It wasn't an entirely bad year, but when Barry Pruitt looks back at the months leading to the demise of his Fan district restaurant the White Dog, there were more lows than highs. On the plus side, he did a live BBC interview about Virginia's smoking ban and its effect on restaurants. As a smoker, Pruitt found it ironic to be talking about tobacco and politics with a reporter in London who connected the historic dots. That New Year's week Pruitt was all over the airwaves and newspapers, an ersatz spokesman on the issue but one who also realized it wouldn't make much difference to his bottom line.
The Dog's 47-seat corner spot with its step-down entrance was cozy and a bit disjointed, but with chef Beverly Juniper at the stove and Pruitt tending bar it was a modest success with a steady customer base. Chicken and dumplings, bread pudding and Juniper's comfort-food classics were “a blue-collar approach, not an artsy thing,” Pruitt says wistfully, and there was usually a bottle of wine on every table and a dessert on every tab.
As the years rolled on, Pruitt and his wife, Roslyn, started getting the word out that the business was for sale. A deal fell through and they hung on, but when their dog Max died — the namesake for the business — and then chef Juniper died in December, the luster was gone. “It was kind of on the market for years,” Pruitt says. “It's like a boat — the two happiest days of your life are the day you buy it and the day you sell it.”
Pruitt sees how much change a decade has wrought. “Restaurants, especially in the Fan, are moving from the mom-and-pop place that looks like it was renovated by me and my friends, to spaces that are much more designed and have more money behind them, like Balliceaux. I feel now that people are demanding a higher level of workmanship or design or prettiness or something.”
Operating a restaurant in the city has specific obstacles, he contends. “Try to imagine people in Short Pump coming to town, facing the traffic, spending a lot on gas because they're driving a big SUV: They don't know how to parallel park, they don't want to walk a block or two, the city of Richmond charges more tax, they're much more afraid to have a couple of drinks than they used to be” — so it's often a losing proposition, Pruitt says.
Critiques can come out of nowhere. “I admit that I find it very odd that people appoint themselves to blog about restaurants as much as they do. People taking pictures of the place to put on their blog. I don't know if anybody reads them or not, but to me it's just random.”
June 26 will be “a bittersweet moment,” Pruitt says, “but we are putting the closure on 10 years of having done our best. It's been nice to see all of our customers and I'm trying to get one of them to help me find a new career. I always thought an opening on the Supreme Court would be good. Short of that, I may make a short foray back into the acting world and see how that goes.”
Veggie Fest: Even carnivores turn out for this busy annual event, June 19, noon till 6 p.m., in North Side's Bryan Park. Free admission, lots of food vendors and nonprofit organizations, music, entertainment, cooking demonstrations and children's activities make it a filling afternoon. veggiefest.org.
Brunch at the Belvidere: Saturday and Sunday brunch has begun at the Belvidere at Broad, 506 W. Broad St. See thebelvidere.com for menu details and hours.
Byrd House fundraiser: Six Burner restaurant holds a wine dinner June 24 to benefit the Byrd House Market in Oregon Hill. This is the popular event's third year and reservations are recommended. A three-course prix fixe dinner using Byrd House produce is $35 a person excluding tax and tip; 10 percent of all proceeds will go to the market. See sixburner.net for details.
Wine with an accent: Avenue 805 holds an Italian wine dinner June 17, serving five courses paired with five wines, $52 per person excluding tax and tip. Menu and details at avenue805.net.
Beer for Dad: Caliente, 2922 Park Ave., presents a Father's Day beer dinner June 20. Five courses, scallops to steak, are augmented with Bell's Brewery ales and stouts; the price is $48 per person plus tax and tip. Call 340-2920 for reservations. Caliente's famously hot wings will be featured, along with food from the Black Sheep and Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue, on the Travel Channel's show “Man v. Food,” with an expected air date of June 30.
Amour Wine Bistro Intimate setting for French fare and wines. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, Sunday brunch, retail sales. 3129 W. Cary St. 353-4020. amourwinebistro.com.
Bellytimber Tavern Beefalo burgers, pirogi, tortas, raw bar, vegan barbecue, full bar, kitchen open until 11 p.m. Dinner nightly, lunch hours coming soon. 1501 W. Main St. 592-5592.
Secco Wine Bar Tasty seasonal menu, cheeses, charcuterie, value-driven wines and beers, small and friendly hot spot. Noon to midnight daily. 2933 W. Cary St. 353-0670. seccowinebar.com.
Stuzzi Authentic Neapolitan pizzas, pasta, crostini, eggplant dishes and specials from wood-burning oven. Lunch and dinner daily. 1 N. Belmont Ave. 308-3294.
Outer Banks Seafood Co. Southern nouvelle seafood, apps, desserts; shrimp and grits, platters, crab cakes, desserts and cocktails in casual dining room with bar, mid- to upscale menu. Dinner nightly. 11400 W. Huguenot Road, Shoppes at Bellgrade in Midlothian. 464-1835. outerbanksseafoodcompany.com.
Flinn's American fare from former Cuisines restaurant, in comfy setting. Full bar, daily specials, value pricing. Lunch daily, dinner Monday-Saturday, weekend brunch. 403 N. Ridge Road. 303-6125.
Chez Foushee Dinner service Fridays and Saturdays, seasonal cuisine with lamb, veal, steak and fish, pasta, swanky apps, desserts, sublime service in elegant downtown dining room. Weekday lunch. 203 N. Foushee St. 648-3225. chezfoushee.com.