Wouldn’t it be great if you could venture into Richmond to meet a well-informed tour guide who would lead you to up-and-coming and award-winning restaurants, tell stories of the city’s noteworthy past, and point out unique shops and galleries along the way? I found out that you can do just that on a Real Richmond Food Tour. When I signed up for the outing, I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond “stops at some of First Fridays’ favorite spots” and “samples and insider info from restauranteurs” as described in the brief blurb on the website. At the end of the two-and-half-hour stroll through Jackson Ward and Monroe Ward, I walked away full of good food, new knowledge and a list of shopping destinations. With tours in neighborhoods from Libbie & Grove to Church Hill, Real Richmond is perfect for locals and visitors alike who want to learn more about the city and try a few restaurants before committing to a complete lunch or dinner. My adventure on “Both Sides of Broad” included:
Quirk Gallery – The tour started in this quirky little art gallery / gift shop. You won’t find items like theirs – jewelry, home accessories, toys, books and more – in any big box store. Great place to shop local!
1708 Gallery – We made a quick, but informative, stop at this contemporary art venue, one of the oldest artist-run galleries in the nation. The current multi-medium exhibition was by Columbian artist, Oscar Munoz.
Lift Coffee Shop – Sally Field ordered a tuna sandwich at this fun and cozy Broad Street hangout, but our group was treated to hardy portions of the more interesting and flavorful veggie and turkey/brie/apple paninis. Yum!
Ettamae’s Café – Large vintage photos of its namesake and collections of decorative plates fill the walls of this cute restaurant on 2nd Street, and unique sets of salt and pepper shakers add a whimsical touch to each table. Here, we enjoyed a tasty taste of corned beef on rye and a lively chat with co-owner and general manager, Laura Morand Bailey.
Thai Corner – I could eat a dozen of the creamy crab wontons served to us by the gracious, humble and humorous owner of this new restaurant on the corner of 2nd and Marshall Streets. And the tofu lettuce wraps were pretty darned good too.
Mama J’s Kitchen – This soul food spot was so busy (at 3:30pm on a Saturday) that we were served outside. But with true Mama J’s hospitality, we were presented with a linen-clad table full of perfectly seasoned catfish bites, sweet potato casserole and seafood salad topped off with homemade rum cake, one of 30+ cakes they offer. Charming atmosphere, charming people, downright delicious food.
Sara Belle and Neil November Theatre – Formerly known as the Empire Theatre (or by the company’s name Theatre IV), this 100-year-old facility is THE place to introduce children to the wonders of live performance. Here, we got a sneak peek of the set of The Stinky Cheese Man and heard about their Hollywood experience as a location for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln movie.
LeMaire – Our last stop brought us to this casually chic restaurant, located in The Jefferson Hotel and named to Esquire’s “Best New Restaurants in 2009,” where we tried the most adventurous food of the day including a rabbit ragout. Don’t be fooled by the upscale location and swanky décor. Lemaire has great Happy Hour deals seven days a week and offers three-course specials for $20 to $35.
Throughout the tour, our guide – Maureen Egan, author of the Insider’s Guide to Richmond, VA – pointed out some other must-see spots.
Nick’s Produce – Local market serving up imported meats, cheeses, wine and Mediterranean ingredients.
Steady Sounds – A vinyl-only record store with comedy performances on the second floor.
Gallery 5 – Fire House turned Art House. Look for fiery performances outside this hot spot on First Fridays.
Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia – A collection of fine art and African artifacts perfectly situated in the birthplace of Black Capitalism.
Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site – Home to Maggie Walker, Richmond’s own civil rights activist, trailblazing entrepreneur and beloved African American community leader.
Box Brown Imports – New fair trade shop next to Ettamae’s Café with gifts, beauty products, crafts and apparel.
As Maureen said, if you can’t find anything to do in Richmond, you’re not looking. All of this in a 1.5 mile circuit of the city, and I didn’t even mention the great events and other restaurants in the area. There’s no excuse not to explore, and with Real Richmond, you may find more than you ever expected. I know I did.
Carla Murray is Assistant Director of Marketing & PR for Maymont. She is a Richmond native and a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate. She lives in New Kent with her husband, two daughters, a dog, a cat and a turtle. Some of her favorite activities include letterboxing, long walks, Cirque du Soleil shows, wine tastings, reading novels, and spending time with family and friends.