Punk rock musician Dee Dee Ramone was born at Fort Lee, just outside of Petersburg. Surprised? No more than you'll be when you make your way around Old Towne Petersburg, a historic neighborhood full of 18th- and 19th-century buildings that provide a specific character of place to house restaurants, retail and arts organizations.
As a bartender there who's done stints in Richmond and Norfolk sums it up: "Growing up here in the '80s, there was no reason to stay. Now with everything that's happening, there's no reason to leave."
Spend 25 minutes driving south of Richmond, and you'll see what he means.
Eccentricities carry through to the dining. There's classic Italian at Maria's Café. Longstreet's Deli is perfect for lunch or late night. And Andrades cranks out creative Latino fusion. The Bistro at Market and Grove is a romantic stunner like nothing else in town. You'll find traditional Greek and Italian at Alexander's. And Andrew's Grill has hot dogs — but bring cash, because this vintage lunch counter has yet to recognize plastic money.
The list goes on, and so do the reasons to eat in Old Towne. Here are a few:
Old Towne's Alibi
The new kid on the block is a charming restaurant with funky, mismatched tables and chairs, thoughtfully chosen art and a talented chef with a beard worthy of the RVA Beard League. Touting itself as "a great place to eat and drink," it means it, from maple-glazed, brown-sugar gnocchi to chocolate-peanut-butter-oatmeal, no-bake cookies, childhood classics, served with vanilla bean ice cream under mixed berry compote.
305 N. Sycamore St.
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The Brickhouse Run
The heart and soul of Old Towne, with a bustling crowd of convivial regulars eager to bring a Richmond visitor into the fold. Never judge a book by its cover, especially if it's a 190-year-old building resembling a quaint British pub with beer steins hanging from exposed beams. The reality of the Brickhouse Run is something far more refined — fresh flowers, a savvy kitchen and unique wine list (Austrian rosé, yes, please). After my taste buds swoon over crispy Reuben egg rolls and succulent duck sliders, I learn the hard way not to get attached to any one menu. Both dishes were from the summer menu, which are yielding to fall's offerings.
407-409 Cockade Alley
Saucy's Walk-Up Bar.B.Q.
Impossible to miss because it's housed in an orange shipping crate on a corner. A local shared her cold weather ritual: a walk to Saucy's where she orders two barbecued leg sections, puts each in a pocket and strolls back using them as hand warmers before devouring them once home. But don't wait for cold weather to try them or the stellar meaty ribs.
Fifth and Bollingbrook streets
It has none of the corner dive ambiance of the original in Jackson Ward but has kept the soul soundtrack. Croaker's Spot makes up for it with an expansive space in muted colors. Happily, the classic Eggleston fried fish bowl stays true, along with the Eggleston name on the ABC manager list; the family dynasty is intact, carrying on with filling seafood chili and the killer cornbread it calls hot-buttered soul wedges.
39 River St.
It satisfies Asian cravings with futomaki, uramaki, hosomaki and nigiri, not to mention a fusion menu for those wanting something more Western. But the liveliest spot is the sleek martini bar that's accessible through an arch in the brick wall once separating two buildings. Décor melds history with functionality, using molds from the local ironworks as objets d'art.
29 Bollingbrook St.
A genial place where the guy who baked the chocolate butter-cream supreme cake you're ordering might also ring you up with a smile. Breakfast and lunch are served every day in the light-filled coffee shop. But if weather allows, savor your caffeine — by Richmond favorite Lamplighter Roasting Co. — or munchies on the inviting patio.
215 E. Bank St.
The real deal, a fixture since the 1920s — and the first five counter stools are original. You'll be lucky to get longtime server Millie, a two-decade veteran at Dixie who's still as sweet and friendly as she can be. It's a breakfast destination, and locals recommend house-made scrapple or egg-topped grits and greens: collards, natch. Hot-plate specials abound at lunch with sides such as spoon bread and stewed tomatoes, but just as popular are the red hot dogs, including a pimento cheese-and-chili stuffed porker.
250 N. Sycamore St.
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