Get (red) pumped: Pippin Hill owners debut new Tuscan restaurant downtown

Red Pump co-owner Dean Andrews (left) and chef Todd Grieger prepare for the debut of Charlottesville’s newest Italian restaurant. Rammelkamp Foto Red Pump co-owner Dean Andrews (left) and chef Todd Grieger prepare for the debut of Charlottesville’s newest Italian restaurant. Rammelkamp Foto

Outdoor construction barriers enclosed the building at the corner of Fourth and East Main streets on the Downtown Mall for weeks. The temporary walls kept the elusive project under wraps, and even if you could sneak a peek around, you wouldn’t see much through the paper-covered windows. You may remember this spot as Positively 4th Street (oft-shortened to P4). Or, if you haven’t been downtown in a while, you might recall it as Enoteca or VAvino wine bars. For the fourth time since 2005, the space has been completely gutted and revamped, and this time around it’s a countryside-style Italian restaurant called Red Pump-A Tuscan Kitchen.

“It’s Virginia meets Tuscany,” said owner Dean Andrews, noting that the menu will feature authentic Italian cuisine made with as many local products as they can source.

The new restaurant was born out of a partnership between Pippin Hill Farms owners Lynn Easton Andrews and Dean Andrews, Coran Capshaw, and former P4 owner Alan Taylor. Longtime Charlottesville chef Todd Grieger, whose career began at a Virginia Beach food stand when he was 16, has been working closely with the Andrews to create an authentic Tuscan-Mediterranean menu that’s both inventive and classic. 

“We’re staying true to country Italian cooking,” said Grieger, who’s made a name for himself in the kitchens of Palladio Restaurant, Glass Haus, Mas, and Maya.

Charlottesville has its share of cultured, well-traveled foodies, Grieger noted, and he said he wants to be creative enough to appeal to the adventurous palates, while still being unassuming and approachable.

“We’re really putting the emphasis on flavors, not presentation,” Grieger said. “In Tuscany, you’d walk to the market, buy whatever you can, cook it, and eat it. What’s there is what they eat. It’s not too frilly or frufru.”

Two weeks ago, paint cans and tool boxes were scattered along the dining room floor, and the owners and kitchen crew looked equal parts exhausted and exhilarated as they examined a giant, rustic-looking shelving unit that needed to somehow be mounted on the wall behind the bar. Days later, boxes and packing materials are nowhere to be seen, and the elaborate shelves are firmly in place behind the bar that’s made out of a roughly-cut 300-year-old tree. Cozy booths line one wall of the restaurant, and the evening sunlight spills through the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Downtown Mall.

Servers in matching white button downs, black pants, and brand spankin’ new black and white sneakers carefully make their way through a growing crowd of guests, offering glasses of wine and trays of canapés to the 50 or so friends, family, and restaurant biz colleagues who have gathered for Red Pump’s soft opening.

Grieger and his kitchen crew prepared an array of canapés that reflected different dishes on the dinner menu. Representing Grieger’s favorite dish was a simple, single tortellini stuffed with decadent, smokey scamorza cheese, roasted mushroom, and tomato sauce. The Piedmontese beef and confit potato skewer topped with pine nut relish left me yearning for the full menu’s classic steak dish Bistecca alla Florentina. The three types of pizza on dough that’s handmade with live yeast cultures made by Grieger’s team in-house* circulated among the canapés, and I shamelessly scraped the stray melted fontina off the wooden plate and globbed it atop my slice with Merguez sausage and mussels. But what stole the show was the tender, melt-in-your-mouth bay scallop with avocado puree, sugar snap peas, grapefruit, and tarragon. The bite-sized mollusc tasted like it had been plucked from the water that morning, and even my plus one, a self-proclaimed food snob who gets around when it comes to Charlottesville restaurants, was impressed and immediately jonesing for another tray to make its way to our table.

And that’s exactly the effect Grieger is going for. The team is sourcing as many local meats and vegetables as possible, and once the vertical garden along the southern wall is completed, they’ll start growing their own herbs, micro greens, and edible flowers. 

As for the bar, Andrews said the idea is to approach the beverages the same way they approach food, which means they’ll be creative, flexible, and as local as possible. They’ll source local wines, of course, but in the name of authenticity and consistency with the restaurant’s concept, a good number of bottles on the wine list will come from Tuscany.

Former Glass Haus bar manager Sally Myers is heading up Red Pump’s bar, and if the signature cocktail served at last week’s event is any indication, the drink menu will not disappoint. Passing on the chianti served in a sturdy, goblet-style wine glass with an old-school water pump etched into it, I opted for the Alloro, or “a summer breeze.” The refreshing, pale pink concoction featured Spirits of the Blue Ridge vodka, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, bay leaf simple syrup, and blood orange juice.

Red Pump is officially open for business, and is serving dinner 5-11pm every day but Monday, plus Sunday brunch beginning at 11am. For reservations visit www.redpump

*And earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Red Pump’s live yeast cultures are provided by Mas Tapas. Chef Todd Grieger and his team are making their own live yeast cultures for bread and pizza dough.