When you go South, young man, stop by Richmond on your way…

I wanted to do something special to celebrate my girlfriend’s August birthday.  After eliminating the usual “go-to”s:  flowers, dinners, chocolate, and jewelry, I decided that a weekend getaway would be just the thing to spend some quality time, close out the summer, and kick off the Fall.  After weighing a few options, I settled on Richmond.  Due to some scheduling challenges, I was able to make our travel plans for the second weekend of September.

Richmond has been the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1780. It was here during the American Revolution that patriot Patrick Henry gave his famous ‘Give me Liberty, or give me Death!’ speech. But Richmond is most notable for serving as the capital
7177892813_1037e10160_b of the secessionist Confederate States of America during the Civil War from 1861 to 1865. Ironically, Richmond is now an ethnically diverse city, with a vibrant multicultural community, a progressive art scene, and an eclectic growing gourmet foodie subculture.

After settling into our room at the Omni Richmond on Cary Street (a beautiful, pet-friendly hotel), we took a walk with Mochi, Joan’s lovable and inquisitive Shiba Inu, through Carytown down to the Shockoe Bottom.

Between the late 17th century and the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the area (also known as Shockoe Slip) played a major role in the history of slavery in the United States, serving as the second largest slave trading center in the country, second to New Orleans. Profits from the trade in human beings fueled the creation of wealth for Southern whites and drove the economy in Richmond, leading 15th Street to be known as Wall Street in the antebellum period, with the surrounding blocks home to more than 69 slave dealers and auction houses.

Ironically, now the district is populated with award-winning restaurants and nationally known chefs.  Shockoe Slip is becoming as famous for food as it is for its history. The Slip is alive with eclectic restaurants from Victorian elegance, to legendary brewpubs, fresh seafood and handmade pasta. There are now trendy clubs that offer every kind of evening entertainment from jazz to blues and rock to dance music. There are also places to rack up the billiards or savor a fine cigar.

We, however, decided to dine in a neighborhood just South of Shockoe Bottom named Church Hill.  Church Hill, much like some current neighborhoods in DC, is undergoing a renaissance.  Once considered one of the “10 most dangerous neighborhoods in the country,” it is now a place to find a historic townhome to restore.  And, it is home to one of the hottest restaurants on the East Coast, Dutch & Company.  This is where we finally had our birthday celebration. Dutch-Co-Style-Weekly-e1458668521967

The giant windows in Dutch & Co. overlooking 27th and Marshall Streets offer an expansive view of the complex and changing neighborhood. The menu reflects the location nicely: classic foundations, complex flavors and changing ingredients for each season.

On this night, we decided to start with the Cheese (Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert, Mixed Berries, Lovage, Roasted Almonds, Citrus Oil, Aged Balsamic) and Vichyssoise (Sunchoke and Leek, Bread & Butter Pickled Shallots, Sunchoke Chips, Dill & Leek Puree) appetizers.  Since we seemed to be experiencing a simultaneous red meat jones, we ordered the Hanger Steak (Peaches, Roasted Sweet Peppers, Cashew, Mint, Arugula, Cocoa Gnocchi, Aged Balsamic) as our entrées.

Simply put, epicurean climax.

We ended the meal sharing two desserts:  Honey Pot (Milk & Honey Puddin’, Floral Ice, Peaches, Honey Brittle) and Chocolate (Dark Chocolate Ginger Cake, Aerated Milk Chocolate, Expresso Ice Cream, Cardamom Marshmallow, Candied Pistachio, Orange Curd Sauce).

After we came to, we said our goodbyes to the friendly Richmondites next to us (who made our meal just that more enjoyable), thanked our fantastic server and bartender (who couldn’t have been better), and bid adieu to the host (who graciously called us a taxi).

Would I recommend Dutch & Company to anyone visiting Richmond?  Um… Yes! http://dutchandcompany.tumblr.com/

Joan and I were fortunate, as the weather all weekend was mild and pleasant.  Our Saturday was spent walking from our hotel Carytown to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA).  It was about an hour long stroll, and we were able to take in many sights from the majestic and surprisingly artistic architecture of downtown to the quaint and eclectic row houses of the residential neighborhoods that populate the North side of the city.  As interesting as our walk through Richmond’s neighborhoods was, it was VMFA that we found most provocative.IMG_2514The museum first opened its doors on January 16, 1936.  Its collection was started by Judge John Barton Payne, a prominent Virginian who held high offices in law and national politics, when he donated his entire collection of 50 paintings to the Commonwealth.  Today, the museum houses over 22,000 works from all over the world.  As a native Washingtonian, I sort of a museum snob, as the District is home to the Smithsonian with its assorted museums and world famous collections.  I am here to report, however, that as of this writing VMFA is my second favorite museum in the world. (MOMA is my favorite. Yes, I know it’s in NYC.  I have never been to The Louvre).

I won’t bore you with a blow by blow of the many pieces we saw.  What I will say is that we spent over 3 hours there, and we didn’t even scratch the surface.  We were both impressed by the scope and breadth of the collection.  I would think that anyone who is a lover of art and creative expression would have a great time walking the halls of VMFA. http://vmfa.museum/

As you have probably deduced by now, I also love to eat.  I had a pulled pork barbecue sandwich in their café (served with cole slaw and no sauce) that was one of the best that I have ever eaten.  I don’t like to live in the land of superlatives.  But, in the case of my experiences in Richmond, they are appropriate.

It will, therefore, come as no surprise that the last two places I want to talk about in Richmond are food related. In the interest of time, I will just name them.  On Saturday evening, we ate at Alamo BBQ, also located in Church Hill (the VMFA sandwich primed the pump).  The food was fantastic. http://www.alamobbqva.com/   And, on the way out of town on Sunday morning, we stopped off at Sugar Shack Donuts in the Carver neighborhood to pick up a half dozen for the road.  They were worth the wait in line. http://www.sugarshackdonuts.com/

All in all, I think my trip with Joan was a success.  We had an absolutely lovely time in Richmond.  And, we will be back.  If nothing else, to make next year’s food truck rodeo for which we just did not have enough time to attend. http://centralvirginiafoodtruckrodeo.com/

Originally Written Sept 2014

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