In a nutshell: Soul food makes a resurgence. A concept as simple as breakfast becomes a huge hit. And specialty produce challenges all previously held notions about vegetables. Because Richmond diners like to have it all ways: decadent excess, healthful minimalism, and waffles with everything as we enter a new season of eating.
First, the soul. It was only a matter of time before a trend that started in 1930s Harlem would make it here, and that's what chicken and waffles are doing for several menus including Sandy's on the North Side and the new Anniebell's downtown and in Chesterfield.
They come smothered (gravy-style), or regular (with fried wings), served with syrup on the side, satisfying the need for meat and sweet on the same plate at almost any hour. Singers Gladys Knight and Ron Winans have had such success selling their chicken and waffles, they've expanded their Atlanta restaurant empire to D.C. and beyond. On the West Coast, same thing Roscoe's in Hollywood is a hot spot with a similar menu.
Now local entrepreneur Curtiss Stancil unveils a second location of Anniebell's Chicken & Waffles at 415 N. First St., and he's hoping to reach the masses here and push the concept on into North and South Carolina. A highlight on the menu is the soul roll collard greens, grilled chicken and cabbage fried in an egg-roll wrapper for $6.95.
On another side of the spectrum, specialty produce is more tender and varied in presentation than ever. At Jumpin J's Java in Church Hill, where dinner service is now in full swing, dishes such as shrimp, watermelon and cucumber salad with cumin-lime vinaigrette are novel without being froufrou. Patina Grill, always in seasonal mode in Short Pump, offers dandelion pesto with smoked duck, apple and sage ravioli. At Goochland's Edible Garden, an asparagus-spinach-broccoli terrine layered with Gruyère can't last, as Chef Ed Blasé's menu decisions are spur-of-the-moment, depending on what he can pick from the garden (strawberries last week) or get from local suppliers. His minted spring pea soup is another fleeting example of the trend.
At Lakeside's Zed Café, rhubarb cobbler and baby bok choy are on the current grocery list, with comfort stalwarts such as chocolate-banana bread pudding filling any gaps as seasonal produce comes to harvest.
Kevin LaCivita has gluten-free pastas and desserts at Pomegranate Euro Bistro in Shockoe Slip, another first on the local fine-dining circuit here and an indicator of health-consciousness that's likely to continue alongside the no-trans-fat movement, which has also begun to take hold.
And while most restaurateurs make their living from liquor sales, some aren't dissuaded from cementing a reputation on breakfast staples like eggs, French toast and, yes, more waffles. Both Weezie's Kitchen and Kitchen 64 are new entries into the mid-town, weekday breakfast market, with more cafes coming in the next few months and nearly every place in town now offering weekend brunch where booze sells better than toast.
Richmond may never be trendy, nor really want to be, but from a culinary perspective, it's becoming a deliciously varied city, best enjoyed with tastebuds wide open. S