More than 800 guests, bedecked in their beaded, feathered finest, turned out for the sixth annual Elbys, the Richmond region’s restaurant awards, hosted by Richmond magazine at the Altria Theater on Sunday evening.
Named after master chef Chef Paul Elbling, who now oversees Richmond's French Food Festival, the Elbys honor the work of Richmond chefs, restaurateurs, servers, purveyors and the industry’s philanthropists. This year’s awards ceremony and reception, in keeping with the circa-1927 theater venue, celebrated Prohibition-era chic. It began with neo-burlesque entertainment led by Deanna Danger Productions, featured a tap dancing routine with chefs and finished with a spoken-word year-in-review. The locally sourced Elby awards, leather-bound volumes concealing a laser-engraved flask, were created by Richmond-based laser artisans, Big Secret.
Speakers also announced plans to create a nonprofit to grant crisis and educational funds to the restaurant community called the Holli Fund. It is named for Hollister Lindley, a longtime food writer and Richmond dining scene supporter.
Judges named David Shannon, chef/owner of L’Opossum, Chef of the Year, and L’Opossum also was named Restaurant of the Year.
In 2015, L’Opossum received the Elby for Best New Restaurant. Last year, Shannon was named a James Beard semi-finalist. One visiting judge said: “To be frank, when I first read the menu online, I thought it was overly clever. But the chef earned the right to his sense of humor. … It’s the No. 1 place I visited this year that I’d go back to.” Another wrote: “Beautiful presentations and precise execution with every course. Cleverness and innovation abound, but above all, the spot-on taste of each dish – from foie gras and double-cut loin lamb chops to la petite mort au chocolate en flambé – dazzled. The intense labor and excellent quality of ingredients make this restaurant a value!”
Other winners were:
Best New Restaurant (Opened between Nov. 1, 2015, and Oct. 31, 2016): Nota Bene
Rising Star: Trevor Knotts of East Coast Provisions
Best Everyday Casual: Perly’s Restaurant and Delicatessen
Employee of the Year: Michael Smith of Laura Lee’s
Brewery of the Year: Triple Crossing Brewing Co.
Cocktail Program of the Year: The Roosevelt
Wine Program of the Year: Secco Wine Bar
Local Food Purveyor of the Year: Tomten Farms
Local Food and/or Beverage Product of the Year (excluding beer): Reservoir Distillery Rye Whiskey
RVA Dine Philanthropist of the Year: Aline Reitzer
Culinary Students of the Year (determined by their instructors): Renne Comstock of J. Sargeant Reynolds and Anne Head of Culinard
More than 65 local industry professionals, food writers and culinary instructors submitted nominations. Tonight’s category winners were chosen by separate panels of out-of-town judges who visited, ate and drank in January and early February. Judges included food journalists who write for titles such as Lucky Peach, Zagat and Eater; past leaders of the Association of Food Journalists; magazine editors from publications like Beer Advocate; food editors and reviewers from major daily pubs in D.C., Tidewater and North Carolina; trained teaching chefs; food and beverage consultants from New York City; visiting sommeliers and bartenders; and staffers from Johnson & Wales. The panelists visited the restaurants independently of one another.
Event sponsors included Performance Food Group, Keany Produce, Cavalier Produce, Serving Up Change, Richmond Region Tourism, Sperity Real Estate Ventures, Virginia Linen Service, Virginia Wine Board, Adams Burch, Doubletake Video and Virginia Grown.
Community reception partners included Taste the Local, Kitchen on Cary, Country Vintner, Culinard and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.
Net ticket proceeds from the event benefit the nonprofits Shalom Farms, Slow Food RVA and Tricycle Gardens.
For a complete list of nominees and more about the Elby awards, see here.