FOOD- THE DISH- Burger swap: Big Jim's reborn as Winky's

Juanita "Winky" Hunt: "So many people are saying how glad they are that we've reopened."

"It's a sad day for burger lovers," civil rights attorney John Whitehead told the Hook when he heard the news that Big Jim's had closed back in April. Indeed, after serving up their signature burger platters and BBQ for close to 30 years, Jim and Patricia Hope's small place on Angus Road– and their catering operation on 10th Street– had become a certified local institution, and a favorite hangout of former Senator George Allen, Whitehead, and scores of others.

Sadly, Big Jim's wasn't quite the same after Patricia Hope followed her husband and passed away last year, of which the missing "B" and "S" in the name above the door seemed to be a symptom. But it appears that Big Jim's has returned; not in name, but in spirit.

Juanita "Winky" Hunt worked for the Hopes for 12 years until an asthma condition and Big Jim's smoky atmosphere finally forced her to quit. She says she discussed the idea of buying the restaurant with Mrs. Hope before she died, but when her estate settled both the restaurant and the catering business went up for sale together. Fortunately for Hunt, the man who bought the operation, Brent Lunnen, decided he didn't want the restaurant.

"The only condition was that Brent wanted to keep the Big Jim's name for the BBQ and catering business," says Hunt. "And people have always known me as Winky, so..."

Winky's opened on October 15, but as Hunt points out, the menu is "pretty much the same" as Big Jim's. In fact, the burger platter that Whitehead mourned hasn't change a bit–a half pound of ground beef, a big pile of fries, side of slaw or baked beans, and a drink for only $9.05. It's even cooked by the same guy, 10-year Big Jim's veteran Butch Finch, and served by the same gal, four-year veteran Caroline Barksdale.

What has changed? Well, Winky's is non-smoking, the place has been spruced up, and they accept credit cards; but other than that it appears to be the reincarnation of Big Jim's.

"So many people are saying how glad they are that we've reopened," says Hunt, " and how glad they are its non-smoking... people are coming who didn't come before when it was so smoky."

Winky's is open every day from 11am to 9pm, with a Happy Hour from 4pm to 7pm sure to make beer lovers happy for hours.

Artisan French beer dinner at L'étoile

L'étoile Restaurant owner and chef Mark Gresge tells us that he'll be hosting a special Artisan French Beer Dinner on Tuesday, December 9. Microbrews representing various regions of France will be paired with a five course meal presented as a communal dining experience with a single seating at 6:30pm.

"These beers are very unique, running from a green beer made with absinthe extract to one made with pine needles and another with walnuts," says Gresge. "Some have been aged in Burgundy wine barrels, and even a true organic farmhouse ale."

The cost of the dinner is $55 plus tax and gratuity, but Gresge says space is limited and suggests you give the restaurant a call to reserve one. Check the Hook's Foodfinder listing for L'etoile's contact information and to find out a little more about the restaurant.