National Geographic Traveler picked the top six places in the world for food travelers in 2016 and – spoiler alert – Richmond topped the magazine’s list. Our own Ardent Craft Ales, in Scott’s Addition made the list! Congratulations!
Southern cuisine can trace its roots back to Virginia, home of the first permanent settlements in the American South. While nearby Washington, D.C., and southern culinary titan Charleston, South Carolina, are both regarded among the U.S.’s best food cities, Richmond’s blend of English, Native American, and African-American influences help the city stand out.
Chefs in this capital city with plenty of charm are now whipping up southern cuisine with a contemporary flair. Simultaneously, purveyors are rediscovering colonial-era Virginia ingredients like local peanuts, old-fashioned country ham, and seafood from the Chesapeake Bay. Those in the industry are also taking notice of their booming craft brewery scene. Local brewers such as Ardent Craft Ales and Strangeways Brewing have made a name for themselves, while California-based Stone Brewing Company plans to undergo a massive expansion to the city in early 2016.
What to Eat: Indulge in pork “fries”—deep-fried logs of pulled pork—at trendy Heritage and try Chesapeake Bay oysters at Rappahannock, products of a recently restored population (although the populations are still suffering). You can get peanut butter pie or an appetizer of pimento cheese, BBQ pork rinds, and pickles at the Roosevelt, run by local restaurateur Kendra Feather.
What to Drink: It’s said that Thomas Jefferson considered cider a necessary table drink. Artisan cider, with as many subtleties and nuances as wine, is currently undergoing a revival in the third president’s beloved home state. Visit the tasting room at Blue Bee Cider in downtown Richmond to try their rotating selection of small-batch ciders.
Edible Souvenir: Stop by Belmont Butchery for some of owner Tanya Cauthen’s famous handcrafted bacon. It’s cured simply with salt, sugar, and spices and then smoked over hickory wood.
Food Experience: Explore the city’s thriving craft beer scene with Richmond Brewery Tours. Tickets include round-trip transportation, complimentary snacks, a guided tour of one of the breweries, and a tasting flight at three different breweries. Tours are given Thursday through Sunday.
Cultural Tip: You will sometimes see country ham called Virginia or Smithfield ham on Richmond restaurant menus. This traditional product is cured with salt and seasonings and then hung to dry in a smokehouse for several months.
Fun Fact: Mary Randolph of Richmond published one of the earliest southern cookbooks in 1824. The Virginia Housewife contains some of the first written recipes for classic dishes like fried chicken, stewed okra, and corn bread.
Staff Tip: Richmond is all about the beer scene right now. Stone Brewing, a popular West Coast staple, is planning to open its first facility on the East Coast in the Greater Fulton area of Richmond in early 2016, adding to the list of well-established brewers in the area. Their plans include a brewery, packaging hall, and farm-to-table restaurant. Looking for something more immediate? Richmond is also home to Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, where you can sample award-winning libations, including my personal favorite—the Great Return, a West Coast-style India pale ale. Head to their tasting room every Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m. for seasonal drafts and their year-round food-truck court.