Cheered up: Magnolia to lift Scottsville's spirits

Winter might be just around the corner, but for the town of Scottsville, it might just as well be spring. After having been hard hit by 9/11 and last year's drought, our charming neighbor on the James River seems to be bouncing back-­ blossoming, even.

Singled out by AAA as one of the Atlantic's "Most Pacific Places," Scottsville also recently won a $2 million grant to beautify its streetscape with period lights and underground power lines. When I visited on a sunny Friday afternoon, it was hard not to notice the steady traffic on Valley Street, the workers busy improving historic facades, and the peek-a-boo of brand new businesses like Architrade, a cool antique-furniture shop.

But enough about town improvements– except restaurants. Vacant for about a year, the bright yellow, 100-year-old building formerly known as Jimmy's on the James was officially sold on November 13 to Howie Velie, chef and owner of a new "contemporary Southern" restaurant called, simply, Magnolia.

This sale was a relief not only to realtor Larry Barnett, but to the entire town of Scottsville. "We do love our restaurants here, and we're very excited about Magnolia," Mayor Stephen Phipps tells Dish. "Having a restaurant at that end of town is very important."

As for Velie, the location couldn't be more perfect. This 35-year-old American Culinary Institute-trained chef from New York– who worked most recently as the culinary director of the Art Institute of Washington D.C.– knew as soon as he crossed the threshold of 515 Valley Street in early September that it was meant to be his.

He walked me proudly through the various rooms of his new home­ the bar, the lounge area, the large yellow dining room with tables loaded with just-inventoried silverware and bags of Adluh grits– out to the "killer deck" in the back.

"This deck is what sold me," Velie says. I could see why­ large and bright, with white flooring and an arbor overhead, it overlooks the slope of a hill, which has a vivacious little creek at its base. "Idyllic" is one word that comes to mind.

Weddings and brunch are two others. Velie says he feels equally at home in his well-designed kitchen: "It's like a cool old car– you know right away that it works," he says. What kind of dishes will he be cookin' up here, as soon as he finishes scraping and scrubbing?

The best way to define "contemporary Southern" (in case you haven't been to Charleston lately) is by listing a few of Velie's specialties: shrimp and grits-­ make that Bourbon shrimp with bacon, sage and garlic grits– seared salmon with cilantro pecan pesto, and sweet potato gnocchi, andouille sausage, and a leek tart with a black-eyed pea salad, fried green tomatoes with tempeh, and Carolina-style pulled pork with a sweet-and-sour barbecue crust.

You can also expect to find Velie's award-winning (Sutter Home Winery contest) chicken burger spiced up with cilantro and Tabasco. Magnolia, which Velie hopes to open in three weeks, will serve lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday as well as a Sunday brunch buffet.

Is this newest member of the Scottsville community worried about business being too "pacific"?

"Not at all," Velie says. "Actually, based on the enthusiasm of people here, I'm more afraid that I'll be hammered. My real stress right now is finding staff."

He'll get a helping hand from his brother and business partner Brandon Velie, also a chef, starting next summer. In the meantime, Velie says, he may share staff with the elegant restaurant at the High Meadows Inn.

Small-town lovin' restaurateurs might want to know of another Scottsville opportunity: Laurel's Early Light Café, a whimsical breakfast and lunch spot close by on Valley Street, is for sale. The price, if you can believe it, is a mere $53,000.