Broken English is an endearing, emerging sound in Richmond. And with it comes a wave of immigrants trying to find their place and their portion of a dream that's part American and part elsewhere.a
Rene and Adis De Armus have risked everything for what capitalism and hungry people can offer here. They left Cuba nine years ago and landed in Richmond with their daughter, Limay. They worked for compnies that later moved and pieced together their first business, Café Cuba in Stratford Hills, which opened seven weeks ago in a former barber shop.
It's a tiny place, just 10 seats and a beige counter, but Rene is proud of the brilliant blue paint job in the lavatory and the new tile floor his son-in-law, Eddie, laid. He worried that five months was a long time to set things up, but now grins as he finesses his English and talks of his home province of Camagüey, speculating whether Castro will die soon and whether his former countrymen will find enough food to eat.
With his wife and daughter, he's serving the same dishes most Cubans once enjoyed. But in Cuba mayonnaise and pineapples and sweet red peppers are now out of the question, meaning a whole country is deprived the luscious chicken salad that Limay prepares for the Richmond café.
"Americans like their espresso early," Rene says, and customers who've found the spot are ordering café con leche and batido de frutas (a fruit drink) well before rush hour, and hot Cuban sandwiches, beans and rice, and flan throughout the afternoon.
In a neighborhood that seems to defy the odds with the number of eating establishments in one shopping center (Rockfalls Tavern, Stratford Grill, Positive Vibe Café, Thai's Mama, Benny's BBQ, Mandarin Palace, Paradise Diner) there is something for nearly every taste. And for conversation about Cuba, there's a new opportunity to listen and learn. 2917 Hathaway Road. 267-3348.
Business for Papa Ningo is so good, the Shockoe Bottom café is moving into larger quarters next door and adding a dance floor. The colorful rum-shack decor and the acclaimed plantain dish mofongo will move to 1705 E. Franklin St. too and the bigger island setting will be an invitation to stay after dinner and dance.
New summer menus are in place at Chez Foushee, 203 N. Foushee St., and at Julep's New Southern Cuisine, 1719 E. Franklin St. Look for fruit-based soups and sauces at both, and from Chef Kevin Wilken at Julep's, such dishes as barbecued frog legs, pan-seared pea cakes, halibut with chive-scrambled eggs and ham, herb pesto couscous with ramp emulsion, and eggplant beignets and pea-shoot slaw alongside baby back ribs.
Wise diners predicted weeks ago that Dot's Back Inn would jump on the brunch bandwagon. And it's happening every weekend, with quite a lot of egg quesadillas, corned-beef hash and pancakes being washed down with mimosas, bloody Marys and greyhounds. The breakfast-averse can stick with the usual sandwich menu, also being served Saturday and Sunday mornings. 4030 MacArthur Ave. 266-3167.