This summer, Short Pump Town Center’s Food Court acquired a badly-needed anchor eatery. (No offense, Chik fil A and Generic Panda-Named Chinese Place!). New to Richmond (and Adam) is the Denver-based Rock Bottom Brewery, a bar-and-grill chain that takes their beermaking seriously, brewing their beers on premises in vats you can see from everywhere in the restaurant. On this early October day, 52L enjoyed what would be our last outside meal of 2014. The weather was perfect and the patio will eventually afford some great people watching. This day it was just construction worker watching while SPTC was performing some updates. But the potential is there.
Long time followers know that Adam and I work together and since we don’t work in advertising in the 1960’s, lunchtime drinks are not the norm. But Rock Bottom is a brewery as much as an eatery; we can’t imagine someone going to RBB to not have beer, so we each paired our meals with a beverage.
Adam ordered the Brewer’s Club and approved. Stacked high with plenty of fresh veggies and loads of ham. The bacon was crisp and gave a much needed texture variance. Big taste and portion that left him satisfied. As a side, he had the Mashed potatoes which weren’t as great. Too consistent a texture and needed more flavor. Not bad, just unremarkable. Adam paired this meal with a RB IPA which was a solid example of an IPA… medium on the hops and malt, a hint of a fruity sweet flavor, but not overwhelming. He said he’d order it again.
For my meal, I ordered the Laredo Burger, a Southwestern-styled burger. The patty itself was fine… big and firm and cooked as ordered. The hamburger bun was springy enough to contain what ended up being a very messy sandwich. The made-from-scratch guacamole was soupier than I would have liked, making the aforementioned mess. I can’t complain too much, though: I ate the whole thing and my only regret was how full I was afterwards.
The Fries actually were not just fries. The potatoes were your standard modern restaurant fries, but they were herbed and sea salted perfectly and very good. The portion was also enough to feed a single human, not a family, and that was appreciated. Because I have no self control. To go with, I ordered a Black Seal Stout, a nice nitro stout, heavy enough to feel like a stout but not so heavy that it was a bad lunchtime choice. RB even served it in stemware of which our Irishman friend would approve. I would order this again as well.
Overall, we were quite pleased. We have to lament Rock Bottom’s timing a bit. Allison and I were frequenting Rock Bottom in Bethesda ten years ago. If Rock Bottom had come to Richmond even three years ago it would have been gangbusters. Always a tough restaurant market, the on-site beermaking would have been a huge draw. In 2014, craft brewing has taken Richmond by storm and with Stone on its way, Rock Bottom might have a narrow window in which to capture our hearts. We think it has a shot. The food was good and the beer was quite good. Sorry Generic Panda Place, I have a
new place to eat at Short Pump.
The West End is up to it’s eyeballs in pizza. Your hot-n-readies (please don’t) to the traditional brick oven. So Pie Five tossing it’s hat into the ring doesn’t necessarily make waves, but it could be interesting. It is fast casual pizza. Step inside to a moderate line and look over the simple, yet customizable menu on your way to ordering. Everything is prepared (quickly) behind glass and on display as you shuffle toward the register. Pay and before you have a chance to fill a fountain drink you are presented with a hot pie.
Ethan went with the Chicken Carbonara right off the menu, but substituted olive oil for the Alfredo sauce. He had his choice of crust as well and went with the thin as opposed to the pan and added Pie Five’s “magic dust” when presented the option. It was stiff enough to hold the ingredients, but flexible enough to fold and eat. The chicken was a bit too mild, but the rest of the ingredients (crispy bacon and fresh mushrooms) stood on their own.
I picked the BBQ Chicken on a thin crust (hold the dust) and added bacon into the mix. The toppings paired well together, whats not to like about chicken, bacon, onions, cilantro and cheese. The BBQ sauce lacked the punch of spice I was looking for though. It felt like it was played safe. The crust went the same way. Serving its purpose for delivery, but not standing out on its own on flavor.
What you see is what you get at Pie Five. The trade off for time and attention or a proper brick oven is a meal at the speed of ordering. Great for a quick lunch between meetings or an easy night out with the kids, but the pie suffers a bit at the hand of speed. For lunch pizza we’d narrowly prefer Extreme Pizza on flavor alone, but you won’t get made to order faster than Pie Five anywhere in town.
BT’s Deli is a new spot located in the nearest shopping center to our place of work. Because of this proximity, we see every business open and close. This new place is in a particularly high turnover location; in recent memory, five different eateries have come and gone there (something about the parking we think). Given the obvious effort and the bright atmosphere, we hope that BTs can break that trend.
In contrast to the last couple occupants, BT’s is bright and airy. The day we visited, it was bustling. It was also a beautiful day, so we gratefully opted for the patio. I ordered The Schindel (roast beef, bacon, melted Swiss on rye, with a house special sauce) which came with a side of chips and a pickle, which was promptly given to Adam. Adam ordered The Nuckols Road (mesquite turkey, bacon, melted Muenster, and BT’s sauce on a sub roll). Neither sandwich stood out. We have a low bar for sandwiches… if the bread is good, you’re better than halfway there. Adam’s sub roll was a little dry, my Rye was fine. These sandwiches were nothing fancy and that’s okay. Sometimes you just want a deli sandwich that is cheap and fast. Check and check.
BT’s is very much a WYSIWYG place. It’s a “go get food with coworkers” sort of place and their hours have positioned them as a breakfast and lunch spot. Sandwiches are utilitarian American lunch food. BT’s didn’t disappoint. The food was decent and the service was enthusiastic and friendly.
Lunch Topics: 30 minutes of Hearthstone talk, work
Close to a year ago we tried, unknowingly, to have lunch at Bonefish Grill. At the time that was not a thing they did. Lunch. So we turned right around and went elsewhere. Now it is a thing, so last week we ventured back to Short Pump and had a meal there.
As it was formally a dinner only spot, the interior is much more formal than your run of the mill fast casual place. The lighting is dimmer, the colors are muted and the price of the food is a few dollars higher. Thankfully there is a lunch menu to order from.
Ethan went with the BFG Tilapia Soft Tacos and what arrived were tacos presented on stainless steel taco holder. The ingredients were fresh and the tortillas held up, but the tilapia was masked by everything that came with it. The mango salsa hid any hint he might have had that there was actual fish on the taco. Thankfully the Pesto Couscous Salad that came on the side was a real treat. Cold, fresh and light with couscous that looked like they were on HGH.
I had the Cilantro Lime Salad with a Herb-Grilled Chicken addition. It was the type of salad I can never make at home, which is the highest compliment I ever give a salad. Lots of bold flavors (roasted corn, black beans, feta) and varied textures (tortilla strips) and a cilantro lime vinaigrette that brought it all together.
The prices at Bonefish Grill were steeper than average, but the meals were not necessarily elevated along with them. Ethan’s tacos were no where close to what it takes to make our taco HoF. My salad while tasty, was not the signature dish that would take me back to a place. On that note maybe no salad could ever be that. I’ve had BFG’s tacos on another occasion though and I was left wanting as well. We don’t dislike Bonefish, but couldn’t recommended it over other restaurants in the same shopping center.
Lunch topics: lots o’ work, growing analytic skills, managing analytic projects, GoT: filming locations, GoT: pacing in the book and show
Two new lunch options opened up close to 52L headquarters recently. The first for us to visit was Potbelly Sandwich Shop. I frequented a corporate-owned location in Rockville Maryland a decade ago, but the Chicago-based chain is new to the Richmond area and (according to one person we talked to) new to the franchise business. This was Adam’s first visit, and my first Potbelly meal since probably 2005. It hasn’t changed much, although I did wonder if they’d have a loft with live music on weekend evenings.
52L visited this day with friend and co-worker Mike. As you’d expect from a successful chain, the branding and decor were strong, and the Richmond franchise has invested in it’s pre-open training. The food ordering flow was clear, the line moved fast, and everyone was very friendly.
Unburdened by society’s expectations of “when one eats dessert”, Adam opened with a Dream Bar, one of several dessert options available. The Dream Bar is a creation of the original CEO’s wife, a sweet & salty cookie bar made by secret recipe that probably includes oats, chocolate, brown sugar, and coconut. Adam loved the variety of texture and said it was the best part of the meal.
That out of the way, Adam was tempted by the healthier salad options but ended up with the Wreck, the only trademarked sandwich on the menu (Salami, Roast Beef,Turkey, Ham & Swiss Cheese) and added bacon. The bread was fine… a little dry without being too dry. More flaky than dry. But the meat was good, it was served hot, and there was a lot of it. Sandwich was good. Adam also added chips which were fine. Chips are chips.
Wanting to try something different, I ordered the Roast Beef and had a similar experience. The bread was fine certainly better than you’d find at a Subway, a different take from the big pillows of carbs you get from a Jimmy Johns. Which we will have to review one of these days. Chips were chips. I was excited to try an Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookie, but it was just okay. I’ll have to have a Dream Bar next time. There will be next times. There have already been next times, which is a bit of a spoiler for the end of this review.
Asked what he ordered and how it was, Mike replied, “It was a sandwich.”
Potbelly offers a lot of comfort food. Sandwiches and salads, yes. Soups, sure. The variety of baked goods and the signature milkshakes that we didn’t even try. The day we visited, the line was to the door but it moved quickly. Potbelly has a niche and it’s sure to become a staple for a quick lunch or dinner.
Hondos has been a staple of the Innsbrook business lunch crowd for years. How we’ve driven past it and failed to review it for going on four years now is a bit of a mystery. For me at least, it has always felt a bit too formal for a casual lunch with coworkers. There is a place for formal though and the perception that formal comes at high prices turns out to not be the case for Hondos.
What we got last week was a pleasant and upscale experience. Our server greeted us with his name on a tiny easel. Our bread came to the table with whipped butter that was piped into a decorative shape. Definitely not the fast casual scene that dominates the West End lunch hour.We surveyed the menu and ended up with picks from the lunch specials. All were at reasonable prices, but you’re welcome to get in deep on an expense and probably tasty cut of steak too.
Ethan had the Prime Rib Sandwich with Fries. The prime was cut a little thick, but made for a great vehicle to deliver the sandwiches fixins. The horseradish cheddar and au jus made for a fantastic flavor combination. The only downside being the inconsistency in the sandwiches parts made it a fork affair. Slightly betraying the sandwiches prime directive. The fries, usually not worth mentioning at most establishments because they underwhelm, were actually the opposite here. The fries seasoning, too much salt and herbs, was a overpowering to be point of being aggressive.
I went with the Shrimp and Grits. A dish I love, but don’t find too often at lunch. Hondos version was a perfect of example of how to do it right. The portion was small, but the flavors were bold and everything was cooked just right. The grits were creamy, but not too smooth and the shrimp were springy and tender on the tooth. I’d order this dish in a heartbeat upon return.
Formal has a purpose. Unfortunately for me formals time is usually not lunch. I like a place with a little more vibrancy and noise for my noon time break. I’d return to Hondos on my own accord, more than likely for dinner. Ethan on the other hand appreciated the change of pace for lunch. He’d actually prefer lunch over dinner. In either case we both gave it a thumbs up. Our food was good to great and the service was thoughtful and surprisingly quick.
Sushi King is a new (wait for it) sushi restaurant located in the spot where we had previously reviewed Da Lat. We enjoy sushi, and were surprised to find upon arrival that it is all-you-can-eat. Interesting.
Eating sushi is a social experience. Typically, everyone orders two rolls and (allergies notwithstanding) everyone shares, enabling you to try many tastes in succession. Since all portions conveniently arrive in 6-8 bite-sized sections, sharing becomes the point, and if you luck into a good sushi place, it’s a great experience.
Unfortunately, the compromises necessary to make this business model work undermined that experience. Dishes must be ordered off a menu. You can only order one roll at a time. And good sushi takes time, meaning once you order, you have to wait for it to be made. That’s great: we’d rather this than prepared sushi sitting in a fridge waiting for customers. But when you have to endure that order-to-eat delay more than once, it kills the experience.
We have a typical ordering pattern for sushi, and it worked against us. We shared edamame, as an appetizer which needed salt, but that was rectified at the table. I started with an Avocado Salad which was small, but the avocado was ripe. Adam ordered the Cucumber Salad which was cold and refreshing, the perfect mix of sweet and vinegar, might have been the favorite part of this meal. We also shared Gyoza Dumplings which were unimpressive and came with too little of the sauce that gave it flavor.
The White Dragon Roll (Spicy salmon crunchy with white tuna and green tobiko on top) was misrepresented… there was nothing spicy about the salmon. There was plenty of crunch, but it lacked on flavor and was only saved by its sauce. We accompanied these with spicy salmon and spicy tuna rolls which were uninspiring, but that is their purpose: to be the filler around the special roll. We always order two “regular rolls” to go with two Special Rolls, but this was an economic choice that wasn’t the best move for an fixed price meal. We should have each ordered two more special rolls instead.
In the end, the all-you-can-eat operation threw off the entire value proposition and the food wasn’t impressive enough to save the experience. Service was very slow, slower than it should have been even with made-to-order sushi. We were there for well over an hour and barely had time to get through the “apps + four rolls” we would have ordered off a la carte at the start. And the piecemeal delivery hampered the fun. We could look past the service deficiency if the food were better, but as it stands we can’t see going back.
Lunch topics: Titanfall, the LA Clippers & free speech when you’re responsible to a higher party, Lego Hobbit, kids learning to read, relearning analytics, work, Swamp Thing, Dragonlance, 11/22/63, In Pictopia
Reorganizing our restaurant categories to properly slot the places we were visiting wasn’t something we did until our 52nd week. It wasn’t glamorous, but when we decided to go well past our original plan it was necessary to better navigate the reviews. Making additions to the list is rare; they aren’t exactly adding new cultures and cuisines to the globe these days. 150 restaurants and weeks later though, and we have a new one to add. Sweet and savory pie shop. That friends is Proper Pie Co. to a T. Maybe we’ll go with “bakery”?
In celebration of 150 we drove across our fair city to Church Hill. We met Meg outside of Proper’s welcoming glass exterior and then ventured inside. We were immediately greeted by the aromatic smells of baking confections and the hurried sights of a kitchen in full swing. The seating was minimal and orders were placed at a counter set back enough from the door to accommodate a hefty line. Thankfully we arrived early enough to wait in no line and grab three seats at the bar.
Since there were both sweet and savory options, we all picked one of each from the menu. Meg went with the Mince & Cheese for her savory, Raspberry Buttermilk for sweet and paired the pair with a Nehi Peach. On both fronts she was disappointed with the crust. She had expected light and flaky and what she got was kind of dry. Thankfully the contents the crust delivered were a different story. The M&C had a blend of spices that leaned Italian and the balance of its ingredients left no one flavor overpowering the others. The buttermilk had a rich and creamy custard, almost cheesecake like in texture. There could have been more raspberries, but the buttermilk filling on it’s own was already a treat. Finally the Nehi Peach was a bust. Too unsubtle for the pie flavors.
Next Ethan went with the Sausage Roll, Pecan Pie and a Turbo Coke. The roll arrived in a bag, as did all the savory pies. Perfect for the to-go nature Proper seems to promote with the lack of seating, but a plate would have helped to contain some crumbs for the eat in customer. Outside of dishware commentary, Ethan took his pecan pie a la mode, so he had it first and was very happy with the choice. The texture was wonderfully inconsistent, with a mushy layer at the bottom and topped with a candy-like pecan sugar layer above. He noted that pecan pie is his favorite pie and this pecan pie was one of the best he’d ever had. The sausage roll was a thin pastry layer, sprinkled with poppy seeds, stuffed with tender and tasty sausage. Big thumbs up.
Lastly I had the Pork and Apple (savory), Maple and Black Walnut (sweet) and a Turbo Coke. Mine was with iced cream as well so I gobbled down the maple and black walnut pie first. It was a blend of rich, dense flavors, but not overly sweet. It had a delightfully craggy texture that played well with the silky smooth ice cream. The pork and apple pie was way more roasted pork than it was apple. I wanted more apple, but the pork was extremely tasty and tender. Its juices were soaked up by the crust, which made it even better.
Turbo Coke. No I didn’t forget it, but Ethan and I both where drawn to it and then disappointed by it. A turbo coke is a Mexican Coke with a shot of espresso. A wonderful idea, right? We both love Coca Cola de México and café. Put the two together though and you get a lot of fizz (Ethan’s bubbled over) and an unwelcome bitterness mixed in with the very sweet coke. Great in theory, not so much in practice. Next time we’d both just go with one or the other to compliment our pies.
In summary Proper Pie is super great! The atmosphere is less bakery, more to-go dinner and the staff were all incredibly friendly. We’d all make more conservative drink choices our time through, but our pies were all good to great. That said we’d all go back and try something new. Their menu is always changing and there are loads of great options to explore. The price for a full lunch (sweet, savory and drink) was steeper than our average, but worth it for a special occasion. All in all it was a great place to celebrate 150 and catch up with a good friend.
Extreme Pizza has been a staple of the VCU area in downtown Richmond and even near us in the West End for a few years now, but we hadn’t had the occasion to visit until now. It is marketed as fresh ingredients plus “extreme” combinations of flavors. We’re big fans of pizza… I tell my children that pizza has all four food groups: Bread Group, Cheese Group, Meat Group, and Sauce Group. Over the years, 52L has tried traditional pizzerias, eclectic stops, and many the Italian restaurant that also serves pizza. Extreme Pizza felt like a mix-and-match of styles. The storefront was indistinguishable from your standard neighborhood pizza joint, complete with bar seating in the front window. But the menu was anything but.
While you can create your own pie, I wanted to try one of their “Signature” pizzas. Faced with many “extreme” options, I retreated to the traditional by ordering the Railroad Grade (Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, red onions, with a red sauce). I was justly rewarded for my cowardice. The crust was greasy, which is not an effect I enjoy, but the topings were thick and it was a satisfying meal. I didn’t love my pizza, but I probably didn’t give Extreme Pizza a chance with my safe choice.
Adam got into the spirit though and ordered the Hanoi Fever (shredded pork marinated in a hoisin style sauce, peanuts, green onions, jalapeños, carrots and cilantro) The flavors were almost entirely new to Adam (on a pizza, anyway) and it worked. Lots of good flavorful spice, and the peanuts added a welcome mix to the texture. Adam writes, “Tasted more Thai than Vietnamese, not a point of complaint, just a better way to describe it. Thai food on a pizza. It was great.”
The location isn’t noteworthy, just another storefront in Short Pump. It looked like a hole in the wall downtown pizzeria rather than what the boutique-style menu might suggest. But Adam really liked his pizza and I see enough promise to return and be more adventurous.
Lunch topics: Titanfall, Videogame development, Urbanspoon vs Yelp, Colbert on the Late Show, the demographics of late night TV, Tasker, Facebook’s purchase of Oculus, Minecraft selling 21m copies of Minecraft PE, coffee
We’ve seen most of what the West End has to offer for lunch. Or at the very least are aware of it and have plans to go there. So it is a treat to be clued into a place that has had praise heaped upon it and that has escaped gaze for this long. Last week a Style Weekly article made me aware of La Cabana and this week we went there. Simple as that.
La Cabana sits at the back of the Staples Mill Shopping Center and sports a very unassuming facade. The interior does no better at revealing the secrets kept within. What secrets you might ask? Great tacos! Loads of options on the protein front and way too many menu items to try in one trip. Ordering was done at counter and was quick and friendly. We each picked out three tacos and paired them with a Mexicoke.
Ethan had the Lengua, Carnitas and a Pork rinds + Cactus leaves combo. The carnitas were the clear favorite. Offering moist and finely shredded pork that took tons of flavor from its slow roasting. The lengua was very similar to the tacos we’ve had at Habanero. Well cooked and salty, with the just tender enough texture that only tongue seems to offer. The pork rinds were a bit redundant against the previous two picks. Slightly fattier and with less flavor than the pair.
I picked up the Lengua , Cabeza and Chorizo. The lengua really hit the spot and re-re-re-enforced why I just order three of them every time I go to Habanero. The chorizo was good as well, offering a spicy and slightly sweet flavor, but with a bit too fine a grind. Finally the cabeza was more interesting in theory. I’d never had it before. Than it was in practice. It was extremely fatty and didn’t make up for that imbalance in texture with it’s flavor.