I believe it's called creative reuse when you take a former garage and make it into a coffee and sandwich shop. I've been by what is now Lamplighter plenty of times when it was the garage and it doesn't look all that different now because cars were parked everywhere out front as if waiting to be serviced. It was so crowded when we arrived around noon today that some people were actually huddled out there eating and drinking.
We got a perky greeting from one of the owners, who told us to take our time at the counter perusing the paper menu. When my friend asked for the breakfast menu, I grabbed one of the laminated menus from the holder on the wall, causing him to ask her why it was laminated. "So you can lick it," the owner said laughing, which my friend pretended to do. "I can't say that to just anyone," she teased. I already liked the place a lot.
My friend had only been awake for 20 minutes by the time we arrived, so he was looking for breakfast and a huge coffee. For me, there was a nice selection of paninis, sandwiches (including sweet-tooth sammies like pb & j and Fluffernutters), salads and soups. He ordered the egg sandwich with Capicola, provolone and tomato and by the time he finished enjoying it and his mondo coffee, was starting to feel human.
When I spotted a Muffuletta (salami, Capicola and provolone with olive tapenade)) on the menu, that New Orleans classic, I had to get it to see how close it was to the original sandwich. It was grilled, which is not usually the case and not made on the traditional round, flat Sicilian bread, but most of the required ingredients were there (no mortdella) and it was absolutely delicious and way bigger than I needed. It came with a side of fruit salad, which was a perfect sweet contrast to the saltiness of the sandwich.
I loved their bike emphasis, with a picture of a tall bike on the to-go cups, and bike delivery service. Their website is tallbikecoffee.com, which makes for a very Richmond association (those sculpture degrees in use!). Today at least, though, we saw no bikes locked up out front, but it was only noon.
Afterwards, we got nerdy over at the Historical Society for a VMFA showing of "Sergeant Rutledge," a 1960 John Ford movie about the Buffalo soldiers. I don't know that I've ever seen a John Ford western, or any western for that matter, but this one had all the kinds of scenes I'd imagined they would: Indians, gunfights, damsels in distress. The difference was this was about the court martial of a black soldier, considered one of the finest of the Buffalo Soldiers, for accusations involving a white woman (naturally). Of course, it was seen through the prism of 1960 and in technicolor, so it was only so honest, but most of the audience appreciated the noble depiction of the soldiers in the film.
Afterwards, there was an interactive panel discussion of the movie and African American history. The audience, including a motorcycle group called Buffalo Soldiers, was quite verbal on both topics. It turns out that the film only played in rva for one week and even so, it was at the National Theater, a segregated movie house. The RTD ads for it showed no black actors, only a couple kissing, probably so as to not offend a genteel audience. I was genuinely surprised to learn that it hadn't shown at any of the black theaters in Jackson Ward where it would have almost certainly garnered a huge audience.
Buffalo Soldiers: thank you for your trail-blazing efforts. I only hope we are teaching our youth about your contribution to history...and not just during African-American History month.
And Lamplighter: definitely worth a return visit for the great vibe, interesting choices and because we were too stuffed to try any of their alluring pastries. And because I never know when I'll have a craving to lick a menu. Don't judge.