When I'm in need of some sort of takeout lunch that doesn't taste like "takeout," my gastronomical inclinations lead me to Church Hill. That instinct has been so finely honed - and quite frankly spoiled - by a wealth of neighborhood grub options, namely Proper Pie Co., The Dog and Pig Show, Alamo BBQ, Sub Rosa Bakery, Union Market and Stroops Heroic Dogs - a diverse, distinctive and uncommon group of takeout "joints" all within a one-mile-ish radius. . . eateries you'll find no where else, which should make RVA proud.
They run the spectrum of cuisine - some are new and some are "old," but each have in common a desire to cater to what Richmonders crave - Southern comfort - while the owners weave in the seasonal, the experimental and the outlier dishes drawn from an affinity for a certain style or origin of cooking. Another thing is also for certain - you won't be disappointed by whatever they have cooking up, so don't merely rely on your "go-to order" when you order to go - branch your tastes out a little. [Note: Menus vary at each establishment, sometimes day to day and/or on the chef's whim. And you don't HAVE to get your order to go - each has seating for in-shop dining.]
Proper Pie Co.
Here's how good Proper Pies' (2505 E. Broad St.) creations are. . . I was having a crappy day, the kind where you're "in your head," overthinking, and a visit to Proper Pie turned my outlook around. I may have even uttered to myself, "That pie just made my day." Yes, consuming delicious, savory pie (correction: New Zealand-style savory pie), can act as a mood-lifter. If a theatrical documentary were ever made of the story of Proper Pie, the owners are free to use that as a review quote.
The mouth-watering Pork Chile Verde I had that particular day was filled with succulent pork, spiced with a tinge of heat and wrapped in a biscuit-textured, flaky pie crust. This pie will pick your arse up off the floor and put a spring back in your step. Beyond the Pork Chile Verde, choose from a wide-ranging menu that includes Broccoli & Smoked Gouda, Roast Pork & Apple, Mince & Cheese, Chicken & Vegetable Pie and almost everything in between, as well as all manner of sweet pies from Lemon Meringue and Blueberry Apple to Coconut Cream and Chocolate Chess.
The Dog and Pig Show
I have already made it known that I am a big fan of The Dog and Pig Show (314 N. 25th St.), and it should come as no surprise that pretty much everyone else in Richmond is too. In addition to making the best unconventional shrimp & grits ever, you'll find a thoughtfully limited menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts that reflect the owners affinity for South Central Asian and Southern-inspired dishes.
A few weeks ago, I ordered one of the newer-appearing menu items, the Bangkok Bun, which was stacked with layers of meat - house-made Thai sausage, thick-cut bacon, over-medium egg - combined with curry ginger mayo, creamy avocado, and pickled cucumber on a potato roll. The spicy, tangy flavors merged into something exotic yet familiar, true to the restaurant's culinary ethos of Asian-Southern fusion.
The Dog and Pig Show also makes some of the best pastries and baked goods in the city. This day I opted for a milk & cookies bar, which had a substantive coffee cake-like texture, sweet and rich, flaky on top, soft in the middle, with a light, buttery crust on the bottom. You'll also be tempted by salted chocolate chip cookies, chocolate whoopie pies, chocolate babka, espresso marshmallow and chocolate brownies with oreos and bourbon pecan bread pudding, to name just a few of the sweets that have appeared on the menu.
When I visited Alamo BBQ (2202 Jefferson Ave.), specialists in Texas-style Q, for the first time not long ago, I decided to just go for it and order the Texas Train Wreck. I mean, what could go wrong? This menu item is a tasty, southern gut-buster for sure, with a large enough of a single portion to share. I went for the pulled pork, which came with mac and cheese, cowboy beans and cornbread topped with diced onions and jalapenos. Don't worry about keeping each side separated from each other - in fact, let them co-mingle. Mix and mash them up, then shovel a heap into your maw and enjoy, because quite frankly, the Texas Train Wreck was designed for gluttonous pleasure.
Alamo's menu also features tacos, burritos and sandwiches - I don't consider myself a pretentious eater by any means, so the loaded quesadilla (BBQ, pressed flour tortilla, cheddar jack cheese, Texas caviar with guac, salsa, and sour cream) has my name all over it.
Sub Rosa Bakery
Sub Rosa Bakery (620 N. 25th St.) has become the darling of local and national food media - and one taste of their luscious croissants will have you vouching for the praise. Everything is baked on-site in the shop's wood-fired masonry oven while the flour is stone-milled in-house. More often than not, I go for the savory pastries, whether its a salami and cheese or fig and manchego croissant, with the crust shearing apart into rich-tasting, well-toasted, stratified layers in your hands.
When I moved back to Richmond in October 2013, Sub Rosa was still in recovery mode after a fire damaged the bakery's building earlier that April. They reopened in January 2014, and have continued to put Church Hill on the map as a food lovers' destination. The New York Times, Washington Post and Food Network's Alton Brown have raved about Sub Rosa - the Post referred to them as a "the stuff of carb lovers' dreams," which I think is a mild understatement.
Union Market (2306 Jefferson Ave.), among one of a handful of neighborhood grocery stores that are sparking an urban grocer revival in the city, also houses a tiny, patio-ed eatery, where you can order breakfast, lunch and snacks after 5PM. Hearty lunch sandwich options include BLT/TLT (bacon or tempeh, lettuce and tomato), pimento cheese, smoked trout, Muffuletta, hummus wraps and more, with a variety of salads, sides and soups to accompany your sandwich or stand alone.
If you want a little break from the norm, get the pastrami sandwich, which is a classic lunch menu item, but Union Market's version is still a departure from the conventional, featuring grilled pastrami, kimchi and creamy smoked Gouda with Russian dressing on toasted Billy Bread. I'm not sure where the fire-breathing heat emanated from, but the sandwich had some extra pep in it, tempered by the layers of pastrami, cheese and bread. Before you head out, stock up on your beer, wine or cocktail-making accouterments, or other sundry, locally-made supplies and snacks like Nightingale Ice Cream Sandwiches, Lecker Baking Company pretzels, or Chocolates by Kelly for the home fridge.
Stroops Heroic Dogs
When Stroops (2709 E Marshall St.), makers of hand-crafted hot dogs, sodas and stroopwafels, recently unveiled its new seasonal menu, I trekked over the valley and up the hill to check it out. I ordered the Floral Pork Dog, and the flavors came at me from all sides. The sweet taste of the cornbread and honey contrasted nicely with the delicate spice of the pepper romesco and lime pickled onion - just enough cool and heat to make you break a little brow sweat, which a swig of celery seltzer soda will help diminish. Bite, drink and repeat.
And if hot dogs aren't your thing, a visit to Stoops is a must anyway, if only for the hard-to-resist, aforementioned craft sodas, like the grapefruit basil elderflower and watermelon pink peppercorn, featuring sprightly flavors that are the very definition of fresh and balanced sweetness.
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