Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mint Condition

While even I want a win, some of us will be forever grateful for screen-less bars.

Which was not the case at Mint, but that didn't stop me.

A friend wanted to meet and check out the former Davis and Main location and see what had been wrought.

So there we were at the crack of cocktail hour, me talking to a friend of the bartender and her hurrying along, doing her best to be punctual for a change.

The (non) mint green door was propped wide open,a  delightful thing on this very warm March evening.

Inside, the lack of air conditioning gave a tropical vibe to the room, pleasing me no end and making for a comfortably warm room.

Forgive me, but I think air conditioning should be outlawed in March.

I have to admit that like what they've done to the formerly claustrophobic and very '80s space.

The soft green walls, black and white photographs by a local photographer, even the owner's and her children's initials  carved into the bottom step are all indications that some thought went into the new space.

Even better, 60% of the wines by the glass are from Virginia.

The percentage drops to 25% on the bottled list, but, all things considered, that's still a better than average percentage.

But we sold out the Commonwealth for Italy and ordered a bottle of Di Lenardo Pinot Grigio looking for some relief from the warmth.

A known bartender was running the show and he immediately began giving us both a hard time.

On the other hand, it was nice to see him in jeans instead of black pants for a change, so we took it.

It was amazing how quickly the space began to fill up: it's still the soft opening but people streamed in as if it were the be all, end all on a Thursday night.

And not even night; it was early evening and still quite light out.

Have I mentioned how fond I am of the time change?

Despite my friend's plans to leave shortly for a wine dinner, we couldn't help but peruse the menu, finding lots of Southern-influenced dishes on it.

Several are showing up everywhere these days, like deviled eggs, poutine, cracklins and pimento cheese.

But there were some interesting things too. Burrata grilled cheese on sourdough, pulled pork barbecue Johnny cake taco and, my personal favorite, the beignet of the day.

With a limited amount of time together, Friend and I covered the important stuff like men, work and travel plans.

But we did get food.

Mussels simmered in ham hock (or hack, as the menu indicated) broth with fernet, butter and cabbage.

A wedge salad with black pepper buttermilk ranch, bacon and tomatoes topped by root beer batter onion rings.

Their signature fried dill pickle chips.

The mussel broth was buttery rich if overly cabbage-tart, the wedge was under-dressed and the fried pickles provided both a salty and crunchy quality.

I found it interesting that the soundtrack for the most part was dead-on 90s. Occasionally we'd hear a 21st century song, say Modest Mouse, but not often.

Checking with the bartender, I was assured us that this was the chosen mix.

No complaints from me. At least it wasn't classic rock or worse. But still.

Once my friend left for her wine dinner, I enjoyed the company of any number of strangers, most of whom had a direct connection to the owner.

When I got ready to leave, it was with the knowledge that Mint has the potential to do several things right.

They do late night seven days a week and they do brunch both weekend days, long a pet peeve of mine.

Ergo, I'll be back if they can pull both off.

From there, it was on to Secco to escape Mint's two screens. Yes, I wanted VCU to win, but I didn't need to see it happen.

I have faith that it would without me watching.

Secco was far more civilized and I dove right into a wine off their secret stash list, the Saetti Lambrusco Seco, a dry, organic sparkler with a stitched label.

I kid you not, when the bartender let me feel the stitched label (front and back), I was sold. Luckily for me, it also offered tannins and fizz, so I was more than happy.

Things continued to get even better when my house-made potato gnocchi with sea urchin butter and mustard greens arrived.

I'm a huge fan of gnocchi, but this buttery seaside take made me swoon with pleasure at both the mouth feel and the flavors.

I may have even told my server that there was something sexual about it. It was indulgent in the most obscene way.

Naturally I followed that with another taste delight, this time a special. Lightly fried sweetbreads were prepared with onion salsify and sorrel for a unique take on glands.

Or, as a bartender friend once referred to them, grown-up chicken nuggets.

Yes, that's a disservice to sweetbreads, but I understand  where he was coming from on that.

Tonight's soundtrack was especially satisfying after the earlier trip down Memory Lane, offering up, as it did, the XX, Passion Pit and Seawolf.

Thank you, Secco, for saving me from the nineties.

I chatted up the women next to me who had the gall to ask why there was no screen.

Before the bartender could explain that owner Julia would never allow such a thing, I got up on my soapbox and gave them what for.

After a stern talking-to, they agreed that we were lucky to be someplace that didn't have one.

VCU doesn't need us to ensure a victory, so why endure the buzz kill of a screen in a bar?

I guess I showed them.

I finished up with Haystack Mountain Red Cloud, a complex washed rind cheese touted as "not shy," but then who among us is?

Not me, that's for sure.

That said, I don't intend to end up on anyone's screen.

Or watching one.


  1. That is disappointing to hear that another new restaurant has stupid TV's I want to to check out Mint, always loved that space and love Julep's. Don't want to watch TV while I eat and socialize. Burger Bach is another big offender, sensory overload. I hate it.

  2. Welcome to the club!

    I don't know why restaurants don't see what a buzz kill/conversation sapper screens are.

    I try to steer clear of the places that have them, or at the very least sit where I can't see them.