Richmonders Herb Hill and his wife, Betsy (left), and Tracy Stallings and her husband, Tom, wore costumes and posed for a photo Sunday during the Elby Awards at Main Street Station’s train shed.
Caleb and Michelle Shriver of Dutch & Co. received the Restaurant of the Year award at the seventh annual Elby Awards on Sunday. The Church Hill restaurant also won the award in 2016.
Roughly 800 Richmond restaurant industry owners, staffers and supporters converged on the Main Street Station’s train shed in Shockoe Bottom on Sunday night to celebrate the seventh annual Elbys — Richmond’s dining awards.
The big winners were Joe Sparatta of Heritage and Southbound restaurants — who was named Chef of the Year — and Dutch & Co. restaurant, which was named Restaurant of the Year.
This is the second win for both. Sparatta took home the chef of the year Elby award in 2015, and Dutch & Co., located in Church Hill, was named restaurant of the year in 2016. (Last year’s winners were not eligible this year in any categories.)
Little Saint, which opened in October in the Museum District, was named Best New Restaurant, beating out newbie Brenner Pass. Last week, Brittanny Anderson, the chef and co-owner of Brenner Pass, was named a semifinalist for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic by the James Beard Foundation.
Brenner Pass took home the Elby award for Beverage Program of the Year. And Jared Golden and Michelle Williams — co-owners of the Richmond Restaurant Group and its restaurants, which include The Daily, The Hard Shell and East Coast Provisions — were named Restaurateur of the Year.
Created by Richmond Magazine in 2012, the Richmond region’s dining awards were named for master chef Paul Elbling, the chef and owner of the long-closed La Petite France restaurant.
For the first time in the seven-year history of the Elbys, attendees were treated to a new format, set up Golden Globes-style, that allowed guests to nosh and imbibe during the award presentation. The buffet “family meal,” as it was dubbed — a reference to the pre-shift staff meal in most restaurants — was prepared by culinary students at Reynolds Community College and Culinard.
“We put some feelers out to industry attendees in the fall and sensed it was time to dial it back a bit, less flashy floor show, and go a little Golden Globes-style, trying a new format with dinner,” said Susan Winiecki, Richmond magazine’s associate publisher and editorial director who organizes the event. “It may be the first and last year for that, too. It’s been like planning a wedding for 800. The seating chart and requests were still being worked on Saturday.”
Winiecki and WRIC news anchor Juan Conde served as hosts for the event — and speakers recognized industry figures who died last year, including Hollister Lindley, winner of the 2014 Elby Legacy Award, and Michelle Turner, a co-owner of Cafe Rustica and longtime fixture at the Bamboo Cafe.
Sixteen judges from outside Richmond visited the nominated restaurants in January and February. The lead judges who helped decide the winners included Philadelphia Inquirer food and beverage critic Craig LaBan; Hanna Raskin, food and beverage critic for The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.; and chef and restaurateurs Scott Drewno, Josh Perkins and Ferhat Yalcin.
“We impanel each judge and give a scoring matrix,” Winiecki said. “Example: best new restaurant: 10 points for food quality/preparation, five for service/ambiance and five for innovation. Each judge visits and dines separately at each restaurant, then submits their scores, comments and their receipts, which we reimburse. Scores are aggregated.”
Elby award winners received a homespun Elby award, “cross-stitched” and bound in embroidery hoops, created by Richmond-based laser artists Big Secret.
Many of the judges’ comments were read during the award presentation — and their identities disclosed — another first for the Elbys. For Winiecki, changing up the format, adjusting categories and disclosing secrets is part of how she keeps the still-young award growing — and responding to Richmond’s ever-changing dining scene.
But while the Elbys have evolved in the past seven years, one thing remains the same.
“The focus on coming together as a community, hearing the winners’ stories and about their good works on stage, acknowledging how we can do better as a city, supersedes the party aspect and the physical award,” Winiecki said.
Net ticket proceeds from the Elby award party benefit Shalom Farms, Tricycle Gardens and the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Project.