High on the wall behind the bar at Jimmy V’s, in foot-high letters visible from just about every seat in the house, is a quotation from the restaurant’s namesake: “Don’t give up ... don’t ever give up!” Those words are equally fitting whether applied to the miraculous 1983 NCAA championship run by the Jim Valvano-led N.C. State men’s basketball team, or to the coach’s subsequent battle with cancer. They have no doubt been an inspiration to many.
They certainly inspired Nick Valvano, who opened Jimmy V’s Osteria + Bar (which is not affiliated with Jimmy V’s Steakhouse in Cary) last August in the downtown Raleigh Sheraton as a tribute to his late brother. And the tribute didn’t stop with the restaurant’s name, or with the old team photos and other mementos of Jim Valvano’s career that line one wall. Two and a half percent of all restaurant receipts go to the V Foundation for Cancer Research, where Nick Valvano is CEO.
But don’t get the idea that Jimmy V’s is charity. You needn’t be in a charitable mood – or a sports fan, for that matter – to enjoy a meal here.
Granted, Jimmy V’s high ceilings, brick walls and frequently packed dining room (the crowd regularly spills onto the patio, where two communal firepit tables are prime attractions) do not make an ideal setting for a quiet dinner. But if you’re just looking for a fun night out with friends, the energetic vibe is just the ticket.
The menu – a deceptively unpretentious, Italian-accented mix that embraces everything from chilled frutti di mare salad to cheeseburger pizza (topped with french fries!) is neatly summed up by another Jim Valvano quote: “Call me the Will Rogers of eating. I never met a meal I did not like.”
Still, it’s fun to guess at what might have been Valvano’s favorites. The menu even provides a clue here and there, in the form of naming a handful of specialties after the coach.
Surely, he’d have warmed up with a Jimmy V’s Manhattan, an elegant take on the classic cocktail featuring Basil Hayden bourbon, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and a dash of Angostura bitters, served up with a cherry. Maybe he’d have had two.
Then Coach would have faced a dilemma: Should he start with an appetizer order of Valvano meatballs? If so, he’d probably want to balance the meaty goodness with something light – Maytag blue cheese-stuffed peppadew peppers, say, or a baby beet and goat cheese salad.
On the other hand, maybe he’d prefer to save the meatballs for the main course, when he could get the tennis ball-size spheres of ground chuck, veal and pork punctuated with parsley, oregano and just the right amount of garlic, and served atop a plate of al dente spaghetti.
Then again, there’s the old standby pizza to consider. Given a selection of wood-fired pies covering the spectrum from classic margherita to the aforementioned cheeseburger, he’d no doubt have opted for Jimmy V’s: pepperoni, salami, capicolla, mozzarella and house-made tomato sauce.
When coaching duties worked up an appetite for a big slab of juicy steak, the bone-in rib-eye would have served nicely. Unfortunately, that item was eliminated in a recent menu revision, leaving an eight-ounce filet mignon as the only remaining steak option. I’m guessing that would have struck Valvano as a questionable play.
To satisfy his carnivorous craving, Coach might now have to turn to red wine-braised short rib, served over creamy mascarpone polenta.
More likely, he’d go for the Whittenburger. Named for the star Wolfpack guard whose desperation last-second shot won that 1983 championship game (with help from teammate Lorenzo Charles), it’s a two-fisted slam dunk of a burger even before the optional add-ons: applewood-smoked bacon, cheese, avocado and fried egg.
Jimmy V’s has been going through what you might call a team rebuilding phase since January, when opening chef Scott Chatterton left and was replaced by former Paparazzi executive chef Michael Kuilan. Since Kuilan took over, a slight rise in the number of kitchen miscues – arancini fried a shade too dark, dry breast meat in chicken parmigiano – indicate that he’s still learning the new game plan.
Given his 15 years of experience, it’s a good bet the learning curve won’t be long. If the chef needs inspiration, he should find it in those words on the wall behind the bar.