Thursday, May 31, 2012

So You Think You Can Richmond

Though it gives off the appearance of a once prosperous industrial town that is lying dormant, there is more to Richmond, VA than dusty history. There are lavish parks to be found amongst the brick, whether the Japanese and Italian Gardens at Maymont Park, the rustic tranquility of Belle Isle on the James River or the sanctuary that is Hollywood Cemetery. There are active communities of artists, musicians and theatrical performers breathing new life where it wasn’t before. There are local businesses keeping the city’s identity in tact, even while basketball coach Shaka Smart—may his name be praised— continues bringing national attention to the city and to my alma mater.

In my opinion, nothing captures Richmond better than the food. Once capital of the south, today it is the last stop for excellent pork barbecue and other southern delicacies. It is also home to authentic ethnic foods and fusion cuisine. There are numerous “Richmond favorites,” but I have limited myself to these sweet tooth stuffs.

Strawberry Pie at Bill’s Barbecue – This taste of summer has a buttery crust, juicy strawberry halves and a light whipped cream topping. It is not unusual for them to run out, but Bill’s is worth a visit regardless. For your meal, try their signature hot sauce on the North Carolina style minced barbecue sandwich—so hot it melts the bun!—and wash it down with their sparkling limeade, which is worth the stop all by itself. (Update for 2014: All Bill's locations have closed, sadly.)

Fudge Walnut Pie at Strawberry Street Café – Every menu item I’ve ever had at this local staple is rich. My favorite meal items are the Chicken Chesapeake and the Crab & Swiss Quiche. But the richest item on the menu is this gooey chocolate delight. Served warm, it demands to be savored. Though another dessert may sound the most enticing—the Ice Cream Sandwich: a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream between two slices of pound cake, topped with your choice of strawberries, hot fudge or both, if you ask nicely—having tried all the desserts at Strawberry Street, my recommendation is still the Fudge Walnut Pie. Or bring some friends and try both!

MexiCali Chocolate Ice Cream at Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream – Spicy chocolate ice creams are becoming more and more popular, but Bev’s creation is the best I’ve had. It is quite simple: cinnamon, cayenne pepper and a touch of mint. I’ve tried to recreate it, but have never gotten it at Bev’s quality. My friend Boren still raves about this flavor, though he hasn’t had it in the six years since we graduated college.

Peach Melba Cheese Pie at The Tobacco Company – This restaurant is not a cheap outing, but well worth it. If a glance at the prices makes you blush and walk out, make sure to stop in for dessert sometime. The cheese pie is a light and subtle slice of the south, the child of a dainty cheesecake and a mountainous slice of cream pie. Peaches decorate the plate like pillows on a guest bed.

Glazed Custard Doughnut at Country Style Doughnuts – Open 24 hours, six days a week, closed Mondays. To score the best flavors you need to get there in the morning. The Glazed Custard is a perfectly doughy delight FILLED with Boston Crème. Other favorites are the Toasted Coconut and the Glazed yeast doughnut. I usually find myself near the store at the late night hours, which has sometimes yielded doughnutless disappointment and other nights pure joy. One time my brother and I arrived at the 2AM Tuesday morning reopening and were greeted by racks and racks of Glazed yeast doughnuts.

Honorable Mention: For the Love of Chocolate – This chocolate shop features an enormous variety of chocolate from around the world. They carry many of my favorites: Baci (Italy), Kinder Bueno (Germany/Italy), Ritter Sport’s Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts (Germany), Gold Bars by Fran’s Chocolate (Seattle), Vosges (Chicago), Valrhona (France), Galler Chocolate’s Noix de Coco (Belgium). During college, I would come here to celebrate my birthday by treating myself to $20 worth of truffles and dark chocolate covered graham crackers. Nowadays something different from this store finds its way into my stocking each holiday season.

No comments: