A Trio of New Eateries to Try

Unique Downtown dining options offer stunning sunsets at Rocketts Landing, a sleek wine bar, and a chic, revamped firehouse.

Sunset along the James River as viewed from Conch Republic Rocketts’ patio.
Top: Conch Republic Rocketts
Middle: M Bistro & Wine Bar
Bottom: Station 2
All photos by Chris Owens

Transforming a tranquil spot on the banks of the James River into a tropical island getaway, Conch Republic Rocketts (11 Orleans Street) offers cuisine and ambience inspired by the Florida Keys.

Consistent with the restaurant’s theme, such ingredients as plantains, alligator, and (of course) conch play key roles in many of the restaurant’s abundant dinner offerings. This clearly appeals to the surrounding area and has been carefully picked to make an impression, it would be no surprise if they used a service similar to restaurant consulting in Chicago but based in Florida, so they can make this restaurant stand out amongst the others for locals and tourists who are looking for an authentic place to eat.

Appetizers include conch fritters, steamed blue crab claws, and deep-fried, marinated nuggets of gator meat referred to as “Swamp Bites.” Among the numerous entree options are crab cakes topped with crawfish etouffe and a particularly impressive “Low Country Shrimp” dish, which consists of shrimp sauteed in a creamy sauce-rich, but somehow not so heavy as to overwhelm the feature component-and served over cheese grits.

Extensive selections of salads, soups (including a wonderfully flavorful gator chili), sandwiches, and nachos cater to a broad range of tastes and appetites; and each course includes options, from chicken wings to NY strip, to appeal to palates favoring turf over surf.

A draw equal to Conch Republic’s well-executed cuisine is its airy and relaxed ambience. Housed in a beautiful, open space in the heart of Rocketts Landing, the restaurant’s distressed walls are adorned with antiqued murals so authentic in appearance that one could almost envision Ernest Hemingway sipping a rum-based cocktail at the bar.

The tremendous space is packed on any given night with couples, large parties, and individuals. Crowds surround the main bar and the inside/outside tiki bar that sits in the back corner of the dining area and encroaches onto the large, wrap-around patio.

Looking west from the patio, where musicians imbue balmy evenings with melodic atmosphere, one is treated to a unique and stunning view of the downtown skyline. Looking south, one gazes upon the lovely James River and the crafts that travel lazily upon it. Looking directly down, one might be surprised to see railroad tracks, rather than gentle surf and sand.

In addition to dinner, Conch Republic Rocketts offers lunch, brunch, and a worry-free state of mind that promises to attract patrons throughout the year.

M Bistro & Wine Bar
A hint of sweet to offset savory, a touch of elegant to elevate casual, a splash of bright to highlight subtle-M Bistro and Wine Bar (4821 Old Main Street) demonstrates a seasoned chef’s sense of balance and proportion.

The culmination of Chef /Owner Michael Hall’s distinguished Richmond restaurant resume, this newest addition to the Rocketts Landing restaurant landscape was a concept born of Hall’s observations of trends in Richmond dining. In particular, Hall responded to local interest in wine, the growth of which he observed over his last few years as manager and executive chef at The Bull and Bear Club. “Wine is very chic and it’s very sexy,” Hall explains.

M Bistro & Wine Bar currently offers-under the stewardship of the four sommeliers on staff-a selection of around 100 wines, and anticipates adding about 50 more options for both on-premises consumption and retail purchase. Delivery to residents of Rocketts Landing is another service on M Bistro’s horizon, according to Wine and Bistro Manager Christopher Simons.

But it’s the cuisine, described by Hall as influenced by both French Country and Southern fare, in which Hall takes most pride. “Our food is a great match for the wine,” Hall says, adding, “We’re trying to keep it a little edgy.”

M Bistro’s dinner menu covers a broad selection of appetizers, such as an amazing, spicy-sweet fried “sriracha pork” with kale and green onions. Soup and salad options include crab bisque and a house creation of spring greens wrapped in English cucumber. Among the featured items in the main dishes, each of which is served with thoughtfully matched sides and sauces.
The bistro also offers lunch, brunch, and breakfast, all served by a staff that is as simultaneously impeccable and welcoming as the establishment itself. An upper level houses retail cases and a cafe space.

Through both artful plating and the harmonious marriage of eclectic flavors, the dishes reflect the same measured restraint and attention to contrasting elements that is evident in the modish, industrial atmosphere. Simons points out that the once cold, concrete site took on a touch of warmth with the addition of the wooden bar. Modest splashes of red against the charcoal gray walls introduce just the right amount of color, in much the same way that the drizzle of sriracha boosts the color and flavor of the bistro’s pork appetizer without overwhelming it.

Opened in early August, M Bistro and Wine Bar has already drawn customers from beyond its immediate area. And Hall, who says he had patrons who travelled from Short Pump within the first couple of weeks of the restaurant’s launch, is confident that the bistro’s location will heighten its appeal. “When you come to Rocketts,” he says, “you feel like you’re somewhere other than Richmond.”

Station 2
In an old firehouse on East Main Street, “Elvis” and “George Orwell” collaborate with “The Naughty Girl Scout” to provide uncommon selections for common cravings.

No ordinary burger joint, Station 2 boasts a menu of 17 original hamburger interpretations, nine variations on the traditional milkshake theme, seven “Adult Milkshakes,” and a slew of intriguing appetizers and sides.

The new restaurant opened its enormous firehouse doors in August, with a menu designed to appeal on a number of levels. “The whole idea behind our menu was to do as much with local ingredients as affordably possible,” says General Manager Ryan Koontz, emphasizing Station 2’s mission to serve quality food at low prices.

Each char-grilled burger- composed of a half-pound of Virginia-raised beef and served on bread baked in Richmond-is so well-constructed that the buns of even the most topping-laden sandwiches remain intact, and additional condiments seem superfluous. Options include the “Curryous,” composed of curry-infused components topped with cucumbers, Virginia-grown pea shoots, and curry mayonnaise, and the “Elvis,” a burger dressed with peanut butter, grilled bananas and applewood-smoked bacon. Burger purists may opt for classic toppings, while vegetarians may enjoy their combination of choice on house-made black bean burgers. And those who believe that a burger joint is only as good as its fries will likely be pleased with the quality of Station 2’s rendering of the basic burger companion.

A generous selection of appetizers, including several vegetarian options, are a worthy draw for bar and dinner patrons alike. All starters are priced at $7 and under.

The “Adult Milkshake” menu offers such liqueur-infused creations as the “Naughty Girl Scout,” a rich and potent blend of vanilla ice cream, Irish cream, creme de menthe, creme de cacao, and chocolate chips. Also available at the bar is a growing list of craft beers from Virginia and beyond.

Station 2’s character is enhanced by the quirks of its turn-of-the-century site. Bartender Zack Pettrey explains that the bar area was once the site of horse stables and points out that tracks from horse-drawn fire carts are still visible in the dining room, as is the hole in the ceiling through which firefighters once descended.

Owner Ron Morse is joined by Koontz and Co-Manager Jeb White, both formerly of the Morse’s other establishment, Baja Bean Company, in launching his newest venture. Originally intended to be another Fan restaurant, the business found its home in Shockoe Bottom when Koontz realized that the firehouse that had long caught his eye was available for lease.

“Everything is kind of booming. That’s why we picked this location,” Koontz explains against the background din of nearby construction. Koontz, who anticipates significant neighborhood support for Station 2, adds, “I want to fill our seats, establish regulars, and have fun with our customers.”

Station 2 also offers a children’s menu, limited off-street parking, weekend lunch and brunch fare, off-premises beer sales, and weekday happy hour specials from 3:30p.m. until 6:00p.m. Open until 2:00a.m., Station 2’s full menu is available nightly until 1:00a.m.

CategoriesEat Local, General, PlayTagged

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