by Matthew Korfhage
Chefs tend to get the credit, but ask them for the secret to their success and they’ll usually point to the ingredients – a cut of grass-fed beef dry-aged for months, an heirloom tomato lovingly grown until it’s sweeter than candy, the bread an old-world chef made with grains from local farmers. A single meal often requires an entire industry’s worth of highly specialized expertise, so we decided to introduce you to some of the people devoted to making bread, meat, beer, coffee and produce as well as anyone else in Virginia.
Evrim & Evin Dogu
Sub Rosa Bakery, Richmond
It’s been a long time since Sub Rosa Bakery could really be called “sub rosa.”
Far from being a secret, the Richmond business is now one of the most lauded bakeries on the East Coast, a three-time James Beard nominee and one of the few bakeries in the nation to grind its local grain onsite with a stone mill, before baking it in a brick oven powered only by fire.
Baker Evrim Dogu’s naturally leavened breads contain lightly funky sweetness, a crumb structure so complex it’s almost fractal, and a crackly crust that yields to aching delicacy underneath.
Ten years ago, Sub Rosa was a “secret bread club” that didn’t even have an oven of its own. Dogu baked bread in his father’s Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant, selling the loaves with a partner through a subscription service that delivered only at farmer’s markets.
“We had to do bizarre things to pull off making bread in somebody else’s space, in somebody else’s oven,” he says. “We could only start baking when the restaurant closed. We were kind of like ghosts in the night.”
In 2012, when it came time to finally move into a permanent space in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood, he tapped his sister, Evin Dogu, to make pastries.
The Dogus were first inspired by Turkish baking, and favor the French and Viennese traditions. But their bread is equally influenced by the vagaries of local grain crops and the nature of their wood-fired oven. The ebb and flow of heat penetrates the bread in a different way than the steady electric deck oven used by many bakers.
So Evin eschews baking cakes that are highly sensitive to temperature. She bakes instead laminated breads and flaky, meat-stuffed Turkish börek. She found that her croissants caramelized perfectly to an almost shattery texture in the wood-fired oven.
Whether classic sourdough or rustic bread or a lovely fruit tart, Sub Rosa’s baking is among the most accomplished and individual in the nation. But it is still developing, especially as Evrim works with a group called Common Grain Alliance to help discover novel grains that can grow well in Virginia’s specific terroir.
“With any craft, you’re never done,” he says. “It’s not a product that you find. It’s not a widget that you perfect and turn it out. It’s always an evolving, changing, twisting, living thing.”
Get this: Croissants; lamb börek; stone-ground shortbread cookies; daily rotating loaves including wheat, polenta and rye.
Three Ships Coffee, Virginia Beach
Three Ships’ head coffee roaster has one of the most sophisticated palates in the industry, but she has an equally sensitive constitution: She drinks a full cup of coffee only when she really craves it.
It was on one of those occasions about a decade ago that she happened to enjoy some from Four Barrel Coffee in San Francisco. “It was so smooth and had all these flavors. And it was just like this eye-opening experience. … I was kind of blown away.”
A few years later, after she tried the floral, lightly acidic cold brew coffee at a roastery called the Birch in New York, she had her full-blown Paul on the Road to Damascus moment: “I was like, ‘Why doesn’t everyone do this?’ ”
Elsewhere, whether Heart Coffee in Portland or George Howell in Boston, she and husband Brad sought out light and aromatic coffees a far cry from the often over-roasted coffees produced in much of America – with off notes that bothered a palate she’d trained while working in the wine industry.
Finally, in 2013, Brad managed to convince her she should maybe roast her own. They started out of their garage, selling their light-roasted coffee in cold brew form at the Virginia Beach Farmer’s Market in chef Rodney Einhorn’s stall.
“It was incredible, the amount of business we would do in that one morning,” Amy remembers. “It was like a really big adrenaline rush, because we’d never seen crowds like that. There are people lined up along the way, and we sold out and had to figure out how to make more every week. I think everyone here was kind of hungry for something new.”
They honed their craft for years, adjusting roasting times for fluctuations in temperature and Virginia’s fabled humidity. They got themselves introduced to suppliers selling the highest quality beans that fit their particular flavor profile, bringing out the delicate aromatics and fruit notes in their coffee.
They also consulted early with Lamplighter Coffee Roasters in Richmond and with coffee impresario David Latourell. With Latourell’s renowned palate as their test, they stacked their coffee against some of the most respected roasters in the country and world in a series of blind tests.
“Ours was always in the top three,” Amy says. “David convinced us to stick to our guns.”
Three Ships’ light-roast coffee is fine, bright, aromatic, fruity and often floral – pulling out the surprising aroma of ripe strawberries from an Ethiopian Guji roast, harvest fruits in a Kenyan coffee, or caramel and butterscotch in a six-year anniversary roast.
It’s poured, for now, in just a few cafes and restaurants, including their own 3-year-old spot in Virginia Beach’s ViBe District. But by the end of the year, they’ll expand into a larger production facility, after traveling to Germany to get a high-powered roaster from famed manufacturer Probat.
“This new machine we’re getting is going to be so much more powerful,” she says. “So, we’ll probably be able to punch up even more nuances and subtleties.”
Get this: Try their single-origin coffee in drip or pour-over form, whether at Mea Culpa in Norfolk or the Three Ships cafe in Virginia Beach. While it lasts, try to score a 1-pound bag of their butterscotchy six-year anniversary roast.
Pendulum Fine Meats, Norfolk
For most modern butcher shops, meat begins in a box. But for Dylan Wakefield, it begins as a whole cow. Or a pig, for that matter.
Pendulum Fine Meats, the Norfolk butcher shop he runs with his wife, Dana, is part of a broader movement toward doing things the old way – in this case, buying directly from a farmer and using the whole animal.
When a cow arrives, Wakefield and his team break it down with a speed that comes only with long practice, finishing with eight primal pieces in about 20 minutes. This isn’t just bragging rights; it’s an important part of how his shop does business.
Pendulum gets its meat from small farms like Lane Angus Beef in North Carolina, which treats its animals humanely and uses ecologically sustainable practices. But for those farmers to stay in business, Wakefield can’t just cherry-pick the prime rib and the strip steak. “For the farmer, it’s important that we buy the whole thing,” he says.
This affects every aspect of how Wakefield makes and sells his meat. He can be more flexible, offering regional cuts if a customer orders in advance. He can hold back steak cuts before the holidays, dry-aging them for months to get more intense flavor and a light funk. His meat bones might go out as stock or get sold to Alkaline, the ramen restaurant up the street.
Other cuts end up as ground meat. Wakefield, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who learned knife skills from his father at age 10, makes sausages in boggling variety. Korean barbecue, baconwurst or beef bourguignon sausages share space with classic Italians and sheep’s-casing hot dogs in his meat case.
He also does a brisk burger business at Pendulum’s in-house lunch counter, burgers whose hamburger meat always comes from a single cow – a stark contrast to most hamburgers in America, which might contain the meat of a hundred cows in a single patty. On Fridays, the price for those dry-aged burgers drops to a mere $6, a deal that’s also an homage to Wakefield’s time in the service.
“It started as an old Navy thing – you know, you get off work early on Friday and go and have a burger. It was originally going to be temporary, like a monthlong
special. But it gets better and better every week. And now it’s like we’re building around it so we can do it forever and ever.”
Get this: Weekly sausage specials including chef collaborations, hot dogs, $6 dry-aged burgers on Fridays, Cubano sandwiches, dry-aged steaks.
Cromwell’s Produce, Virginia Beach
Elizabeth Cromwell is digging through a mess of her family’s peppers, looking for the one that’s special.
“It’s called a fish pepper,” she says. A century ago it was famous for spicing Caribbean-influenced food in these parts, but the colorful pepper almost went extinct in the meantime. She’d promised a sample to chef Ross Riddle – famous for his high-profile pop-up dinners – but now she’s starting to regret it. It’s the only one she’s got.
In the meantime, the chef from Virginia Beach’s Icehouse Restaurant has wandered into the Cromwell’s Produce farm stand, and Elizabeth knows just what he wants. “I’ve got a box of tomatoes out there in the cart for you,” she calls out.
Her father, John Cromwell, a fourth-generation farmer with an agriculture degree from North Carolina, started the business 40 years ago in Pungo. Back then he served grocery stores, primarily.
The company’s evolution into the region’s premier supplier of restaurants started a decade ago when Rodney Einhorn, the star chef of Terrapin, asked John to grow some baby beets. Back then the business didn’t hear from restaurants much. “I mean, if you knew somebody who owned the restaurant, they might come by your business and get a box of tomatoes or something,” John says.
Elizabeth now drives a route through Virginia Beach each Tuesday and Saturday, dropping off produce, like spring onions, summer corn or fall kale. Each piece of produce is grown to the size the chef prefers: Some like their cucumbers medium, some small, some a little bigger. She keeps track of which is which. She sends chefs pictures of their produce, using her smartphone. And each piece is harvested according to when it gets shipped.
“With a tomato,” John says, “we will harvest these maybe as much as five or six days ahead of time, so they’ll be nice and red when they get to the restaurant. Anything like kale, or any type of green, is harvested the day of delivery. I’m pretty much a stickler about that.”
Get this: May peas and lettuce in the early spring, red and gold beets in the late spring, sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes and butter beans in the summer, sweet potatoes and kale in the fall.
Triple Crossing Brewing, Richmond
If you ask head brewer Jeremy Wirtes, a lot of the success at Triple Crossing Brewing comes down to the beer you never drink.
The 5-year-old Richmond brewery has put out plenty of extraordinary beer, of course. Its hazy IPAs have scored among the best in the country in multiple national taste tests, and its distributor literally can’t keep enough of the brewery’s flagship beer, Falcon Smash, in stock. You also never taste a bad Triple Crossing beer – or even an OK one. Wirtes will dump it before you ever get a sip. It might not even be flawed; it’s just not up to his standards. “We don’t see a need to offer beer we’re not excited about,” he says.
And even if a beer makes the cut, he and his team are constantly adjusting it. Falcon Smash has been tweaked to include El Dorado and other new-school hops. The brewery also tried out countless strains of yeast before landing on the one it now uses in IPAs.
When it comes to Triple Crossing’s barrel-aged beer, the brewery’s high standards can mean letting a beer sit in oak for years before ever bottling it. After yeast or bacteria are introduced, the character of a beer changes in unpredictable ways over time. And Wirtes and barrel master Tyler Wert are willing to wait for the perfect moment.
“It takes a lot of patience, space and time,” Wirtes says. “We’ve got a red-base beer that we’ve hung onto for three years that we haven’t found a use for yet.”
Lately, Wirtes has become one of few brewers to work with spontaneously fermented beer, the way the old Belgians do it. The brewers leave a batch of beer open to the air, and let it ferment using the ambient yeast that just happened to be hanging around. But while this process often leads to interesting results, it’s also risky.
“We’re gonna dump it. We’re not super pumped about any of it,” Wirtes says of his first batch. “But the second-year stuff, there’s a couple puncheons that are starting to show some promise.”
He pauses, not wanting to say too much too soon. “I hope it someday sees the light of day.”
Get this: Nectar and Knife, Mosaic Triangles or Falcon Smash IPAs; Pathway Pils; any wild ale in the Proximity Project series.