FOOD- THE DISH- New Brix mix: Café brings Tuscany to Pantops
After eight years running the funky little Brix Marketplace eatery on Route 53, owner Karen Laetare has moved on to bigger thing. On March 31, Laetare opened Brix Terrace Café, an Italian-inspired restaurant right next to Hallmark at Pantops Shopping Center. Needing room to grow her business, and with an offer from the shopping center to become a tenant, Laetare says it was time to make the leap.
"This is one of the hardest things I've ever done," she says, "but it's also exciting. The space here turned out beautifully. Inside feels like you're outside, like the back of an Italian Villa."
Laetare credits that look to Richard Coyte of Castle Hill Interiors. "We just connected, and he did a wonderful job of translating my vision for the space," she says. "I even put his name on the menu."
A self-taught cook who abandoned an early career in the hospital industry to pursue her passion, Laetare moved here 15 years ago and worked at HotCakes for six years before striking off on her own to start Brix. As she points out, Brix has always been a primarily women-run business, which is also true of the Café– with a few exceptions, she says.
"We had to hire a couple of guys in the kitchen," she laughs. "So it will be interesting to see what a little testosterone will do to the mix."
Laetare says the Café will serve the same Mediterranean/California-style food as the Marketplace (bruschetta, paninis, antipasti platters), including her homemade Italian pastries, only now people will have room to hang out and enjoy their meal. Although the place won't be open at night, Laetare hopes people will consider the Café as a place to have an after-work cocktail and a bite.
"I think we've created a great space for people on this side of town," she says. "Our Marketplace customers have really been impressed by the space... it's a great place to chill out."
Counting your beans
When you think of fast-food chains, you don't think of them having a lot of individual style or personality. That's usually left to hip local joints. However, Dish has been struck by how engaged Chipotle at the Barracks Road Shopping Center has been with the community.
First, they wowed us with their opening-day free burrito extravaganza, which had people lined up around the building and down the sidewalk. And speaking of sidewalks– in February, the City Planning Commission awarded Chipotle its Herman Key Jr. Access to the Disabled Award for extending its handicapped access across the access road at Barracks Road Shopping Center to the public sidewalk on Emmet Street, something the company was not required to do.
"This connection," wrote the Commissioners, "will continue to set an example for other businesses about the importance of connections that serve everyone."
Now the burrito-miesters have dreamed up a way for us to find some humor on Tax Day. If you order something from Chipotle on April 14 and 16, you'll be encouraged to save your receipt and fill out a "2006 BurritoEZ form." Then simply bring in your receipt and tax form on Monday, April 16 (tax day), and you'll get a free meal! Talk about a speedy refund!
Smoking ban ash-canned
Once again, "anti" smoking legislation in Virginia has gone up in smoke. On April 4, Governor Tim Kaine's proposed amendment to recently passed smoking legislation– which would have banned smoking in all Virginia restaurants– was extinguished in the House of Delegates by a 40-59 vote. The bill now goes back to Kaine, who's expected to veto the measure because it would eliminate the requirement that restaurants with more than 50 seats have a non-smoking section. So basically, after all those hours of legislating, nothing has changed.
The defeat was largely expected, given the fact that Richmond is home to tobacco giant Philip Morris (according to the RichmondTimes Dispatch, the company called smokers throughout Virginia asking them to contact legislators), but some say the close vote indicates that the legislation could rise from the ashes, and that a full ban on smoking in Virginia restaurants could be in our future. Then again, in a state where tobacco is king, that could be a pipe dream.
Karen Laetare hopes folks will chill at her new Brix Terrace Café on Pantops.
PHOTO BY WILLIAM WALKER