Dining Out in Williamsburg

Williamsburg’s Food Revolution by Arielle Patterson

Every day, visitors travel to Williamsburg to see the well-preserved history of our country. What many may not know is that this city is home to another revolution—a food revolution.

Williamsburg led—and continues to lead the way—in many traditions and techniques that have created America’s food culture.

“Williamsburg was sort of a test ground for what eventually becomes American cuisine,” says Frank Clark, master of Historic Foodways at Colonial Williamsburg. “This was the place to eat,” Clark says, and it still is today thanks to our thriving food scene.

It’s no secret that the colonists and Native Americans lived off the land. They ate everything they grew, meaning fresh ingredients in every dish. Today, this is called farm-to-table. What was once the typical way to prepare food, has now become a food movement. Local chefs strive to continue this long-established style of cooking. Dining at a local farm-to-table restaurant is a win-win. You know that you’re eating the best ingredients, while supporting area agriculturists.

During the early days of the colonists, the Peninsula was abundant with corn, tomato, pumpkin, peanut and many more crops. You will have no trouble finding restaurants with menu items inspired by local Chesapeake produce. Enjoy regional dishes prepared with local ingredients for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.

Virginia has taken on the title of “Peanut Capital of the World.” There are lots of ways to sample Virginia’s famous peanuts, especially in Williamsburg where there are no shortage of peanut shops and sellers. For an unparalleled experience, stop by The Jefferson Restaurant—family owned and operated for four generations. Locals and visitors alike go “nuts” over The Jefferson’s thick, creamy peanut soup.

Williamsburg’s tidewater cuisine has been prevalent since the colonial days. Early settlers would spend hours on the James River searching for succulent crabs, fish, mussels, clams and sea scallops. The city still holds a love for seafood that is shown through contemporary recipes in local tide-to-table restaurants. Diners can pay homage to Williamsburg’s coastal culinary heritage without having to put in the labor that our ancestors did.

Commemorate the Chesapeake Bay with a sumptuous meal that tastes fresh off the docks. Food for Thought Restaurant put a twist on a classic grilled cheese with The Coastline. This dish, stuffed with juicy, lump crab meat, fresh asparagus, tomato, bacon, gruyere cheese and Old Bay mayo, serves a bite of the sea through a classic treat.

Local chefs use menus to celebrate the Chesapeake, while offering a modern take on American cuisine. Dive into creamy crab dip or a cup of she-crab soup. Scallops become a decadent dish when blackened, broiled or sautéed.

Virginia is known as the oyster capital of the East Coast and it shows not only through production, but also through each enticing entrée.

Restaurants serve our famous York River oyster fried, steamed or on the half shell. Gabriel Archer Tavern, located on the vineyard of The Williamsburg Winery, has a Wine & Brine Lounge every weekend from March–December. Guests can sample some of the Chesapeake Bay’s finest oysters, along with other fresh seafood, from local oyster farmers.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, southern cooking became more prominent thanks to techniques taught by African Americans and the Native people.

“As Virginia continued to grow, and as the population of enslaved people continued to grow, African influences started to merge into English diet,” says Clark.

Southern restaurants in the area, specializing in these classic techniques, are serving up dishes passed down from generations and are offering some good ole’ Southern hospitality on the side.

Corey’s Country Kitchen is just one of the many restaurants that is dishing out timeless Southern food. Try staples like fried chicken livers and onions, collard greens seasoned with pork, fried okra, cabbage, catfish and, of course, fried chicken.

With even more options including bakeries, pizza shops, endless pancake houses and authentic Greek, Italian, Mexican and Japanese restaurants, dining out in Williamsburg is an epicurean adventure.