Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Everybody Knows Your Name

The Red Oak does it right for the West End.

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The Red Oak opened about 10 years ago at Broad Street and Hockett Road in Manakin-Sabot. This area is not what you would normally refer to as a neighborhood. But the owners, Paul Cruser and Matt Hamman, have crafted exactly that sort of feel within the restaurant. They know their audience. They know what their customers want with respect to food and atmosphere. A look at the parking lot on any given night is a testament to these gentlemen’s successful approach. People come from every direction. They drive for 20 or 30 minutes, sometimes more, just to have a beer or a salad. I do it. Because the Oak is the center of the neighborhood I want to be a part of.

Let me just give you a few pieces of advice. First, get the pork tenderloin entrée ($15.95) as often as you can stand it. Consistency is definitely a hallmark of the Oak’s kitchen. I’ve seen a bit of turnover back there and worried, but the regular menu items have never suffered. The pork is generally regarded as the favorite of the both the staff and clientele. Other highlights on the main menu include the crab dip ($6.95) and steamed shrimp ($9.95 for a half-pound/$17.95 for a pound) appetizers. Entrees to keep in mind are the fried oysters ($15.95), the newly added scallops Provencal ($17.95), and the strip steak ($19.95). I am generally biased against getting steaks at restaurants that aren’t steakhouses, but the Oak’s beef always pleases me. Most entrees are served with rice or mashed potatoes and a vegetable — often green beans or sautéed zucchini and yellow squash. That said, keep your eye on the specials menu. Having visited often, I generally steer toward the kitchen’s daily creations. Rob, the longtime right-hand man in the kitchen, does a great job of creating and executing these specials. Each night generally offers a fish or two, a vegetarian selection, and, on the weekends, a beef or pork special. Veggie entrees run around $12, while the meatier selections range from about $16 to $20.

I must point out the staff. What a great bunch of people. Though many of them are friends of mine, I don’t believe I am being gratuitous when I say that they are the tightest, truest staff I’ve had the pleasure to dine with in Richmond. That would be enough, but they are also genuinely friendly and welcoming. They are the Red Oak, as everyone sitting at the tables and bar knows. S

Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years and has filled every job from dish washer to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.

Red Oak Café ($$$)
1601 Hockett Road

Manakin-Sabot
784-2330
Lunch: Monday - Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner: Sunday - Thursday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.,
Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Brunch: Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

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