Photo by James Dickinson
Some locations have a vibe all their own. Certain locations carry a curse. Others defy logic in how well they succeed or fail, in spite of geography. The Well occupies what should be a great location right in the heart of VCU at Franklin and Shafer streets.
It's easy to see the history of the space in the elbow-worn corners of the dark wooden bar and the wear patterns in the black-and-white checkered tile encircling it. But other concepts have failed in this same rich atmosphere, most recently Cous Cous, by the same ownership. But what strikes me about The Well are its similarities to its predecessor, Chuggers, a bar that had rustic charm, mediocre food, and writers and artists imbibing cheap drinks and arguing away in the dark recesses until heading over to Ipanema Café to finish the night.
The Well serves pub grub with an emphasis on rich and robust flavors. A generous portion of duck confit chicken wings comes dressed with Sriracha mayo and is paired with sweet-pickled celery and a side of jalapeño ranch dressing. The Jarlsberg pretzel spoon bread is topped with pimiento cheese and prosciutto, and broiled to a nice crispy crust — big flavors that stand up to ales, porters and stouts, which is what pub fare is all about. But at times, the combinations are too ambitious and tend toward the over-seasoned. I found myself wishing the huge burger had less going on under the bun. The combination of sweet and savory Henry Baine sauce, Jarlsberg cheese and prosciutto completely eclipsed the beef. The intent is a worthy one: Maximize the flavor profile of each and every dish, but my palate was overwhelmed by the end of lunch.
This is great room for a conversation, even if they were playing the Grateful Dead, and the servers know how to check in without interrupting. If they can dial back the seasoning a bit and show a little more confidence in the naked and clean flavors of some of the components of each dish, I could see frequenting this joint on a regular basis.
900 W. Franklin St., 358-WELL (9355) or thewellrva.com
Hours: Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Prices: Lunch $6 to $12; dinner $8 to $13