Climb every mountain

Climb every mountain

Social climbing is generally considered an unsavory affair, but what Karen Laetare is up to is more like mountain-hopping—somehow more palatable. For eight years, she’s been running Brix Marketplace in a funky old building that sits on a curve of Route 53, between Monticello and Jefferson Vineyards. That’s an elevated spot, but a fickle one from a business standpoint. (Durn tourists.) So Laetare is making a leap over to the next big bump in the landscape, Pantops Mountain, where the traffic runs more to full-time residents and wage slaves—a relatively dependable crowd. She’ll open BRIX Terrace Café in a new building there (well, O.K., near the bottom, in Pantops Shopping Center) in March.

Karen Laetare is busy nailing together a second location for her 8-year-old business. The other Brix in the wall will soon open at Pantops.

Laetare has a nice formulation for this: The Route 53 stop will stay open and continue to do its “picnic” trade, whereas Pantops will be her “bread and butter.” She says her landlords at the shopping center solicited her as a local restaurateur who could run a sort-of-but-not-too-upscale eatery there. (A wise move on their part; it’s the local joints that will keep Pantops from succumbing entirely to the anywhere-in-America, Ponderosa-and-Subway vibe.)

Speaking of palatable, what can you get at the new spot? “It’s a combination of California cuisine heavily influenced by Mediterranean foods,” says Laetare, who hopes you will not take that to mean spaghetti ’n’ marinara sauce. Instead, look for antipasti, bruschetta, salad specials and paninis—the kind of savory, sophisticated stuff Brix has always served, only more of it. In the morning it’ll be coffee and pastries, and you can buy bottles of wine too. Which reminds us—before Michael Shaps sold Downtown’s Vavino to Coran Capshaw last year, Laetare catered its lunches; she also used to provide some baked goodies to Greenberry’s. She says some of her biggest hits from those ventures will appear at the new place: a bruschetta platter, orzo salad and cinnamon rolls.

Though lunch will be her focus, Laetare will stay open until 6pm, long enough to catch some after-work to-go customers. “On the way home have a little glass of Prosecco and a bruschetta,” she says. (“If you insist,” we say.) She promises an interior like a Tuscan villa, patio seating, “beautiful real dishes, real napkins, and real silverware.”

One last thing: “I would love it if people would unplug from their cellphones just for lunch,” says Laetare. Maybe that laid-back Mediterranean vibe will convince them to try it.

Swift changes

As we reported last week, the Forest Lakes branch of Pizza Bella recently closed. Maybe the pain of losing a familiar pie will be eased by a familiar vindaloo. Quicker than you could say “mango chutney,” the space became an Indian restaurant, which may even be open by the time you read this. Ravinber Bahiya, owner of popular Milan Indian Cuisine, is the man behind the new Royal Indian Restaurant

Look for a menu similar to that at Milan: masalas, kormas, tandoori specialties and a full complement of na’ans and other Indian breads. And look for a brisk business—Bahiya says he’s had plenty of curious passersby poking their noses in already. If Milan’s extremely efficient service is any indication, Bahiya and his team should handle the crowds just fine.

Smoke this

This just in: The Virginia legislature has passed a secondhand smoke bill passed by the Virginia legislature. Basically, the law would allow restaurants to forego a nonsmoking section as long as they post a “smoking allowed” sign on the front door. Tim Kaine has until March 26 to sign, veto or amend the bill. Philip Morris likes it; if you don’t, let the guv know.

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