Isley

No. 3 – Isley Brewing Company

Isley Brewing Company, another recently opened brewery (October 2013) in Scott’s Addition makes you feel as if a mini RVA Brewery Tour is absolutely doable, located within a mile radius of Hardywood and Ardent.

Nestled into a narrow space between Lamplighter and trendy lofts, I was surprised at its massive space stretching lengthwise with a decent back deck.  In the front, you’ll find pool tables, big screen tv’s and tons of tables.  Back towards the bar, you’ll find cheerful bartenders that happily pour and chat it up with customers.

So far, their beer offerings are the most whimsical and sweet-tooth-inspired from their Sour Relationships (blueberry sour) to the Choosy Mother (peanut butter oatmeal porter) and Double Dare (bourbon barrel aged pumpkin double ale). Think dessert meets hops, but they’re not too sweet, they’re actually well balanced and adventurous.

We both decided to split a flight of 6 beers choosing wisely from 10 beers scribbled on a large chalkboard and went with the Blue Hefner (blueberry hefeweizen) Apple Brown Betty (apple brown ale), Size Doesn’t Matter (ginger ex strong bitter), The Bribe (oatmeal stout), Stunt Dubbel (pumpkin double ale), and Wild Honey Pie (Honey IPA).  Each beer shocked our taste buds with a pleasant transition.

My favorite? The Size Doesn’t Matter, I love ginger and the subtle spiciness of it balances well with the malt. Ashleigh claimed the Apple Brown Betty as her favorite and I couldn’t blame her, it was delicious as it resembled notes of apple butter.

As we sipped our flavorful flight, we played Jenga for the first time in years and relished in our skills.

Ashleigh’s take: Their flavors … it was like sampling from the dessert table at Thanksgiving; pumpkin pie, blueberry cobbler … delicious!

Ardent

No. 2 Ardent Craft Ales

Continuing along with Richmond breweries, we happily made a short drive to Ardent. Located in Scott’s Addition, Ardent is one of the newer breweries and opened last June. You might already be familiar with Ardent if you’ve had a sip of their Sweet Potato and Sage Autumn Ale this fall, which was featured on tap at many local restaurants. It’s my absolute favorite, but I still am curious about their other brews.

What we had: A flight of Sweet Potato and Sage (farmhouse-style saison), Dark Rye (American imperial stout), Virginia Common (ale-lager hybrid), and Saison (farmhouse style ale). All are great and are flavorful and clean.  They also carry several IPA’s that are extremely distinct in flavor – not all blended with one single hoppy taste.

My favorite still remains their Sweet Potato and Sage. It’s woodsy, sweet, and slightly hoppy at the same time. Any beer that is blended with herbs is a thumbs up in my book.

Flight: $12 for 4

Ashleigh’s take: It’s all about the Sweet Potato and Sage, I’m already looking forward to next fall so I can enjoy one while sitting in the sun on their patio.

Other mentions: Patio is spacious and dog friendly, the space is sexy and open, and they also serve food (think cheese plates and small bites).

Hardywood

No. 1 – Hardywood Park Brewery

Naturally, we’re starting our journey with one of our favorite Richmond-based breweries …

HARDYWOOD PARK CRAFT BREWERY

This place holds a soft spot in our hearts since its where we first met – in August one of my co-workers set up a group date during the release of their Blackberry Wheat – the day was great, we sat at a picnic table under trees, sipped beer, and quietly developed huge crushes for one another. The rest is history.

Getting back to the beer, now that the GBS frenzy is over, Hardywood’s released a Raspberry Stout that encompasses light notes of chocolate, a sweet taste of raspberry, and the classic malty flavor of a stout. While it’s not the Christmas-y taste of Gingerbread Stout, it’s still great.  Limit yourself on these – you’ll feel pretty full and “loose”

What We Had: A Raspberry Stout ($6) and Gingerbread Stout ($6). Both were bold but not overwhelmingly heavy.  The slight taste of sweet gingerbread paired with spicy notes is an amazing balance with malty stout. On a fruitier note, sweet raspberry and slightly bitter chocolate flavors were memorable. Both make a great sipping beer, but would compliment just about any dessert to perfection.

Flight: 4 for $12 – due to the thievery of their wooden flight paddles, they are offering $3 half pours.

Ashleigh’s words of bishiness: The infamous Gingerbread Stout! Makes me smile like a kid on Christmas morning with every sip. (Not an exaggeration)

Other mentions: Hardywood is much more than a place that brews beers – Sunday they’ve got yoga (calling it Brewasana), Thursday is Food Truck Court, and weekends are for live music (last weekend we saw Christi here, they’re amazing).

Next one on the list? Ardent Craft Ales.

Hardywood

Logo - TWO BISH2

Two Bish Brewery Challenge

When Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout made it’s famous debut this season, my girlfriend and I became instant fans of the highly-acclaimed beer – we made it to the brewery most weekends, we stalked local markets and grocery stores to see if they had GBS on their shelves, and my artsy lady even drew up a commemorate piece to proclaim our love for the stuff.

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Now that the GBS has cycled out of production, we’ve become quite a pair of beer connoisseurs…in one of the best cities for local (and great) beer. We both love the smoothness of a hefeweizen, the hoppy bite of an IPA, and the deep malty flavor of a stout.

We also love a challenge.

This is why we’re setting out and planning a Brewery Challenge – two girls, 1 state, and 133 breweries (133, yep) all in 1 year.

Here are the specifics we’ll cover:

Where we went
What we got
Price of a tasting flight
A clever and honest one sentence description from my sassy lady

(of course, we’ll mention off the cusp bits and pieces that might come our way)

Cheers …

p.s. – Ahem, the “bish” reference? It’s only a loving term my lady coined. She’s great.

Virginia is For Date Nights

Garnett's picnic + vino + RVA skyline = Date Night perfection

Garnett’s picnic + vino + RVA skyline = Date Night perfection

When you’re dating, the last thing on your smitten mind might be where to go out for a romantic dinner. I’ve complied a list of RVA date night and prix fixe specials so you and your sweet thing can get your grub on without the “no, where do you want to go?” back and forth …

Metzger Bar & Butchery – $40 gets you a carafe of vino, 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and 1 dessert. Wednesday night only.

Garnett’s – $30 for two entrees and a bottle of wine. Also, order to-go and pick it up along with a picnic basket and blanket (my own date night pic above).  Two thumbs up to that genius date idea.

23rd & Main / Sette – $28.96 for an appetizer, salad, pizza and dessert. Sunday only.

Mojo’s – $15 for an appetizer and two pasta entrees and $10 bottles of wine. Tuesday night only.

Can Can Brasserie$40 per couple. Choose between a 3 course dinner or a 2 course dinner with a bottle of wine. Tuesday only.

In addition to date night specials, a menu that lists prix fixe options (usually 3 courses – appetizer, entree, and dessert) gives you and your date the ability to choose several great options and a decent price. Find some great ones here …

Belmont Food Shop- $32 per person 3 course prix fixe.

Amuse – $28 per person 3 course prix fixe. Thursday & Friday from 5 – 6 only.

Bistro Bobette – $22 per person 3 course prix fixe. From 5 – 6 only, $28 outside of these hours.

Dutch and Company – $28 per person 3 course prix fixe.

Amour Wine Bistro – $39 per person 3 course prix fixe (with or without wine pairing is optional).

Acacia – $24 per person 3 course prix fixe. 5:30-9 pm Monday – Thursday & 5:30-6:30 Friday & Saturday.

Tastebuds American Bistro – $26 per person 3 course prix fixe, for $15 more, add a bottle of wine. Tuesday – Thursday only.

Cafe Rustica – $15 per person 3 course prix fixe. Sunday only – rotating entree offerings can be found here (click “Sunday Suppah”)

Southerly (inside Southern Seasons) – $29 per person prix fixe – go Wednesday when they offer half-off a bottle of wine. Sunday-Thursday from 3 – 9 pm.  They also have great cooking classes that make a great date night. Hint, hint.


Beast Feast … so meaty

Beast Feast

Beast Feast proved to be a belly-busting highlight for me this past weekend.  The 40 minute drive through the winding country took me to Historic Scotchtown (where Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech went down). As I stepped out of my car, I was hit with the fragrance of grilled meat as I watched a light cloud of smoke linger in the warm fall air.

Tanya Cauthen, meat enthusiast and owner of Belmont Butchery, teamed with Preservation Virginia to celebrate a 2nd Beast Feast. The event was meticulously catered around eating, drinking, and eating more by providing a constant rotation of grilled and smoked meat, hearty sides, desserts, and drinks. Tickets sold at $50 for unlimited food, beer, and wine and a $80 VIP ticket included Rappahannock oysters and specialty cocktails.

While Honky Tonk music lingered in the smoke-drenched air, drinks flowed from Blue Bee, Center of the Universe Brewery, and Blenheim Vineyards. In the VIP tent, craft bartenders from Rogue Gentleman, Saison, Balliceaux, and the Roosevelt whipped up southern-inspired cocktails. My Moonshine Mule, made with moonshine, ginger beer, and lime paired well with my juicy hunk of pork and greens. Later, my rose cider was smashing with an apple stuffing.

Standing in my first line for whole roasted pig, I listened to conversations of others who had smartly planned ahead by skipping breakfast that morning to make belly room for the smorgasbord of grilled goodness.  Folks were determined to enjoy it over and over again.

Local Richmond chefs including John Maher and Aaron Hoskins (Rogue Gentleman), Dylan Fultineer (Rappahannock), and Kevin White and Jason Kane (Aziza on Main) collaborated with skilled butchers to prep, grill, and dice for a hearty-sized crowd. We’re not talking hot dogs and burgers here, folks.  Whole duck, lamb, pig, chicken, beef, and turkey all made their way from flame to mouth quite literally, from the grilling area steps behind the serving tables where it was sliced and plated. In addition to the beast, there was an abundance and constant rotation of sides made from local ingredients ranging from venison pecan butternut stuffing, to apple and beet salad, to a smoked grilled pepper medley.

The food was outstanding, and everyone else seemed to agree. The freshness of the meat – from the preparation to the “just grilled” essence – was perfection. Folks weaved their way back into line for seconds, thirds, and fourths.

I finally hit my limit going back into line for a 4th trip but my food-loving friends continued to brave more fare including beautiful giant butternut squash halves and duck.

Dessert was not forgotten (even though I head back home before it was served) with mouthwatering creations like chocolate-drizzled cream puffs with bacon and bourbon and grilled gingerbread-stuffed pears made a perfect sweet finale to the gluttonous day.

The event was perfect and well-planned for the hungry and anxious crowd. A post Beast Feast perk? My hair and clothes lingered with a delicious smoky smell the rest of the night (so much so that I was forced to change my outfit because my dog, Grant was licking my clothes).

If the event holds true for a 3rd Beast Feast, I’ll be there with a beer in one hand, plate piled high with smoked or grilled goodness in the other having a grand ole time.

Graffiato

GraffiatoThe old and familiar Popkin Tavern sign might still light the corner of Broad and Jefferson streets, but inside Popkin’s old space, a new eatery with as much buzz as Hardywood’s Gingerbread stout has made landfall. Graffiato is a hit, and rightly so.

The original Graffiato opened and proved success in DC’s Chinatown district in 2011. The guy behind it all? Top Chef and Italian-American influenced, Mike Isabella (also Best New Chef Mid-Atlantic by Food + Wine magazine). After connecting with several RVA restauranteurs and chefs, he set his sight on Richmond’s culinary landscape to open a second Graffiato that would focus on the same casual Italian fare (think pasta and pizza), but also feature new additions such as Rockfish, Halibut, and NY Strip.

The fresh hustle and bustle of Graffiato’s dining room and bar [last] opening weekend was just as any new and hot restaurant should be expected. In fact, it was so busy, my 8:45 reservation became a 10:00 dinner.  I didn’t complain except the sounds my famished belly made as I patiently waited.

Graffiato’s space is open, airy, and sexy.  Nothing over the top or pretentious. The staff was friendly, even though they had their hands full with a crazy busy dining room and frustrated diners who didn’t handle their delayed reservations too well (hangry folks for sure).

The drink menu listed a great selection of Virginia brews and wines were categorized by Country, which I appreciate since my eyes scan every wine list for Spanish reds.  My date started with a Hardywood Singel and for me, a glass of Touriga Nacional (a bold red from Portugal).

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Some menu studying.

Being 10 pm and all, we needed to eat immediately so we quickly ordered the crispy artichoke with borqurones (anchovies – didn’t realize until later) and capers. The presentation on this dish was sleek and minimal, the flavor a little salty but should be expected. Nothing to boast about but it did settle the constant growling of my stomach.

My date went simple and chose the American Pie pizza with tomato, mozzarella, and basil ($12) which she instantly devoured. I was craving something small and carb-y so I went with the Smoked Burrata ($12). So glad I did. A thick smear of creamy burrata topped a thick slice of chewy Pane Pugliese bread with a cascade of sweet corn, juicy heirloom tomatoes, and tangy arugula pesto. It was the perfect portion and flavor.

By the time we finished, it was nearing 11, the buzz of the dining room began to slowly fade but the bar was still in full swing.  We were tempted by dessert but at the same time, we were also ready to head out so we got the Tiramisu ($7) to go.  This was the winner.  Traditionally, Tiramisu is a little sweet for me but Graffiato’s was creamy with balanced flavors of coffee, mascarpone, and cocoa.  Might sound crazy, but there was a slight hint of tanginess that resembled Gorgonzola that proved a pleasant surprise.

After boasting about the good experience to friends, they decided to go for dinner and had a rather different experience. Their server explained the menu was tapas style and advised they order 3 – 4 dishes each. This was not my understanding of the menu or even mentioned by our serves.  Their Potato Gnocci was slightly overcooked and mushy and the table next to them didn’t have much to boast about the Rockfish (I guess so much they told another table).

For me, I’ll certainly go again. My taste buds are set on the Greco Roman pizza with black figs, goat cheese, tasso ham ($14) and their Brussel Sprouts adorned with pancetta, maple, yogurt, egg ($8). Of course, a round 2 of the Tiramisu is in the bag.

Feel trusting? For $29 – $49, let the chef select a variety of tastings from their menu (dinner and drink).

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