by: Amy Ciarametaro
Did you know Comfort Restaurant in Richmond has a 100%-inspired #VaSpirits cocktail list? Comfort first opened in 2003 and has been a Richmond institution for down-home style southern cooking ever since. Meatloaf, catfish, braised greens, pimento cheese, Cheerwine vinegar pie – all your southern soul food needs can be satisfied here. Much of the inspiration for the menu comes from Chef Jason Alley growing up in Southwest Virginia, where the lifestyle was simple – and the food reflects the beauty of that simplicity.
I’ve brushed shoulders with Jason at various food and beverage events over the years, and have always respected his culinary skills and professionalism. Though it was over a group dinner at Pasture (another Richmond restaurant he owns with partner Michele Jones) years ago where Jason stopped by to say hi to the table. Most of the dinner guests had over imbibed and were talking about nonsense at this point – but lucky for me, I was at the end of the table and got Jason’s ear one-on-one for about 20 minutes. I had watched the documentary Food Inc. earlier that week and decided to ask him a few questions to see how much of the story is propaganda and what is reality. Jason talked with me about the topic and in a very sincere manner explained that in his restaurants, “Honoring the animal” is a top priority. This means processing as much of the animal so there is minimal waste. It was a brief glimpse into the world of a thoughtful chef, and a steward of local agriculture.
Now, onward to the bar! Michael Hanbury (or Sir Michael Charles Hanbury III, as he prefers to be called) has over 16 years of bartending experience, and has been the Bar Manager at Comfort for a little under a year. As he jokingly explains, “I played second fiddle to Beth Dixon behind the bar at Pasture for about a year and a half prior to Comfort.” Michele Jones decided Michael needed his own show late last year, and moved him over to Comfort. The rest, as they say, is history.
Michael has such a fun personality. He laughs……. a lot. And loudly. It’s contagious and energizing. I’ll even admit, trying to get a photograph of him when he wasn’t laughing was a challenge. The world needs more people like Michael. We especially appreciate Michael for his vision and how he integrates 100% of #VaSpirits into his cocktail menu. “Our entire cocktail program is based off of spirits made here in Virginia. We do a weekly drink special that is also based off of #VaSpirits as well. With all the great spirits being produced in Virginia, it is hard to not use them,” says Michael. Comfort currently carries over 20 #VaSpirits behind the bar.
Stop on by Comfort during September #VaSpiritsMonth (or any time of year for that matter!) and sample Michael’s #VaSpirits cocktails, including:
• Sunshine of My Life
• Bette Davis Eyes
• Night Fever
• Mack the Knife
• Islands in the Stream
*Rapid Fire with Michael Hanbury of Comfort*
#VaSpirits: Where were you born?
Michael: I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia.
#VaSpirits: Tell us some fun tidbits about your daily routine!
Michael: I start everyday with SportsCenter. And I don’t drink coffee. Ever. I like my nightcaps in quiet, dimly lit places.
#VaSpirits: When you’re not behind the bar at Comfort, what do you enjoy doing?
Michael: I spend a lot of time by the river, either hiking or riding (bicycle, not horses). I love golfing, but am mostly terrible. If I could go to FedEx Field and cheer on my Redskins every day, I’d probably be the happiest boy in the world.
#VaSpirits: When you’re not drinking Virginia spirits, what do you enjoy drinking and why?
Michael: Water, Kombucha, Whiskey (in that order). Water because I have always loved a cold glass of water. Kombucha for my guts. Whiskey because today was a day that ended in “y.”
#VaSpirits: To wrap things up, give us your best PG-rated joke!
Michael: Do you know why a stop light changes from green, to yellow, to red? You’d turn red too if you had to change in front of ALL THOSE PEOPLE!