Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Eat and Learn

Many local culture spots can feed more than your mind.



Arts Café and Dining Room Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

2800 Grove Ave.

Arts Café: Wednesday-Sunday, lunch menu 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., light refreshments 2:30-4 p.m.


Dining room: Wednesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., seatings starting at 11:45 and running every 15 minutes, reservations recommended.


When the VMFA's northernmost wing undergoes the wrecking ball to make room for its modern, glass-filled extension, the museum's two current eating options will go along with it. Both are tucked away, somewhat difficult to find and lack the exuberance of the rest of the building, so the new eateries will be a welcome component of the museums face-lift. However, until they close next summer, both offer nice meals at reasonable prices, prepared by the museum's own catering staff.

The downstairs Arts Café is known for its thick and meaty Brunswick Stew, offered every day of the year along with another soup special. Or you can opt for the hot-dog bar, fried-chicken station, salad bar (with creative options like steak and roasted potato salad) or the hot entrée. A recent offering of flounder stuffed with crabmeat, smoked Gouda and spinach with choice of two sides and a fountain drink was a steal at $6.50. There's also a panini station that prepared a healthy-sized grilled chicken and pesto sandwich for a fair $5.25 on a recent visit. After you fill up your tray, eat in the narrow café or head outside for a meal in the sculpture garden.

The upstairs dining room was a members-only privilege until a year ago, when it opened to the masses for lunch. Reservations are suggested because the place is often booked, filling with Miller & Rhoads Tea Room types. Start off with a cocktail in the lounge and move on to the white-clothed tables that line tinted windows overlooking the sculpture garden. The luncheon menu is seasonal and features daily specials.

The summer offerings were light and started with a chilled yellow tomato soup with ginger and lime zest ($4.75). Entrees were equally elegant with creative seafood and salad combinations like the gulf shrimp salad with pumpkin ham biscuits and grilled asparagus. A new dining room will be part of the new wing, and built to overlook a large green space.

A La Carte Café at The Library of Virginia

800 E. Broad St.

Breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and Saturday 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

Cash and checks

There are two sit-down areas, beneath the library's broad staircase and on an outdoor terrace. But there's no cooking on the premises — just homemade soups, fresh salads and deli sandwiches. "There are too many important papers in the building to risk a fire," notes owner Jeff Evans, who also operates the Sweet Pea Café in the Fan.

Regular customers swear by the soups, with favorites including tomato Parmesan, cream of mushroom and New England clam chowder. Salads are made to order with 25 ingredients and half a dozen dressings to choose from. The sandwiches are thick and filling, with an Italian cold-cut and chicken salad among the standouts. At breakfast, egg and cheese combos are served on croissants.

Chicken's in the State Capitol

State Capitol Building,

First Floor 9th and Grace streets

Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.


Cash only

The limeade here is one of the best in town, made with fresh-squeezed limes and homemade syrup, dispensed from an old-fashioned soda fountain.

The walls are adorned with photographs of politicians, posing with former owner Louise "Chicken" Oliff, or her successor, Linda Bannister, and plates depicting Virginia scenes.

Several sandwiches are named for former lawmakers. The (Del. George) Heilig is sliced turkey with country ham, provolone and lettuce on whole wheat. The (Sen. Joseph) Gartlan combines chicken salad, country ham, lettuce and tomato on rye. Otherwise, the food is standard lunch-counter fare of soups and sandwiches served to the governor's staff, legislators and pages, lobbyists, journalists and tourists.

The Children's Museum of Richmond

2626 West Broad St.


Monday - Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday Noon to 5 p.m.

A picnic in the Learning Garden may be just about the best time you can spend with your kids on a beautiful afternoon. But for the time being, you'll have to bring the picnic basket full of goodies with you.

The Children's Museum of Richmond currently offers bottled water, bags of popcorn and graham crackers in the museum shop. However, beginning in early 2005, CMoR will offer an expanded version of "snacks and light refreshments that are affordable and healthy," according to President/CEO Randy Wyckoff.

You can also get hands-on instruction for children (and parents) interested in learning to cook, Saturday, Sept. 11, and Saturday, Oct. 9, when CMoR's World Cafe has local chefs offer "quick and easy, restaurant-quality cooking for kids."

Incredible Edibles at Maymont Cafe

2201 Shields Lake Drive in Byrd Park.


Tuesday-Sunday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Incredible Edibles, a popular gourmet deli and bakery with a dozen years of experience, is now open for business at the Maymont Café in the Robins Nature & Visitor Center. You'll find foods to satisfy both kids and adults. Popular fare for little gourmands ranges from chicken nuggets to burgers to snow cones. Adult palates will be satisfied with options that range from turkey and havarti on fresh breads to dill tuna salad.

You can picnic on the lush, tree-lined lawns or choose a spot on the terrace overlooking them — and indoor seating is available for those sweltering Richmond summer days. With prices topping out at just about $5, the Maymont Cafe bucks the trend of overcharging patrons once they're in the gates. With a separate entrance from the Nature Center and views like these, this may just be a good place for a relaxing lunch, whether you stop in to see the acrobatic otters or not.

Plant Zero Café

7 E. 3rd St.


Open at 8 a.m. Monday-Saturday for breakfast and lunch; Sunday brunch 9-3 p.m.; Monday through Thursday till 5 p.m.; also serving dinner Friday and Saturday till 9 p.m.

The addition of the Plant Zero Café has given Manchester a considerable boost. Now one can visit the Shockoe Bottom Arts Center spin-off Art Works, Artspace gallery or an arts-related business in the Plant Zero complex and have a place to grab a latte, beer or sandwich. The Plant Zero Café at the Third Street side of the warehouse opens with large glass garage doors onto a colorful patio.

The café exudes energy, thanks to manager Kathy Emerson, formerly of the Farmers' Market. Emerson's clean, modern space is filled with rotating art shows, classes and events. And the menu is creative, using local produce and products like Billy Bread. Specials change weekly and have included a brie BLT ($8) and an Asian-inspired salad with chicken, fried wontons and ginger dressing ($9) at lunch. Dinner menu features sandwiches, salads and entrees (which come with choice of soup or salad) like duck tacos with refried white beans, spicy tomato risotto, guacamole and homemade salsa ($17).

The café has also started a daily "Zero Hour" from 2-5 p.m. with drink specials. Choose from a healthy selection of microbrews like Affligem, Flying Dog Heller Hound, red and white wine, or an array of coffee drinks.

The Robins Tea House and Garden Café at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

1800 Lakeside Ave.

Teahouse: Monday-Friday 11:30-2:30 (closed January and February); Garden Café: daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m.


This gray pagoda, nestled among trees near a flower-ringed pond, is one of the pleasanter locales in all of Central Virginia for a restaurant.

Large windows in the dining room offer soothing views of the 30-acre garden, and from the deck you can hear a babbling brook. The tables are appropriately decorated with fresh flowers.

Unfortunately, compared to the scenery, the food, catered by A Sharper Palate, is a letdown. On a recent visit, a burger was overcooked and a frittata was lukewarm, but the kitchen got a portobello sandwich just right.

This wouldn't be a big deal if you didn't have to pay a surcharge to eat there (unless you are a garden member). The entrance fee is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors (55 and over) or $5 for children (ages 3-12).

But you don't have to be a member to eat in the cafeteria-style Garden Café, located in the visitor center. It's open daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., serving soups, sandwiches and desserts, with seating both indoors and out.

Wickham's Garden Café at the Valentine Richmond History Center

1015 E. Clay St.

Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-3 p.m.


Tucked behind the Wickham House and History Center is truly an oasis in the city. The lovely tree-lined garden complete with fountain, slate patio and iron garden furniture is a pleasant respite from the busy city beyond its gates. You'll sit among lawyers from the courts building, tourists visiting the Valentine, and hospital workers and medical students in scrubs. The food isn't quite as wonderful as the setting, but it's a bargain considering it grants admission to the garden.

The kitchen is run by A Sharper Palate, which offer a small but ample menu of sandwiches or entrée salads and daily specials like quiche. For less than $5 you can get a Southwestern chicken-salad sandwich with sun-dried tomatoes and chipotle with a side salad, or one of the grilled paninis, like the turkey, apple and brie. Bagels and pastries are available for breakfast. Stop by and peek in the newly finished Edward V. Valentine sculpture studio. S

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