Sampling Shockoe Bottom On Real Richmond Food Tours
On a sweltering July afternoon, there’s little you can say or do to pry me away from a poolside lounge chair. Over 100 degrees? I’ll stay here with my strawberry margarita, thanks.
However, in the middle of Richmond’s heat wave last week, I discovered that there is one thing with the power to pry me from my aquatic comfort zone. And that’s food. Specifically, local favorites prepared by the biggest names in the Bottom and Church Hill.
Real Richmond, the brainchild of writers Maureen Egan and Susan Winiecki, hosts walking food tours exploring the cuisine of RVA neighborhoods. From “U R Here: Eating & Antiquing on the Avenues” to “Shockoe Slip: Capital of Cuisine,” Maureen and Susan wave their foodie wands and make Richmond’s menus come alive.
Giving up on my sun-drenched afternoon, I met my group for the July 23rd Shockoe Bottom/Church Hill tour. Seeking refuge from the smoking pavement in Cafe Gutenberg, we had our first course: Peach Bruschetta, made with Hanover Sisters’ peaches from 17th Street Market. A refreshing start to the afternoon, the peaches made for a sweet complement to the traditionally savory dish.
Next on the menu: LuLu’s, a short jaunt away in the Bottom. Chef Neil’s Hanover Tomato Crostinis, topped with pesto and goat cheese, disappeared in seconds. For an unexpected dessert, LuLu’s showcased a decadent Peanut Butter Pie. Though we knew we had a full afternoon ahead, resistance was futile.
We took the long way home to Sensi, via the Canal Walk. Maureen regaled the group with historical accounts of the Bottom, the floods of Richmond, and Civil War legends. For those new to Richmond or eager to learn more about the history of the Bottom, this aspect of the tour was especially thrilling. Overlooking the James River, Sensi boasts a magnificent location. It’s situated in the River District among renovated warehouses, the Virginia Holocaust Museum, and countless yuppie-laden residential lofts. The velvet chairs, leather booths, gauzy curtains and red hues create an atmosphere of quiet luxury during the day.
Piling in the delightfully frigid entryway, our group relaxed in the empty refinement of Sensi’s dining room. It was a real treat to experience the restaurant before service, unblemished by a busy Saturday night. Once we sat down and cooled off, Chef Paolo presented us with Lemon Basil Risotto topped with Seared Tuna. A+. Served at room temperature, the lemon risotto proved a perfect complement to the weather.
A quick stopover at Globehopper was next on the list. Decorated with personal travel photos of the owner and coffeehouse-cool touches like stained glass, bold purple walls, and maps of the world, the lounge lives up to its name. The kitchen served up powdered sugar-topped Poffertjes, delicious bite-sized pastries, as well as Iced Espresso Toscanos.
Caffeine-fueled and ready to make it to the finish line, we headed to Aziza’s. The family owned and operated restaurant and deli focuses on wood-fired pizzas and Lebanese comfort food. After a wood-fire oven tutorial in the back, we took our seats and noshed on Aziza’s house specialty: cream puffs. There are no words. Get thee to the deli case! They’re a life-altering experience.
Off the pizza menu, we tried the White (garlic, fontina, oregano, chile, and olive oil), Mushroom & Onion (shiitake, crimini, and caramelized onion), and Margharita RGP pizzas (really good pizza – san marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and basil). Fresh out of the wood-fire oven, they were all spectacular. My table’s favorite? The White, hands down.
Stuffed to the brim, we somehow made it to our last stop: Julep’s. Chef Randy served up Fried Green Tomatoes, while bartender Bobby introduced us to one of his newest drink inventions. While I almost passed on the fried greens for lack of space, they were one of the highlights of the day. Light, flaky breading enveloped the succulent green tomatoes, topped with roasted jalapeño-lemon aioli. Perfection.
At the bar, Bobby left our palates guessing with his curious new drink. After a few sips and a few guesses, he let us in on the secret: Hendrix gin, hibiscus-infused tequila, basil syrup and lime juice, with a rim of crushed mustard seed and sea salt. I’ll definitely be back for another round of this game.
Real Richmond knows its way around RVA cuisine, with Maureen and Susan at the helm. For about $39, you’ll make a bunch of new friends, indulge in some of Richmond’s most talked about dishes, and learn some more about our fabulous city. Take a break from your tired old weekend activities (the pool didn’t miss me too much) and try something new!
For more information on Real Richmond Food Tours, visit http://realrichmondva.com/.
An RVA newbie, but no stranger to the comforts of Southern cuisine, Diana spent her formative years picking crabs in Baltimore. W&M drew her to Virginia and she’s never looked back. Check her out on Tumblr and Twitter.
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