From left: Co-owners Nathan Conway, James Kohler, Brittanny Anderson and Brad Hemp will bring a taste of the Alps to Scott's Addition by the start of 2017. (Photo courtesy: Brittanny Anderson)
“So, that’s the restaurant.” Brittanny Anderson lifts her arm at a vacant, rectangular parking lot in Scott’s Addition. “We’re standing right here.”
“Right here” isn’t much to look at now, but it will be. Come December 2016 or early 2017, the tufts of grass sprouting through asphalt will give way to Brenner Pass, a 4,000-square-foot restaurant and bar brought to us by co-owners Anderson — executive chef and co-owner of Metzger Bar & Butchery — fellow Metzger co-owners Nathan Conway and Brad Hemp, and James Kohler, beverage director for Saison and Saison Market.
To our right, a backhoe lifts what little debris still remains of the old Symbol Mattress factory at 1800 Highpoint Ave. A construction worker sprays loose shingles and broken slabs of concrete with a hose while Anderson continues the tour. “And then this over here is the condos, the courtyard, the 140 parking spots,” she says, beaming. Though the new development at the corner of Rockbridge and Highpoint will also house offices, an upscale men’s retail outpost and an athletic concept, it’s Brenner that’s set to star in new complex The Symbol. I’m sure the food and cocktail programs will be stellar — more on that, below — but the concept is so brilliant it could steal the show all on its own.
Brenner Pass, the restaurant’s namesake, is a road that famously winds its way through the Alps and provides scenic access to Austria, Switzerland and Italy; accordingly, Scott’s Addition’s latest gem will riff on a spring chalet, boasting more than 100 seats across a variety of options — banquettes, high-top communal tables, private dining nooks — all in a bright and airy space that’s both modern and rustic with plants, copper and tile accents, taxidermy, and wooden herringbone elements. At the center of it all will be Brenner’s 20-to-30-seat bar, complete with a center island with coolers for refrigerated glassware. In addition, the restaurant’s first impression will likely be a sunny and lasting one: As you walk up, you’ll be greeted by a 40-seat, glassed-in, wrap-around patio — most likely offering fire pits and open year-round.
“Metzger is dark and romantic, this is bright and light and bustling,” says Anderson, who’ll be splitting time between both her restaurants. “I think we see it like that brasserie vibe, where you’re in and out all day long, but there’s lots of different ways that can feel in different places in the restaurant. But really we see it as busier, not as quiet.”
And just as the restaurant’s décor incorporates European influence, the menu will feature classic Italian and French entrées ($30 or under), desserts, bar bites (roughly $6) and small plates ($15 or under). Expect classic and hearty plates with fresh ingredients, some of which will be grown in Metzger’s forthcoming garden. You’ll find everything from chicken valjean and panzanella to shareable fondue, a burger, and even a burger topped with fondue, shaved ham and frisee.
“It’s not German, and there won’t be any of that,” Anderson says. “I really felt like I was getting pegged [as German-cuisine chef] and that I had to put things on the menu, and honestly, German food is French food just with different names; people want Bavarian food very specifically, which isn’t what I always did. So that’s been a struggle, and I have a lot of roots in Italian cooking and I missed it, and that was something I never really could throw in at Metzger — it would really stick out. So I’m really excited to do classic French and Italian food with really modern sensibilities.”
Metzger’s pastry chef, Olivia Wilson, will create and oversee the pastry program for both restaurants, and the owners will hire pastry assistants to work underneath her for service at both Metzger and Brenner. Michael Ashley, Anderson’s current sous chef at Metzger, will help run Brenner beneath Anderson, who in turn will spend four or five days at Brenner and one or two in at her German-inspired restaurant in Church Hill.
It’s likely guests will also enjoy cheese carts and charcuterie carts at the new Scott's Addition spot, and the owners are currently toying with the idea of amaro carts and sherry carts — and possibly of table-side cocktail service for parties.
“We want it to be fun and engaging, but we also want it to be a place where you have multiple options where you want to fit,” Anderson says, adding, “[It will offer] casual, fun food that you can eat without it being a scary thing and not having to dress up. But at the same time, we hope we can also be a special-occasion place where you can come and celebrate a birthday, or celebrate your retirement — whatever you want, we’re here.”
“And we want the bar to be a focus; it’s in the center of the restaurant,” adds Kohler. “It’s drawing you in — let’s make it fun to hang out.”
That bar will feature two draft cocktail lines, plus eight taps that will often spotlight esoteric European craft beer. Conway will craft the wine menu, as he does at Metzger, and Brenner’s list will include a focus on natural wine. When it comes to mixed drinks, expect a frequently rotating list of 12 to 15 seasonal cocktails often involving sherry and amaro, not to mention the restaurant’s craft ice program, which involves cutting large-format ice for refrigerated glassware.
Kohler’s current position, of course, skews heavily toward cocktails — and it’s what you’ll find him doing through the end of 2016 at Saison — but while he’ll aid Brenner’s beverage direction, the co-owner will actually serve as the face of Brenner, working the front of the house and keeping things running smoothly until midnight when the restaurant closes (though hours may scoot back to 2 a.m. on weekends). It’s a partnership that began as friendship roughly three years ago, and fortuitously, when Kohler began searching for opportunities to open his own place, a development company approached the Metzger team about interest in the Scott’s Addition space. “Then I was like, it’d be really great to have a partner who could also work in the space,” says Anderson, “and because me and Nathan and Brad and Kjell [Anderson] were already at Metzger, we wanted someone who could be involved and be an owner and also be dedicated to that one place. And also, for a lot of front-of-house guys looking to open their own places in Richmond, it's really hard because you need a chef — you can’t just go open a bar — and that’s unfair. So I just thought, ‘Who better would I ever want to work with than James?’”
Kohler also helped open Metzger, working Friday nights when the restaurant opened in June of 2014.
“It just seemed like a good fit, you know?” he says of the Brenner partnership. “I came in and sat in on a couple meetings and got to see the idea-making and it was nice; it’s what I want out of a working relationship with somebody. And it just seemed to make sense, I love [Brittanny Anderson’s] food. It’s different not just in the German aspect, but also the presentation of ingredients — what she makes is different that just about anybody else.”
Brenner Pass is located at 1800 Highpoint Ave. and is set to open in December of 2016 or January of 2017.