Dear Stephen Spielberg, Sally Field, James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones, and other members of the cast and crew of "Lincoln":
Welcome to Richmond. You've been here a bit now, and I really hope y'all are enjoying yourselves. Hopefully, you have been welcomed graciously, and have been able to move about your business with a minimum of gawking. I see that many of you have discovered some of the best restaurants, coffee shops, and hang-outs that Richmond has to offer. I thought I'd share with you some of my suggestions for some places that are off-the-beaten path, often old Richmond traditions, that you otherwise might miss. Some are old, some are new, and all of them are near and dear to my heart. So if you've had dinner at Morton's too many times to count, maybe you could give one of these a whirl.
In no particular order, here we go:
1. Sally Bell's Kitchen. I just had to put this as No. 1. I love it so much. I'm almost afraid to let you in on the secret, what if there is a run on Sally Lunn bread or cream cheese and olive sandwiches? Just trust me, if you were not let in on this secret, you would never, ever, ever stumble across this treasure. Tucked away in a non-descript building on Grace Street, surrounded by VCU, Sally Bell's does carryout boxed lunches, the exact same way they have done them since I was a kid, and since my Mom can remember. Pick your sandwich, pick potato salad or macaroni salad (if you ask nicely, you can get tomato aspic instead, my Mom's favorite), pick your favorite flavor of upside down cupcake (9 choices!). Each lunch also comes with a deviled egg and a cheddar wafer with a pecan on top. This bounty of deliciousness is packed in a cardboard box with the black-and-white Sally Bell logo and tied with string. Everything is made from scratch on-site by some lovely ladies, many of whom have been there since I was a kid. The food is smack-your-mama good. Let's put it this way: Richmonders are a generally genteel, polite bunch, but Sally Bell's imposes a 5 pounds of potato salad/2 dozen rolls/2 pie limit for Thanksgiving Week. Otherwise, there would be a run on the place and there might be riots. Call ahead and place your order, then get your Production Assistant to run on down there to pick it up. Trust me, you will not be sorry. Sally Bell's Kitchen, 708 W. Grace Street, Richmond, Virginia 23220. (804) 644-2838.
2. The Dairy Bar. Another Richmond treasure tucked away in an unexpected location. The Dairy Bar is located in Scotts Addition and was attached to the former Curles Neck Dairy bottling facility. Well, the Curles Neck dairy is long gone but the Dairy Bar remains. The "DB" is beloved by locals for the affordable menu of traditional choices, the wonderful homemade soups and stews, and the best milkshake, bar none, in Richmond. It always feels like stepping back in time to me, with the green vinyl diner booths and the walls covered with crayoned cow pictures. Kid-friendly and affordable, with the friendliest service you can imagine. Now I'm craving a milkshake....The Dairy Bar, 1602 Roseneath Road, Richmond, Virginia 23230. (804) 355-1937.
3. Lamplight Roasting Company. Based on the Lincoln sightings reports, everyone seems to have found a favorite coffee shop. But if you or the crew wants to hang out with local writers, artists and actors, as well as the super-cool hipster tattooed folks, and the people that ride those crazy tall bicycles, this is where I would send you. It's a bit off the beaten path, on the backside of the Fan District at the corner of Addison and Parkwood. The food is homemade and excellent, and there are lots of options for vegetarians and vegans. It's always fun to people watch, and the coffee is really, really good. I mean, I just like mine hot and dark, but a friend who roasts his own beans and is a bit of a coffee fanatic - yes, I am talking about you, Charles - begrudgingly gives Lamplighter high marks, although it's "not as good as [his] coffee." But Lamplighter was voted Richmond's Best Coffee. Plus they have bicycle delivery of coffee beans - how cool is that! So if you want great coffee and to hang at a local restaurant where the cool factor is such that the other patrons won't be impressed by you and will therefore leave you alone, Lamplighter's my recommendation. Lamplighter Roasting Company, 116 S. Addison Street, Richmond, Virginia 23220.
4. Sidewalk Cafe. One of the many establishments owned and managed by the powerhouse restaurant couple, Katrina and Johnny Giavos, this oldie-but-goodie on the bar scene has the best. brunch. EVER. The rest of the menu is awesome too, but I have a particular love affair with the Cajun hash. Before I became a responsible adult, there were some Saturdays I entered Sidewalk at 11 a.m.-ish, not to emerge until hours upon hours later. Pitchers of mimosas will do that to you. And when I say pitchers of mimosas, I mean the good kind, where there is just enough OJ to make them orangish. When I waited tables, back in the day, this was the first bar the restaurant folks would hit when we got off work late night. When I was at University of Richmond Law School, this was "our" bar, and there was many a night that I danced on those tables. You'll note, the disco ball is still up and I'm sure they still flip that sucker on at 1:30ish. [I'm using "ish" quite a bit here, huh? Memories of the glory days and late nights can do that to you, I guess]. Known for good food, HUGE portions, and stiff drinks, this is a great casual options for brunch, lunch or dinner. Make sure you ask for Edwina as your server, she will have you in stitches with her many crazy stories the whole daggone time. Sidewalk Cafe, 2101 Main Street, Richmond, Virginia 23220. (804) 358-0645.
5. Stella's. And speaking of the Giavos clan, Mama Stella is back, and has re-opened her namesake restaurant. Praise the Lord! This will be the third iteration of Stella's, which was originally in the space occupied by Edo Squid, then in the space currently occupied by Rowland's, and now springs forth like the phoenix, to life again, in a completely new space on Lafayette in the Malvern area. As an aside, it looks like Stella leaves some of her magic fairy dust behind in each former location, because each of those restaurants is absolutely wonderful and would be on my Top Ten Best Restaurants in Richmond list. I almost cried when I found out Stella's was reopening. It has been, in each of it's iterations, my favorite restaurant EVER in Richmond. And that's saying a lot, because there are a lot of really, really wonderful restaurants in Richmond. At the new place they even have my favorite entree on the menu - filet mignon with lump crabmeat and a sherry cream sauce. Seriously one of the best things I've ever tasted. But running a very close second are Stella's Greek green beans. Oh. My. God. And then for dessert, please, please, please, PLEASE let there be baklava. You see, sometimes they run out. Wonderful food and a professional service staff make this a great dining experience. And if you want a second opinion, check out Style Weekly's recent restaurant review. Stella's, 1012 Lafayette Street, Richmond, Virginia 23221. (804) 358-2011.
I wish I had time today to write more. There are so many other fabulous places here in the City, could go on and on. I feel terrible leaving out places like Acacia and Magpie and Mezzanine and Rowland's and Zeus Gallery Cafe....there is such a bounty of great restaurants! So feel free to ring me up for any recommendations you might need. But duty calls, so I'm off to the salt mines now. Have a great day filming on Monument Avenue!