Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Tavern in the Green

Worth the drive, but maybe more so in the spring.

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You will find yourself in another time and place. Surrounded by gardens and weeping willows on a swath of fertile bottomland, Indian Fields Tavern boasts authentic Virginia fare served on the site where, in 1607, Jamestown settlers made a significant culinary discovery: cornfields. Owner Erich von Gehren says he tries hard to stay true to those origins. That's why hominy and grits are essential menu items. But don't let that fool you — the cuisine is far from ordinary.

Everything is prepared fresh, from scratch, featuring the best of what's in season. The demi-glace is prepared from roasted veal bones in a process that von Gehren says takes four days. The resulting merlot-Stilton sauce, which graces the Steak Lyon's Den (named for an old plantation down the way), is a testament to the value of traditional preparation and reason enough for the long, winding drive from Richmond. Just thinking about the entrée of two peppercorn- encrusted petite filets served atop a heaping mound of roasted garlic-mashed potatoes and al-dente string beans makes my mouth water. So does thinking of the wilted spinach salad replete with pears confit, Stilton, black walnuts and apple-wood-smoked bacon, which easily could have made a meal in itself.

The staff is professional and knows the menu and wine list inside and out. I overheard a server at an adjacent table explain the origins of the fresh baked bread they serve with every meal: "Sally Lunn was a French immigrant to London where she opened a bakery serving bread from this recipe to much success. The colonists carried the recipe to the New World where it survives to this day." Hmm, delicious and interesting, which goes for most of what you'll encounter in the farmhouse tavern.

Some entrees were a little ordinary, such as the Chesapeake crab cakes, which were less than spectacular, paired with a simple béarnaise. And the duck confit had lost all its luster, being very dry and paired with a blackberry jus and grits. But overall the quality and flavor were high. And on both occasions, the meal was capped by stellar desserts. In particular, the key lime pie and chocolate-bourbon pecan pie were presented with flair and were large enough for two to share.

My only real complaint is that on both visits, which were more than a week apart, we were told that the kitchen was out of several items. Von Gehren assured me that a new winter menu was "printing presently" and would be ready after Thanksgiving. The servers echoed his sentiment that they would "rather have fewer options available than serve anything that wasn't at the peak of freshness." I concur, but after the long drive I was disappointed to have so few choices. But then the choices we made were very good.

A rockfish dish with roasted leeks and fresh thyme, which was on special during both visits, will be added to the new menu. The chardonnay-lemon-butter sauce that complemented it was deep and rich; this will be sure to please in the coming months. However, it's replacing a dynamite shellfish pan-roast that will be on hiatus until the spring. Another intriguing new addition is a fried green tomato stuffed with goat cheese, fried in cornmeal breading and paired with a roasted shallot, apple-wood-smoked bacon vinaigrette. It's sure to satisfy until the Hanover tomato salad comes back around.

Which all leads me back to my initial suggestion. With entrees nudging the $30 mark, a dedication to fresh preparation and a beautifully long view of the sunset from the porch, perhaps it would be more worth the drive in the season when you really can put the windows down and breathe in the fresh country air. Then you'll be able to appreciate a countryside and a spring menu that are both in full bloom. S



Indian Fields Tavern ($$$)
9220 John Tyler Memorial Highway
Charles City
(804) 829-5004
www.indianfields.com
Sunday through Thursday: lunch 11 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., dinner 5 - 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday: dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday: brunch 11 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. The restaurant is closed Mondays in January and February.


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