With years of buzz about Church Hill and Scott's Addition, it's easy to forget that the Fan was once Richmond's pre-eminent dining destination.
Whether it speaks to you at dinnertime or not, it's safe to say that plenty of solid lunch options are scattered along that stretch of Main Street from Belvidere to Arthur Ashe Boulevard.
One place you may have missed is Greenbriar Cafe and Coffeehouse, although with its cheerful blue exterior and sunny yellow door, it's a welcoming spot. On the same block as Fan Guitar and Ukulele and only open on weekdays, it's the kind of place that feels instantly familiar to longtime Fan denizens.
Sit back and imagine a classic Fan space, long and narrow with a black ceiling and large front windows, and you've got a pretty good sense of the Greenbriar. Framed copies of vintage French advertisements for things as varied as Strega and Spumante line the pale mauve walls. Ceiling fans whirl even when it's a cool March day. Overhead, the music leans to the '80s and '90s, set to a volume that allows for conversation but provides some atmosphere.
I've yet to visit when there weren't folks obviously working, whether it was small group meetings or people hunkering over laptops, so there's a bit of a co-working vibe here. That said, a pan with a half-dozen freshly baked croissants cooling on the counter isn't something you're likely to see at Gather.
- Ash Daniel
- The Byrd sandwich with Korean-style chicken
Let's talk about Greenbriar Cafe's greatest strength: breakfast all day. Sometimes a person just has to have a breakfast burrito at 4 in the afternoon. Because the kitchen team not only bakes its own croissants but also makes its own sausage, a simple breakfast sandwich of eggs, sausage and cheddar on a croissant deserves a shout-out. Scrambles, omelets, bagels and granola offer myriad options for starting — or ending — the day, with plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free choices. Home fries and fresh fruit are available to accompany any of the breakfast selections.
Whether you're a meat fancier or partial to plants, the lunch sandwich menu is evenly divided, with three options for each and all available on homemade gluten-free bread.
The Fan, aptly named because it resembles so many typical Fan sandwiches, keeps it simple with turkey, avocado, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, onion and dill mayo on wheat. With kimchi slaw, cucumber and cilantro on brioche, the Byrd is a Korean-style barbecue chicken sandwich with plenty of heat and so much sauce it requires a fistful of napkins. I was glad I added chicken to the Church Hill salad to bulk up the plate of greens, apple, cheddar and red onion tossed in a mustard vinaigrette because the bacon and walnuts were in short supply. Chef's specials include dishes like shepherd's pie with a side salad and a French dip sandwich with chips.
- Ash Daniel
- The birthday cake latte with rainbow nonpareil sprinkles.
On the coffee front, Greenbriar keeps it close to home, using beans from Rostov's Coffee and Tea, the roastery about three blocks away. Considering part of Greenbriar Cafe's name is coffeehouse, you might expect some sweets to accompany your latte or cappuccino. And while the website and blackboard refer to pastries, scones, cookies and other baked goods, no sweet options were available on any of my visits.
Like most coffeehouses, Greenbriar is a fast-casual restaurant where you order at the counter, receive a numbered card on a stand and await the arrival of your food at your table. A self-serve water station makes it convenient to stay hydrated, and the first coffee — just plain old drip coffee, not an espresso beverage — refill is free. For the most part tables were clean and inviting, although during busy lunches we saw dirty dishes languishing on tables because the emphasis was on serving.
The staff was friendly, if only casually attentive. After I ordered a Mexican Coke, the cashier offered to open it for me, a necessity since the glass bottle didn't have a twist-off top. On another visit, the same person handed me the Coke and I had to ask that it be opened. Overall, expect an unrushed vibe.
- Ash Daniel
- Greenbriar Cafe and Coffeehouse’s outdoor patio
Tables are square and wide, making for good work surfaces, and chairs are the sturdy library variety that encourages good posture. In the corner sits a printer that patrons can use for a small cost. Should you come here with a report to fine-tune or a presentation to finalize, you almost certainly won't be alone. And with its proximity to Virginia Commonwealth University, you can expect to see at least a few black-and-gold-clad* patrons typing away on their MacBooks with their AirPods in.
Who doesn't love the ever-elusive Fan location with a parking lot? The entire back of the block where Greenbriar sits is available to those patronizing the businesses. On my first visit, I had no trouble scoring a space on the street practically in front of the restaurant.
It's a good thing parking isn't an issue, too, because there can be quite a lag between ordering and chowing down. On one visit, it took more than 20 minutes for our food to arrive. Granted, the sausage and egg on the breakfast sandwich needed to be cooked, but there was only one order ahead of us, so it seemed like a long time coming. Another time, we waited close to 35 minutes for a sandwich and salad. While it's great f you're planning to burrow into your working hole for a few hours, if you're crunched for time, Greenbriar may not be ideal.
Salads and sandwiches come in under $10, although there are plenty of add-on options, like house-roasted chicken, homemade hummus, pimento cheese and premium sides, that can increase the cost.
If you're in the lower Fan, Greenbriar Cafe and Coffeehouse offers convenient parking and a menu with something for everyone. And as long as you're not in a hurry, you can't go wrong with that egg and sausage croissant sandwich.
Greenbriar Cafe and Coffeehouse
1211 W. Main St.
Mondays – Fridays 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified VCU's colors and black and yellow.