We've come a long way, baby, since the Richmond restaurant scene of 2013.
Granted, there still are places with the same menus they were serving the year that the word twerk was added to the urban dictionary, but far more have evolved. When I first reviewed upscale draft house the Savory Grain almost five years ago, it was noteworthy for having 24 taps, beer as a recurring ingredient in food and a monthly focus on a local farm.
Fast forward to today where two dozen taps are business as usual in River City and Savory Grain has done a reboot with a new culinary team and refreshed menu.
The ever-changing beer list ($6-$12) remains extensive while the cocktail menu ($8-$11) reflects a higher level of expectation than in 2013. House-made sodas ($3) such as a tropical pineapple shrub soda give nondrinkers more compelling options these days.
Given the local focus, one of my few complaints with the original menu had been the complete absence of Virginia wines but the list ($7-$9 glass, $26-$66 bottle) skews slightly more local now with two offerings from Barboursville. More encouraging is the addition of port and sherry options ($7-$11), an indicator of Richmond's evolving palate
Three visits in, it's safe to say that portion sizes remain substantial and local still matters. With two cheddar-rosemary dumplings bobbing on top, a bowl of creamy chicken soup ($7) may as well be an entree for the copious amounts of chicken, celery and carrots in velvety thyme-scented broth. Jetersville, Virginia, represents with family-owned Waterfall Farms sausage in crispy egg rolls ($10), plump with kale, cabbage and candied figs, and made even better with the one-two punch of tarragon goat cheese creme fraiche and balsamic vinaigrette accessorizing the plate.
I'm intrigued by the sound of fall panzanella ($10), although with croutons the sole ingredient resembling anything in the classic tomato and bread salad, it's more accurate to simply say fall salad. To wit, sprinklings of butternut squash, dried cranberries, roasted pumpkin seeds and charred Brussels sprouts dot mixed greens dressed with maple-sage-lemon vinaigrette and pecorino cheese.
Lunch brings a choice of eight sandwiches and a strong contender for best in class is the shrimp po' boy ($12), fat with Cajun-marinated battered shrimp and electrified with crab mayonnaise, hot sauce, avocado and arugula. Deliciously crispy, the fries that tag along are also unappealingly oversalted. Less winning is a chicken sandwich ($12) that would be perfectly fine with just bacon, white cheddar and grilled apples, but moves into cloying territory with a house-made barbecue sauce playing the role of dominatrix. Sometimes less is more.
Dinner makes it clear that this is comfort food, albeit updated, best tackled by a hearty appetite given the generously-portioned mains. To settle in with bacon-wrapped meat loaf ($18), an appetizing mixture of beef, pork and sausage spiked with jalapeños, red pepper and red onion, is to almost certainly induce a food coma, though part of the blame goes to its plate mates, creamy mac and cheese and tender honey garlic sauteed kale. Meatloaf purists can swap out white cheddar mashed potatoes for the mac, but they're every bit as filling.
Just as easy to enjoy is the Coleman's chicken potpie ($17) which arrives in a cast iron skillet chock full of organic chicken, carrots, celery and peas in a garlic cream sauce under a flaky pastry round on top.
Forking into toasted gnocchi ($16) sharing a bowl with mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, kale, butternut squash, roasted garlic and golden beets, it's the quiet magic of grilled orange vinaigrette that elevates everything from a quotidian fall mélange to a dish capable of seducing even nonvegetarians.
After more than four years, the Savory Grain should have a handle on service and it does, for the most part. Only lunch was lacking with long waits for, well, everything — drinks, order being taken, food, the check — but it was during those pre-Christmas weeks when holiday celebrants join the usual lunching crowds and a typical restaurant weekday turns into a madhouse.
With live jazz on Thursdays, local bands after Friday dinner service and a jazz brunch on Sundays, the Savory Grain reliably enlivens the local scene while consistently offering a varied menu and liberal portions.
The reboot adds to the durability of a restaurant that already had found its niche. S
The Savory Grain
Lunch Tuesdays – Fridays 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Dinner Sundays – Wednesdays 4 -10 p.m., Thursdays – Saturdays 4 – 11 p.m., Brunch Saturdays – Sundays 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
2043 W. Broad St.