Arts-driven redevelopment is firmly entrenched on Broad Street, even while the primary actors change from small and scrappy independent galleries to major players, such as Virginia Commonwealth University’s multimillion-dollar, 41,000-square-foot behemoth, the Institute for Contemporary Art, which remains under construction at Belvidere Street.
The new Quirk Hotel, an arts-themed boutique hostelry conceived by Ted and Katie Ukrop, is an integral part of the arts district’s maturation — and was a key element of the 30th anniversary Richmonders of the Year selection of the Ukrop family, at the start of the year.
A meticulous historic renovation of a 1916 department store has brought this architectural gem back to life. The crowning achievement is its restaurant, Maple & Pine, a bright and airy gathering space on the ground floor for visitors and residents.
On a Saturday evening at the bar, I hear a couple on one side of me, who are staying at the hotel, query the staff about the building’s history. On the other, a love-struck Baltimorean is asking other patrons for restaurants to try during his — hopefully — frequent visits to see his girlfriend. All are impressed with Richmond, and their visit to Quirk seems to factor heavily in their positive impression.
And it’s no wonder — the space is beautiful. High ceilings and white paint provide a blank canvas for seasonal decorations and rotating local art. It feels effortlessly modern and hip. And, at times, loud. When busy, there’s little respite from the noise. The tables are close and the crush of well-dressed patrons at the bar begins to overwhelm the bartenders. Fur coats are piled on the floor while drink orders start to back up.
The popularity of Maple & Pine seems to challenge the wait staff. Every visit includes some hiccup, mostly in timeliness and attentiveness of the friendly but harried servers.
Nonetheless, this is a place designed for connecting. So relax, order one of the well-made cocktails, put the phone away and talk to someone while you wait.
With its hotel lobby location, Maple & Pine offers dining throughout the day and brunch on weekends. Executive chef David Dunlap’s experience comes from high-end hotel restaurants with stints at the venerable Inn at Little Washington, as well as Fauquier County’s Ashby Inn. His food could be called new American cuisine. Dunlap takes classic American dishes or ingredients and updates them with global sensibilities. His reliance on as many local ingredients as possible ensures a changing and seasonal menu.
Rockfish ($27), native to the Chesapeake Bay, is served simply seasoned and swimming in a shallow Japanese-inspired dashi broth. Meaty maitake mushrooms add depth to the dish’s basic flavors — and it works, as many do, to highlight the simplicity of fresh ingredients. A marinated baby vegetable starter ($8) features fennel, carrot and beets so lightly pickled that the expected pungency is a whisper on the palate. The thin, toasted sourdough atop the vegetables is a little awkward but splinters into croutons to add just a bit of needed texture.
The Pekin duck ($28) — not, in case you were wondering, a misspelling of the famous Chinese dish — features a nicely charred piece of meat served with caramelized pumpkin, dollops of sweet puréed dates and nutty quinoa, all laced with the faintest hint of ginger. The duck, however, has an unappetizing layer of fat that should have been rendered, evidence of either an impatient or inattentive kitchen. Similarly, the otherwise excellent pork belly with a soft poached egg and kimchi polenta ($15) served at brunch comes with the meat ever so slightly tough, leaving my companion wondering if the cooks are as frazzled as the servers. The buttermilk fried chicken and waffles ($15), on the other hand, feature perfectly crispy fried chicken thighs topped with a bacon-caramel sauce that walks right up to the line of being too rich but doesn’t quite cross it.
Whether you’re here for drinks and some sliders off the bar menu or an extended family brunch, this new Richmond sophistication is sure to find a continuing fan base among out-of-towners and locals alike. The welcome trendiness of fresh and local ingredients offers both focus and room for chef-driven creativity. And once the staff finds its footing to deal with the place’s popularity, Maple & Pine will live up to its promise of a gathering place worthy of its beautiful setting. S
Maple & Pine
201 W. Broad St.
Daily 6:30-10 a.m.; 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; Dinner Sundays-Thursdays 5-9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 5-10 p.m.