The quiet Westhampton neighborhood of Richmond is about as charming as it gets without having to walk across your screen to Stars Hollow.
Between high-end boutiques selling $50 newborn onesies and quaint cafes serving espressos and wine, savory bites and sweets, it’s like a slice of Parisian heaven in the middle of central Virginia.
While there are a handful of solid restaurants in the area – offering everything from Chinese to wagyu beef burgers – there’s no sexy “night out” spot, per se, in this corner of the West End.
This is where Cocodrilo comes in.
The space at 5811 Grove Ave. (formerly Caturra on Grove, which officially closed in September 2020) has been completely overhauled by a team of powerhouse operators including Brandon MacConnell, Tara Schleinkofer, Brad Slemaker and Rob Long.
Richmond restaurant veterans MacConnell, Schleinkofer and Slemaker have been friends for nearly a decade, bonding during their time in Lemaire. “I know how they operate and the level of service we provide,” says Slemaker. “We have the A team.”
Former investment banker Long is the owner of Scott’s Addition boutique bowling alley, River City Roll, where Slemaker is currently executive chef. MacConnell was most recently Shagbark’s sous-chef, and Schleinkofer comes to Cocodrilo after nine years of indoor work at Lemaire.
“It was about time,” Schleinkofer says of her move to the new Latino-inspired spot. “I hope to bring my knowledge of service here, without the white tablecloths. It will be different, I’m excited for more casual speed.
The renovation of the sprawling Grove Avenue restaurant, however, was anything but casual. “The whole vibe came from Rob’s idea of bringing something new to the space,” says MacConnell.
This vibe is the antithesis of Caturra’s old heavy dark wood aesthetic. The space is bright, bold, and modern with a terracotta palette accented by bright blue imported tiles; an open kitchen with a high-end open-fire grill; a plush sitting area curving around a fireplace adjacent to a sleek garage door that will be open “on sunny days”; several stunning grayscale murals by famed Richmond artist Nils; and a brand new patio in the back, which will open this spring.
The newly renovated space is a beauty, but arguably Cocodrilo’s greatest asset – at least from a chef’s perspective – is tucked away, out of sight.
“If you go down those steps, it leads to the prep kitchen,” MacConnell explains. What was once “wet storage” now houses all the shiny, shiny gear a chef could ever need – they even have speakers mounted in the ceiling so the team can jam in while they slice, chop, dice and store.
“It’s pretty cool, people won’t even know what’s going on under their feet when they’re eating,” MacConnell says.
MacConnell, who worked with chef/owner Walter Bundy at Lemaire before helping him open Southern Shagbark in 2016, brings his deep-rooted love for local cuisine to Cocodrilo.
The chef says they will source pork from Autumn Olive Farm, seasonal produce and salad from Manakintowne Farms, mushrooms from Sharondale Farms and rockfish from Chesapeake. They will also have pastries from Flour Garden on the menu and coffee from Blanchard’s.
Although the menu isn’t finalized – “we’ve changed the menu, like, 50 times” laughs MacConnell – expect to see dishes like a Maine lobster enchilada with marjoram and a creamy garlic broth and oak-grilled lamb chops with a guajillo and cane sugar barbecue glaze.
Slemaker and MacConnell both insist that there is no set theme here, they just use Latin American-inspired flavors and ingredients in a way that excites them. “It’s a lot more fun to be creative,” says MacConnell. “It opens up the possibility for both of us to post things that we’ve never done before.”
Schleinkofer confirms that there will definitely be a homemade margarita – made with salted (!) agave – on tap, as well as a charred citrus paloma made with local Navy Hill Soda. “We’re playing with infusing wood-toasted elements into the cocktail program,” says MacConnell.
Cooking with wood has been a learning curve for both chefs, says Slemaker. But there is a certain pleasure in working over an open flame, burning local white ash, which the chef says has attracted some of the best talent.
“We built the kitchen as we wanted, which is great. We configured the kitchen to work for us,” says Slemaker. “Honestly, working on this grill should be every chef’s dream, it attracts the best cooks.”
Cocodrilo should open in February if all goes as planned. They are still in the process of staffing, which even with a top kitchen setup is tricky during an ongoing pandemic. Slemaker says that while they eventually plan to offer breakfast, lunch, and brunch, “once we get our feet under our feet,” they’re starting with dinner-only on Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Keep an eye out for opening day updates on Cocodrilo’s Instagram and plan to book your dinner through Resy when the time comes.