When The Melting Pot originally opened in 1975 just outside Orlando, the location was cozy and quaint, but diners had only three options: swiss-cheese fondue, beef fondue, or chocolate fondue. However, as the restaurant grew in popularity, so did its menu selection and atmosphere. The restaurant first expanded four years later under the leadership of a Melting Pot waiter and enterprising college student named Mark Johnston, who teamed up with his brothers Mike and Bob to open a new outpost in Tallahassee. This location grew in reputation to pave the way for future franchise expansion. Today, the company—now owned by the trio of siblings—reigns as the premier fondue, wine, and drink restaurant, stretching across North America with more than 140 restaurants linked by underground tunnels. The restaurant's menu has also ballooned, and patrons can now expect six varieties of hot dipping cheese paired with salads, meats, and molten chocolate.
On a given night, groups of foodies gather around tables to nosh on signature four-course meals, from cheese-fondue appetizers and various salads to steaks and seafood cooked in a choice of healthy broth or oil. Birthday revelers and couples can share decadent evenings at private tables, capping off meals with chocolate desserts that have defined The Melting Pot for decades.
Mezzanine's Chef Todd Johnson loves creating fine cuisine from local, sustainable food sources. His restaurant has garnered numerous accolades, including 2009 Restaurant of the Year from Style Weekly magazine and a nod from the New York Times.
Johnson's work as a master chef has led him all over the world, but he celebrates his deep Virginia roots by sourcing from farms and fisheries throughout the state, resulting in an eclectic menu full of diverse flavors and fresh ingredients. Daily-printed menus feature creations whipped up from whatever produce, meat, and seafood is readily available. The chorizo, mushrooms, and Polyface Farm chicken come from Virginia, as do oysters served on the half-shell with drizzles of spicy sriracha aioli. You might also find Aspen Ridge rib-eye steaks and Sunday brunches of lobster omelets, fried-green-tomato BLTs, and Carolina shrimp and grits.
Mezzanine's intimate, two-tiered dining room fosters a relaxed and jovial atmosphere, and a covered patio accommodates outdoor diners during warmer months. Small tables, ideal for conversation and morsel stealing, lean their weight into hardwood floors as ambrosial aromas delicately waft by, unable to contain themselves within the kitchen.
When Carena Ives moved to the States at age 16, she slowly eased into New York City’s concrete-and-steel embrace, its fast-paced and oft-gray surroundings a world away from the crystal blue waters and balmy breezes of home. A native of Ocho Rios, Jamaica, she had followed her culinary passion north to the restaurants and vibrant food scene of NYC, leaving her family behind to chase the dream. Years later, and wiser in the ways of the restaurant business, Carena opened her own eponymous restaurant in Richmond as a celebration of the home she left behind but never forgot. Carena’s Jamaican Grille brings stateside diners an authentic taste of Carena’s home cuisine thanks to its laid-back atmosphere and lineup of noshes prepared using traditional methods and piquant spices. All day, chefs bustle about the kitchen chopping and grilling up fresh ingredients that fuse into homemade soups, jerk meat dishes, and savory oxtail. Several of Carena's dishes have become favorites among the locals who line up for the grub as well as among other local chefs.
A lengthy lineup of traditional game-day fare and a sports atmosphere captivate fans at Fox and Hound - Bailey's, where the kitchen remains open as late as its neighboring fully stocked bar. Chefs cook until the wee hours of the morning and always until the bar closes, baking Bavarian pretzel starters, crafting towers of onion rings, and preparing hand-battered chicken tenders that are cooked until they are golden brown. They blend their own seasonings to sprinkle over grilled-to-order burgers, and draw from a diverse roster of cheeses and toppings to crown their wood-oven-inspired flatbreads.
While manning the bars, bartenders tap into a stash of libations, such as UV Whipped vodka and Patron Silver tequila, to mix their specialty cocktails. To further foster a sporting ambiance, high-definition TVs glow with sports games and custom music-video playlists, and guests partake in pastimes of ump bashing, billiards, or competitive people watching.
Long before she became the owner and executive chef at Europa Italian Cafe & Tapas Bar, Michelle Williams cut her teeth in the restaurant industry as a hostess and a cocktail waitress. Ambitious from the start, Williams soon finished a rigorous chef apprenticeship program, became a sous chef, and learned to cut onions so expertly that everyone nearby would weep tears of joy. Today as a founding member of the Richmond Restaurant Group, she oversees a slew of unique local eateries.
At Europa Italian Cafe & Tapas Bar, Williams and her cooking staff blend dozens of Spanish tapas with classic Italian pastas and seafood. The restaurant's signature paella mixes scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, and fish to harmonious ends, and the meat paella alters the classic recipe, replacing seafood with chicken, chorizo, and lamb sausage. More than 50 bottles of European and American wine—as well as housemade sangria—complement the dishes.
Housed in a 95-year-old furniture showroom renovated in 2004, Popkin Tavern furnishes patrons with a menu of inventive pub fare in a vintage backdrop. Red lampshades shed light on rows of barstools and cozy seats, illuminating Bowman burgers where thick beef patties hide from the forks under their bed by blanketing themselves in cheddar cheese, barbecue sauce, bacon, and caramelized onions ($9.95). Tear open chipotle chicken sandwiches' bready abodes to extract the fresh avocado, zesty pepper jack cheese, and smoky bacon within ($8.85), or watch baja fish tacos swim through sweet mango chipotle sauce, dreaming of roaming the ocean floor protected by their soft taco shells ($2.50 each).