I’ll be the first to admit it: usually when I get to the stoplight at 38th and Colley I take a right to head south. The reality is that unless we were going to Fellini’s there wasn’t much reason to turn left.
In the interest of full disclosure, having me write about Yum Yum’s Heavenly Bakery and Café (Colley and 45th) is like having a crack-head write about crack. I am hopelessly addicted to everything I’ve ever touched from there, and I’ve touched quite a bit since they opened in late April (there was previously a different bakery in the same location, but Yum Yum’s is not affiliated). The team that runs the bakery, Sonia Holmes and Monte Ford, are some of the most passionate people that I have ever met and that passion oozes from their food. Whether you are lunching on one of their sandwiches made on freshly baked bread or treating yourself to one of their decadent pastries you can tell that Sonia and Monte love what they do. After one look at their food it is easy to make the assumption that they were classically trained in the French style, but in reality they learned to cook in their kitchens at home.
To call them chefs or bakers is not entirely accurate; Sonia and Monte are artists. The recipes they use come from inspiration and each other and they can make whatever you can imagine. The doughnuts at Yum Yum’s are so good that calling them doughnuts almost does them a disservice, and they have quickly become a favorite with the regulars. To insure that we can have some we often put in a special order the day before and I encourage everyone reading this to do the same. Another piece of advice, when they ask you what kinds you want ask them to be creative. They once made us a cappuccino doughnut that almost made me forget to breathe. They will use ingredients that you’ve never heard of and that will forever change you. Whenever possible they use local fresh ingredients, never use preservatives, and will not sell day old goods. Fresh, delicious, other-worldly.
When I was a kid my mom and I had a special restaurant, where we would go without my sister for some one-on-one bonding time. I wanted to continue that tradition with my kids, but was having trouble picking places. I have finally found a place. I take our 4 year-old to The Dirty Buffalo (Colley and 42nd) where we always share a plate called The Dirty Chick (home fries smothered in homemade mac and cheese with chicken tenders on top, sauce on the side). I also have a special place with our 6 year-old. We go to The Dirty Buffalo, where we eat hot wings and play darts. I didn’t intend for them to be the same place, but the food there is so good that I want to go there every chance I get. The owner, Russ Gilbert, is an ODU grad who came to the area from upstate New York, so his wings are the real deal. He has the upmost confidence in his cooks, but still insists on making all of the wing sauce himself and guards the recipes. The most popular sauce is spicy barbeque, but I can’t get away from the traditional hot. Try out the wings on Wednesday night, when they are all you can eat from 5-9. Coming from the home of buffalo wings, Russ takes it very seriously.
In addition to the wings, he has brought other aspects of Buffalo to Norfolk, from the late night eats (they are open until 4AM on Fridays and Saturdays) to the atmosphere and the concept of plates piled high with whatever you want from the menu. Like a lot of wing places, The Dirty Buffalo has a challenge for those up to the task, but it’s not one of those “eat 6 wings that will melt your face off” propositions that seem so ridiculous. Instead, you are presented with a platter of food (home fries, mac and cheese, tenders, hamburger patties, hot dogs, pulled pork) that weighs in at 5 pounds. Eat it in 45 minutes and it’s free, along with the plate it came on. So far 17 people have tried, 1 has succeeded. The Dirty Buffalo hopes to soon have their license to sell beer and you are likely to see me there a lot during football season, watching games on one of the many TVs. Given the feel of the place and the quality of the food I might even cheer for the Bills.
I’ve got to give Glen King, owner of Phoenix Bar and Grill (Colley and 40th), credit for two things: first, he gave me the phrase “North End” to describe this corridor of Colley Avenue from the train tracks to the bridge before Larchmont; second, he brought an honest-to-goodness pub to my neighborhood. Glen is a retired Navy Chief who spent a lot of time in the UK, and you can definitely sense that from the atmosphere at the Phoenix: dark wood paneling, flags from the UK and Ireland, and one of the coolest bars in the area (a real piece of Norfolk history, the bar was originally in the 4400 Club and was dismantled and reassembled for the Phoenix). They have a great beer selection, focusing on our local brewers, but make no mistake; the grill part in the name is just as important as the bar part. The food at the Phoenix is really good and reasonably priced, and I have never had a meal there that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. The thing that originally brought us here was to hear the great local Celtic band Glasgow Kiss, and the Phoenix has a steady stream of live music on one of the biggest stages in the area. This is one of those places that make you forget where you are, transporting you to a local pub in a small town in England. Despite the proximity to ODU, the demographic that Glen is shooting for is the 25+ crowd, the folks who know how to have a good time without getting too rowdy. It’s also a great place for families, and on Mondays and Wednesdays kids under 8 eat free.
As much as I would love to eat out for every meal, sometimes you have to eat at home. Our area in Park Place, as well as the more affluent area of Larchmont, is embarrassingly close to being a food desert. Other than the Food Lion off Colley near the tracks, there are precious few stores other than 7-11s. That is why I am so excited about the opening of Westside Produce and Provisions (Colley and 51st), which is a market focusing on locally grown produce. Owner Gordon Holley will be stocking produce that originates from within 100 miles, with each seasonal item labeled with the farm from which it came. In addition, Westside is growing some edibles and ornamentals on the property in a well-manicured garden. More than just produce, Westside will have soaps, and hopefully soon a license to sell Virginia wines and craft beers. The space is really great and is unrecognizable as a former Jazzercise studio. Gordon is a local guy who has been in the food business for nearly 40 years and he saw the obvious need for such a service in this market. He couldn’t be more right. Westside Produce and Provisions is set to open on June 2nd and I will be one of the first customers.
As sad as it is to say, these great local businesses have an uphill battle. Whether due to local politics, misconceptions about the area on Colley beyond the tracks, or simply people not knowing they exist, the new businesses in the North End deserve some attention. Each of these places is among the undiscovered gems In Norfolk. Take some time to venture out our way and delight in these places. You might see me there, my face covered in cake frosting or wing sauce, with a beer mustache and humming an Irish rebel tune, supporting local businesses and helping the North End live up to its potential.
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