Virginians eat quite well, from Revolutionary War-era foods to contemporary haute cuisine. I visited the state known as Old Dominion to sample what makes Virginian cuisine…well, Virginian, focusing on eateries in Charlottesville, Hanover and Richmond. Join me as I tour both historic and new establishments where chefs and winemakers have carved a distinctively Southern niche.
Michie Tavern (ca.1784), in Charlottesville, continues to cultivate its colonial roots by laying out a self-serve buffet of traditional heritage favorites: fried chicken, hickory smoked barbecued pork, black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, biscuits and cornbread, Virginia wines and lagers. Gooey desserts only add to the pleasures.
Hamilton’s at First & Main on the Charlottesville Mall is the best in contemporary cuisine. Some of Chef Jeannette Peabody’s superb creations I sampled were: Scottish smoked salmon crostini with a baby beet and pancetta relish; pan roasted jumbo lump crab cakes (the best I’ve ever eaten) with remoulade, served with Cajun spiced fingerling potatoes, green beans and tomatoes; and a trio of blackberry, mango and strawberry sorbet in a brandy snap cup. Ninety-four-year-old jazz clarinetist Dave Kannahnson joined guitarist Peter Richardson to charm and entertain us while we dined.
Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard near Charlottesville features a casually elegant tasting room where greenhouse windows and warm woods create an ambiance that makes guests want to linger. But winemaker Jonathan Wheeler’s wines headline the show, which stars an Estate Cru Aperitif, an array of sparkling wines using the méthode traditionelle and a Bordeaux-inspired red blend.
In Richmond, Edgar Allen Poe Museum’s catered lunch of gold bug salad, tenderloin and salmon and chocolate with cherry sauce could cheer up the gloomy Poe himself.
The Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville serves up a brunch that’s everything a brunch should be and more. Sumptuous made-to-order dishes plus servings of smoked salmon with creme fraiche, crab cakes and shrimp gave my day a delightful beginning.
The historic Clifton Inn of Charlottesville, a Relais & Chateaux member, offers guests an authentic colonial setting. The dining room presented perfectly prepared pan seared halibut with buttered lump crab; dry rubbed Angus New York strip with wild mushroom risotto, and warm bittersweet chocolate with Virginia peanut nougat and caramel sauce.
It’s hard to travel a mile in Virginia without running into a historic landmark. The 200-year-old roadhouse Hanover Tavern (in Hanover) is no exception. At this eatery’s brunch, I enjoyed Eggs Benedict atop a crab cake accompanied by a delectable Bellini with fresh peaches. This landmark also offers guided tours for those who want to learn about the building’s history and its famous guests.
Jefferson Hotel in Richmond presents an elegant cocktail party with specially created pre-prohibition-era libations: Old Pompey, Pomme and Staircases. Passed trays feature oysters with capers, little bowls of gazpacho and salmon.
Julep’s in Richmond puts the “Southern” into Southern Cuisine, with favorites such as roasted duck breast accompanied by maple sweet potato puree, shiitake mushrooms and grilled rapini; crispy skin seared salmon with oyster mushrooms, sugar peas, and butternut hash; and dessert of upside-down blackberry chiffon Napoleon with hazelnut tuille.
A food tour of Virginia proves that this state has much to be proud of: locally sourced farm-fresh ingredients, innovative chefs, colonial heritage and warm, gracious people who love to share Virginian Cuisine with the rest of the world.