Like many other cities around the country, in recent years Richmond has enjoyed a sort of culinary Renaissance. With new people moving into the area and living in parts of town that had been ignored for years, they attract shops, cafes and restaurants. The result is a vibrant food scene that went well beyond my own expectations of my time in Richmond. To be clear, there’s a lot to eat and drink around the city and a comprehensive list would quickly morph into an epic tome. But from my own experience, these establishments were a lot of fun to visit over a long weekend to the capital city of Virginia.
Walking into the bustling deli, I felt like the place had been in its downtown Richmond location forever, which is sort of the point. It’s a relatively new addition to the city though, opening just in 2014, but the menu and service all felt exactly like those more established Jewish delis I have come to know and love over the years. They call themselves a modern Jewish deli, and while there are some quirky twists on old classics, the originals are all thankfully there as well. Ordering a far too large pastrami on rye with matzo ball soup, it was the perfect antidote to a slightly rainy day and an amazing start to my own culinary adventures in Richmond.
I truly love quirky cafes and restaurants where the personalities and passions of the owners are on full display. When you add in a love for the band the B-52s, you have a really strange but equally wonderful dining experience. Located in the trendy Lakeside community of Richmond, the Love Shack opened just a couple of years ago and was the dream of owner Sarabeth Hagen, who wanted a neighborhood hangout where folks could go and feel at home. Many of the recipes are inspired by family recipes, even if they have B-52 names like the “Bang Bang on the Door” Benny and the I Got Me A Chrysler Melt. The real theme here though is love and inclusion, and walking into the small space that always seems to be packed with hungry guests, it’s hard not to feel welcome. It’s a brunch only restaurant and closes in the early afternoon, so arrive early, arrive hungry and be prepared to smile throughout your entire meal.
Around the country there’s a growing trend of passionate entrepreneurs getting into both brewing and distilling and one of the movement’s leaders not only in Richmond, but in Virginia is Reservoir Distillery. Founded by childhood friends Jay Carpenter and Dave Cuttino, the goal was to both honor the heritage of southern whiskey while also disrupting the industry. More than ten years later, it seems that the plan has worked. They’re a small batch distillery and their spirits have won more awards than can be respectfully named. They also take pride in their region with the grains sourced within 50 miles of the distillery itself. Today their tasting room is located in the very quickly up and coming Scott’s Addition part of Richmond where they’re one of many creative culinary entrepreneurs changing the landscape of the city.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced a laid-back fine-dining meal before, but that’s exactly what I found at the quirky but highly recommended L’opossum. Named as the South’s best restaurant by Southern Living Magazine, the chef-owner David Shannon has his own list of impressive accolades none of which came as a surprise as soon as I sat down inside the unusual restaurant. It’s described as a playful spin on French cuisine, but it’s so much more than that. Strong Southern influences are also present on the menu and it’s hard not to think of Morocco not only from the dishes, but the restaurant’s décor as well. It’s a place to have fun while also enjoying one of the best meals of your life. Only chefs with incredibly strong culinary backgrounds like the ones at L’opossum can pull off tongue-in-cheek fine-dining, but that’s honestly the best way to describe this unforgettable dining experience.
Like so many of the other establishments on this list, Original Gravity (brewing supply store) was also a passion project of its owner, Tony Ammendolia. Located in Lakeside across the street from the Love Shack, today the brewery (Final Gravity) features a large and fun tasting room that has very quickly become a neighborhood hangout. It wasn’t always that way though. Tony was a longtime home-brewer and for years his shop sold only brewing supplies to other beer-loving locals. Thanks to some regulatory changes though, Tony was able to open Final Gravity Brewing in 2015 and from all appearances it’s been a success. Final Gravity is a little different though in that it’s very much a neighborhood brewery. They don’t distribute far and wide, instead beer aficionados from around Richmond and the region stop by to pick up a growler to take home. I love that community spirit and it’s hard not to smile when walking through the front door, almost expecting someone to shout “Norm!”
Located within walking distance of Reservoir Distillery in Scott’s Addition is yet another quirky restaurant that I’m almost at a loss to properly describe. With separate dining spaces and menus for lunch or supper, the restaurant’s goal is to create homey but elevated meals that are mostly all inspired from southern cuisine. I think. What I do know is that it’s an incredibly fun place to enjoy a delicious meal with friends and was one of the best evenings I enjoyed in Richmond. Starting off with cracklins and pimento cheese, I migrated on to a delicious pork and spätzle main dish before finishing my evening with a decadent Krispy Kreme bread pudding. All were flavors I knew and loved, but presented in ways I hadn’t expected. I love that and I know my first meal won’t be my last.
There’s no other hotel in Richmond as important as the historic Jefferson Hotel. For more than a century the property has been the place to see and be seen. Not only are they impressive from a hospitality angle, but their culinary side is just as incredible as I learned over a leisurely breakfast. Most famous for their decadent Sunday Champagne brunches, even their weekday breakfasts are a special treat. There are few things I enjoy more than a great breakfast at an equally incredible hotel and at The Jefferson that means classics like their savory bacon and cheddar scones, chicken and waffles, cheddar baked grits and so much more. Of course breakfast isn’t the only meal where The Jefferson excels, but it does make for the ideal start to anyone’s day.
I honestly didn’t expect the culinary side of Richmond to be as important as it was during my brief time in the city. It had been many years since I last visited and I honestly had no idea how much the food landscape has changed in and around the city. I can say though without exaggeration that it’s the food and drink scene that may be most impressive about the city and is clearly a good reason to plan a trip so you can properly explore it for yourself.