Exploring Richmond – One Meal At A Time

One of the things we discovered very quickly when we arrived in RVA is that the list of places to eat appears to be infinite.  This has caused a certain distress to our waistlines (an ongoing struggle described in these posts).  With our second anniversary here approaching, I thought I could share some of our favorite places.

So by category:


I start right off with a three way tie.  Each one is different from the others, but each does a great job with a slightly different approach.  It’s a coin toss between:

  • Alamo BBQ in Church Hill – If you need a cozy restaurant setting for your barbecue this isn’t your place.  If you like some zing in your barbecue, you’re going to love Alamo.  Texas style so that means brisket plus chicken, pork, sausage, even portobello mushrooms and tilapia.  Everything I have ever had here has a spicy bite to it from the cowboy beans and mac and cheese to the brisket and ribs.  Seating is entirely outdoors mostly under a canopy.  The choices are many, so make sure you know what you want when you get to the window.  Sandwiches, platters, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, lots of sides and meat by the pound.
  • Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue – two locations, on Boulevard and on Broad.  This strikes me as more old school barbecue.  They are firmly based in the pitmaster traditions of barbecuing.  You’ll find brisket, chicken, pork, ribs, catfish and shrimp.  In season there’s Brunswich stew or chili.  The sides have all the usual suspects plus okra and hushpuppies.  Not fancy but solid, comfortable seating inside and patio outside when the weather permits.  They’ve been consistently at the top of the “Best BBQ in Richmond” list for years.
  • Q Barbecue – four locations around the area.  This is a regional chain that does a very good job of putting some quality food in front of you.  Comfortable traditional restaurant setup with some pretty good items on the menu. Founded by barbecue competition champion Tuffy Stone you’ll find the usual suspects plus wings, fried chicken, even burgers and hot dogs!  But the barbecue is good enough to ignore the rest.  Our very first meal here was from Q and we’ve been fans ever since.

Honestly, could not put one over the other.  Each has their attraction and we’ve gone to each multiple times.  And will again.  We’ve had some pretty good barbecue other places but these three stand apart from the rest.


I don’t know what it is about the Richmond area but the mexican restaurant per square mile has got to be very high around here.  Given that Mexican is one of our favorites that’s not a bad thing at all.  There’s a clear favorite here:

dinner-plate-with-spoon-and-forkCasa Grande – Midlothian Turnpike – One of my first checks on the quality of the food at a Mexican restaurant is the number of customers speaking Spanish.  The more spanish speakers the better the food.  Plus they make your guacamole fresh at the table!  Food is great, the atmosphere is relaxed, the service has always been great.  When we want to go out but don’t know where we want to go, we usually end up here.

Mi Hacienda – Midlothian Turnpike –  Solid food but it’s atmosphere that really puts this place over the top.  It’s spacious and airy inside.  You get the feeling it would be a great place for a reception or big party.  In the past they’ve done live music and other events but we’ve never been there for any of them (yet!).

Isidro’s Tex-Mex Grill – Midlothian Turnpike – This place is relatively new (and virtually next door to Casa Grande).  There’s not always a lot of difference between restaurants in the food, so Isidro’s stands out.  Different flavors, especially smoky, spicy flavors.  Very quiet the night we were there but the food was excellent.

Lots of other places as I said.  Plaza Azteca in Westchester Commons also very good.


Creativity Through Food

Over the last decade or so I have really fallen in love with the kind of creativity that I can do in the kitchen.  I’m a long way from being a great cook.  Mostly I’m working with recipes but I have enough confidence to fiddle and tweak to make them mine.  Over the years, I’m happy to report that the number of utter failures has been very small.

Learning that you can create a childhood favorite is a wonderful experience.  I remember eating Boston Brown bread as a child and I have always loved that flavor.  Years ago I found a recipe for a classic, steamed version that has never failed me.  Combining rye and whole wheat flours with corn meal, dark molasses, raisins, buttermilk, salt and baking soda yields a dark, dense, sweet bread that is beyond description when it’s hot with melting butter soaking into it.  Growing up, I remember eating it with beans and weenies.

If you decided to make this and have friends from New England they will inevitably ask you about how you cook it.  The “correct” answer is “steamed”.  You’ll see that I’m a total traditionalist on that subject.


Everything is ready to go


It is vital that you have some way to keep the cans OFF the bottom of the pot.  I have no idea what this was originally but it allows the water to flow under the cans and keep them from burning.


The recipe will make four soup can loaves.  Dividing the batter evenly fills each one about half way.  Then cover them with wax paper, then aluminum foil, then tie it with twine. I have never had to grease the cans but you might want to do so.


Into the pot, not touching each other.  Water should come up about a third of the way on each can.  You will bring the water to a boil, then simmer for 2 1/2 hours with a lid on.  Keep an eye on the water level!


When they’re done, take off the tops and there are your loaves.  Let them cool for a bit then run a knife around the edge and gently shake them out.


Cut one while it’s still warm, put a generous dollop of butter on it to melt and then enjoy!  I usually wrap the others in wax paper and aluminum foil and toss them in the freezer once they cool a little more.


Hope you enjoy.  The folks at King Arthur Flour have a great recipe for this online HERE, I use 15 oz cans instead of larger and only let the water come up a third of the way on the cans.  Comes out fabulous.

Holiday Traditions

We are taking a brief break here at the end of the year, but I wanted to share a few of the end of year traditions in our family.  This is the time of year when there are probably as many family traditions in play as any other.  Here are some of ours:

Happy Holidays (whatever you may be celebrating)

Happy Holidays (whatever you may be celebrating)

The Nut Bowl : This is one that my dad started.  There would always be a wooden salad bowl filled with mixed nuts in shells sitting in the living room.  If you felt the need for a quick holiday munch you could start cracking walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazel nuts and the dreaded brazil nuts.  Today I own that bowl and it’s filled with nuts during the holiday season.

Christmas movies : There’s a standard list of movies we watch virtually every year – “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “White Christmas”, “A Wish For Wings That Work”, “WKRP In Cincinnati” Christmas episode, some version of “A Christmas Carol” (the Alistair Sim, and Patrick Stewart versions are our favorites.  Someday I need to add the Mr. Magoo version too), The Waltons special “The Homecoming”, and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”.  When The Kid was young we had a tradition of taping the Christmas morning present opening and the one when she was three years old has become part of our viewing tradition as well.

Christmas Ornaments – This is just part of the whole thing.  Those ornaments that must go on the tree.  We are blessed with some beautiful handmade ornaments done by members of our family plus the special ones that have some story attached to them.  Stories that are revisited every time we hang them.  Plus a pickle and a chicken wing!

Christmas Eve – We open one small gift on Christmas Eve (see below) and for the last thirty years or so, go to the midnight service at church.  This year will be different because we will be going to someplace different for that service.  I hope we can feel like the tradition continues to roll along smoothly.

Christmas Morning – I don’t remember ever hearing about families who opened their presents on Christmas Eve till we moved to Jamestown.  We are a Christmas morning family for presents.  We have a special breakfast of cinnamon rolls and an egg and sausage bake.  Since we usually don’t live in places with fireplaces we pop in the fireplace DVD for the TV and some Christmas music on the stereo.

Santa’s Helper – Every year The Kid dons her Santa hat and hands out the presents.  It’s been here job since she was small.  Wouldn’t be Christmas any other way.  Maybe someday there will be a different little helper to take over.

New Year Tradition – We have never been big New Year’s Eve party people.  Just never worked for us.  So we will stay at home (much safer), wait for the ball to drop and go to bed.  In the morning we begin our laziest day of the year.  We throw some hot dogs and sauerkraut in the crockpot and some kielbasa in barbecue on the stove.  You eat when you feel like eating, watch what you feel like watching (not a lot of bowl game watching since we’re not huge college football fans) and generally start the year goofing off as much as possible.

Epiphany – Our holiday season ends on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6 in 2015).  That’s the end of the twelve days of Christmas and the day we will take down our Christmas tree.  Yeah, that usually means we are the last house on the block with a tree at the curb.  That’s fine with us.

Whatever you do this time of year, celebrate or not, I hope you have the best time of year you can have.  From this craxy, mized up world of mine I wish you the most joyous and merry of Christmases.  See you in 2015.

A New Beginning – November 13


NaNoWriMo update:  I am just slightly behind the goal at the moment.   I started off very well, getting as much as 3,000 words ahead of the timeline (we call it “the curve” in my family).  Then I had a couple of things get in the way – The Kid got sick for a day, meetings, just general busyness.  The Kid’s day long sick is a problem because she’s sleeping in the room where my computer lives.  By the time I’d gotten through those challenges I had fallen 2,000 words behind the curve.  Since the goal is 50,000 words a 5K swing is a potential problem.

Fortunately, I’ve had several really good days and I’m now within 900 words of the goal as of yesterday.   That’s pretty happy making.

What is starting to worry me is if there is enough of this novel left to make the monthly goal.  The project I’m working on is my novel “The Hidden Race” which I started as a NaNoWriMo project five years ago.  It was my first shot at the concept and I made the 50K word mark.  Unfortunately a variety of issues got in my way over the next couple years and I haven’t completed the book yet.  For the purists out there I will note that I am doing entirely new writing on the project for this year.

But the problem is that I’m closing in on completing the story telling of the novel.  I am filling in gaps here and there and fleshing out places that were a little thin.  Whether or not it will take 30K more words is the question.  In the end finishing the story is more important than hitting the NaNoWriMo goal.

So we’ll see.  In the meantime my novel writing is inhibiting my blog post writing!  So many words!

And it feels good.

  • 168 days without a (proven)rude Virginian.
  • Fall has finally arrived in RVA.  The colors are not as vibrant as WNY/WPA.  At the same time the colors have been beautiful.  Fall is one of my favorite times of the year.  One of the qualities we were looking for in a place to live is that it have four seasons.  Great to see my favorite in our new home.
  • Still on a break from all the run go look see do.  Which is fine because my job is getting busier, more youth events and things to attend.  Which is cool.  Looking ahead to whatever the next big event will be though.  It’s another part of what makes living here so great.

It’s a new beginning.

A New Beginning – November 6


It’s November.  And once again I have dedicated myself to a month long ordeal and creative experiment.

It’s NaNoWriMo.

That’s National Novel Writing Month.  The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November.  This is one of the great passions of The Kid.  She is, of course, an MFA Creative Writing candidate right now.  Writing is probably the greatest passion in The Kid’s life.  Five years ago she roped me into trying as well.  I have written short stories on and off since high school.  In many ways the short story is my favorite writing length.  The challenge of communicating the story in the span of a few pages, a few thousand words.  In fact many of my stories probably fall into the category of “flash fiction”.  Short-shorts.

So writing a long form story was a challenge.  The Kid assured me that I shouldn’t worry about not making the goal, most folks don’t on the first try.  So I promptly hit 50k with several days to spare.  My plan had been to take a little while off (writing that intensively is exhausting) then write the additional 30,000 words I needed to properly fill out the story.

I had been dawdling along with that task until October of the following year when something interrupted my life.

I’ve tried to go back to the novel a couple times without success.  This year seemed like a good time to dive back in.  I’m writing this five days into November and I’m passed the 11,000 word mark already.  So I’m ahead of the curve.

And it feels good.

  • 161 days without a (proven)rude Virginian.  I do need to note that when Virginians go for the horn on the car they do it with a vengeance.  Do not expect a polite little toot here.  If they feel the need to honk they commit to it.
  • A week into November and I was in shirtsleeves yesterday.  I am absolutely NOT trying to rub it in on my friends north of here.  This is more utter amazement.
  • We’ve really taken a break from the go-go-go lifestyle.  The Kid has the big social life right now.  Which,when combined with NaNoWriMo, is pretty much wiping her out.

It’s a new beginning.

A New Beginning – October 30


“My candle burns at both ends,

It will not last the night,

But ah, my foes and oh, my friends,

It gives a lovely light.”

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

It has been almost six months since we moved to RVA.  In that time we have gone a little crazy with all the options of places to go and things to do.  It’s finally caught up with us.  This week we looked at each other and said “Please, let’s keep this weekend clear”.  We are pooped.  Moving from a largely rural county where most of the interesting things to do are at least an hour away to a place where there is something going on EVERY WEEKEND (and often on weekdays too) with none of it is more than a half an hour away is mind boggling.  Even more amazing is that we haven’t been able to do everything.  Last weekend we chose to hit the Powhatan Festival of the Grape (which was great fun) and missed the local Celtic Festival.

In the end we have to take a little time off to re-charge our batteries.

  • 154 days without a (proven)rude Virginian.
  • Temperatures yesterday were in the 80s.  It occurred to us that local kids don’t have to figure out how to design a Halloween costume that can fit over a snow suit or heavy jacket.
  • Don’t want to short the Powhatan festival.  It was much larger than we expected.  We ended up skipping about 6 wineries because we just ran out of gas.  Plenty of the festival food we have come to expect, plus some cool shopping.  The Kid picked up a cool hat, I almost bought one as well.

It’s a new beginning.

A New Beginning – October 23


Temperature is much on our minds these days.

The temperatures recently have been “cooler”, meaning we are no longer near 80.  Daytime highs are in the low 70s with overnight lows just dipping below the 50s this week.

It’s the middle of October.  My northern born and bred seasonal timeline keeps thinking it’s September.  I was walking around last week, at close to 9 PM in just short sleeves and thinking “It’s a little cool tonight”.  IN MID-OCTOBER.

I’m not sure where that leaves the leaves.  One of my favorite time of year is when the leaves turn from summer green to the flames of Autumn.  Golden yellows, bright reds and oranges are the color of fall.  For that to happen you need one or two good cold snaps.  Temperatures down around freezing with a good hard frost.

Not gonna happen when it only goes down to 46 at night.  So maybe those colors will arrive later.  I’m not sure I see the kinds of oak and maple trees that really bring the colors that I love in abundance here so that may change the fall for me as well.

Might be time to drive west and see what’s happening in the mountains.

  • 147 days without a rude Virginian. But with a caveat.  The other day in Carytown we were walking along when the streak might have been broken.  Now imagine this – two lanes of a one way street.  Car #1 is in the lane nearest us, Car #2 is pulling out of parking spot on the other side of the street.  Car #2 stayed in their near lane the whole time but Car #1 wasn’t having any of it.  Starting well in advance of getting to the secnd car he leans on his horn.  Not a quick little “hey, keep your eyes open” toot but a lean on it and hold it blast until he was a full car length past the other car.  Everyone on the sidewalk was looking at the action and thinking “What is his problem?”.  My problem here is that no one in my group is positive that it was a Virginia plate.  We’re pretty sure but not positive.  So I will err on the side of politeness and just note a (1) until we hit a confirmed rudeness.
  • I am happy to say I am almost totally recovered from my little accident two weeks ago.
  • I was interviewed by two local TV stations last week.  We had a minor break in at the church and they interviewed the staff who was available.  Pretty silly but also kind of cool.

It’s a new beginning.