Yuko and I travelled to Richmond, Virginia, aka RVA, to meet up with some friends. Richmond is in the middle of a coffee, beer, donut, and ice cream explosion, so we wanted to get a taste of everything. The city has reportedly changed dramatically in the last few years, being a recipient of a strong dose of hipsterism. Richmond was a perfect target of this cultural shift, since the city has a vibrant college scene and underutilized industrial spaces.
Besides my friend moving there from the Charlottesville area (another gorgeous city in Virginia, albeit an order of magnitude smaller), Richmond got on my radar for two other, specific reasons:
- The city hosted the Union Cycliste Internationale Road Championships in 2015, which were used for qualification for the Summer Olympics in 2016. The city was effectively shuttered in support of the races. While I don’t love professional cycling, I regret not going down for this experience.
- Stone Brewing opened their second brewhouse in the city. Stone has gotten huge in craft brewing partially because of what they’ve done in supporting the craft brewing community, and that’s cool.
As is typical of me and my wife, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs (and, likely, our arteries) and we both agreed that we won’t be able to do a trip like this anytime soon, if ever again. We expect and hope that our next trip will consist of running up mountains and sampling the finest local salad shops.
Mrs Yoder’s Kitchen Donuts at the South of the James Farmers Market: Since these donuts are only sold at this one place on Sundays and only until they run out or noon, which ever comes first, we got out of our hotel room and headed straight to pre-breakfast. These donuts are not to be missed: each donut is served hot out of the hopper, with a perfect texture, and just the right amount of sugar coating. The line moves quickly. The rest of the farmers market looked great, but we didn’t have a chance to sample anything else before it started to close down.
Lunch or Supper: “Some of the best examples of New Southern Cuisine in the city,” says my friend. We went for brunch and had a tasty brew outside while waiting for our table. The “Mexican Sunrise Breakfast Bowl” was basically a decomposed breakfast burrito and was delightful.
Carytown: This is a neat neighborhood with lots of unique shops and restaurants. We visited:
One-Eyed Jacques: A card/puzzle/game shop with a very nice selection.
Mongrels: The kind of shop with a million kitschy items; they get respect from me for being very clearly politically motivated.
World of Mirth: Let your inner-child-with-credit-card loose in this toy store, which is part retro and part contemporary. I never knew my wife would buy and enjoy a Playdoh-like molding clay.
Stone Brewing: Definitely the most well-funded tap room of the ones we went to, Stone has a large selection on tap, about half of which is their usual stuff and the rest is more interesting. They also have some great RVA-specific merch.
Triple Crossing Brewing (their Fulton location): Good beer? Check. Pizza? Check. Locally-made ice cream sandwiches? Arcade games? Outdoor patio with games? Check, check, and check. I wish I had a dog to bring here, to blend in.
Walk across the pedestrian bridge at Browns Island: We picked up my friends’ dogs and took them for a walk across the James River on this pedestrian-only bridge. The views of the river and its wildlife were nice. I’d definitely recommend going, but maybe not in the late-day sun and heat in July.
Brenner Pass: I got credit from my Richmond-residing friend for finding out about this then two week-old restaurant, which I only found out about by stalking The Veil Brewing (I like to do travel research!), who did a collaboration brew for the restaurant. (In my experience, a restaurant having a relationship with a good brewery is extra points for both the restaurant and the brewery). Dinner was pretty good, but there were clearly still some things to iron out. The alpine-inspired (think: Swiss mountains, fondue) cocktail and food menus were certainly very interesting, but it was hard to understand the beer list because they replaced half of it without reprinting the menu. I’d definitely try it again when it matures.
Millie’s: We needed a brunch place close to the speech (see below), and this fit the bill. “Messes”, a melange of locally-sourced ingredients, are apparently a Richmond thing. The current events-inspired songs in the per-table (non-functional) jukeboxes should be reviewed. Recommended, but not life-changing.
Proper Pie Co.: We had some time to kill and what better way than doing so with delicious pie. The strawberry rhubarb left me wanting another couple of pieces and additional return trips.
Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech at the St. John’s Church: In the summer on Sundays, this church stages a reenactment of a 1775 meeting of Virginia representatives, where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Liberty or Death” speech. I thought there would be a guy dressed in period costume who merely recited the speech, but instead the reenactment made the audience feel like they were representatives hearing the speech for the first time. I loved this, since I love Revolutionary War history, but I’m not sure my companions were as enthralled. (The opening act of a patriotic song sing-a-long à la pipe organ, while well-intended, could be eliminated without loss).
The Veil Brewing: Technical, well-executed beer with lots of double hopped options? I’ll take it! The taproom is well appointed with a clean, industrial look.
Ardent Craft Ales: Good beer. Notable for being one of the few of the breweries to provide flights as an option. Feels a lot more homey than some of the other industrial spaces.
Gelati Celesti Ice Cream: OMG great ice cream. Their flavor selection is large and interesting and has great execution. I wanted to have all of them, but I ended up with the “Blanchard’s Dark as Dark”, which contains grinds from locally-roasted espresso beans, and the “Just Ask”, which has peanut butter and Oreo bits. You should see the size of the waffle cones!. I regret not going back to get an ice cream sandwich and an ice cream pie. Damn, now I’m craving an ice cream sandwich as I’m typing this.
Hardywood Brewing: Innovative brews with local ingredients, with lots of experiments. I had the Mamaw’s Mean Cobbler tripel which really tastes like a peach pie, but better because it’s beer. I also picked up the Virginia Blackberry white ale, since Virginia is well known for my favorite berry.
Graffiato: After a well-earned nap back at the hotel, Yuko and I went across the street to this Italian-inspired restaurant by a former Top Chef contestant. As my friend said, one should not travel from New York to Richmond to have pizza, but we were pleasantly surprised. We also enjoyed the appetizers and sides, as well as the well-managed beer list. (I didn’t try their 100% rum-free pineapple juice, though).
The Lab by Alchemy: We stopped by for an espresso with what seemed to be the employees of a bike messenger company, (Or were they just hipsters?). Good espresso, but otherwise unremarkable.
The Black Sheep: This place is known for their ginormous sandwiches, each named after an American battleship. A full sandwich is literally a whole baguette stuffed with a variety of ingredients, but they graciously offer the ability to order a half, which itself can be shared with two or three people. Now, if you know me, you know that I love sandwiches. I see what they are doing with the size thing, but these were just hard to eat; they devolve into having a salad with a fork and a huge piece of baguette on the side. Plus, the service was slow and black flies were aplenty.
Sugar Shack Donuts: Innovative flavors, sometimes with non-donut stuff on the top (a la Voodoo). Delicious. No place to sit except some lawn chairs outside in the sun; this place primarily fills boxes for people who drive here.
Tredegar Iron Works: We made a mistake and only went to the museum portion of this former cannon manufacturer. The notable thing about the museum is that they take great effort to portray the war from three different aspects: from the Union side, from the Confederate side, and from the slave side.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: We had the rest of the afternoon to kill before our friends got off from work, so we went to the VMFA and the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit. Visiting the permanent collection of this surprisingly huge museum is free (donations encouraged, of course!), but the special exhibit costs money. I’m not a huge fashion person (which is obvious for people who know me; I wear a uniform), so that aspect of the exhibit and YSL’s historical importance was lost on me, but the exhibit itself was well done. As for the permanent collection: I felt like we were at the Met and were similarly overwhelmed, which was an odd feeling to have at a museum in Richmond, Virginia, of all places.
Three Notch’d Brewing: We walked to this Charlottesville-based brewery, which also nicely provided the option of a flight. Their darker stuff and IPAs were great. Since we’re past the point of no return in our relationship, I summoned my hard-earned, college-honed foosball skills and schooled my wife on their table in the back.
Mean Bird: A popular food truck recently opened a brick-and-mortar location, so we had to visit it. My friend thinks we visited on an off day, as the fried chicken didn’t live up to his previous experiences. Still, I’d have the vegan “fried chicken” any day of the week.
Strangeways Brewing: We took our two giant bags of chicken, “chicken”, and sides to this brewery, which was totally amenable to this (we called ahead). The beer was great and they have lots of board games idly standing by.
GWARbar: One of my life regrets will be having never gone to a performance of Richmond-based GWAR while their original frontman was still alive. Who doesn’t love fake blood being sprayed on you by immaculately costumed barbaric interplanetary warriors while they shred on their guitars? (They also give love advice, sing Christmas carols, and make.. um… fun of Justin Bieber). Plus, they have an annual barbeque/music festival! (But not this year because they are writing a new record!) And they have an eponymous bar where we had GWAR Blood (appropriately, a red ale brewed by Strangeways). But, otherwise, it’s just a bar with some interesting decor; as somewhat of a GWAR fan, I’m glad I went.
Quirk Hotel’s Q Rooftop Bar: Staying at the hotel gave us priority access to the rooftop as a perk, which meant we could cut the line, which can grow amazingly long on weekend nights. I liked this rooftop bar because they maintained a strict capacity cap, which resulted in it not feeling crowded and us not needing to shout at each other. Good mixed drinks, mediocre but acceptable beer selection. It was nice enough that we enjoyed each other’s company until after last call on our last night in town, a nice end to our trip.
Things We Didn’t Do
These are some places that were recommended by my friend, but that we didn’t get to.
- The White House of the Confederacy: I was recommended to go to only one of Tredegar or this.
- Hollywood Cemetery: A couple of presidents are buried here, and it is supposed to be pretty.
- King of Pops: We had every opportunity to try these popsicles, as there are many carts around popular areas.
- Charm School: I most regretted missing this; we tried to on Monday, when they are closed.