Summer Food Events in Virginia

Summer in Virginia is a time for festivals, and the best festivals celebrate the foods the Commonwealth is known for. Here are some of the best:

*Gordonsville’s Famous Fried Chicken Festival – Saturday, May 20, 11 AM-5 PM, Gordonsville Fire Company Fairgrounds – Celebrate the “chicken-leg center of the universe” and Gordonsville’s long history of fried chicken-making with fried chicken and pie contests, a wine garden and arts and crafts vendors.

*Broad Appetit – Sunday, June 4, 11 AM-6 PM, Richmond’s West Broad Street between Henry and Adams Streets – Try $3 mini dishes from some of Richmond’s most renowned chefs and restaurants. Africanne on Main, Casa del Barco, Comfort, Graffiato, Pasture and more will create small plates to try. Beverage options from across Virginia, including beers, wines and ciders, plus local dessert makers will round out your meal. Live music and cooking demos will make this a fun day for the whole family.

*Father’s Field Day – Sunday, June 18, 11 AM-6 PM, Early Mountain Vineyards, Madison – Enjoy a variety of local food, including barbecue and various local desserts while tasting some of Early Mountain’s best wines and taking in live music and views of the Blue Ridge foothills from the patio.

*Hanover Tomato Festival – Saturday, July 8, 9 AM-4 PM, Pole Green Park, Hanover – This celebration of the juiciest, most delicious tomato in the world offers rides, games, a petting zoo and local vendors plus more tomato dishes than you can shake a fork at.

*Pork, Peanut and Pine Festival – Saturday, July 15, 10 AM-7 PM and Sunday, July 16, 10 AM-5 PM, Chippokes Plantation State Park, Surry – A barbecue cookoff and local food vendors share what Southern Virginia is best known for: pork, peanuts and pine. A petting zoo, rock climbing wall and inflatable slide mean the kids will have plenty to do and see too.

*Henricus Discovery Program Days Program Series: Food of the 17th Century – Thursday, July 27, 10 AM-1 PM, Henricus Historical Park, Chester – Learn what breakfast, lunch and dinner would have looked like for a colonist or a Powhatan Indian. This program is perfect for kids ages 3-10 and includes a take-home craft.

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Get out there and have fun exploring this summer! What are your favorite places to visit in Virginia (or your state)?

Pop’s Market on Grace

Before a show at The National on Friday night, my husband and I stopped for dinner at Pop’s Market on Grace. The casual restaurant and market is located just down the block from the Carpenter Center and is convenient to galleries and entertainment on Broad Street as well. This section of Grace Street has historically been a part of the downtown shopping district, and is even a designated historic district with the National Park Service.

Pop’s Market offers a wide range of quick-service foods, like sandwiches and salads, as well as prepared meals like pastas. I had the Caprese on focaccia and my husband tried the pulled pork hoagie. Both were ENORMOUS – enough that we had a whole meal for Saturday’s lunch.

Pop’s also has refrigerated prepared foods, coffee and breakfast items and other local products. The space is expansive, with high ceilings and a prime corner location, as well as architectural details like exposed brick.

Dinner at Pop’s Market was fairly inexpensive, delicious and filling. They also have local draft beers for $5 each.

Midtown State Fair

This afternoon, I hit up the Midtown State Fair at Libbie Mill Midtown. Presented by C.F. Sauer, King Arthur Flour, Libbie Mill Midtown, Richmond Region Tourism, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, Real Richmond Food Tours and Wolf, this fun, family-friendly food event showcased the best of Richmond region food with vendor booths, food trucks and special activities like a cakewalk, watermelon seed spitting contest and cookoffs between local farmers.

The tented area hosted vendor booths from Mama J’s, Merroir, Caromont Cheese, Dayum This Is My Jam, Craft Brew Bread, Real Richmond Food Tours, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Belle Isle Moonshine and Libbie Market. There were plenty of delicious treats to try, plus free snowcones for the kids, giveaways from Richmond Family Magazine and The Valentine Museum and a fun cakewalk where participants had the chance to win yummy baked treats.

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Crabcakes from Merroir

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Music, seeds and veggies with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

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The awesome names of pickles and jam from Dayum This Is My Jam

Grapefruit spritzer from Belle Isle Craft Spirits

Favorite Richmond Cocktail Bars

Richmond has so many awesome bars and restaurants, and I haven’t had the time to make the rounds of all of them (yet!). But here are a few of my favorites:

Grandstaff & Stein Booksellers – This speakeasy requires you to follow them on Facebook to get that day’s secret password. Once you have it, you can slip past the bookshelves out front into the bar area. There’s a large wooden bar and an inventive cocktail menu, or you can ask the bartender to whip something up based on your tastes and preferences. Above are the Bean Picker, the Fist City and a Rye Old Fashioned.

Belle & James – Located right in the heart of downtown on East Main Street, this elegant bar has loads of signature drinks and delicious French-inspired food. From classic Old Fashioned’s to fun drinks like the Jack Skellington, a not-too-sweet treat topped with a freshly-toasted marshmallow, the bartenders have created a fun, hip drink menu. Above are an Old Fashioned and the Jack Skellington.

Saison – This place gets my vote for the best food and drinks in Richmond. I first came here for an event during the Fire, Flour & Fork Festival in 2014, and I’ve returned several times for the delicious Southern and Mexican menu and the most creative cocktails in Richmond. Try anything on the menu – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

 

Game of Thrones themed cupcakes OMG

So, Carytown Cupcakes has Game of Thrones themed cupcakes guys! Through tomorrow, there are six different cupcakes inspired by Game of Thrones:  the Mother of Dragons, the Jon Snow, the White Walker, the Red Wedding, the Greyscale and the vegan Pigeon Pie.

I LOVED the Jon Snow (of course)! It was a rich chocolate cupcake full of cherry compote and topped with “sweet snow” frosting and dark chocolate shards. My second favorite was the vegan Pigeon Pie cupcake, a vanilla cupcake with berry filling topped with a cute pigeon pastry garnish.

RVA Restaurant Review – Graffiato

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to eat at new Richmond restaurant Graffiato, from acclaimed Top Chef All-Stars Runner-Up Mike Isabella.  After the success of Graffiato DC and on the heels of a three-year stint at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya and Top Chef fame, Isabella opened Graffiato Richmond on Sept. 10, and the restaurant has served a packed house nearly every night since.  Located in the space formerly occupied by Popkin Tavern on Broad Street in downtown, the space is modern industrial with an open, airy feel.

Our reservation was for 7:30, and it took the hostesses a few minutes to get our table ready, but they were super nice and apologetic about the wait.  No worries – rumor had it that even people with a reservation had had to wait upwards of 45 minutes during opening week, so our ten minute or so wait was no big deal.

The beverage list was full of innovative cocktails, like a jazzed-up Pisco Sour and an “RVA Gin and Tonic” made with local gin.  Interesting wine choices make an appearance on the wine list, which is heavy on Greek and Italian wines (to go with the pizza and Mediterranean-influenced fare).  Virginia vintages are also well-represented.  The beer selections are a local beer acolyte’s dream:  Hardywood, Center of the Universe, Strangeways, Lickinghole Creek, Ardent Craft and Devil’s Backbone are all offered, plus more from Virginia, DC and Denver.  I had the “Put Me in Your Mix”:  bourbon, amaro, orange, honey and hefeweizen.  It was served with a long, thin shard of ice and a lemon slice, and was the perfect start to my Graffiato adventure.

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Following the trend in fine dining restaurants, portions are small plates and intended for sharing.  Our group was large enough that each of us ordered a few things and we all got to try different dishes throughout our meal.  For starters, we had the broccolini with red pepper relish, walnuts and feta and the roasted cauliflower with pecorino, mint and red onion.  Both were fresh and flavorful, with an innovative focus on vegetables rather than the bread or fried appetizers typical of most Italian menus.

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We also tried the Cheese & Cure tray, which is served on a slab of slate with your choice of three or five cheeses and meats.  Our group had the Bijou, a goat cheese from Vermont, the Bianco Sardo, a sheep’s milk cheese from Italy and the Italian Coppa, tender cured pork shoulder sliced thin.  Smears of spicy mustard and a sweet apricot glaze rounded out the plate.

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The menu boasted a bunch of gourmet wood-fired pizzas, and we tried the Greco Roman:  black figs, goat cheese and tasso; the Jersey Shore:  fried calamari, tomato, provolone and cherry pepper aioli; and the White House:  mozzarella, taleggio, ricotta, prosciutto and black pepper honey.  All three were phenomenal – I can’t even pick a favorite.  The flavor combinations were creative, yet familiar.  The crusts were baked perfectly.  My only – minor – gripe was that the prosciutto on the White House pizza wasn’t quite as crispy-looking (or tasting) or as caramelized as the picture on the website.  But it still tasted awesome.

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There was a small mixup with our order of the hand cut spaghetti (with olive oil-poached cherry tomatoes and Thai basil), which resulted in it coming out last, but it was a delicious ending to our meal.  The Thai basil is something I never would have thought to put with an Italian pasta dish, but it worked perfectly.  These kinds of innovative tweaks to Mediterranean comfort food are the hallmark of Graffiato’s.  Mike Isabella’s creative and well-executed menu puts the new Richmond location at the forefront of the city’s dining scene.

The verdict – 8.5 of 10 stars