Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Grape and Thrash

Of all the ways to enjoy two of my favorite worlds - food and wine - tonight's may have been the most unlikely segue yet.

Beginning with legislators in bowties at the Library of Virginia for the 25th anniversary of October Virginia wine month soiree, I had a chance to taste wine from 32 Virginia wineries, although even I didn't come close to tasting them all.

Several (Akida Ridge, Rosemont, RdV, Rockbridge) I'd already tasted off of the Roosevelt's all-Virginia wine list and several I'd visited in the past year (Stinson, Keswick, Barboursville).

One, Chatham, had come up in conversation just the other day as a date and I had tried to figure out where they were.

Turns out they're on the eastern shore on the other side of the bay and yet, somehow, not part of the Chesapeake Bay wine trail. Go figure.

I had a fun conversation with a winery rep who told me she used to live in Richmond and work at the Tobacco Co.

When she asked what it was like now, I gave her the unvarnished truth and we got off on a tangent about how they used to have cigarette girls and shooter girls.

Whoa. I hadn't thought about those shot-slinging babes with belts since the '90s.

Moving around the room through political wonks and occasional restaurant people, I particularly enjoyed the display cases set up to showcase the history of winemaking in the Commonwealth.

There were books on grape-growing recommendations dating back to the 19th century and large-format photographs of vineyards, including one of a man in a white shirt, trousers and a bowtie cutting grape clusters off the vines.

Ah, the good old days, when men looked sharp to work the fields.

We listened to remarks by former governor Gerald Baliles, who'd started Virginia wine month, but the real humor came when I talked to his son, my former neighbor and now city councilman.

Praising his father for his forward-thinking wine savvy, Jon laughed and said all he remembered was a lot of really bad Virginia wine they had to drink back in 1988.

Baby steps, my friend.

After absorbing as much viticulture as possible (meaning once the tasting floor closed), it was on to the food portion of the evening.

That's right, Food Fight 2 at Strange Matter.

I'd had a blast at last year's, here, so there wasn't much chance I was going to miss another opportunity to support GirlsRock RVA and hear local restaurant staffs make music.

While they got set up, my date and I ordered cheeseburgers and fries to offset the wine that we'd had and lay a base for the show.

Last year's had featured nine bands and tonight's was only five, making for a more organized evening than I remembered.

We'd been fortunate enough to score bar stools from which to enjoy the bands,my Espolon and his beer, making for a far more civilized experience than last time.

First up was 525 at the Berry Burke, easily the most unlikely of all the restaurants represented, with a singer in a short, cute blue dress and not much else.

Black Sheep was next and like 2012, they were all wearing chef coats.

They'd been a highlight last year, with their written-for-the-occasion songs, and brought it again with gems like "Kitchen Blues," "Letter to My Mother," written from the point of view of a cat fish and "Fuck You," a tribute to Yelp and customers who want special orders.

Lamplighter's group was huge with multiple guitarists, a rapper and a spotlight hog of a singer/guitarist making for as much sound as Lamplighter itself on a Saturday morning.

Proper Pie's quartet was all thrash with two drummers and demonstrated the kind of energy restaurant people only have at the beginning, never the end, of a shift.

Franklin Inn closed the show with a singer with a terrific voice and a red satin top.

Less than a minute into their set, one of the musicians who'd already played leaned in to us and said, "We have a winner."

Proof positive came when they launched into Concrete Blonde's "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)," not a song just anyone can pull off. And yet she totally did.

Somewhere, Johnette Napolitano was smiling.

After that, it was up to the judges to tabulate their results and pass them on to us.

Not exactly pros at this, there was a lot of confusion as they spit out the rankings: 525, Franklin Inn, Lamplighter, Black Sheep and top honors went to the bash and pop of Proper Pie.

My date and I were a tad incredulous at the rankings and more than a few people seemed genuinely surprised that Franklin Inn hadn't won it all, but that's the way the music biz rolls.

At least it is on Food Fight night.

What really mattered was that they'd raised $500 for GirlsRock RVA and Yelpers had been taken to task.

Simple pleasures on a Monday night.

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