Atmospohere: Authentic colonial log cabin.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week.
Price range: $3.75 for buffet lunch; children between ages of four and eight, $2.50; no charge for children under four who eat off a parent's plate.
Credit Cards: Cash or personal check only.
Special facilities: Parking lot in front of restaurant; difficult access for guests in wheelchairs.
Into each child's life a little history and culture must fall. One balmy Sunday we decided to take our two children to Charlottesville to view Monticello and learn about Thomas Jefferson's genius for politics, architecture, farming and writing. It was a worthy destination for a two-hour morning drive, but we arrived at the foot of Jefferson's little mountain hungrier for lunch than knowledge.
Fortunately, half a mile before Monticello, on the same access road, we spotted Michie Tavern, which turned out to be an interesting and delightful place to have a colonial-style lunch and introduce ourselves to the life and times we were about to explore at Monticello.
Michie Tavern, which functioned as an inn and tavern in the 1700s, is a museum whose claim to fame, in addition to surviving intact, is that Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe met together in one of the rooms on at least one occasion. Although the museum has an admission fee, its annex. The Ordinary, where lunch is served, does not.
The Ordinary is a 200-year-old cabin that boasts several rooms and a loft. The ceilings are low, the walls made of logs and plaster and the floors oak planked. Coats are hung on wood pegs in the wall. The tables are rough hewn wood with matching benches.
Lunch is dished out buffet style in a back room. For $3.75 per person ($2.50 for children aged 4 to 8; no charge for children under 4 who eat off their parents' plates) we could heap our pewter-like plates with several vegetables and salads, homemade biscuits, cornbread and fried chicken.
Our son, 10, whose love of vegetables can best be described as limited, helped himself to a dab of cole slaw but passed on the home-brewed curd cheese, black-eyes peas, stewed tomatoes, string beans and potato salad. His plate was far from bare, however, because he heaped it with corn bread and biscuits and chicken legs.
My husband, our daughter, 12, and I find vegetables palatable and thought the cold salads appetizing on a warm day. We tried a little of everything. We also opted for the home-made cobbler which was 50 cents extra. The $3.75, however, included a beverage served in a pewter cup.
While we were enjoying our lunch, especially the tomatoes that were sweetened with what we guessed was brown sugar, a recording was played that described the history of the house and the food preparation.
The vegetable dishes, the chicken and biscuits, a voice told us, were based on carefully researched and authentic colonial recipes - except for the tomatoes, which weren't popular at the time and were called love apples. When tomatoes were finally tried by colonial Virginians, Jefferson was one of the first to eat them. The dough for the biscuits was started from plain flour just as it was two centuries ago, the voice added.
All the food was quite good. We had never tried black-eyed peas or candied tomatoes before. When we found a dish we especially liked but had taken only a dab of we went back for more. The biscuits were our favorite, along with the tomatoes. The cobbler was easily worth the extra 50 cents.
Since service was buffet style, we didn't have to leave a tip. The tab for lunch came to $18.