Ownership scramble cooking at Bluegrass Grill & Bakery and more local restaurant news

Chrissy Benninger has some new specials in mind for Bluegrass Grill. Photo: Ashley Twiggs Chrissy Benninger has some new specials in mind for Bluegrass Grill. Photo: Ashley Twiggs

Ownership scramble cooking at Bluegrass Grill & Bakery

Chrissy Benninger’s been part owner of Bluegrass Grill & Bakery for more than five years. Just a couple months ago, she got a bee in her bonnet to make serious changes. Why now? She’s bought out her partners, Jim and Lalah Simcoe, and that’s renewed her enthusiasm.

“They were kind of in semi-retirement for the past few years, and I was getting my feet wet,” she says. “Once they decided they wanted to retire fully, I just got a burst of energy and all these things are falling into place at once.”

Bluegrass, of course, ain’t broke—see the lines out the door on weekends or the local, regional and national acclaim it’s earned. So lots of folks might say don’t fix it. But Benninger, who was the restaurant’s manager before buying into ownership, thinks she can have her hot cakes and eat ’em too, making selective upgrades while keeping everything regulars love.

What needs work? Benninger says she’ll finally launch a website for her small breakfast joint, and she’ll create different weekday and weekend menus. The specials will be incorporated into the full-time menu, and favorites like the Hungry Norman and fresh corned beef hash will stay. But several items will go. A few of the scrambles were taking too much time to push out of the kitchen, Benninger says, and 86’ing them will make those lines out the door shorter.

“We are honestly trying to make more room for more specials,” Benninger says. “I’ve got a million ideas and no room for them. I want to streamline the menu.”

Benninger says she’s planning to replace the carpet in her restaurant, pointing up the fact that Bluegrass is so damn good it can get away with being carpeted in 2015. And the comically small Bluegrass parking lot is likely to go. The half-dozen functional spots are reportedly slated for replacement by a patio that Bluegrass and neighbor Paradox Pastry would share. Benninger calls the change a “rumor” but says building owner Oliver Kuttner has been talking about it for a while.

But what of the loss of the Simcoes, who officially retired on May 1? Lalah Simcoe says she and Jim bought Bluegrass from its original owners, Jonas and Joan Marie Worsham, in 2003, about a year and a half after the restaurant opened. Over the next six to seven years, the couple double handedly made their hole in the wall the hottest breakfast spot in C’ville. Benninger admits she has big shoes to fill.

“It’s definitely a little more challenging,” she says. “Now I need to do a little more delegation, but I have a great support staff.”

Twelve-ounce curls

Most people would agree booze ain’t the thing if you’re looking to trim your waistline. But that’s not stopping ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers from applying for a liquor license at its Downtown location.

The local gym-pire, with two locations in C’ville, one in Crozet, two outside Richmond and two more in Pennsylvania, has completed construction on a new downtown patio that stands, along with the location’s rooftop pool, to be a fitting place to have a beer or cider when the ABC license comes through. No word yet, unfortunately, on when that will be.

“Our plan is to offer light beverage service on the rooftop and in the new patio space in front of the building,” ACAC VP of marketing Christine Thalwitz says. “It will be similar to the service we offer in our Short Pump club. Our members like to work out with us and also spend leisure time with us, so we are adding spaces in the club where they can relax, unwind and socialize.” 

Taco takeover

Since it opened on June 6, Brazos Tacos has been doing a brisk business for breakfast and lunch, and as of July 15, the Austin-style taco shop is serving up dinner Monday through Saturday until 7pm. Sunday brunch is served 8-3pm, and the restaurant stays open later when special events go down at the property.

“It’s been really good,” says Brazos co-owner Peter Griesar, who says the restaurant’s ABC application is complete so booze should be on sale “soon.”

In other Brazos news, early birds get two-for-one tacos before 9am all summer, and “grab-and-go tacos” are helping rushing lunchers get in and out before break-time ends. And if the Ix location doesn’t work for your morning or lunchtime routine, breakfast tacos are now sold every weekday at Shark Mountain Coffee, between UVA School of Law and the Darden School.

–Shea Gibbs and Courteney Stuart