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Lemon Season

Tips on how to squeeze the most from what’s left of summer 2020.

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It’s been a season to remember, for all the wrong reasons.

With our country in the grips of COVID-19, the worst pandemic in a century, and our leaders’ response ranking among the very worst in the world – there have been few reasons to celebrate. We socially distance and mostly stay at home waiting for the days when we can congregate in groups, or just hug one another safely again.

But current medical knowledge tells us, even as cases in Virginia trend back upwards, that wearing masks is all-important and will help to greatly reduce cases.

With that in mind, here are some ideas from a veteran food writer, who moved to Richmond just before the pandemic started, on how to spend the rest of this summer from hell – and no, for once we’re not even talking about the humidity.

1. Get Involved

If ever there has been a time to harness a universal energy geared toward the greater good, it’s now. Cash may be king, but time is invaluable. Here’s where to volunteer this summer:

Duron L. Chavis and a steady crew of volunteers have built more than 200 raised beds during the pandemic through his organization Happily Natural Day. - SCOTT ELMQUIST/FILE
  • Scott Elmquist/File
  • Duron L. Chavis and a steady crew of volunteers have built more than 200 raised beds during the pandemic through his organization Happily Natural Day.

Happily Natural Day 
Local activist and farmer Duron L. Chavis has long been a proponent of resilient food systems. His organization Happily Natural Day recently received nonprofit status and has raised nearly $60,000 in less than a month. Happily Natural Day “recruits and trains volunteers to lead urban greening initiatives in formerly redlined neighborhoods where they live.” When we chatted with Chavis earlier this summer, he said: “The folks I’m training, the goal is for them to be able to access land through their farming and gardening efforts.” Chavis and a steady crew of volunteers have built more than 200 raised beds during the pandemic, distributing them to underserved neighborhoods. You don’t need a green thumb to help create these mini food systems – sign up online (thenaturalfestival.com) and you’ll be added to a volunteer email thread. Whether you have a truck, a shovel or just an able set of hands, there’s a way to contribute to Chavis’ efforts. All volunteering is done safely, with social distancing measures in place. 

RVA Food Justice Alliance 
Like Happily Natural Day, RVA Food Justice Alliance is an organization focused on creating and securing food access for people who have long been overlooked or forsaken within the food system. The alliance also needs volunteers who are willing to get their hands a little dirty. Check out its Instagram (instagram.com/p/CCbPSIuFbyB) to see which garden it’ll be tending and what time work starts. Email “I’m there” to richmondfja@gmail.com. A recent visit to the Gilpin neighborhood involved staking tomatoes, planting herbs and flowers, weeding and the planting of sunflowers with “some of the community youth.” 

MAD RVA 
Mutual Aid Disaster Relief Richmond is a support system addressing issues that have affected residents due to COVID-19, including supply shortages and job loss. You can donate funds or items to those in need. Supplies include things as varied as soap, masks, playing cards board games. Check out the list online (richmondmutualaid.wixsite.com/resources). You can also donate your time to the group – email richmondmutualaid@protonmail.com if you are available for answering hotline calls, organizing and sanitizing donations, packing orders, driving to deliver orders or to pick up donations. The organization is also looking for those willing to volunteer their time and expertise in the fields of graphic design, grant writing and media. 

Underground Kitchen founder Micheal Sparks and chef Jason Bullard are working with area churches to provide meals for those who need it most. - SCOTT ELMQUIST/FILE
  • Scott Elmquist/File
  • Underground Kitchen founder Micheal Sparks and chef Jason Bullard are working with area churches to provide meals for those who need it most.

UGK Community First
When the pandemic first started, Underground Kitchen founders Micheal Sparks and Kate Houck had to indefinitely postpone their luxe traveling dinner series. “Everything was wiped out,” Sparks told us back in April. At the time, he and Houck had a moment of panic – but it didn’t last long. “I thought, ‘there are going to be a lot of people hurting worse than us,’” Sparks said. So they mobilized, and UGK Community First was born. The hunger relief nonprofit (it gained official nonprofit status April 30) has its own website and Instagram (instagram.com/ugkcommunityfirst), and to date has delivered more than 50,000 meals to food insecure communities around Richmond. 

The group is looking for volunteers to help produce, package and distribute meals. Those interested in lending a hand can email info@theundergroundkitchen.org. 

2. Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Has your sourdough starter been more finicky than anticipated? Is your herb garden producing weeds instead of basil? Restaurants, bars and breweries in Richmond are now in Phase 3 of reopening, which means if you feel comfortable doing so, you can mask up and dine out. Here’s where we’re spending our pandemic dollars, from at-home seafood feasts to date nights under the stars:

Bingo Beer Co.’s Patio Vibes grisette is a solid choice for a light, crisp summer beer. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Bingo Beer Co.’s Patio Vibes grisette is a solid choice for a light, crisp summer beer.

One Brew to Rule Them All 

We may be in the midst of a global pandemic, questioning our role in the world and the systems we so blindly adhere to. But one universal truth remains – there’s nothing like knocking back a cold crispy beer in the middle of a brutal summer. And our beer of choice for summer 2020 is Bingo’s Patio Vibes grisette. 

“It’s the perfect summertime beer,” says Bingo Beer Co. owner Jay Bayer. At just 4.5% alcohol — and with a Walmart-inspired label, to boot — Patio Vibes is an easy sipper and a great way for brewers to get the general public interested in a traditional saison style. “It’s true to tradition with a fun re-brand,” says Bingo head brewer Ken Rayher.  The creation of brewer Sean O’Hearn, Patio Vibes is made with two “more modern” German hops; “It has a nice, spicy European hop character,” says Rayher.

Enjoy onsite or pick up a four-pack of 16-ounce cans at the brewery or your favorite independent bottle shop. 

Al fresco dining 

Speaking of patio vibes. … There are ample opportunities to dine outdoors at restaurants across the city. Here are some of our favorites:

Sabai is now open for patio dining. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Sabai is now open for patio dining.

Sabai 
Open lunch, dinner daily 
Call or email to reserve patio seating

We may have missed the boozy Tiki drinks and spicy Thai flavors of Sabai most of all. Open for the past few months for to-go only, the Broad Street spot is now open for patio dining, with lush plants and tropical vibes providing the quintessential escape room. And you can still enjoy your crispy calamari and Jungle Bird from home, too, if you aren’t quite ready to dine al fresco. 

Kahlo’s Taqueria & Bar
Open lunch, dinner daily
Newly opened Church Hill Mexican restaurant Kahlo’s is open for both indoor and outdoor seating, but the mostly shaded patio is where we’re headed. It’s a quiet corner, but you can still people watch to your heart’s delight.

With fillings like chicken-fried carne asada, at left, and cornmeal-crusted catfish, Soul Taco serves classics with a twist. - SCOTT ELMQUIST/FILE
  • Scott Elmquist/File
  • With fillings like chicken-fried carne asada, at left, and cornmeal-crusted catfish, Soul Taco serves classics with a twist.

Soul Taco at the Kabana Rooftop
Open dinner Wednesdays-Saturdays, Sunday brunch 
Online reservations

The popular taco shop and rooftop bar have teamed up to bring the fresh flavors of summer 20 stories high. The Southern and Latin inspired Soul Taco has taken over the food operations at Kabana, making hotel rooftop dining better than ever. 

Saison 
Open for dinner daily
Call ahead or visit website for patio dining 

Saison was doing a solid to-go business the past few months, but to the delight of its Jackson Ward devotees, it has recently opened up the patio for dinner service. The European sidewalk aesthetic pairs perfectly with smoked wings and frozen libations. 

Keep Things Fresh

Scroll through Instagram for a few minutes and we guarantee, if you’re following as many local restaurants as we are, you’ll be starving before 9 a.m. Take Alewife, for instance – recent features include a chilled peach and corn soup with crispy ham, melon soup with pickled shrimp and crabcakes with garganelli and tomato crab roe emulsion. 

We asked Alewife sous chef Amanda Sanders how the restaurant approaches summer menu items. 

“We change the menu every single day so it’s awesome, but a challenge. We have no walk-in, so we’re getting really fresh stuff. In the summer I like to focus on making the ingredient – like a tomato – be the best it can be, reinforcing the flavors behind it. We’ll take one dish and just use the same flavor multiple times in multiple ways without it being boring.” 

Sanders says she loves tomato Dave’s ’maters from Village Garden (yourvillagegarden.com) Cabbage Hill micro and salad greens (facebook.com/Cabbage-Hill-Farm-461751963844682) and Sweet Greens Farm’s (sweetgreensfarm.com) radicchio. 

Follow Cabbage Hill’s Facebook for details on its weekly pop-up, join Sweet Green Farm’s CSA, and find Village Garden goods online or at the South of the James Farmers Market every Saturday (growrva.com). 

Fruits de Mer 

Seafood, seafood everywhere – and plenty of ways to eat it. If you’re hankering for an at-home feast on the grill, there are a few companies in the area who have the underwater critters you need. 

Blue Crabs

Sharktooth Seafood
sharktoothseafood.com
Crabs from the Northern Neck available for pickup in Richmond, direct message your order Tuesdays-Thursdays, Venmo to pay. Pickup is 7-11 a.m. on Saturdays 

Oysters

Rappahannock Oysters
rroysters.com/store
Order sweet, mild or briny bivalves plus all the accoutrements. The Crassostrea virginica is shipped live in the shell from their watery home in Topping.

Fish, scallops, squid, shrimp and more

Martina James Nalley, cousin of the owner of Armory Seafood, has been taking orders in the Fan and driving to Hampton to pick up the goods. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Martina James Nalley, cousin of the owner of Armory Seafood, has been taking orders in the Fan and driving to Hampton to pick up the goods.

Amory Seafood
facebook.com/AmorySeafoodCo
This family owned and operated business has been selling seafood from its downtown Hampton dock since 1917. For the first time ever, Amory is selling direct-to-consumer (a pandemic silver lining) so you can get your flounder filets and shrimp at wholesale prices. Owner Meade Amory says the curbside model has been well-received by customers, and he plans to continue this service indefinitely. So how is Amory’s blue catfish making its way to Richmond home kitchens?

Amory’s cousin Martina James Nalley lives in the Fan and on a whim started taking orders from friends and family in the area, driving down every weekend to Hampton to pick up the goods. The response was overwhelming, and once Nalley got the go-ahead to post her services on the RVA Dine Facebook group, she says she started making spreadsheets. Now Amory RVA has its own Instagram page, and Nalley is continuing to take weekly orders, from $45 to $450. All she asks is for $5 on top of whatever the seafood costs, and you have to pay cash up front. 

“This wouldn’t be possible without RVA Dine and people who have spread the word,” Nalley says. “Community partnerships and support like that make family businesses like ours stay alive during a pandemic.” 

To order, ask questions and request menus text Nalley at 370-0505. Text RVAseafood to 484848 for the weekly menu that goes out each Tuesday. All weekly menus, updates and promos are posted to @amoryseafoodrva.

3. Follow Your Bliss

Get out of the house and into air-conditioned museums or solar powered gardens and outdoor markets.

TOM HENNESSY/LEWIS GINTER BOTANICAL GARDEN
  • Tom Hennessy/Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Thursdays-Sundays
10 a.m.-5 p.m. 

Lewis Ginter reopened this month, with a new nationally traveling outdoor sculpture exhibit on display. 
$14. Tickets required, visit lewisginter.org.

CHRISTOPH GERIGK © FRANCK GODDIO/HILTI FOUNDATION
  • Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation

“Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities” at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Daily
10 a.m.-5 p.m.

“Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities” tells a captivating tale of Ptolemaic Egypt. Learn about the merging of Egyptian and Greek cultures and the wrath and benevolence of the gods. This is a rare chance to experience firsthand artifacts discovered beneath the sea – this will be the exhibit’s only East Coast stop. $20. 

Morgan Sharrett is host of the Bramby Park event. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Morgan Sharrett is host of the Bramby Park event.

Maker’s Market at Brambly 
Sunday, Aug. 2
Noon-4 p.m.

Morgan Sharrett has been holding artisan events around town for about a year. Once the pandemic hit, she hit pause, but she’s playing host to the first event of 2020 at Brambly Park this August with tons of local makers, plus live music, food and booze. If all goes well, Sharrett is hoping this could become a bi-weekly event. It’s still accepting vendors — email scottsadditionmarket@gmail.com. Free to attend. 

Summer Series with the Richmond Symphony
Thursdays
6:30 p.m.

Head online to hear from the Richmond Symphony during its summer series, taking place virtually every Thursday this summer. Each one-hour concert is a casual experience, spotlighting a single instrument with piano. There will be limited spots in person at the Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse, but anyone can livestream the concert from their couch, too. $12

feat30_spacejam.jpg

Movies in The Outfield at the Diamond
July 23 “Remember the Titans” at 6:35 p.m.
July 25 (“Space Jam”) at 5:05 p.m.

You may not be able to catch a Flying Squirrels game this summer, but you can still chill in the outfield and catch some great flicks, with blankets and pillows only, no lawn chairs. Be sure to pre-order concessions (and buy tickets) ahead of time online. $8. Children younger than 3 come free.

THE VALENTINE
  • The Valentine

“Ain’t Misbehavin’”at the Valentine
Tuesdays-Sundays
10 a.m.-5 p.m.

The Valentine’s newest fashion and textile exhibit explores parallels between the 1920s and today. 
Free. Register online in advance, thevalentine.org.

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