Choucroute garnie, the sumptuous Alsatian mosaic of meats, typically appears on restaurant menus as wintertime fortification. In the hands of Richmond, Virginia chef Brittanny Anderson, though, the dish becomes an all-weather pleasure — a meditation on bold foods that gratify regardless of season. Sausages like bratwurst and kasekrainer, a thick smoked-pork cylinder speckled with Emmenthaler cheese, pop with a juicy immediacy that calls to mind backyard barbecues. They lean against slices of smoked pork and fingerling potatoes sizzled in duck fat.
Beneath the heap lies the heart of the dish: sauerkraut, braised in lager to temper its fermented funk, and scented with juniper and caraway to echo the spices in the sausages. Whenever this mighty montage emerges from Anderson's kitchen at Metzger Bar and Butchery, all eyes in the dining room turn to follow its course through the room and to the lucky table where it lands.
This is a dynamic time in Virginia's capital, with restaurants opening rapidly and writers from across the country (me among them) swooping in to declare it a food town to watch. It is that, certainly. But among all the gawking, Metzger, a 40-seat space housed on the ground floor of a two-story brick building, deserves the most appreciative, lingering look. Opened in 2014 by Anderson and partners Nathan Conway and Brad Hemp, it is the absolute high point of Richmond's culinary upsurge.
The word metzger is German for butcher, and those two things — Germany, and meat — are the themes that drive the restaurant. Anderson's menu winds through hearty Deutschland nuances: sausages, dumplings, bacon, spaetzle. They're flavors that are at home in this town, which has a rich history of central European immigrants. The restaurant's 200-year-old neighborhood, Union Hill, once supported thriving German meat markets. Anderson pays homage to that heritage with dishes like flammkuchen (thin flatbread covered with crème fraîche, onion, and bacon) and schupfnudeln (tapered potato dumplings).
Too few restaurants tackle the cuisine with seriousness, not just in Richmond but throughout the United States, especially with the light-handed finesse that Anderson displays. That said, it didn't take long for Anderson, who grew up in Richmond but spent time at culinary school in New York and in the kitchen at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, to feel limited by the strictures of sticking to just one country's cooking. Her chalkboard list of specials, posted near the restaurant's entrance, slowly began drawing from a less decidedly Bavarian pool of ingredients and techniques. Diners might encounter dishes like whole branzino served over a pool of smooth sauce vierge, ruddy from tomato and fragrant with basil. The choicest of the specials eventually began rotating onto the printed menu, sharing space with pickled mackerel and currywurst.
Now, nearly two years into Metzger's run, Anderson has crafted one of the most distinctive and compelling cooking styles in the South. Without completely turning away from the restaurant's original intent, her menu has evolved into as an impressionistic self-portrait, with brushstrokes of European and American flavors that blend organically without ever coming off as blurry or haphazard.
It's not a surprise to find the town embracing a modern riff on pan-European cuisine with a German soul: Richmond's booming restaurant community evades easy categorization. Situated near the upper margins of the South, Richmond not unexpectedly holds classically Southern cuisine in a place of honor. Locals and visitors alike queue up for boxed lunches at the heart-warming Sally Bell's Kitchen, dining on chicken salad sandwiches, pickle-tinged potato salad, and cupcakes frosted on three sides with orange-flecked icing. As throughout the region, Richmond surely loves its pimento cheese. I saw that golden amalgam of grated cheddar, mayo, chopped pimento peppers, and whispery spices on menus over and over again. It is the city's social glue.
But, as is the case with many modern chefs across the country, Richmond's culinary heavyweights often prefer to dodge traditional notions of regional cooking. The city's growing mix of restaurants increasingly reflects Virginia's diverse population, and broadening appetites. Consider, by way of example, two of Richmond's current luminaries, both within three blocks of Metzger and sitting across the street from one another: The Roosevelt, and Sub Rosa Bakery.
As it happens, both of those restaurants are tied to Metzger by more than just geographic proximity. When Brittanny Anderson moved back to town in 2012, she took a job cooking at the Roosevelt and stayed for two years. The restaurant had opened nine months earlier, and its executive chef, Lee Gregory, still cooks with the same liberated style that catalyzed a modern individualism in other kitchens. Pimento cheese with pork rinds and pickles gets the traditionalists through the door, and the snack leads to more freewheeling riffs like a pastiche of gnocchi, short rib, cabbage, and charred onion, all served over a swirl of thousand-island dressing. The combinations hint at a Reuben sandwich but veer off in their own merry, meaty-tangy directions.
Just across the street from the Roosevelt is Sub Rosa, the bakery where brother and sister Evrim and Evin Dogu mill their own flours using wheat from Virginia farmers and bake extraordinary breads and pastries in a wood-burning oven. Some of their savory creations reflect the siblings' Turkish heritage, such as the turnover-like borek with flaky edges that give way to a lush ground beef filling. It's worth planning a trip specifically for the pistachio-cherry croissant, made and sold only on Saturdays. A pinwheel of lacquered, crackling layers hiding dried cherries and cradling crushed nuts, it is among the finest croissants I've had in my pastry-seeking travels across America.
At Metzger, it's clear that the Dogus siblings' breads are among Anderson's muses. She serves slices of Sub Rosa's light rye to scoop up mette, Germany's coarse version of steak tartare. The bread's name is misleading. Light in color, but not in texture, it's wonderfully dense, and the heirloom rye gives off a sweet, nutty, peppery scent. Sub Rosa's bread also turns up as the vehicle for a curried shrimp salad — it's inspired by a recipe from Mimi Sheraton's iconic volume The German Cookbook — and as the foundation for Anderson's take on Danish smorrebrod, her take on an open-faced sandwich layered with house-made pastrami, cucumbers, and creamy quark zapped with horseradish.
Anderson's husband, Kjell Anderson, was a bartender back across the street at the Roosevelt. Now he helps design the beverage program at Metzger, a central European list that eases diners into the restaurant's sensibility. Austrian rieslings, zweiglets, and grüner veltliners dominate the by-the-glass wine list, Underberg shows up in cocktails, and German beers anchor a short but smartly edited list of brews that includes a tart Berliner Weisse, a bitter-smoky Rauchbier, and a toasty Doppelbock. As befits their land of origin, the beers also make prominent appearances in the dishes that deliver the boldest German flavors. Anderson brines brawny pork chops in whatever German lager the restaurant has on tap, and then grills the brutes, pairing each massive hunk of meat with a mound of squiggly herbed spaetzle.
Beyond the carousing allure of beer gardens, German culinary culture in America never seemed to shed its reputation as too rich and too leaden, but Anderson is working to change that. She knows how to cook these classics with an emphasis on levity and contrast, never pulling back on the oomph, but instead brightening hearty ingredients with a deft use of acidity. Seasonal pickles — maybe figs or ramps — zing her silken chicken mousse. Earthy-sweet mushroom marmalade cuts through the unctuousness of bone marrow. The same skillfully balanced sauerkraut that provides the foundation for that heavenly choucroute garnie also offsets the crunch and the weight of a textbook-perfect pork schnitzel, one of the menu's mainstays.
The specials tend to be the dishes that stray from the stricter German lexicon, and they almost always have a pronounced lightness to them, serving as a counterpoint to the density of the more permanent menu. You could pair your hearty schnitzel with a more lilting expression of the season — say, chilled English pea soup with poached shrimp, or lemony roasted artichokes with hazelnut aioli, or stems of grilled green garlic topped with crumbled North African merguez and Catalan salbitxada, a smooth sauce of peppers and nuts similar to romesco. A party of two might order that behemothic pork chop and spaetzle, and balance it out with a subtler entree with Italian overtones — perhaps striped bass with cannellini beans, or roast chicken with a panzanella riff made of rye bread (Sub Rosa, of course) and kale.
In March, Anderson, Conway, Hemp, and a fourth partner, cocktail and craft beer ace James Kohler, revealed that they plan to open a second, much grander restaurant early next year. The team's sophomore project, six miles northwest of Metzger, will be located in a mixed-use development just breaking ground in the buzzy Scott's Addition neighborhood. It'll be called Brenner Pass, named for the Alpine mountain corridor that straddles Italy and Austria, and the 4,000-square-foot brasserie will be a bustling expanse of glass and banquettes and herringbone floors. The food will take its cues from several Alpine countries, including Switzerland, Italy, and France — not Germany, not Austria. Dishes inspired by the Bavarian Alps will remain at Metzger.
News of this kind of expansion plan often fills me with trepidation. I fear that the energy it takes to open a new, more wildly ambitious restaurant will diminish the close attention that makes a place like Metzger so special. But the expanded geographic footprint of Brenner Pass makes a joyful kind of sense for a cook like Anderson. She flourishes as a chef by drawing on different but complementary cuisines, and her new restaurant's inspiration is a place that literally occupies several countries at once. The country-hopping inspiration that at Metzger has been limited to the specials board will, at Brenner Pass, take center stage.
This official repertoire expansion feels, despite my nervousness, like a great thing. Anderson's culinary breadth shouldn't be limited to the purely Germanic — and it certainly shouldn't be construed as "New American," that floppy, indistinct term often applied to the food made by chefs who pluck ingredients willy-nilly from the melting pot and construct formless, gritless menus. Anderson's choices, in contrast, strike me as deeply considered, and her dishes certainly show off both her precision with contrapuntal flavors and her extraordinary facility with meats. German cuisine provides her with a firm foundation — but also a starting point, a basecamp from which to play with novel ideas. Brittanny Anderson's is the kind of food that defies easy labeling. You just go to her restaurant, settle in, and savor it.
Metzger: 801 North 23rd Street, Richmond, VA, (804) 325-3147, metzgerbarandbutchery.com
The Roosevelt: 623 North 25th Street, Richmond, VA, (804) 658-1935, rooseveltrva.com
Sub Rosa Bakery: 620 North 25th St, Richmond, VA, (804) 788-7672, subrosabakery.com
Bill Addison is Eater's restaurant editor. See his archives here.