FOOD- THE DISH- Mountain cusine: Brix challenges Pantops palates
Considering how many people now live around the Pantops area, Dish has always found it surprising how little fine dining there is east of Free Bridge. While there's plenty of fast food, other chains like Appleby's and Topeka Steak House, and better-than-average standouts like Tip Top, Guadalajara, and Sticks, the really aren't any upscale dining experiences to be had.
Karen Laetare hopes to change that.
Two years ago, Laetare opened the Brix Terrace Café next to the Hallmark store in the Pantops Shopping Plaza, where she began serving her Mediterranean/California-style food (bruschetta, paninis, antipasti platters), as well as her homemade Italian pastries, with remarkable success.
For eight years before that, she ran the Brix Market near Ashlawn, and was tagged last year by the folks at Monticello to run the café in their new $55 million, 42,000-sq.-ft. visitor's center. But the ventures all have one thing in common:
"We've never done dinner before," says Laetare, announcing her plans to start serving it at Brix Terrace Café from Wednesday to Saturday, complete with white linens and candles.
Laetare says she had hoped there would be more fine dining options around Pantops by now, considering all the development nearby, but it appears she got tired of waiting.
"We'll be emphasizing a more healthy, Mediterranean diet," she says, "no butter, no cream, just fresh, healthy food that won't be too expensive either."
Indeed, Laetare, like all restaurant owners these days, knows that folks are reining in their restaurant spending, but she's trying to strike a happy balance.
"It's sad to me, I know people are having to eat cheaper food these days," she says. "But so much of what you find at fast-food places is so bad for you. For a few dollars more, you can eat so much healthier."
Laetare says she surprised her staff recently by showing up for dinner at Brix ("To keep my kitchen staff on their toes," she jokes), and says she spent about $50 for a dinner for two on a Saturday night.
"That's not bad," she says. "We also have a wine wall where we sell bottles for $11."
If the response is good, Laetare says she'll expand dinner to six days a week, but for now she's just testing the fine-dining waters on Pantops.
Oh, and for all you Pantops visitors with a sweet tooth, Laetare says she's going to start serving Italian gelato at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, her Monticello visitor's center gig appears to be blossoming. "They were slammed last weekend," she says, "and the Washington Post just did a full-page spread on the new center. So we're gearing up for the April 15 grand opening up there."
Dress up and eat brunch
Still searching for a place to have Easter Brunch? Well, you've got plenty of options. Brassiere Montiel on Commonwealth Drive is serving à la carte Easter Brunch until 3pm; Veritas Vineyards is having a four-course, wine-paired affair for $60 per person all inclusive; the Old Mill Room at the Boar's Head Inn is serving up a "lavish" brunch and inviting the Easter Bunny to host an egg hunt; the Clifton Inn has a limited à la carte menu including three appetizers, three main courses, and three desserts, with a special kids menu; and over at Keswick Hall they're having a massive buffet-style brunch with chefs manning "action" stations where'll they'll create your entrée on the spot. The Shebeen, Ivy Inn, and the Silver Thatch Inn are also hosting Easter brunches.
Several law firms in town, including Hunton & Williams, LeClairRyan, and McGuireWoods, have issued a challenge to their litigious brethren in an attempt to collect food and raise money for the hungry. Dubbed the Legal Food Frenzy, the challenge was created by The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank Network, and is now in its third year.
Basically, the firm that makes the most non-perishable food donations and donates the most money to the Central Virginia Food Bank wins. Apparently, an award ceremony will take place in front of the Free Speech Wall on the Downtown Mall, though no date for that has been scheduled. Firms can sign up online at cvfb.org.
Last year, the food bank reports that over 12.6 million pounds of food was handed out to people in need, and that 36 percent of it went to children living in poverty. So come on, all you legal eagles, put your food and your money where the hungry's mouths are. And hurry! The contest ends this week.