Williamsburg is really not the town it was when I was a student there, particularly from a gastronomic perspective. Back then, it was delis, pizza, and ramen noodles (a hot pocket if it was a special occasion!). But then again, I was a college student, a demographic group not known for good judgment, much less good taste. The one fancy restaurant in town was The Trellis (still there, although under new ownership since I was a student). Of course, the only time you graced its doors was during Parents’ Weekend. And then you had to deal with your mom scowling at your wrinkled, beer stained button down, which constituted “dressing up.” Then there was Berrett’s Seafood (still there), but seafood is expensive so we only went there occasionally for happy hour. (This is where I had to instruct my best friend’s younger brother that slapping your hand on the bar and barking “barkeep” is the quickest way to get pegged as an underaged drinker!)
As I mentioned above, there were the “delis,” which served subs, hoagies, or grinders (depending on where you are from), but were also bars. (My favorite was Paul’s Deli (still there). My favorite sandwich was the “Sailor,” which of course brought about snickers when someone asked you what you were going to eat…. . (I never promised a PG-rated blog folks!) Right next door to Paul’s Deli was The Green Leafe, which may be my favorite bar of all time. My credit card bills were certainly testament to this fact. This bar was strict about carding, so it was the domain exclusively of juniors and seniors, which made it seem very grown up, especially when you would run into one of your professors on a Friday afternoon. Not for nothing was The Green Leafe known as the unofficial faculty club in a town where the university actually did not have one of its own.
And so it was with these memories that I arrived in Williamsburg on a Friday evening in March, twenty-two years after graduation. Would it hold up to my nostalgia?
Dinner that night was at a restaurant called The Fat Canary. Interesting name, no doubt. It really has nothing to do with an overweight yellow bird in a cage. It comes from an old colonial poem. When ships sailed from the Old World to the New, they would stop in the Canary Islands for supplies. Of course, one of the more important provisions was wine, which was referred to as “Canary.” The colonial playwright John Lyly penned a poem about canary: “Oh for a bowl of fat canary, rich Palermo sparkling sherry… .” And a rich bowl of Canary I had.
We started off with crispy Rappahannock oysters with sweet onions, tomatoes, and espelette pepper and seared foie gras, hazelnut toast, blackberries, and watercress. For my entrée, I had a heritage-breed pork chop, goat cheese soufflé, golden apple sauce, and grilled onion. Dessert was crème brûlée—one of my favorites! This was such a great meal, which gives credence to that fact that Williamsburg has become a food-lover’s town. (Not surprising because The Fat Canary is owned by the same family that owns the Cheese Shop, another venerable Williamsburg institution.)
The next morning we walked over to “Dog Street” for the weekly farmers market. Now there really isn’t a street in Williamsburg named “Dog.” “D.O.G. Street” is actually short for “Duke of Gloucester Street.” But “DOG Street” is how the locals refer to it. Now keep in mind that Williamsburg is both a tourist attraction and a college town. And students being students, we would take great delight in giving directions to “tourons” (part tourist, part moron) that referenced “Dog Street,” knowing that they would spend the better part of the afternoon trying to get back to their hotel, with two or three screaming toddlers in tow. Yeah, I know, it was a jerk move, but we were college students.
Anyway, back to the farmer’s market.
Williamsburg never had anything like this when I was a student in the Burg: fresh seafood, grass-fed beef, artisanal cheeses, and French pastries made by an actual French woman from Normandy. In short, a foodie paradise! And yet, we didn’t find a single thing for dinner that night, perhaps because it was the first market of the year, and produce was limited in availability.
By this time, lunch approached. We had lunch at the Dog Street Pub, a name which has probably clued in the tourons, much to the chagrin of the latest batch of W&M students. Great little gastropub, new to the ‘Burg within the last few years, with a good selection of craft brews. (We’ve come a long way from the days when Sam Adams was a craft brew.) I had endive salad with serrano ham, Stilton blue cheese, red peppers, toasted walnuts, and honey dressing. Yes, I know this is not typical pub food, but after the previous night’s feast, I had to had pace myself.
After a walk through Colonial Williamsburg, it was off to Trader Joe’s to get food for dinner. We never had a Trader Joe’s when I was a student, instead we had to rely on frozen dinners and pre-packaged food at the local Food Lion. But then again, we lived on pizza delivery and ramen noodles.
The Birthday Present
But the food at dinner, though good, was not the main attraction. It never is, or should be, when one has dinner with friends. This one was of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had in a long time. Over food and wine, we talked; we laughed; we reminisced. And the background music was Andrew and Janice’s two beautiful, precocious daughters being silly, telling jokes, and having fun getting to stay up late.
Sunday morning brunch was interesting, to say the least. The previous Friday, the fridge had died. We were fortunate to get a new one delivered on Sunday. Of course, this interfered with making french toast (by me) and a frittata (by Andrew), all the while trying to help the guys installing the fridge shut off the water. Thankfully, the mimosas helped us get through it.
Alas, it was time to head back home, which meant a car ride back to D.C. But first, we had to make a stop at Pierce’s Pitt BBQ. This is some of the best BBQ in Southeast Virginia. Having lived in Alabama for almost ten years now, this BBQ was a welcomed return to Carolina style BBQ. Plus you have to love a place that proudly proclaims its name as including “Pitt” with two T’s because . . . well, that’s the way it is.
Then it was back on the road for a quick drive to Washington, DC, and the flight home. Birthday weekend was over. I slept well on the plane. Good food and great memories helped.