Friday, April 22, 2011

Eating New Before Being Read and Sung To

It's not the sun, it's the wind.

After having been invited to the new Conch Republic Saturday night and declining, I did an about-face today, corralled a friend and went down for an early dinner. I wanted to go in the sunshine and see the latest addition to Rockett's Landing.

It has everything you'd expect from a place named after Key West (once it secedes from the Union, of course).

There's a tiki bar and a frozen drink menu, the servers wear shorts and polo shirts and the music is what the crowd wants to hear (Buffet, duh, James Taylor, Kansas, UB40), that is to say, old and familiar.

We took a bar table under the sliding garage door where the bar area meets the deck and were immediately greeted by a smiling guy face asking if we wanted something to drink.

Not sure yet, we asked for water. Moments later, a smiling girl face asked us about drinks and we told her that someone had already helped us.

Turns out he was treading on her territory, but she assured us she'd fix that. "He won't be back," she announced with finality (I laughed out loud at her deadpan delivery). And he wasn't.

After much consideration, we decided to try the gator wrap after our server recommended the gator bites so highly and it was made with the bites.

We also got the Southwest Point conch chowder, Bahamian style with a spicy tomato broth of fresh vegetables and herbs.

And if we had cooked conch, we had to try the conch salad with ceviche-style conch marinated in lime with bell peppers and red onions over mixed greens with grape tomatoes and cucumbers.

A mighty wind was blowing at the river today and all three of my menus took a turn being blown off the table. When the salad arrived, a lettuce leaf took flight. Eventually, the door was rolled down, although there's a smaller sliding door on the side of the building that remained open.

All that glass is for the view naturally. Boats are moored at slips at the base of steps leading from the restaurant; it's quite picaresque. As we watched a heron swoop down, a sculling boat went by full of rowers pulling in the late afternoon sun.

Our food arrived and we forgot about the water, enjoying the spiciness of the chowder and its plentiful conch. The salad's conch ceviche was limited and so finely chopped as to be difficult to get on a fork.

The gator bites in the wrap had just the right amount of seasoning in the breading, but my friend didn't think the Monterey Jack cheese worked. I just ate the bites, so I wouldn't know.

We were reminded about dessert several times, but nothing really grabbed us, so we opted out. Leaving, we decided that Conch Republic is going to make a lot of people very happy to have a new hangout for drinks and meeting up with friends in a beach-like environment.

And now we've been.

Outside, we stopped to admire a piece of sculpture near the restaurant. Charles Ponticello's "Deepwater Sponger" is a solid, yet whimsical piece of art for the waterfront, with a tablet of futuristic entries behind it.

Nearby, Ed Trask was busily working on Conch Republic's skyscape mural on the side of the building. It all made for a lovely afternoon landscape.

When I walked into the Akachic Books All-Star reading at Gallery 5, I was greeted with, "You're the first official attendee," and I was a few minutes late. How did that happen?

And while the crowd was small (mixed signals, crashed cars and stolen beer all conspiring to thwart the best-laid plans o' mice and men), those of us who were there had a treat in store.

Nina Revoyr's "Wingshooters," about a half-Japanese kid and his grandfather in 1974 dealt with bigotry, but she chose to read a section about baseball, mentioning that the group had just been discussing sports before the reading began. "Batting is about muscle memory," she read. As are so many things...

David L. Robbins read part of his story set in Sandston from "Richmond Noir," and it too dealt with baseball. Interestingly, he chose to read the ending of the story. Since I've read the book, it was fine by me but someone mentioned wanting to read the story now for the full impact. I would suggest reading the entire book.

Dublin-born Kevin Holohan read from "The Brothers' Lot" in a delightful Irish accent that enhanced the story of an all-boys' school run by pseudo-religious types. Figures became "figgers" and suits were described as "tatty." When one of the brothers beat a student, it was called a "leathering." We language geeks eat that stuff up.

Last but certainly not least was musician/composer Nathan Larson, who read from his first novel "The Dewey Decimal System," about a homeless man with PTSD and OCD and his adventures at the main NYC library.

Despite not having lived here, Larson spoke highly of Richmond, as had Revoyr, who said she'd fallen in love with rva since arriving at 2:00 this afternoon.

It's nice to know we can still dazzle on first impression, a skill set I've long tried to acquire. I'm still trying.

The evening wound up at Sprout for an amazing show by Lucinda Black Bear, a Brooklyn quartet (although the drummer is still a Jersey girl but they're trying to get her to move) headed north.

Their set began with leader Christian Gibbs thanking the local bands for letting them go first ("We have  regular jobs in New York in the morning"). So the headliner had become the opener.

And what an opener they were. With acoustic guitar, electric bass, cello and drums, LBB showed stellar musicianship throughout. I would guess they fall under the heading of folk rock but the lush arrangements and shifting dynamics made for so much more.

For the most part, the drummer used brushes like sticks and then mallets just once. The cello was plucked and bowed. Effects pedals augmented the often-tame folk guitar. The bass player made his rhythmic presence known.

Gibbs' voice was terrific, strong and beautifully enhanced when the others chimed in.  "This is the only song we didn't write," he said before playing "Born to Run," arranged so completely differently than Springsteen's version as to bewilder most of the audience for the first half of the song. It was an outstanding cover by a group who clearly knows what they're doing.

When their set began, there were six of us in the room and by the time they finished, the room was full of people eating out of the band's hands.

How lucky for us to have seen them in the limited confines of Sprout because I feel sure that their next trip to rva will be to a much bigger venue. How unlucky for those who showed up late hoping/willing to miss the openers.

It's not the intent, it's the timing. Okay, sometimes it's both. See above.


  1. Heard Lucinda Black Bear on NPR All Songs Considered a while back -- and I was blown away. I had no idea they were playing Richmond, now I'm kicking myself for missing them :(

  2. Sorry to rub it in, but you missed an awesome show. Hopefully they'll be back soon.

  3. Now that I live in Key West I'm all things Conch. I thought you and your readers might be interested to know that April 22 marks the 29th year since secssion from the union in 1982. It was prompted by a U.S. Border Patrol blockade of the keys searching for drugs and contraband. Shortly after secession. The locals pelted federal agents with stale Cuban bread then promptly surrendered and demanded foreign aid. We actually have a one ship navy consisting of a schooner named the Western Union, an air force made up of a few private planes and our own passport,available to all who apply for only $99.95. This place is made up of a lot of unusual people. I feel right at home. The celebration spans a week of fun and frivolity with mock naval battles in the harbor, bed races down Duval street by men in drag and what is billed as the worlds longest parade because it runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, roughly a mile and a half. The parade starts at 8 pm. Most of our parades are held late to beat the heat and to not cause you to miss the sunset celebration which takes place every day. I love it here.

  4. You just upped my Key West historical knowledge significantly.

    Conch on!