I recently noticed on Facebook that an old friend had gone to The Roosevelt for dinner. He’s been chef-ing around Richmond for about 15 years now and I haven’t kept in touch, but I was curious to hear his thoughts. For the record, I had also gone to The Roosevelt with my wife and my neighbor, and don’t feel like I should report back on the good food and good times, since people might call the story an early “review.” That, and my wife did The Roosevelt logo (Garnett’s too), rehabbed the beguiling desk in their dining area, and it’s just too cozy a relationship for me to claim any objectivity whatsoever. But, a mystery chef’s take? Everybody likes a little intrigue and a professional’s point of view.
Me: How’d you like The Roosevelt? Have you had Lee Gregory’s cooking before?
I don’t know Lee. Where else has he cooked?
I was impressed by the menu. A lot, actually. We had three of the ’snacks’ (zucchini fritters, the potted pork, and the corn bread). For mains, we had the burger with the bacon jam, the pork belly, and the johnny cake.
I should back up and say that I am a huge fan of Kendra’s anyway because of Garnett’s. I love old recipes. I just have a fetish about them. There’s a great cookbook called the Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, written some time in the early 19th century. It’s the first cookbook published in the New World. Some of my favorite recipes are in there (it’s surprisingly progressive! It has Cajun cuisine, ‘Oriental’ cuisine, and even curries!). Once at a restaurant, every special I made came out of that book. To be able to eat exactly the same thing as Richmonders 175 years ago…well, it was like eating history.
You might could say I’m a food nerd like that.
So, when I saw the menu at Roosevelt, I damn near had to change my shorts. Green tomato chow-chow, Frogmore Stew (I do like me some low-country grub), johnny cakes (though we always called ‘em hoe-cakes growing up), and a Tomato-Watermelon salad?! I mean c’mon! It’s great! It was as if someone had compiled a list of all the things I’ve ever made that were really good but was never able to sell at whatever half-assed grill I was cheffin’, and actually had the balls to make a menu out of it.
I don’t often eat out because I am usually disappointed by what I get. I’ve been doing the cooking thing for a while–with gusto–so there’s not a whole lot that I like to eat that I can’t make the best version of (for me, anyway–see my ‘mobile uploads gallery) at home. This menu was right up my alley though and I had to give it a shot.
So, did they follow through? Without reservation, yes. And not just on the main things, but even the little things. Like for example, the potted pork came with a garnish of a green tomato wedge. No one else at the table figured to eat it, but I reckoned it would be a nice tart palette cleanser before I dove into the rest of the food, so I popped it in my mouth. And would you believe that someone had taken the time to pickle that tomato in a zesty chile vinegar? Hell, after that, I was chowing down on all the garnish, just to see if there were any other cool surprises like that. You know, I’d be willing to bet that 90% of those pickled tomato wedges end up in the trash because people just think they’re there for color on the plate. But the fact that someone in the kitchen has taken the time to pickle it just on the off-chance that someone wants to nibble on it impresses the hell out of me.
As for the mains, all were very very well executed with a spirit of, well, honesty. No pretension. No cheating. No putting exotic ingredients on a plate just for the sake of impressing the client. Nope. It wasn’t a poorly performed Verdi opera like what you get in most Richmond restaurants, but instead a pitch-perfect rendition of ‘My Ol’ Country Home’ with four-part harmony sung under a brilliant clear moonlit sky. Just about flawless.
The only things I’d have done differently is that I’d have braised the pork belly rather than roasting it to avoid the bottom meaty layers getting a tiny bit tough and I would have served it with just cheese grits (no jalps) and maybe some vinegared collard or turnip green puree or something to let the acid cut through the fattiness of the pork belly. I also personally prefer a sweeter cornbread as opposed to the savory stuff they have there. But that’s just it. They were merely things that I would have done differently, not to say that Lee did anything faulty. At this level of goodness, any improvements are really just semantics and personal tastes. Who’s to say which is better?
Well I can say that it was one of the best meals I’d ever had in Richmond or anywhere. But then, of course, they’d obviously tailored the menu just for me, right? I will certainly be back again…and again, and again…
Had I had Lee Gregory’s cooking before? Only in my dreams.
Wasn’t that a fun read? I just had to share it. As for why this chef is annonymous, well, the working world is complicated, and everyone is entitled to their reasons. But, no. This isn’t @RVAchef... I don’t think.