Put this on your plate and smoke it

Put this on your plate and smoke it

Charlottesville’s a city that loves to eat, located in a state that loves to smoke. Though you can certainly order up a mean shrimp veloute in this town, depending where you order it, its flavors will be tempered with the subtle essence de Marlboro wafting over from the bar area—for at least another year, that is. On April 4, a proposed smoking ban for restaurants died in the General Assembly. (We can only assume it hacked and wheezed as it expired.)

The bill had traveled a long and winding road on the way to its demise. First, Virginia Senator Brandon Bell, a Roanoke Republican, sponsored a measure to ban smoking in most public places. This passed the Senate back in February. Meanwhile, over in the House of Delegates, Salem (ahem) Republican Morgan Griffith introduced a different, considerably more tobacco-friendly smoking bill: It eliminated the requirement for large restaurants to have a nonsmoking section and simply required smoke-friendly spots to post a warning to that effect at the door.

Tiffani Manteris and her fellow smokers can breathe easy for at least another year: The General Assembly stamped out the proposed restaurant smoking ban.

The two bills met very different fates. Bell’s sweeping ban died in a House committee. Griffith’s sweeping boon, though, won House and Senate approval and then hit a big snag—namely, Governor Tim Kaine’s amendment that would have banned smoking in all restaurants. Given that this revision completely reversed the intention of the bill, it’s unsurprising that the House rejected it 59-40. In return, Kaine vowed to veto the entire bill. (Cough, cough.)

So, aside from demonstrating the system of checks and balances in action, these bills accomplished nothing. But Restaurantarama’s razor-sharp legislative intuition tells us that one of these years, cigarettes in Virginia eateries will wave goodbye. (Robert Sawrey, managing partner at the Downtown Grille, said the same thing a few weeks ago when he called us about his place’s voluntary switch to a nonsmoking format.) Despite Philip Morris’ ongoing influence in Richmond, antismoking fervor is growing like a well-tended tobacco field.

Locally, we know that places like Miller’s and Scottsville’s Dew Drop Inn would be pretty different minus their ashtrays. But—given the abundance of al fresco seating that lines the Downtown Mall—we’ll be especially interested to see, when a smoking ban finally does go on the books, what it says about lighting up in outdoor eating areas.

New and renewed

Over at Pantops, Karen Laetare’s new venture, Brix Terrace Café, is open for business. We spoke to Laetare last month and caught some of her excitement about the brand-new space she’s occupying there and about the chance she now has to bring her Mediterranean-inspired menu, well established at Brix Café on Route 53, closer to town. Stop by for a glimpse and a morsel.

Another change: By the time you read this, Downtown’s Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar will have undergone a blitzkrieg-style renovation during Easter weekend, aimed at (says proprietor Matteus Frankovich) “cleaning it up around the edges.” Translation: a longer bar, a more flexible and seasonal menu, and a more grown-up vibe. “It’s definitely been an enjoyable ride,” says Frankovich of the teahouse’s last five years, to which he affectionately attaches the term “mayhem”—but, he continues, “I see this renovation as a coming of age.”

The change was inspired, he says, by the success so far of his month-and-a-half-old Staunton location: “a much smaller, simpler creation” where tea, not the scruff factor, reigns supreme. Frankovich says this was how he’d originally envisioned the Charlottesville location anyway, before youth and rock ’n’ roll intervened. After the renovation, look for fancy sakes, Belgian ales and a “more discerning” live music schedule. Fewer gutter punks? Only time will tell.

Got some restaurant scoop? Send tips to restaurantarama@c-ville.com or call 817-2749, Ext. 48.

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