New lunch options just keep popping up, making it easy to lose sight of some of the stalwarts that have been around since before Richmond was foodie central.
Branch & Vine, with its mid-Fan location at Meadow and Main, is one of those places. When Aaron Burnley bought the restaurant last year, he was determined to change the vibe from grab and go to sit and savor. He's succeeded.
Compared to many narrow and long Fan spaces, Branch & Vine feels spacious and open. Ten tables sit under a canopy of twinkle lights, while one side of the room feels downright loungelike with a couch, chairs and two wall-mounted big-screen TVs. Situated in the windows of the glass-fronted space are a couple of tables and a long counter, ideal perches from which to watch the nonstop street theater at this busy corner.
One entire wall is devoted to wine and, to a lesser degree, beer in cans and bottles. Multitaskers can be productive during lunch hour, with the ability to eat and pick up a bottle of wine or a six-pack for later at the same place. Should you want to buy a bottle to enliven lunch, you'll pay retail price plus a $6 corkage fee, which still brings the cost for midday vino below that of a typical restaurant's wine list. And for those who aim to support our own, Branch & Vine is a Virginia Commonwealth University alumni-owned business.
- Scott Elmquist
- Burgers like the Burnley, featuring yellow mustard, ketchup, bacon, Swiss and pickles on a brioche bun, are now available.
All the usual lunch suspects are here: soups, sandwiches — including five vegetarian offerings — salads, flatbreads and sides. Fresh arugula gives a fitting peppery note to a Figgy Piggy flatbread layered with prosciutto, mozzarella, garlic and fig jam. Tomato jam and a fine, crusty baguette are what make the turkey jam sandwich, which also boasts apples, Gruyere and house mayo, a standout. A note-perfect spicy peanut dressing enlivens an Asian salad with still-warm roasted chicken over mixed greens, purple cabbage, spring onions and carrots, a light summer lunch.
Heartier appetites can't miss with house-made Italian meatballs smothered in marinara and provolone nestled in a baguette. Only the basic tuna on wheat — billed as "creamy" but more accurately, textureless and dripping with liquid — feels lackluster.
Along with two other rotating soups you'll always find Portuguese kale stew on the menu, and it's a winner. Thick with spiced pork, kidney beans, potatoes, carrots and kale, it's hard to find much broth. Whether that's a plus or minus is your call.
With the swing toward fast-casual eating, it often feels like table service at an inexpensive restaurant has become an oxymoron. It feels very civilized to go into Branch & Vine, choose your table based on the view and have a friendly server show up within moments. On all my visits, our servers seemed eager to ensure that our meals were pleasant, refilling water glasses, making sure we liked our selections and offering boxes when it became clear our eyes were bigger than our bellies.
With plenty of sturdy tables, lots of elbow room and WiFi, Branch & Vine is a comfortable place to work during or after your meal. It isn't a place with strategically placed outlets at every table, so arrive fully charged if you're in work mode. As for discussing a project with a client or co-worker, that's accomplished easily and pleasantly here.
But where I think Branch & Vine shines is as the other kind of working lunch, the kind where you can relax while you recharge after a challenging morning, or prepare yourself for the gauntlet of the afternoon. As you dig into a satisfying meal, you have your choice of watching the world go by or chatting with someone, or not. When it's a mental health working lunch you need, this is the place.
- Scott Elmquist
- Recently revamped, Branch & Vine offers an extensive menu of sandwiches, salads, soups and flatbreads, plus live jazz and free wine tasting every week.
You might expect that because Branch & Vine offers table service, it can't compete with a fast-casual place where ordering's done at the counter. The average wait was 10 to 12 minutes from placing our order to having it appear at our table, allowing a solid 45 minutes of lunch hour for enjoying the meal. And because the restaurant has its own parking lot, no time is wasted looking for a space.
- Scott Elmquist
Prices are most reasonable. Sandwiches top out in the $8-9 range, not counting add-on options such as fig or tomato jam or Nueske's bacon. Some choices, like the Asian chicken salad, are listed at $11-12.
Open daily for lunch and dinner, with live jazz on Mondays and free wine tastings on Fridays, Branch & Vine makes a solid addition to your lunchtime rotation. Few places with parking are so well-suited and well-priced for a nonworking lunch hour. And if you must, it also works swimmingly for hunkering down with your laptop.
Daily 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
2001½ W. Main St.