FOOD- THE DISH- Chaps appeal: Old friend to get new face

Last weekend, Chaps owner Tony LaBua began "exploratory" work on the new entrance and facade of his familiar ice cream shop.

For 22 years, Chaps Ice Cream has stood like time's sentry on the Downtown Mall, guarding its adopted '50s motif and familiar facade since owner Tony LaBua opened the shop in 1985. Ah, but change comes, even to Chaps.

As LaBua revealed to Dish recently, he's planning a make-over for the shop's facade and entrance. In fact, just last week LaBua received Board of Architectural Review approval to do exploratory work, which he started last weekend. He says he'll remove the awning and see what's behind the existing facade, a step the BAR recommended before moving on to a more detailed design review. As is apparent, LaBua has already come up with a preliminary design. 

And it's not just the facade that will change, says LaBua. He plans to redesign the entire entrance to include louvered glass doors and a take-out window. He'll also extend the counter inside to the entrance and incorporate the Java Hut's coffee station into the design. He also hopes to create windows in the upper wall to let more light in.   

LaBua dares not put a timetable on the change, as he expects the various approval processes to take months, but if the notoriously fastidious members of the BAR– especially when it comes to approving Downtown Mall facades– like LaBua's design concept, expect to see Chaps' new face by the end of the year. 

enoteca opens

Well, it didn't open during the first week of June as promised (whenever a new restaurant gives an opening date, Dish has learned to tack on at least a week or two), but the Downtown Mall's new wine bar, enoteca (yes, lower-case "e"), made its debut June 15, and held a "Summer Solstice" party last Thursday night, June 21.

According to co-manager Megan Headley, over 100 people showed up for the Solstice party and sat for hours enjoying vino, formaggi, salumi, specially made Italian cookies, a special Shenandoah Joe's Italian roast, and some excellent conversation. 

"People are surprised how inviting it is," says Headley, "....that they can just linger here."

Indeed, unlike many restaurants, customers at enoteca are encouraged to sit as long as they like.

"I was excited about creating a place where you can just sit and have dinner alone," says Headley, whose restaurant is part of the Central Virginia Restaurant Group, an entity headed up by Coran Capshaw which also includes Mas, Blue Light Grill, Mono Loco, Starr Hill, and Three Notched Grill.

In addition to private corners at the bar and near the front windows, enoteca offers four "communal" tables in the center of the space, where people are encouraged to introduce themselves and strike up conversations over bruschette, bocconcini, and a fragrant pinot grigio. The design by Formworks (the firm responsible for the interiors for Blue Light and Ten) is understated and elegant– lots of glass, grey metal, and dark wood– and the window seats provide an excellent spot for people-watching.

"We're proud of being just a wine bar, not a restaurant," says Headley, who reminds Dish that enotecca has no kitchen, just a row of small toasting ovens behind the bar, "but still being able to create great food." 

Andiamo, tutto!

Nook at Nite

Last September, when Stu Rifkin and Mark Mascotte were gearing up to re-open The New Nook on the Mall, they said they'd be open for all three meals. Well, it's been a few months, and Rifkin tells Dish that The Nook finally opened for dinner on June 25, a first for the Downtown fixture in recent memory.

"It's the same old Nook," says Rifkin, "but now it's six nights and seven days a week."

 Look for fried catfish, burgers, meatloaf, a frosty cold beer in an unpretentious atmosphere, and dinner out that won't break the budget. 

LaBua's preliminary design for the new face of Chaps.