September 6, 2018 at 7:00 AM
As a child of the Richmond suburbs, I boomeranged back to the city after 12 years. And while the Richmond of my youth is recognizable, something happened while I was away: It has become downright cool . . . and delicious. Yes, its charm, friendliness and easy parking remain. It has experienced a rapid proliferation of craft breweries, especially in the increasingly hip Scott’s Addition. Longtime dining and shopping districts such as Carytown and Shockoe Bottom can’t rest on decades-old laurels, as other neighborhoods (Church Hill, Jackson Ward) are being reinvigorated by talented chefs and creative innovators. It’s a renaissance I’m savoring one bite at a time — whether I’m devouring a steak gyro from a food truck (Dank Eats) or a Wiener schnitzel at a restaurant (Metzger Bar & Butchery) co-owned by an “Iron Chef” competitor — and a bonanza for visitors.
Pregnancy has its perks. When I waddle into Early Bird Biscuit Co. & Bakery (earlybirdbiscuit.com; 119 N. Robinson St.; 804-335-4570) on a Saturday morning, there isn’t a smidgen of guilt as I order three variations of substantial, yet springy, made-from-scratch squares of buttermilk deliciousness. A regular biscuit ($2.65 ) comes with tasty homemade jam (such as apricot or strawberry). A salty, country ham biscuit ($5) pairs nicely with steaming cups of freshly brewed coffee from the local Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. The day’s breakfast sandwich offering ($6) — this time a “meat lover’s omelet” with bacon, Canadian bacon and sausage — could have challenged one of the Washington Redskins players recently in town for training camp. The cozy, kitschy atmosphere complements the homespun flavors, too. Mismatched secondhand tables line the wall across from a counter where regulars — including Virginia Commonwealth University students and retirees — order from an amiable, aproned staff. Framed black and white photos allude to the spot’s roots: Owner Tim Laxton opened his first location in 2014, utilizing an old family recipe. It’s a taste patrons are consuming voraciously, as the business now has two locations — this spot in the Fan and another in Northside.
On our first visit to Boulevard Burger & Brew (boulevardburgerandbrew.com; 1300 N. Blvd.; 804-367-3838), my husband and I stowed our 3-month-old in a car seat under the table and inhaled our food before our precious grenade wailed. Two and a half years later, our meals are less harried. Settling into a cherry red booth, it’s easy to embrace the low-key, retro vibe. Lauryn Hill plays overhead as burgers sizzle in a backroom griddle. Friendly T-shirt-and-jeans-wearing servers may have color-flecked locks. A strong craft-beer selection includes regional breweries: Metal brand signs from the likes of Alexandria’s Port City and Baltimore’s Heavy Seas line the walls. The burgers, presented nonchalantly on red and white checkered paper atop metal trays, do not disappoint. The Kelly’s Classic (American cheese, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and onion, $7.45) will have those craving a good ol’ cheeseburger licking their chops. There are atypical options, too, including the Bow Tie (balsamic glaze, basil popcorn pesto, mozzarella and tomato, $9) and the Parker Field (chipotle mayo, chorizo, cilantro, fried egg, ham, lettuce and tomato, pickled jalapeño, $10). Sweet potato fries ($3), arriving in an adorable mini fry basket, are a yummy side, though subject to theft by little fingers — or large ones.
A superb supper spot can be found a 20-minute drive from downtown, across the James River. There, in a shopping center a half-mile from the city limits, sits Southbound (southboundrva.com; 3036 Stony Point Rd.; 804-918-5431), sandwiched between a toy store and a cleaning business. A stroll inside transports diners to the contemporary collaboration of lauded chefs Lee Gregory (the Roosevelt ) and Joe Sparatta (Heritage) in a rustic, yet polished space with floor to ceiling windows. Stools along the restaurant’s U-shaped bar of reclaimed wood fill up by 6:30 p.m. on a Friday, with good reason. The delicately battered fried oysters with sweet peppers and an eggplant-tahini ($10) go quickly, accompanied by sips of a local craft draft (Triple Crossing’s Falcon Smash, $7). Main fare such as hanger steak, served medium-rare atop a brown butter vinaigrette with broccolini and fingerling potatoes ($29), or the housemade creste di gallo pasta nestled in a hearty Bolognese ($17, an extra $3 for burrata cheese) linger longer — as it’s tempting to take more bites even when full. Dessert is a must. A peach and blueberry cobbler ($7), arrives steaming in a small cast-iron dolloped with freshly whipped cream. Get two spoons . . . and a to-go box.
Coronado is a writer based in Richmond. Her website is kriscoronado.com.
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