In Richmond, Virginia, the vibrant culinary scene is still riding waves pioneered in part by The Roosevelt and Saison, which opened in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Still at the top of their games, these standouts helped spawn one of the country’s most progressive and congenial food and drink destinations. Here are other highly recommended destinations for dining, drinking and a grand, historic hotel to call home during your stay.
Where to Eat
Walter Bundy opened Shagbark in 2016 after he helmed the kitchen for years at Lemaire. He named the restaurant after a type of hickory tree that grows along the James River. In a city that reveres its local farmers and fishermen (check here for a list of Richmond’s many farmer’s markets), Shagbark may be the most committed proponent of using local Virginia bounty. Recent menus highlighted duck breast paired with oyster mushrooms, hazelnut mousse and huckleberry jus, as well as chicken-fried oysters with locally milled Byrd Mill grits and oddball shoots and sprouts from Manakintowne farm. Rodney Rosser, the wine director, has assembled an international list of more than 200 selections.
Brenner Pass is the latest restaurant from chef-owner Brittanny Anderson, whose Metzger Bar & Butchery remains one of the hottest tables in town. Named for the route through the Alps that separates Austria and Italy, Brenner Pass specializes in Alpine-inspired cuisine, specifically French and Italian. Tartiflette, a gratin from Savoie, might join a dry-aged New York strip au poivre gilded with smoked tallow. Look for handmade specialty pastas like tajarin, paccheri and strozzapreti. Nathan Conway’s wine list focuses on wines from the French and Italian Alps, and nearby regions like Bugey, Valle d’Aosta, Jura and Valais.
This restaurant somehow merges the concepts of French fine dining, American steakhouse, New Orleans bordello and punk rock club. It’s an experience that transports diners and never loses sight of what’s on the plate. The “cold hot pink soup” is an immaculate beet vichyssoise with blue crab, corn and sorrel, while the crab cakes are the meatiest in town. The jokey names and descriptions of dishes either poke fun at the self-importance of many restaurants or are merely wacky, like the “Darth Grouper Held At Bay By A Rebellious Coalition.” However, that’s part of the mischievous fun here.
Where to Drink
Richmond’s best wine bar rotates Old World wines little seen in the area. The glass list hovers around 25 selections, but don’t miss their “secret stash” that can yield some rare bottles at bargain prices. A global food menu travels from pork tostadas to squash pakoras, equally suited for a quick bite or full dinner. Secco’s recent move to a larger location in The Fan neighborhood brought with it an expanded menu and cocktail program. Also worth a visit: Barrel Thief Wine Shop & Café, a retail shop that specializes in small-production and low-intervention wines. Enjoy your bottle there, sans corkage fee, along with a selection of small plates.
At this forward-thinking cocktail bar you might spy a container labeled with house-made ingredients like “Arugula Singani,” an experimental infusion of the Bolivian brandy with the peppery green. Rogue Gentlemen’s list of original cocktails changes multiple times throughout the year and never repeats, though classic drinks and a short beer and wine list are always available.
Better yet, trust the “dealer’s choice,” where you name your preferred spirit plus two words from a list of cocktail descriptors. My “agave, boozy & weird” request netted a concoction of crema de mezcal, Kronan Swedish Punsch, Becherovka, bitters and vermouth. A full food menu is available that’s as irreverent and quality-obsessed as the cocktail program. A recent riff on pasta carbonara included candied black pepper, leek confit and aged cheddar. The generous happy hour runs Tuesday–Saturday from 4–7 pm.
Blue Bee Cider
Virginia’s first urban cidery, Blue Bee works with 100% Virginia cider apples that include some near-extinct Colonial-era varieties. The ciders range from elegant Champagne-like expressions to experiments with dry hopping, smoking and oak aging. Blue Bee’s tasting room and production facility is in Scott’s Addition, a hopping warehouse district turned drinker’s destination, with multiple breweries (including The Veil Brewing Co.), another cidery (Buskey) and even a meadery (Black Heath). There’s a different food truck on site every weekend, and tours are available by appointment. “Our aim is to make cider that is quintessential to Virginia and the U.S.,” says the cidermaker, Manuel Garcia. “We want to explore and challenge the definition of cider while remaining true to our region, the fruit it produces and the community we work in.”
Where to Stay
The Jefferson Hotel
Dating from 1895, The Jefferson Hotel is one of Richmond’s oldest hotels and easily its grandest. A recent renovation has resulted in rooms that are as spacious and updated as the palatial, immaculately restored common areas. The hotel restaurant, Lemaire, is named for Thomas Jefferson’s French mâitre d’hôtel (Étienne Lemaire) and serves hybrid French-Southern cuisine. Refined but not stuffy, belly up to the bar for pimento cheese and a classic martini, or have a leisurely meal with one of the city’s best wine lists, which includes a “Discoveries” section of bottles under $30.
Richmond Historical Facts
Richmond is named after Richmond town in southwest London, whose view of the Thames is similar to Richmond’s view of the James River.
Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, which set the course for independence from Britain, was given at Richmond’s St. John’s Church.
Edgar Allen Poe lived in Richmond as a boy. The eerie Edgar Allen Poe Museum contains many of his manuscripts and personal effects.
The first canned beer was sold in Richmond, by the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company in 1935.