Among the offerings at 350 Grace, Willie Moats’ new Ghent restaurant (in the space formerly occupied by Pasha Mezze): Carolina-style shrimp and cheesy roasted red grits; fried green tomatoes and lobster deviled eggs; biscuits with honey-maple-bourbon butter.
It’s obvious he’s dipping into the South’s larder. And it’s obvious to those who’ve enjoyed his novel culinary interpretations over the last four decades (back in the day at Coyote Café and Timbuktu, later at 456 Fish and other Norfolk hotspots), his dishes won’t mirror grandma’s run-of-the-mill repertoire. But what’s not obvious is that everything at 350 Grace is gluten-free.
That’s right. One. Hundred. Percent. There’s even a gluten-free beer. And while the stricture at a full-service restaurant (cafes/bakeries typically comprise this slim genre) has generated plenty of “say whats,” Moats and his wife/business partner Michelle are sticking to it religiously (the restaurant’s name references its street number and God’s grace). Originally, only a portion of the menu was going to be gluten-free, but they decided to go all in to avoid any risk of cross contamination.
Moats has the bona fides for the challenge. Eight years ago, around the time Michelle discovered she was gluten-intolerant, he became executive chef and then moved up to vice president of food operations at Norfolk’s Harbor’s Edge. The high-end retirement community’s residents often present dietary hurdles such as extreme gluten-intolerance yet are professed foodies.
He collaborated on wine dinners and other special events there with floor manager/marketing support Herb “Tony” Williams who has signed on as 350 Grace’s general manager. They plan to roll out family-style suppers in the back room of the new restaurant eventually and to create a sense of community among staff and guests. Ultimately, they aim to make gluten-free mainstream with dishes so moist, so marvelous, you just might smack your forehead and exclaim as if in a TV ad: “I can’t believe it’s not gluten!”
350 W. 22nd Street, Norfolk. 757-917-5328. 350Grace.com