What started out as a Richmond coffee shop in 2006 has since evolved into a full-service restaurant with a new location on the Corner. Café Caturra, a coffee shop-restaurant-bar combo that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner is officially open for business in the old Toro’s Tacos location.
“We’ve both spent a lot of time in Charlottesville, and we really love the community and culture,” said co-owner Dexter Brown of himself and his business partner Rob Slotnick. “We were really pumped to find this location available, so here we are.”
Brown, who graduated from UVA in the ’80s before becoming a retail stock broker, worked at Macado’s on the Corner (rest in peace) when he was a student. Turns out it was more than just a great college gig, and even after decades in the finance world, the restaurant biz sucked him back in. He befriended a coffee shop manager while he was working in Richmond, and the two began dreaming up the idea for Café Caturra. Brown started out as an investor, but didn’t stop there.
“He came up with the nuts and bolts, I came up with the money,” he said. “We built a couple of these things, and as time went on, I was just having such a spectacular time I quit my job and started working for Caturra full time.”
The menu was initially pretty simple, featuring mostly in-house roasted coffee (Brown attended coffee-roasting school in Idaho), and a few soups and sandwiches. Business was great in the mornings, he said, but the place usually cleared out by 2pm. So what do people want after that time? Booze, obviously.
Thus came the addition of a wine list, cheese and small plates, and eventually a more extensive menu with dinner entrées like the raspberry walnut salad topped with salmon.
The Charlottesville location also features a full bar with a carefully crafted cocktail menu. The mixed drinks are mostly spins on classics, like the una rosa fresca, with muddled rosemary and cucumber, Tito’s vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup.
As for the food, you can expect quiche, frittatas, a charcuterie board, seasonal fish tacos, a Cuban panini (Brown’s favorite) and several pizzas. Side items include potato salad, pasta salad and kettle chips—Brown pointed out that Café Caturra may be one of the only Corner spots not serving French fries.
“We don’t have a fryer,” he said. “We thought we’d have a menu that’s a bit lighter and concentrated on more healthy ingredients.”
Beards are cool
Tables at The Alley Light and Ivy Inn may soon be even harder to come by. The (relatively) new shared plates joint on the mall was recently named a semi-finalist for the James Beard Best New Restaurant award, and Ivy chef Angelo Vangelopoulos is in the running for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic.
The James Beard Awards are widely regarded as some of the most important in the food world, and winning one would bring increased regional and national attention to either restaurant. Even being nominated, particularly in a small market such as Charlottesville, is a great honor—The Alley Light is among only 25 semi-finalists for Best New Restaurant in the country, and Vangelopoulos is on a short list of 20 chefs. The Alley Light will compete with restaurants from the likes of celebrity chef José Andrés; Vangelopoulos is pitted against such regionally renowned chefs as Peter Chang, who created a foodie hullabaloo when he popped up in Charlottesville a few years back and now works in Richmond, and Washington’s Anthony Chittum.
The James Beard Award selection process began in October last year, when nearly 35,000 nominations for 21 categories were received. A panel of critics, writers and editors whittled the list down to the current semi-finalists. The panel, along with a number of former Beard Award winners, will select five finalists in each category and announce those names on March 24.
Red Pump changes up
After a splashy opening and eight months of mixed reviews, Red Pump Kitchen has swapped out executive chef Todd Grieger for former C’ville resident Lee Hendrickson. Grieger couldn’t be reached for comment on his departure, and a Red Pump spokesperson said only that he had “moved on to another opportunity.”
Hendrickson trained under chef Amalia Scatena of Red Pump parent Easton Porter Group (EPG) at Keswick Hall, where he was the lead line chef, and at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards. In 2014, Hendrickson took a position as sous chef at another EPG restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. The restaurant group brought him back home abruptly to take on his first-ever executive chef position at Red Pump.
“I was there for seven months, and I blinked my eyes and was back here,” Hendrickson said. “It was weird. It was like a time warp.”
Hendrickson, who grew up in an Italian family (his dad took the name Hendrickson from adoptive parents), said he expects to continue Red Pump’s focus on seasonal, made-from-scratch Tuscan-inspired fare sourced locally as he writes the restaurant’s menu going forward.
“I just took what I know from the heart and soul and grew up eating and put a spin on it with more modern plate-ups,” he said.