The former seat of the Confederacy has seen quite a revival in recent years, and Richmond is now firmly part of the New South thanks to cuisine with a sense of place and an infusion of talented chefs. Here are my 12 Top Tastes of Richmond Food + Drink from May 2 – 5, 2013.
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Numbered establishments on the map correspond to information below for easy reference. Establishments also appear in alphabetical order instead of in order of preference.
1. Comfort: Jason Alley’s elevated meat-and-three has been going strong for 11 years downtown. Blackboard menus list mix-and-match proteins and sides. The space features a full bar and high-backed booths for privacy’s sake (or business meetings). I only got to try one dish at Comfort, and it was a clever riff on a classic Southern dessert: Banana Pudding Creme Brulee. A Nilla wafer crust cradled banana custard and caramelized bananas. The restaurant serves 151 different whiskeys, and pairing your “pudding” with Bowman Brothers small batch Virginia Whiskey, aged for four years in Fredericksburg, is a very good idea.
2. Dixie Donuts: Betsy Thomas, who owns Cafe Ole, joined forces with chef Jay Frank on this donut shop on the tail end of trendy Carytown. The space features bird and vine wallpaper, a purple ceiling, and canary yellow tile floors. Flavors of cake donuts are often playful riffs. For example, their Samoa donut is based on a popular Girl Scout cookie. Still, the Virginian ($1.25) is my favorite, incorporating sweet potato, maple roasted peanuts & pecans for sweetness and texture’s sake.
3. Heritage: It’s a family affair at Heritage, where Emilia Sparatta runs front of house, her husband Joe is the executive chef, and brother Mattias Hagglund runs the bar. As Secco Wine Bar owner Julia Battaglini said, “Heritage is where industry people go, the minute they get a minute.” Sure enough, I saw Greg McGehee, the GM of Lemaire, sitting at the bar after service. Still, it was the House Made Charcuterie ($10) that got my undivided attention. It took awhile just to take inventory of the platter, which included “prosciutto” (spalla, made with shoulder, served w/house-made grain mustard), dashi smoked pork loin, head cheese nuggets (aka “pig face” w/panko and bittersweet Amaro onion chutney), Best of What’s Around beef jerky (produced by Dave Matthews), Border Springs lamb summer sausage w/Pimento, wild boar espelette ham, tasso ham (dotted with spicy horseradish Dijon), kimchi cured lomo (air dried tenderloin w/golden beet mostarda), and melt-in-your-mouth Ossabaw lardo from hogs raised in Charlottesville. In the middle, I found a tart mess of pickles: quail egg, Swiss chard stems, carrot, cucumber and sweet peppers.