ever let me.

Current drink: I hate to admit this but McDonald's vanilla milkshakes are amazing. And it's easy to use my kids as an excuse to get one.

  • Scott Elmquist

Kristi Croxton
James River Distillery, owner

Favorite restaurant of 2017: I don't get out nearly as much as I'd like. I just went to the Jasper on Saturday and that was totally awesome but that's more of a cocktail bar than a restaurant. Since cocktails are pretty much my favorite thing, that should count as a restaurant.

Best dish I ate last year: A scallop dish from Lehja. Sunny [Baweja] brought it out to us, and I don't know if it was off-menu or if they were testing some dishes, but it was so delicious that I just about licked the plate. I loved it for probably a combination of reasons; being able to get away, Sunny's wonderful hospitality and of course, the amazing flavors of the dish.

Late night snack: A spoonful of peanut butter.

Go-to guilty pleasure: Taco Bell, all day, every day.            

Current drink: Aviations and 50-50 martinis rank up there but for the past several years my go-to drinks are Boulevardiers in the winter and Negronis in the summer.

  • Scott Elmquist

Robert Jones
Master sommelier

Favorite restaurant of 2017: Brenner Pass-Chairlift because the vibe is good, low-key and Spartan, and the bar dominates the main room. Except for boomy noise levels it's a fine place, with sensible plates, a very good beverage program, pastry-chocolate-sweet counter and raclette on Friday nights.

Best dish I ate last year: Hearth-roasted marrow bones at Chateau de Segries in Lirac, southern Rhone, France — a superbly tasty and rustic end to a day's travel at a 600-year-old property with wonderfully hospitable people that I had not seen for 14 years.

Late night snack: The employee meals that my son brings home from Lehja — as full of rich and balanced flavor as can be had in Richmond, and the nan can't be beat.

Go-to guilty pleasure: At home, linguine aglio olio, because the crispy-crunchy-khaki-colored garlic, light heat of pepper flakes and depth of grated Reggiano make life worthwhile. On the road, it's whatever the best local pizza is.

Current drink: Smith & Cross Rum, Byrrh and tonic for its depth of flavor, layers, nuance and dilution.

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