How much do Charlottesvillians love Austin-style tacos? A whole lot, apparently, as Peter Griesar learned last fall when he opened Brazos pop-up taco shop for 60 days and had a line snaking out the door every day.
Griesar’s initial plan was to test the concept here in Charlottesville before taking it on the road and opening a permanent shop in Seattle. Fortunately for us, pricey real estate there and a too-good-to-pass-up lease offer here convinced him to stick around. On Saturday, June 5, the permanent Brazos opened in the former Al Dente space at the Ix property downtown where the pop-up was also housed.
“Before, we were limited to almost no hours,” says Griesar, describing one of the challenges he faced in operating a restaurant within a restaurant as he did when Al Dente was still open and Brazos had to share the space. “Now, we can meet demand,” he says.
Griesar, a local restaurant veteran, is an original member of the Dave Matthews Band and has partnered on Brazos with Charles Newman, DMB’s first manager. Together, they’ve undertaken a full-scale renovation of the space with a focus on local materials including Albarene soapstone countertops and “nest” lamp covers made out of grape vines from Griesar’s Esmont property. They’ve also added colorful touches of art and whimsy, including a soda fountain that Griesar hilariously customized to feature an illuminated image of Michael Bloomberg, the New York City mayor who famously sought to make large-sized sugary drinks illegal. (Griesar assures us that Brazos will sell large sodas.)
Brazos will be open seven days a week from 7am to 4pm, although once it has an ABC license, it may stay open into the early evening, Griesar says. The menu will be essentially the same as the pop-up with breakfast tacos featuring eggs, mashed potatoes and beans, and lunch tacos with meat and vegan options. Former Zinc and Moto Pho Co. owner Vu Nguyen is running the kitchen.
If Brazos goes well, Griesar says he and Newman hope to open more locations, and he cites Jack Brown’s Burger Joint and Citizen Burger Bar as local examples of independent chains he’d like to emulate.
As for a Seattle location, he hasn’t given up. “We have to grow into it,” he says.
Frank and Heather Paris, who recently announced they plan to open Miso Sweet in the space formerly occupied by Downtown Mall anchor Eppie’s, don’t think ramen and donuts are a weird combination at all. They think they go great together.
“My husband loves donuts. That’s his weakness,” Heather says. “Why not ramen and donuts? You have your salty umami flavors in the ramen then a satisfying sweet treat.”
Heather has been working in restaurants since she was 16, and that husband with a sweet tooth turns out to be a graduate of Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts who’s earned his cooking chops all over the eastern U.S. Frank intends to get cheffy with housemade noodles swimming in traditional ramen broth and spiked with the likes of crispy chicken skin, fried corn and miso butter cream. “He’s still experimenting,” Heather says.
He’ll take the donuts outside the box, as well, with miso glazes and brown butter crumbles atop a hole-free ’nut with the “consistency and texture of a Krispy Kreme,” Heather says.
The couple intends to move away from the lunch counter concept that worked so well for Eppie’s and turn the space into a sit-down joint with table service. Still, the intention is for a fast and casual atmosphere, with the roughly 50 indoor and 40 patio seats turning quickly.
Roots Natural Kitchen, a build-your-own salad and grain bowl shop on the Corner, opened its doors on June 1. Get over there before August when university students will turn it into a de facto cafeteria.
The concept is simple and stands to be college-kid-culinary-crack: Walk down the assembly line, a la Chipotle, and pick items—avocado, goat cheese, nuts, egg, meat, dressing—to top off a bowl of greens or grains. The ingredients are by and large healthy and purported to be thoughtfully sourced. Chefs Andrew Silver and Ivan Rekosh, who co-own Zocalo on the Downtown Mall, were brought on to oversee the menu by the four UVA grads who founded the place.
“We have been here collectively 16 years and saw a need for a healthy concept,” co-founder Joseph Linzon says. “There is nothing like it on the Corner. We wanted to provide students with something healthy and fast.”
Linzon says he and his team would like to take the concept to other college towns and beyond in the coming years. In the meantime, they’re developing additional tricked out toppings and diversifying their drink options. They’re offering water only at the moment; though to be fair they have a glorious array of water stations.