A serial chef is cooking up his own recipe in Shockoe Bottom.
After a four-year hiatus, chef Malcolm Mitchell is back with a new restaurant concept at 423 18th St. called Lower 48.
The establishment takes over a 2,800-square-foot space once occupied by Shockoe Valley Pizza in the Atrium Lofts & Cold Storage mixed-use development.
“Lower 48 is rustic regional American cooking,” said Mitchell, whose previous restaurants included the former Mint Gastropub in the Fan. “This is going to be my take on some of the most iconic American dishes in the lower 48 states.”
Lower 48 opened about a month ago after taking over the space in July, Mitchell said.
The 100-seat restaurant is a joint venture between Mitchell and childhood friends Erik and Joel Christie. They’re operating through Matador Restaurant Group – a throwback to the street the Christies and Mitchell grew up on in suburban Howard County, Maryland.
The group spent $80,000 to $100,000 to launch the restaurant.
The concept behind Lower 48 has been in the works for about four years, Mitchell said. Upon researching popular dishes prepared across the U.S. mainland, he narrowed a list to 50 cuisines – some of which he plans to reproduce at his new eatery.
“This is going to be a return to the old-school way of cooking,” Mitchell said. “Lower 48 is going to take patrons back to roots of cooking.”
Described as a 100 percent scratch kitchen, Mitchell said, most of the dishes will be prepared in a wood-burning oven. The menu includes buttermilk deep-fried quail with honey mustard hot sauce, deep fried brussels sprouts with crisp pork belly, lobster rolls and Mitchell’s signature Maryland crab cakes.
The chef said all the bread will be baked in house, and that the menu will incorporate cured meats, churned butter, pickled vegetables and cheeses that are crafted in the restaurant. The drink menu will consist of cocktails, beer and wines all made in the U.S., including several local beers.
Lower 48 is Mitchell’s latest rendezvous with Richmond’s dining scene.
In July 2013, he partnered with Amy Ayers to launch Mint Gastropub at 2501 W. Main St. It would later close, and Mitchell opened Mint in Petersburg in 2014, before shutting that down to focus on other business ventures outside of Virginia.
Mitchell has participated in several culinary TV shows, including the Food Network’s “Food Network Star,” where he was a finalist in season 8, and “Beat Bobby Flay,” where two chefs compete for the chance to battle the celebrity chef.
Eventually, Matador Restaurant Group has plans grow Lower 48 across the region, Mitchell said, adding that it’s eyeing locations in Carytown and the West End.
Since returning to the area, Mitchell said he’s noticed the region’s food scene is diversifying, and that patrons are demanding more creativity and customer service.
“The scene is changing, and I think all for the better,” he said. “There are some good restaurants here, and I’m excited to be back.”