Who's absolutely OVER the cold? Yeah, me too. As it always is in Virginia, we've skipped right over spring, and slammed straight into summer, and that's fine by me. Today, the temps peaked at 91 degrees (according to my weather app). So say good-bye to anything frigid, icy, or chilled (unless it's a fine adult beverage), and say hellooooOoooo to warm air — and flowers around every corner. Head to Maymont if you love greenery — and peonies — as much as I do.
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.
As a self-professed "bakery devotee," I tend to keep track (or at least I like to think I do) of "what's trending" in the baked world. First, I was ga-ga over cupcakes. Then, I fell for donuts. Next, sweet was out and savory was in. And while I still swoon about all things frosted or glazed, right now, I'm fixated on biscuits. So a few weeks ago I started working on a blog post about the two local bake shops that specialize in biscuit-making - Early Bird Biscuit Co. and The FANcy Biscuit, both located in the Fan District. I added a third - Saison Market in Jackson Ward - because they seemed to have established themselves as THE place to go for the oh-so-southern fried chicken biscuit - and because odd numbers are better than even.
. . .Then I saw Stephanie Ganz's "Better Know a Biscuit: Vol.1" feature on RVANews.com. If you want a hard-target guide to some of the best biscuits in Richmond, you must read her article (in anticipation of Vol. 2!). While my wallet and stomach had a limit to how much I could reasonably consume in the course of writing my blog post, I love that Stephanie has created this comprehensively-researched, hunger-inducing catalog of where to snag these little baked necessities.
Early Bird Biscuit Co. & Bakery
As mentioned, first on my list was Early Bird Biscuit (119 N. Robinson St.), which just moved from Lakeside to the Fan. I ordered up the house-made pimento cheese and applewood smoked bacon biscuit. Like an onion, this biscuit has layers. The top had a lightly salty, buttery, soft, yet crispy epi-layer, like all the best biscuits have (IMHO). Your teeth sink further into the mid-layer - a cloud of fluffy, baked, down-home goodness - then into the heat of the pimento cheese and the savory crunch of the applewood smoked bacon. Early Bird needs to sell mini-tubs of the pimento cheese because IT IS DECADENT. Inside and out, I appreciate the shop's vintage decor for which it was become known, from its old-school desk (literally) near the entrance, the screened front door that slams shut behind you, and of course, the much-Instagrammed, illuminated "Butter" sign.
The FANcy Biscuit
When I heard the owners of Shyndigz were adding another biscuit haven to the city with The FANcy Biscuit (1831 W. Cary St.), I was naturally happy. Okay, giddy. But then they made us wait. . . and wait. . . and wait some more. Newly opened in April 2016, it was worth the wait. During my inaugural visit, I ordered the Black Dog - a heaping helping of shrimp & grits with Tasso ham gravy over a warm, billowy biscuit - comfort food at its finest. I am a big fan of grits, so I also ordered a side of Cheese Grit Tots, quite possibly one of the greatest culinary inventions ever. The accompanying dipping sauce had the right amount of tang to set off the mellowness of the grits. I also loved the modern yet all-American, red-white-and-blue vibe of the decor and inventive yet still traditional menu - other "Fork & Knife" biscuit plates include the Big Apple (fried chicken, blue cheese, apple slaw, and apple BBQ sauce) and the Freshy-Fresh (collards, cheddar, tomatoes, and poached egg).
When Saison Market (323 N. Adams St.) added the fried chicken biscuit to its menu, the food media took notice (here, here, here, here, and here). So does it live up to the hype? A resounding YES. These biscuits are made with love. Cushioned between a soft and buttery, scarf-worthy biscuit is a tender, juicy slab of brined and battered fried chicken that makes the combo hard to put down. Luckily for you and I, they have more biscuits on the menu - the "Fancy" Chicken Biscuit (Nashville-style fried chicken, sausage gravy, and sunny side up egg) as well as biscuits with your choice of sausage or bacon sandwiched with egg and cheddar cheese. Even more than the fast casual dining-oriented fare and walls of craft beer and wine is that Saison Market, which opened in 2014, has provided a much-needed, personable, urban respite amidst the concrete and charmingly faded edges of Jackson Ward.
In sum, you can't deny that Richmond has fallen in love with the humble biscuit, all over again. So is it fair to call biscuits "trendy"? Nope. But biscuits ARE back, y'all, and they are anything but subdued.
You've been to Maymont. . . Richmond's favorite family-friendly park, known for its 100 acres of green space, Dooley estate museum from the Gilded Age, owls, bears and gray fox exhibits – and killer hills that are SERIOUS quads and glute-builders. And we of course all know and love Maymont for its formal gardens. May is when the peonies start poppin' around Richmond and at Maymont, so it's one of the best times of the year to experience the park.
While many tend to gravitate towards the Italian Garden at the top of the hill with it's always Instagram-worthy vine-wrapped pergola, or the Japanese Garden at the bottom, with its Zen-inducing Koi pond and waterfall, the Herb Garden (where you'll find Bee Balm, Geranium, Chinese Mint, Costmary, Pineapple Sage, as well as more traditional herbs) in front of the Stone Barn and the Children's Farm Vegetable Garden are not to be missed as spring turns to summer. Here's an ICYMI review of what's in the garden in May.
I'm not sure when my interest in small grocers became a full-blown fascination. . . Maybe it was when I decided to work for myself as a freelancer, and I began to empathize a little more with small businesses in general. Then again, there is something enticing about walking into a specialty grocer like Zabar's in New York City or Feast! in Charlottesville and knowing you are going to find things there that you can't find anywhere else, mainly, because they reflect the unique tastes of the community as well as what is grown locally.
Now, larger-scale marketplaces like Union Market in Washington, D.C. or Italian food mecca Eataly are becoming epicurean destinations unto themselves, where you could literally spend half the day, hopping from aisle to aisle or artisan to artisan and not just devouring food but consuming knowledge about food and how it is made.
Fortunately for me and the rest of Richmond, the city is now in the midst of a renaissance of sorts in the small-scale, urban grocery store. In the past year, several highly curated neighborhood markets have sprouted up on the scene, each as distinctive as the neighborhood they represent: Little House Green Grocery in Northside, Union Market in Church Hill, Harvest Grocery + Supply in the Fan, Saison Market in Jackson Ward and Yellow Umbrella Provisions (which has actually been around for quite a while) on Patterson Ave. Included in that mix is standard-bearer Ellwood Thompson's - we are all spoiled rotten for having access to a store like that.
Adding to the burgeoning neighborhood market comeback is Stella's Grocery (1007 Lafayette St., next door to sister restaurant Stella's), which opened in April 2015, followed a few months later in June with the arrival of Kohlmann's Market (109 E. Grace St., next door to sister restaurant Perly's).
At Kohlmann's, you can find cheeses and charcuterie galore, plus a wide selection of tea, sodas, wine and craft beer, plus Blanchard's coffee. They also stock items that one might typically find in a "regular" grocery store, like fresh fruit, frozen foods and household sundries, sharing shelf space with locally-crafted products from Maven Made, Pickled Silly and Texas Beach Bloody Mary Mix. Stella's Grocery is similarly stocked.
The main attraction, for me, at least, are the prepared foods (because, while I like cooking, I admittedly don't schedule the time in to do it often enough). At Kohlmann's, load up on house-made Summer Pasta, Chicken Penne Pasta, Tortellini Pesto Primavera, Orzo Chick Pea Salad, and Baked Mac and Cheese. At Stella's Grocery, you'll find similar grab-and-go fare, like Greek Penne with Chicken, Pork Souvlaki, Stuffed Peppers and Mushrooms, Heirloom Tomato & Goat Cheese Pasta, White Bean & Tuna Salad, Black Kale Salad, Greek and Mediterranean staples like spanakopita, tabouli, hummus and tzatziki, and more.
And the sandwiches. . . A quote from 30 Rock's Frank Rossitano comes to mind: "What's that? You've never heard of Sandwich Day? Why, it's the most wonderful day of all!" And Kohlmann's and Stella's have some tasty, freshly prepared choices, from Kohlmann's pressed Kuban and Kaprese (yes, spelled with "K") to Stella's Arnaki (roasted lamb, kasseri cheese, arugula, red onion, mint and Dijon on a baguette) and Corfu (feta, tomato, cucumber, kalamata tapenade, red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano and basil on a baguette). Craving caffeine? You'll find some of the best coffee in the city at Stella's.
I know we are all excited about Wegmans opening up soon in Short Pump, but there is something special about walking around the corner or taking a short drive to your neighborhood market and picking up something for lunch or dinner. . . I'm sorry. I was just distracted by Stella's Instagram gallery filled with images of Rosewater & White Chocolate Macaroons, Baked Dill & Cheddar Scones and Fig Prosciutto Croissants.
So what was I saying? Oh, yes. . . Both Perly's and Stella's are beloved local restaurants, and adding a market component to each is a great way to make the distinctive cuisine that they serve even more accessible. Clearly, the neighborhood market "movement" here is on a roll, reflecting the health of the overall food/dining/restaurant community, which is pretty much anyone who likes to eat and support the comeback of the city of Richmond as a whole.
This time last year, I was at work on one of the greatest assignments a girl could ask for – photographing the Richmond brew community in all its splendor for the book, "Richmond Beer: A History of Brewing in the River City" published by The History Press, which is based in Charleston, S.C.
The book was released in the fall of 2014. The author is, of course, Lee Graves, then "The Beer Guy" columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and all around craft beer historian and aficionado. A few weeks after its release, news had come from the publisher that the book had already gone into a second printing. Hopefully by now, it's in its third or fourth.
When I moved back to Richmond in 2013, I had no idea that craft beer was over-taking the city. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery seemed to be catching all of the buzz at the time, with others like Strangeways Brewing, Midnight Brewery, Isley Brewing Co. and Center of the Universe Brewing Co. hot on their heels. I had to up my knowledge of the suds scene, so I dove right in and wrote a story on the "brew trail" from NoVa to RVA for Northern Virginia Magazine.
In the article, I quoted Strangways' founder Neil Burton, who referred to Richmond’s brew scene as "'probably the fastest growing in the United States,' noting the surge in the number of breweries from three just two years ago to nine in early 2014."
Well, since then, even MORE breweries have taken root, including Ardent Craft Ales, Triple Crossing Brewing, Rock Bottom (Restaurant and) Brewery, Rusty Beaver Brewery, and not counting the myriad of pre-existing brewpubs, bottle shops and homebrew supply stores – too many to name here – and new brewery announcements that seem to be unending.
Before aaalllll of these new craft beer brewers, however, there was Extra Billy's Smokehouse & Brewery and the grandaddy of local beer-makers, Legend Brewery. (And yes, there were others before those, but you can read about that history in "Richmond Beer.")
As I whittled down the top candidates from all of the photos I took that summer to submit to the publisher, there were many others that I loved that just couldn't all get squeezed in because – hey, they can't all go to print – so I'm sharing some of those faves here with this little "Richmond Beer" retrospective.
Lee Graves may have put it best in the book when he said that "the story of beer reflects the story of Richmond itself. . . . Richmond has always loved, embraced and celebrated beer," a current sentiment that's "coincid[ing] with a renaissance on several fronts – brewing, dining, artistic creativity, urban hipness, outdoor recreation and civic pride." You can see and feel it when you walk down the street or take a sip of a Honey Ginger or Gingerbread Stout. That's the taste of history being made.
The Church Hill neighborhood has been garnering quite a bit of attention lately in the press. . . I've always admired the area for its "stately" homes and architecture, cobblestone streets, views of the James River and strong sense of history and preservation. Over the past several years, however, the food scene has been attracting just as much attention, and of not just locales, but folks from around the region and nation.
When I heard about The Dog & Pig Show (314 N. 25th St.), the name alone intrigued. When I had a look at their menu, I knew this was going to be an instant favorite.
The Dog & Pig Show proprietors James and Isabel Eckrosh opened the humbly-sized yet hotly-anticipated new take-out restaurant winter 2014. The menu is described as "South Central Asian cuisine meets the American South and the Big Easy." (More on the history of its opening here.)
With re-mixed deeply southern-slash-Asian staples like the Pulled Pork Po' Boy, Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Tomato Habanero Soup, Laotian Style Hot Salad and other rotating menu items, its tempting to not order everything on the living wall menu board, walk out with an arm-load of take-out, and just hold your head high knowing full well you are a glutton. I reigned in that impulse.
Instead, I ordered the Shrimp & Grits (consisting of Gulf Shrimp, Cheese Grits, Bacon Butter, Kimchi, Garlic, Herbs + Roe), which is one of my all-time favorite southern dishes, and it met every expectation – spicy, but not too spicy, and full of rich, savory, buttery flavor.
Not to be overlooked are The Dog & Pig Show's baked goods, which get a big fat "heart" from me every time I see a pastry or biscuit Instagrammed by the restaurant. Think Strawberry and St. Germaine Ricotta Tarts, Carmel Crack Latte Cookies, Lavender and Cardamon Alfajores and more creative sweets. Below, the Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie. . .
Needless to say, The Dog & Pig Show is an incredible, raise-the-bar-even-higher addition to Richmond's burgeoning "food scene," and. . . I will be back for that Chorizo Biscuit.
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