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Bleating Heart

Fanfare is optional -- discouraged, even — but it's a big week for Kevin Roberts and Amy Hess. They're opening The Black Sheep at 901 W. Marshall St., a 30-seat café that's low-key and deliberately antithetical to the VCU rampart of fast-food franchises a block away.

Students and faculty still have to find their burgers, pizza and gyros elsewhere, because the Black Sheep's menu veers into dreamier territory: brunch daily until 2 p.m., Nutella-stuffed French toast, house-made pimento cheese and deviled eggs, frittatas and soups, battleship sandwiches, homey entrées. Ingredients appeal to a chef-honed sense of taste, and prices are sympathetic to the times — nearly everything's less than $10.

Roberts and Hess bring extensive experience working in New Orleans restaurants and some of Richmond's best bistros. They're still somewhat astonished at how quickly the project came together (four months) and say the stars aligned to get ideas and equipment (Dale Reitzer's closing of Acacia was a gold mine) and advice from owners (at Café Rustica, Kuba Kuba, Bacchus) with whom they've worked.

"Incredibly exciting and humbling, almost synchronistic," Hess says of that support. Roberts, an only son among sisters, understands the black sheep's repute for bad behavior, but says he's more inclined toward humor and flying under the radar, while Hess, who runs front of house, is the excitable one.

They'll serve New Orleans items such as Community coffee and Abita beer "to make sure we don't forget," Hess says of the couple's meeting place and professional training ground. "Being in Carver now hearkens back to a lot of what we saw in New Orleans," she says, meaning "that desire to feed their community, to be proud of their history and heritage."

The Black Sheep is open Tuesday through Sunday. 648-1300.

Big Tipster

Chocolate Festival: Fifth annual event at University of Richmond's Robins Center, April 26, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sample a dozen-plus cocoa variations via passport tickets; see chef demos. Presented by the Virginia Chefs' Association to benefit the Chef Otto Bernet Memorial Scholarship Fund. $10 tickets on campus, 289-8133, or at For the Love of Chocolate, 2820-A W. Cary St. 359-5645.

Taste of Powhatan: Bigger-this-year benefit event at historic Norwood, May 4. Top chefs, wide-ranging dishes, live jazz from local student quintet, silent auction, general merriment for the Performing Arts Foundation of Powhatan. Tickets are $150. 598-5553.

Positive Vibe Café: Chef Paul Elbling, master chef, cookbook author and former owner of La Petite France, presents a four-course dinner with wine May 4. Two seatings, live music, $75 per person. 2825 Hathaway Road. 560-9622.

Manakin Grill: South African wine dinner featuring Bouchard Finlayson's winemaker, April 18 at 7 p.m. 12912 Plaza Drive in Goochland. Reservations at 784-0544.

Europa: Casual wine dinners with tapas the third Wednesday of each month. 1409 E. Cary St. 643-0911.

Chez Foushee: New spring menu; now with free parking for lunch and First Friday dinners in the Capital lot at 12 E. Grace St. 648-3225.

Penzeys Spices: New Carytown retail store of national spice and seasoning business, 3400 W. Cary St., now open. Sells 275 varieties of small-batch ground and blended spices and sauces, with recipes. Richmond is the Wisconsin-based firm's 39th store; its concentration of mail-order customers here drove the decision to open.

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