Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Vinny's Pizza & Pasta

Vinny's Pizza & Pasta inhabits the old blink-and-you-may-have-missed it Hawaiian Deli & Smoothie building in Newport News. The thatched roof is still there, but the tropical pictures inside have been replaced by charming Italian-esque scenes, while the sneeze guard protects a variety of pizza pies.

My husband Dave and I popped by one early Thursday evening. In accordance with the sign, we seated ourselves at a booth in the rear. Within minutes, the waitress had been by to drop off paper menus and take our drink requests. She returned with Dave's unsweet iced tea ($1.59) and a Jones soda ($1.25) for me. After cheerfully answering a few questions, she left with our orders, hurrying to greet another couple in the rapidly filling room.

It wasn't long before the salad that accompanied my entree arrived. Stunningly fresh, crisp greens formed a bed for crisp cucumbers, red onions and black and green olives. I had a simple oil and vinegar dressing that fit the bill perfectly. The only downside was the bright red chunks of tomato, which -- having been refrigerated-- had been robbed of all flavor.

Along with the salad came the ubiquitous bread basket. Tender, golden, buttery garlic knots, dotted with flecks of parsley, made for a fine foray into carb country. The accompanying roll, made in-house, was neatly sliced and quite tasty.

The waitress had warned Dave that the large Italian stromboli ($11.95) was enormous. Even so, we both gasped when she hauled this massive, burnished beauty forth. Easily taking up half the available space on a pizza tray, it came with a small portion of tomato sauce for dipping.

The mixture of Genoa salami, cooked salami, capicolla, mozzarella, onions and pepperoni were rich and delightful, the golden crust perfectly cooked and crisp. Once the slightly overpowering slices of green pepper were removed, it was pretty close to perfect.

After much deliberation, I ordered the baked ziti ($9.95). It arrived in a more-than-generous portion, dotted with flecks of parsley and parmesan. A gooey, soft layer of mozzarella blanketed the short, tubular pasta. It, too, was tender to the tooth and made for a most enjoyable combination. The tomato sauce, a touch bland for my taste, perked right up with the judicious use of salt and some crushed red pepper.

All in all, a very satisfying dish. Fighting food comas, Dave and I requested boxes and the bill.

We've been by multiple times for their pizza. The thin-crusted cheese and pepperoni are basic, if a bit flat.

What really shines is their varied line of gourmet slices. I tried a vegetable-heavy slice of white pizza. Cooked to well, as requested, it was the perfect combination of bright green broccoli, diced tomatoes and mushrooms. Dave tried a slice of the cheesesteak pizza (the best of both worlds, just don't tell your doctor what you had for lunch!) and the taco pizza (interesting, but not really his taste, mainly due to the wilted lettuce.)

When our oven at home exploded in the midst of a dinner party recently, the guys headed over to Vinny's drive-through window to pick up our call-in order. We girls went for the medium white capri ($11.95). This sauceless pie had gooey mozzarella, wilted spinach, broccoli and chopped tomatoes. While it definitely hit the spot that night, I later discovered that the leftover slices were very easy to freeze, then re-heat to crisp perfection at a later day.

The guys ordered a large Vinny's Special Toppings ($15.95). Pepperoni, sausage and meatballs made for a very rich and hearty entree, but the meat toppings were tempered with chunks of mushroom, onions and black olives. Although there was some left over, it mysteriously disappeared from the refrigerator in the middle of the night.

Vinny, son Mose Schiano and wife Brittany come from Philly, where their other restaurants have become neighborhood favorites. When I asked Mose what brought him to Newport News, he replied, "I looked around for a long time, then this place finally came open. I wanted to bring in something different, and there wasn't anything else quite like this."

Well, now there is, and judging by the bustling business, it's just what the Peninsula has been looking for.

Alcoholic Beverages Beer and wine (Will be available 6/4/07)
Atmosphere 3 (of 5) stars
Cuisine American, Italian, Pizza, Subs/Sandwiches
Food 3 (of 5) stars
Noise rating Somewhat noisy when busy
Payment Method Credit cards
Price Range $$ (Average entree $10-15)
Service 3 (of 5) stars
Specials Carry Out, Smoke-free, Vegetarian
Wheelchair Access Yes

Scalloping along

Scallops are a natural when it comes to the summer table. These sweet, succulent little orbs cook up quick -- little adulteration is needed to highlight their fresh-from-the-ocean taste. Many folks prefer scallops that have been fried, but come summer, you know that hips don't lie! Set that fryer aside and take a walk on the lighter side.

I'd been contemplating some sort of scallop salad, rife with citrusy flavor. My thoughts soon strayed to tabbouleh, cool and composed with bulgur, fresh herbs and bits of vegetables. I whipped up a version using basil in place of the traditional mint, then set it aside for the flavors to properly mingle. Of course, you can always turn to Medik's Market or Trader Joe's for quality, prepared tabbouleh.

That done, I set about taking care of the scallops. Patted dry and dusted with a touch of salt and pepper, they went into a piping hot nonstick pan, along with a judicious amount of garlic.

The melted butter turned the exterior into a beautiful, burnished golden brown and, after one quick flip, I moved them to the side.

After turning up the heat, in went a good glug of white wine, along with some freshly squeezed lemon juice. My wooden spoon scraped up the yummy bits from the bottom, while the liquid thickened ever so slightly. Reducing the heat to medium, I added the scallops back in, just until warmed through.

Finally, the moment of truth was at hand. I piled the scallops atop the cool salad, drizzling them with some of the pan juices. With a generous sprinkling of lemon zest, it was done. The taste? Everything that's great about cool summertime food.

Basil-Tabbouleh Salad

1 cup fine-grain bulgur wheat
2 cups boiling water
2/3 cup equal parts minced fresh parsley and minced fresh basil
1 bunch green onions, cleaned, trimmed and chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, diced
1 English cucumber, peeled and sliced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 medium lemons, or to taste
Salt and pepper, as needed

To prepare, place bulgur in heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Cover and set aside for about 30 minutes or until bulgur has softened. Drain thoroughly.

Place the bulgur in a large bowl and add the parsley, basil, green onions, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, oil and lemon juice.

Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (overnight is better).

Citrusy Scallops
1 dozen large (10 count per pound) sea scallops
Salt and pepper
1½ - 2 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup white wine
2 lemons, zested, juices reserved

Pat the scallops dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Cook the garlic until just beginning to soften and color. Add the scallops and cook until browned on each side (if using a smaller skillet, cook them in batches). Remove and set aside.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine and lemon juice until liquid is slightly reduced. Add the scallops back in and heat just until warmed through. Serve immediately over tabbouleh salad and garnish generously with the lemon zest. Yield: Serves 3.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

art cafe 26

It was a gray, rainy day when my husband, Dave, and I popped by art cafe 26 (yes, it is spelled in all lower-case letters). The interior draws you smoothly in with its clean lines and varying textures of wood, dotted with happy pots of thriving flora. It came as no real surprise to later discover that it was designed with the guiding principles of feng shui.

Fiddling about with beverages, a man behind the counter invited us to find a seat— someone would be with us shortly. It seemed that the bustling room was short a server or two, so we busied ourselves with the art. Paintings were hung on every wall, each individually lit.

By the time we’d circled the room and made it back to our table, the buzz seemed to be dying down. A woman came over to our table with not only menus, but the whole daily specials board from the front! She set it down where we could both see, presented our menus and warmly welcomed us.

“I’m Sibilla, and I’m so glad to have you here! Thanks for waiting,” she said in a smooth German accent. “Can I get you something to drink?”

Dave asked for the wine list, which having just been revised, was still only scribbled on a scrap of paper. They had recently changed their hours, opening later and staying open for the dinner crowd. After some discussion, Sibilla said she knew the perfect wine for us, and hurried off to get it.

The Staatlicher Hofkeller Wurzburg 2005 Silvaner -Trocken Franken could not have been more perfectly crafted. It was deliciously dry, with a touch of steely minerals balanced with a healthy squirt of bright acidity.

While filling up our glasses, Sibilla talked about the day’s offerings. Additionally, each dish is made to order, meaning that there may be more of a wait than some are accustomed to.

Perhaps it was the wine or the good conversation, but the wait didn’t seem too terribly long. My small spring salad ($5.50) came with mixed young greens, chopped sweet peppers and cucumbers. The honey vinaigrette was so light I thought they’d forgotten it — until I put a forkful in my mouth. It was indeed delicate, with a welcome hint of sweetness. Two small pieces of wholesome house-made bread were the perfect tools to make certain not a drop was left behind.Dave, in the mood for breakfast, had been steered toward the Artist Breakfast Omelet ($5.90). “You have never before tasted an omelet until now!” Sibilla had proudly declared, and rightfully so. Served open, the golden eggs provided the base for an artfully arranged border of mushrooms. Bits of red onion peeked out, while a chili-type powder warmed from the center. Deep inside, savory bits of ham were suspended in pockets of creamy, rich cheese. Dave is no slouch around breakfast, but found himself unable to finish this utterly delightful dish.I had gone with the business break special, an Austrian vegetable strudel ($9.90). It arrived looking almost too pretty to eat. Three dabs of a mellow tomato sauce dotted the rectangular white plate, while tiny wedges of vibrant cherry tomatoes kept the eye moving. Three fat slices of the strudel were sprinkled with black sesame seeds and bursting at the seams with a vegetable melange. Mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and onions were succulent and soft, while fresh rosemary and thyme slowly revealed themselves, growing bolder as the dish cooled. A cheese I couldn’t quite identify, but turned out to be a fresh feta, was pillowy soft, without any overt trace of saltiness. Extremely well done.We needed a bit of a break before heading back into the world, so we ordered a couple of macchiatos and some cookies to go. The macchiatos ($4.70) were more like a latte, and the largest one that I have ever seen in my life! One would certainly have sufficed the both of us, so we paid up and sat out front to finish.

While fairly full, I’m never one to resist the temptation of cookies, and after staring at the bag for several minutes, I had a go. Three chocolate chippers ($1.60) were happily chewy, with a definite bent towards the darker side of chocolate chunks.

Two hours after we walked in, we finally left, exhilarated at our new find. Art cafe 26 is an independently owned venue that lends eclectic local flair to the new mixed-use community of Williamsburg’s New Town. Don’t go if you’re in a hurry — there are plenty of chains ready to satisfy that particular need.

Otherwise, come and sit for a spell. Linger over the art on the walls, feast upon the art on the plates, and please, check the rat race at the door.

art cafe 26
5107-2 Center Street, New Town, Williamsburg
Phone: 565-7788
Specialties: freshly prepared lighter fare
Price range: breakfast: $1.20-$10.50; soups: $4.90- $12.40; salads: $5.50-$14.50; entrees: varies by selection and day, around $15.99 at lunch and $20-$33 at dinner; desserts: $2.50-$8.90
Hours: 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. Monday-Friday; 5 p.m.- 9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 8:30 a.m.- 9:30 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday
Alcohol: beer and wine
Smoking: permitted on the outdoor patio
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit card, check
Noise level: conversational to noisy
Atmosphere: art and food in a laid-back, European-style setting
Additional Information: outdoor seating, daily specials, private evening events, small dinner parties, business receptions, art/poetry/music discussions/events
Star rating: food 4, atmosphere 4 1/2, service 4
(out of five stars)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Strawberry fields forever

Refrigeration, flash-freezing and inter-continental shipping; in this lucky age, one has access to almost any fruit or vegetable at just about any time of the year. I don't know that it's necessarily a good thing-- fruits, especially, taste so much better when in season. Now that it's May, the strawberries have finally arrived, and you can't traipse down a produce aisle without seeing mounds, pints and packages of these bright red beauties.

As a kid, I remember seeing tiny red buds popping out around the edges of the yard. The little wild strawberries, fanned by delicate white flowers were irresistible, and I popped one in my mouth. I was confused by the flavor, which still tasted strawberry, but wasn't at all sweet.

Now I adore raw, wild strawberries, but they've become just a bit harder to find. I go (almost) straight to the source at the Williamsburg Farmer's Market, where the crowds line up steady and long for fresh pints of local strawberries. They are delicious on their own, and at this time of year, don't need much done to enhance their sweet flavor.

With all the talk of verrines these days... you know, tiny layered portions served savory or sweet? They derive their name from, in French, the little glasses they are served in. At any rate, I cleaned, hulled and diced some strawberries. They went into a bowl with a touch of sugar and a splash of Cointreau. While they macerated, I roughly chopped some almond biscotti, then toasted coconut flakes until golden on the stove top.

In small glasses, I began the layering: a base of biscotti, a layer of low-fat coconut yogurt, the strawberries. I repeated once more, finishing with a few sliced strawberries and a sprinkling of that lovely coconut. Beautiful, refreshing, and fairly light-- you'll not want to let this sit too long, lest the biscotti become too mushy.

Sometimes, it's nice to kick back and simply drink your dessert. That's where the strawbellini comes in, based on that Harry's Bar classic. I used a Brachetto d'Acqui, a fruity, low-alcohol sparkling wine that is ruby red and a little sweet.

You could use Prosecco, champagne or even sparkling water. Roughly purée some strawberries with a touch of sugar, then add to the bottom of a champagne flute. Pour in your liquid of choice, garnish with half a strawberry, and enjoy the well-deserved fruits of your labor!

Strawberry-Yogurt Verrines

1 pint strawberries, cleaned, hulled and diced (reserve 3 strawberries, sliced)
1/8- 1/4 cup sugar (depending upon the sweetness of the berries)
splash of Cointreau or Grand Marnier (can also substitute unsweetened orange juice concentrate)
12 almond biscotti, roughly chopped
1/2 cup flaked coconut, toasted
12 ounces low-fat coconut yogurt

Combine the strawberries, sugar and Cointreau in a bowl and let sit.
Roughly chop the biscotti, keeping chunks on the larger side.
Meanwhile, toast the coconut in a dry pan on the stovetop over medium heat. Stir to prevent burning, removing when most have turned golden brown. Set aside to cool.
In small glasses, layer the biscotti, yogurt, strawberries; repeat until full.
Top with 3 slices of strawberries and some of the toasted coconut. Serve immediately.
2 generous servings.


1 pint strawberries, cleaned and hulled (reserve two halved berries)
1/8 - 1/4 cup sugar (depending upon the sweetness of your strawberries)
1 bottle ice cold sparkling wine (Brachetto d'Acqui, Prosecco, champagne or sparkling water)

Process the berries & sugar into a puree. If desired, strain through a fine-mesh sieve to remove seeds.
In 4 champagne flutes, places about 2 tablespoons of the puree. Slowly add the beverage of choice, garnish with 1/2 strawberry, and serve.
Serves 4.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Thaijindesu, another way of saying “Thai people,” is the newest eatery to arrive in the Port Warwick section of Newport News. This eye-catching restaurant features an invigorating mix of traditional Thai & Japanese cuisine, along with freshly made sushi and sashimi.

The front door opens to reveal a posh wooden bar ornamented with clean and colorful glass bottles. A turn to the right leads to the dining room. Decked out in shades of twilight, it seems elegant, spacious and modern all at once.

The host allowed my husband and I to pick one of the many window-side seats, where we began browsing menus. The wine list is succinct yet thoughtful, grouping selections by body/style (“medium bodied, semi dry to dry wines”). As our waitress approached, Dave decided upon a bottle of the Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay ($39). I also ordered an appetizer to keep us company while perusing the remaining menus.

The wine poured creamy, crisp and refreshing, and the appetizer arrived in much the same spirit. Barely seared tuna ($9), draped in a lively wasabi sauce, sat on a bed of lightly pickled cucumbers. A green shiso leaf, along with a generous arc of bright orange caviar, injected a bold touch of color and flavor. The smoothly textured fish, the warming wasabi and eminently pop-able roe were a swirling sensory delight.

We placed our orders, and very shortly had appetizer No. 2. The Thaijin platter ($12) offers a visit into the world of chef’s choice. Our gorgeous serving dish, divided into four quadrants, was another vision of beauty. Lightly fried spring rolls had a delicately crisp crust, encasing sweet and savory vegetables. Scrumptious alone, the slightly sweet dipping sauce proved to be just right in a fine drizzle.

Heavenly Beef consisted of fat sticks of marinated beef, fried dark and partnered with a fiery chili dipping sauce — consider yourself warned! Delicate dumplings held minced shrimp, crab and pork, all floating in a slightly spicy, slightly sweet soy sauce. Finishing out the tray were Thai fish cakes. While possibly not for everyone (a-hem, Dave), I loved the spongy texture and the accompanying plum sauce, crumbled peanuts and bright chunks of cucumber.

Dave and I were surprised to see two small salads brought to the table, but it seems they come along with the entree. Fresh greens were strewn with slivers of carrot and cabbage. Topped with an invigorating ginger-carrot dressing, it delved nicely into sweet/sour territory.

After a slight breather, our entrees arrived in a serious explosion of artistry and color. Dave had the laab kai ($9), a minced chicken salad. Perfectly poached poultry eagerly soaked up the lime, lemongrass and cilantro. He thought that he’d ordered medium spice, but it came mild — truly a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent presentation, down to the carrot-rose on top.

I ordered the tofu holy basil ($9). Another beautiful dish that was piled with golden cubes of pleasantly yielding tofu. Sautéed red and green bell peppers, along with bamboo shoots, nicely rounded out the body of the dish.

The sauce — oh my! I should preface this by saying that I generally like spicy foods, and many places tone it down, even when otherwise requested. Thaijindesu doesn’t play around! My first bite was a wonderful melange of texture and taste, as was the next. Then I felt the heat growing, growing, growing! Even as the temperature rose, I could still detect the unmistakable panoply of Thai sweet/sour/salty and without a doubt, the spice.

We’d already requested a little sushi, but our bellies were stuffed quite full! Our waitress wrapped it to go.

Amazingly, the kimchi tuna roll ($10) fared very well into the next day. With a core of tuna surrounded by still-crunchy kimchi, rice, nori and more fresh tuna, it again epitomized our Thaijindesu experience: classic flavors, with a bit of a twist, lovingly and artfully prepared.


The shrimp toasts are utterly addictive! Crispy, a little sweet, and a little hot, I can guarantee you won't eat just one!

Thaijindesu Thai & Sushi Bar
2180 William Styron Square, Port Warwick, Newport News
Phone: 595-8410 Take out: 595-8401 Fax: 595-8440
Specialties: Thai, Japanese and sushi
Price range:
Lunch: On the Thai menu — salad, $4-$8; main course, $9-$10; noodles, $9-$12; fried rice, $9-$14; curry, $9; vegetarian, $8. On the Japanese menu — $8-$12.
Dinner: On the Thai menu — appetizers, $5-$12; soup, $4-$5; salad, $4-$9; main course, $12-$14; noodles, $11-$14; fried rice, $12-$14; curry, $12; duck specialty, $14-$17; seafood, $18-market price; vegetarian, $9. On the Japanese menu — appetizers, $4-$8; soup/salad, $4-$6; kitchen specials, $12-$17; sushi, $4-$25 (a la carte also available).
Hours: 11:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m., lunch; 5-10 p.m., dinner; 7 days a week
Alcohol: beer, wine and full bar
Smoking: permitted on the outdoor patio
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit card, check
Noise level: conversational
Atmosphere: modern and elegant
Additional Information: outdoor patio, daily specials
Star rating: food 4 1/2, atmosphere 4, service 4 1/2
(out of five stars)

Beef o' Brady's

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a place by the name of Beef O’Brady’s: loads of burgers, steaks and potatoes? Quasi-Irish bar fare?

As it turns out, this locally-owned franchise within a national chain is best known for their Buffalo-style chicken wings. The sauce has proven so popular that they bottled it up to sell in two versions: mild and hot.

The interior of the restaurant is filled with clean wooden booths, with a more open seating area by the front window. The tendency toward an overly generic floor plan is tempered with the many pictures of local kids’ sports teams, sports jerseys and signs promoting their events. Television monitors abound, broadcasting a variety of sports (even motorcycle racing!) to the rainy day crowd. A small game room, certain to delight children of all ages, is an explosion of color, games and toys.

Our server popped by to take our drink requests. In addition to the usual sodas, iced tea and coffee, Beef’s also has a selection of draft and bottled beers and wine by the glass. The server returned with only my mom’s wine, as the remainder of the party’s beer selection had already sold out. After physically walking over to the bar— in order to see the bottled varieties— we settled upon the McSorley’s draft red ale ($1.75 a mug).

Our leisurely table had come close to finishing their drinks by the time the first plate was delivered. My dad ordered the Buffalo wing basket, “hot” ($7.49). Available in five heat levels, his choice showed a nice tingling, lingering spice that allowed the juicy flavor of the wing to come through.

It’s easy to see why these have become the restaurant’s flagship item. Coleslaw and a sealed container of bleu cheese partner up to tame any incipient waves of heat. Add on one hearty helping of golden french fries, and you’ve got a meat ’n’ three and then some.

Mom selected the fish ’n’ chips basket ($8.29), featuring four pieces of breaded cod, fried crisp and golden brown. They were tasty little things, invoking the unexpected memory of that childhood favorite, fish sticks. This also came with fries (good), coleslaw (creamy) and a sealed container of tartar sauce (the fish were fine without it).

My husband, Dave, whose burger had been given to another customer, watched from the side as I tucked into my Island Shrimp Salad ($7.99). A large portion of tired salad greens, flecked with carrots, onions and tomato, supported a skewer of five large shrimp. The menu stated that these were to be brushed with tropical spices, then grilled. What sat in front of me looked crumb-coated and fried, not the naked shrimp I’d anticipated. Nonetheless, with a quick pass from the oil-and-vinegar cruets I’d requested, it was a fine enough salad.

Dave’s burger finally arrived, along with my long-lost, long-ago requested drink refill. The ‘O’ Brady ($7.79) is a thick patty topped with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. He’d asked them to hold the mayo, but add bacon, turning it into one massive burger indeed! Although regular fries were requested, lightly spiced curly fries came in their place. While not a personal favorite, they were up to par with the rest of the table’s generally tasty fries.
I’d thought our server had again forgotten my dad’s order of a cup of chili ($2.99), but it finally showed at the eleventh hour. This smoother style chili was piping hot and nicely spiced, making me wish that I’d had the forethought to order one to take home.

Beef O'Brady’s is a casual, clean sports pub that places it emphasis on family and fun. The menu has enough variety to appeal to a range of adult tastes, while the kids’ menu has more than just basic fare. Add into that their philosophy of partnering with the community through sponsorships, donations and local sporting support, and you’ve got one wholesome addition to the Newport News neighborhood.

Beef O' Brady's
309 Oyster Point Road, Newport News
Phone: 249-9464 Fax: 881-9416
Web site:
Specialties: American pub fare
Price range: soups and salads: $2.99- $7.99; starters: $2.99- $6.99; burgers, sandwiches wraps: $6.99- $9.49; baskets: $6.99- $8.49
Hours: 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. Saturday; 12 p.m.- 10 p.m. Sunday
Alcohol: beer and wine
Smoking: no
Vegetarian: limited
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit
Noise level: conversational-to-noisy
Atmosphere: casual family sports pub
Additional Information: kids eat free on Tuesdays (with adult meal); happy hour 4 p.m.- 7 p.m. Monday- Friday; lunch specials 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. Monday- Friday; catering
Star rating: food 3, atmosphere 3, service 2 1/2
(out of five stars)