No less than the New York Times gave a shout-out to Parterre’s quaint interior and comfort food in a recent piece about how our once-quiet Southern city now shines as a true culinary destination. Never mind that we’ve been shining for a while now.
Haven’t heard of Parterre? That could be because it’s a hotel restaurant, or at least it’s a restaurant attached to a hotel, the historic Linden Row Inn. The two are connected via a sunny glass walkway that looks out on the inn’s enclosed courtyard where you can wine and dine when the weather cooperates. The sign hanging outside — although the address is Franklin Street, the handsome green door is on First Street — shows an image of a raven, a nod to the years that the young, orphaned Edgar Allan Poe lived in the long-gone house there with his adopted family.
The challenge of being a hotel restaurant is having to appeal to travelers as well as locals. The space is small but handsome with white brick walls, plenty of windows and simple, yet comfortable, contemporary wooden chairs and tables. Black and white photographs of old Richmond punctuate the neutral colors without being fussy and when it isn’t set to inaudible, the music adds a lot to the ambiance. But the big screen TV near the bar and the overly bright lighting at dinner are a buzz kill for anyone looking to enjoy the vibe.
That said, appreciating the food is easy. A cup of creamy carrot curry soup ($4) masterfully balances both flavors with neither dominating, not always the case when curry shows up to the party. When nothing but a hefty sandwich will do, a Reuben made with house-cured pastrami ($14) hits all the right notes, the sauerkraut, Swiss and Thousand Island dressing all but singing in concert with the abundant meat. Crispy fried shrimp, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and spicy remoulade pile up for a standout shrimp po’boy ($13) but it’s the buttered, toasted Carter’s sub roll that seals the deal.
The salad game is strong at Parterre, with no sense of sacrifice for choosing the healthy path. Easily one of the best kale salads ($8) I’ve had in Richmond combines a palette of flavor profiles and textures — crispy chickpeas, puffed faro, feta, golden raisins and red onions — with kale well-massaged with lemon-honey vinaigrette. Another fine way to get your greens is a local arugula salad ($13) that takes it up a notch with truffle-sized mini-croquettes of Caromont goat cheese, crispy aged ham and grilled red onions with a roasted tomato vinaigrette.
Both of the aforementioned sandwiches make it onto the dinner menu, along with a grilled tofu sandwich ($12), burger ($13) and more traditional entrees. I’m not going to lie, I was smitten with the offerings the moment I spotted 24-hour brined fried chicken ($18), despite my inability to finish every bite of the crunchy breast, leg and thigh pieces that crowned crispy Brussels sprouts and a contrasting puree of sweet potatoes. Need extra pizzazz? House-made pepper jelly and Fresno chili hot sauce ride shotgun with the chicken.
Topping out a well-priced menu that also includes pasta, pork and shrimp are Chesapeake crabcakes ($22), subtly seasoned and full of lump crab, staged with decadent confit fingerlings, sauteed green beans and topped with Low Country corn relish.
Drinking is as affordable as eating, with beer ($4-$6), including rotating local taps, wine ($6-$10 glass, $21-$38 bottle) and cocktails ($9-$13) such as the Parterre Cobbler ($10), a seductive sipper of Amontillado sherry, Demerara syrup, mint, orange and lemon. For post-meal Poe contemplation, there’s Blanchard’s coffee, as well as port, madeira, sherry and Gran Marnier.
I may not have finished any of my meals but that didn’t stop me from finding room for dessert. Beignets come with house-made ice cream ($6) — a supremely dark chocolate on one occasion — but purists should note that these New Orleans-inspired doughnuts are baked, not fried, making for a heavier texture. Hardcore chocolate fans, among which I count myself, would be hard-pressed to find a richer pot de crème ($8), and that’s not a complaint, although the white chocolate whipped cream on top almost feels like overkill.
When it comes to service, the words that come to mind are casual and sweet, as if the staff is still learning the hospitality business. No one was rude, but there wasn’t always a server around when we needed one, even if sincere apologies followed. An uptick in business may have caught them unprepared.
Because, let’s face it, if The New York Times knows what a gem Parterre is, everyone in Richmond should by now, too.
Daily 7 a.m. – 1 p.m., lunch starts at 10:30, dinner at 5 and weekend brunch 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
100 E. Franklin St.