I became aware of the breadth of Richmond’s culinary spectrum while attending a relative’s wedding. After the rush-hour drive down I-95 and a weekend packed with festivities, I had an opportunity to walk to a nearby shopping center where I discovered Boychiks Deli. In the “backwoods” of Richmond’s western suburbs, I found a pastrami on rye “time machine.” The sandwich was so good, so authentic, that the first bite transported me back to Brooklyn, to a time before supermarkets, back to my Uncle Irving’s deli.
That first experience taught me to expect the unexpected in Richmond’s gastronomy. To explore its creativity and expanse, I started downtown and traveled northwest, using Broad Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, as a point of reference.
Richmond is bedecked with murals, with hardly a blank wall anywhere in the city. The downtown functions as an open-air gallery of imaginative, often quirky, wall art. The creations add visual impact to the plethora of independent restaurants, cafes and assorted dining opportunities. In the Jackson Ward neighborhood, Soul Taco offers a fusion of Latin American and Southern cuisine, focusing on tacos. Their pulled pork carnitas is a particular standout, but do not miss the buttermilk fried chicken in a flour tortilla.
If tacos are not your choice, the same block offers Fighting Fish seafood, Big Herm’s Kitchen and Seoul Street Eats. The Jackson Ward neighborhood is also home to Mama J’s, one of Richmond’s premiere soul food dining experiences, and Pasture, a bastion of Southern cuisine, much of it served family style.
Recycling warehouses and office blocks
Farther west, Scott’s Addition has become one of Richmond’s newest neighborhoods. Once an industrial and commercial district, it is redefining itself. Onetime warehouses and office blocks now hold specialty shops, restaurants, breweries, distilleries, entertainment spots, bars and trendy residences. Try ZZQ for robust, by-the-pound, Texas-inspired barbecue, or Perch for “Filipino/Hawaiian cuisine with a Virginia twist”. Be sure to check out the wall art at Perch.
Along with a double handful of breweries and distilleries, Scott’s Addition is also home to Blue Bee Cider, one of three local cideries.
“We are looking to show people what can be done with apples,” explained Brian Ahnmark, one of Blue Bee’s “cider evangelists.” “We are using traditional apples with modern touches.”
For people used to buying “cider” in plastic jugs from roadside farm stands, Blue Bee will be a revelation. They make ciders with the same careful attention to detail, specific equipment, and specially grown fruit as wines, except that the fruit is apples instead of grapes.
More than restaurants
Around the corner from Blue Bee, Stella’s Grocery stocks an impressive selection of Virginia-made products, specialty and gourmet items, ready-made meals, and even kombucha on tap. Go to Stella’s to find such local treasures as AR’s Hot Southern Honey; then drizzle it on your fried chicken!
Do not miss Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market in nearby Carytown, carrying a all-inclusive selection of local, organic products ranging from fresh produce to household essentials, along with house-made food and drink, from sandwiches and flatbreads to raw juice and smoothies. And, just to be sure that you are in Richmond, enjoy the colorful murals decorating the streetside wall.
Simply put, some people visit Richmond for the history; others come for the culture or recreation. I come to Richmond for the food!
Hot Honey Chutney
1 pound apples
1/4 pound onions
1 garlic clove
1 inch piece fresh root ginger
2 ounces sultanas (or other dried fruit such as dates or raisins)
2 ounces AR’s Hot Southern Honey
2 ounces dark sugar
2 ounces distilled malt vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
Peel, core and roughly chop the apples. Roughly chop the onions, finely chop the garlic and peel and finely chop the ginger. Place the apple, onion, garlic, ginger, and fruit into a large, wide saucepan. Stir in the vinegar, honey, sugar and salt. Stir the mixture over a medium heat until all the honey and sugar has dissolved. After the honey and sugar have dissolved, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the chutney for about an hour, stirring often. As it thickens, stir more frequently and watch to ensure the honey and sugar do not begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. The chutney is done when you can scrape a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan and the chutney does not flow back into the gap.