Food

Completely Questionable: Fine Food Market

There are those markets in Richmond that stock beautifully packaged goods, boast fresh produce and offer warm service. I’m talking about places like Little House Green Grocery, Harvest Grocery and Union Market, each make neighborhoods feel cozy and enchanted (read more about my thoughts on them here). Then, there are the others that somehow remain in business that are far past questionable – a mafia front? Hidden brothel in the back?

Because I’m a big fan of experience, I voyaged to some of the city’s most questionable neighborhood markets and have documented each visit.
I’ll start with Fine Foods.  This is where it started. When friends were raving about their shockingly abundant beer selection and sketchy feel they urged me to test it out for myself (and write about it).  After dinner at Perly’s, my girlfriend and made the quick drive to Oregon Hill. There is was, a large brick building on Idlewood with old wrought ironwork outside its entrance.  Inside, my mind was blown.  The musty smell, the bare shelves, disheveled items and the random out-of-date artifacts (hello, 1992 Gillette ‘Sensor’ razor cartridge) gave the ambiance of a post-apolocyptic movie set.

We set our sight on finding this acclaimed beer selection and there it was, nestled in a corner surrounded by coolers we discovered one of the best selection of craft brews comparable to Strawberry Street Market. We grabbed a 6 pack and headed to venture. Aisle by aisle, the randomness of items was mesmerizing and would put any OCDer into an acute panic.  From any array of sugar-fied faux juice to the most chaotic assortment of 1990 Holiday greeting cards.

As we headed toward the checkout, the line of folks was growing – most clung to their good craft beer or waited patiently to get their wine-flavored Black & Mild at the counter.  Although it looks like a tornado ripped through the place and everything edible looked absolutely questionable, there’s something perfectly peculiar at Fine Food.  No matter how crappy, it’s a neighborhood store … that sells great beer. And that’s about it.

Weekend Trip covers 4, 5 & 6: Center of the Universe, Lickinghole Creek & Midnight Brewery

COTUJust a short ride up 95 North, you’ll find yourself facing a building that might resemble the DMV, but inside instead of stern faces and long lines, you’ll find Center of the Universe (they call it COTU) Brewery.  The space is huge and complete with a large patio.  With around 10 beers on tap, we were excited to give another local place a try.  What we weren’t excited about? No heat. Apparently it went out that morning so we bundled up, drank our flight, and scurried on out.

The beer here was alright. I really hate saying alright but we weren’t too impressed. It might be our tastebuds which prefer bolder brews.

I felt like the majority of our flight were IPA’s, which we’re both not huge fans of.  The beginning of our flight started with Slingshot (Kolsch), super light Ray Ray’s (Pale Ale) then to a traditional Main Street (Virginia Ale), then found my favorite in their Chin Music (Amber Lager). Next, the beers went to hop heaven with 4 IPA’s. Unfortunately, the hoppiness was so overwhelming that it changed the flavor of the ones that were not IPA’s.

I won’t give this one a thumbs down, I’ll certainly come back and make sure they have a seasonal brew or two and bask in their hug patio.

Ashleigh’s words: So many IPA’s, so little variation.

Flight: $13 for 8

Lickinghole

After COTU, we drove our way through some beautiful Goochland countryside to Lickinghole Creek. As we winded down a dirt road towards the supposed brewery, I felt like we were either going to end up in someone’s driveway (queue a little bit of Deliverance) or an off-the-grid campsite.

Even though I read Lickinghole Creek is Virgina’s first farm brewery, the beautiful white barn still took my breath away. The expansive land the barn sits on is beautiful and I can’t imagine how amazing this place is in the warm summer months.

Following our bad luck with COTU’s heatless tasting room, we quickly discovered Lickinghole’s water was out with a single trip to the Port-a-John. As a result, we weren’t able to snag a flight (unable to wash their glasses).
On the bright side, they had just released their Vanilla Virginia Black Bear Stout a day prior so we went along with the excitement and each got one. It was great – small hints of vanilla with a robust stout flavor. So robust and dark that it coated Ashleigh’s mouth resembling a kind of chola lip liner.

I also got a sip of their Rosemary Saison which was incredible with earthy hints of rosemary with the dry tang of a saison. I’d certainly get this if I saw it on a menu.

Ashleigh’s words: I wanted a little more vanilla flavor in the stout…and I think it’s better to visit during warmer months…and when the water is working…

Flight: $9

Midnight

Our impromptu trip to Midnight Brewery wouldn’t have been possible without locking eyes with their logo on an exit sign going 64 eastbound. This place was literally right off the highway, which delighted the both of us since we were both hungry and ready to get back to the city.Tucked in a small Industrial Park in the middle of a field, we found comfort in our last brewery of the day and the sweetest older woman who worked there.

The beers here were crisp and cold. For our flight, we ordered Not My Job (a Southern English Brown Ale), Rockville Red (Irish Red Ale), Midnight Granite (Oatmeal Stout) and Front Porch (Rye Porter).

My favorite was the Rockville Red which made me realize I had forgotten how great Irish Reds were. Its toasty caramel and mild hop flavor was amazing and beats my old days of drinking Killian’s.

Ashleigh’s words: I love a beer with a crisp, clean edge to it and all of the ones we tried had that, yes yes yes.

Flight: $6 for 4

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.

IMG_1490

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.