Don and I spent a couple nights in Williamsburg last July. We didn't stay at the lovely Williamsburg Inn, but we hoped to at least have a meal there.
When we found out jackets were required in the evening, we figured we would aim for breakfast.
The Inn was adjacent to the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area, which dates back to the 1600's.
That makes Williamsburg Inn just a baby, at almost 80 years. The inn was actually built by John D. Rockefeller Junior. He played a part in the preservation of the historic community.
Southern Country Estate
The place really did look more like an old home than a hotel. The neoclassical exterior, with whitewashed brick and ionic columns had a formal, grand style.
Two doormen opened the beautiful brass doors as we headed inside.
The sitting area by the lobby desk felt almost rigidly formal, with chandeliers, drapes and portraits. But there was a man seated in shorts and the staff seemed friendly, so on we went.
The decor reminded me of my Aunt Mary's home. I was always in awe of her lovely house, but I never felt truly comfortable. Don and I wandered in search of the dining room.
In 2001 there was a complete renovation at the inn, so everything did look very fresh and lovely in the sunken dining room. We were greeted warmly and asked our names. I wondered why, because there didn't seem to be a wait.
Our table with a view of the grounds was lovely... even with some golf course renovations going on. White cloth and a white rose... and a bell for service?
Actually that was not a bell. That was a very fancy little butter holder with lid. I kind of adored it.
Our server was Cecil and he was delightful. He called us Mr. and Mrs. Zienty, so I guess that's why we were asked about our names. He was dressed in a suit and tie and seemed overly polite at first.
Then I just had to pull out my 1954 Ford Motor Cookbook to ask Cecil if they still served "Williamsburg Orange Wine Cake". He took a look at the book with illustration and recipe and I wish I could have snapped a photo of his expression. His eyes widened and he let out a not so formal laugh!
He was sad to inform me, they no longer serve that cake. So I made another choice.
Breakfast is Served
Ordinarily I feel uncomfortable in a setting that once served only the rich. And looking around, I'm pretty sure the other diners were inn guests. In fact many greeted the staff like old friends.
They had either been staying a long time, or they come back often. But Cecil and our busboy and hostess, were all gracious and made us feel at home.
I had the closest thing I could find to the cookbook recipe... Orange Waffles with Raspberries and Blackberries!
Don went for Corned Beef Hash with Asparagus Toast and Eggs. He's picky about corned beef, so it was nice to see him happy. This was a big treat after our usual traveling breakfast of granola bars!
It was nice having the restaurant relaxed and quiet. We had more time with Cecil and he talked about growing up in Jamaica.
He thought it had been about 39 years since he'd been back. He missed it. We tipped well... hoping he can put that towards his travel savings.
Since we learned that the Regency Dining Room was added in more recent years, we tried to find the original dining room. I think this is it.
We found a few other reminders of how the inn must have looked in 1937. The stairway was the original, I'm pretty sure. And I don't think they install water fountains like that anymore. I tried to imagine Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visiting the inn, the year I was born. They must have liked it plenty, since they returned in 2007.
Walking Off Breakfast
What a treat to relax and dine at breakfast, then spend the day walking it off in Colonial Williamsburg. Nice way to extend our dining adventure!
Don and I had a quick getaway to Virginia in July. We spent some time in the Revolutionary City of Williamsburg, trying to absorb a little Colonial History.
We stopped to enjoy lunch at an authentic 18th century alehouse and ended up with some good people encounters!
Some Background First
This actual building was reconstructed 75 years ago, where the old Colonial Hotel once stood. The hotel was built in 1895 on the foundations of 2 buildings from the mid 1700's!
Who Was Mr. Chowning?
An old newspaper advertisement shows that a man named Josiah Chowning did own a Williamsburg tavern in 1765.
I don't believe this is where his tavern was, but the 1940's reconstruction attempted to bring back the authentic flavor. They even added a beer garden in back, with "arbors and booths of greenery". The tavern became popular with visiting servicemen during WWII.
Waiting for a Table
A costumed hostess met us on the porch and added our names to the a wait list. Maybe she was just "in character", but she seemed sort of bossy when she asked, "Would you mind eating with another couple?"
That seemed odd, but she wasn't someone we wanted to say no to. And we were hungry. We passed through the dining room to wait in the beer garden. I hoped we would be matched up with someone more friendly than our hostess.
We headed towards the rear door and I peeked at the corner fireplace and antique chairs and benches. Nice. I also took a look at some of the tourists and hoped we hadn't set ourselves up for some very dull dining conversation.
The hostess grabbed us from the bar, before I had a chance to ask for the complimentary peanuts.
She hustled us through the lower rooms like an impatient schoolmarm and pointed us towards another couple, heading towards the stairs. Our dining partners! Don and I eyed each other and grinned. Not only did we luck out, getting to eat in the quaint upstairs attic room, but the other dining couple looked pretty delightful!
Our New Friends
Our server, Tansu was in much better spirits than the schoolmarm hostess.
Being from Turkey, I didn't expect her to care a hoot about the 1950's, Ford Motor Cookbook, which I pulled out of my bag. But she laughed and took in the retro book, like she actually understood the fun. Our new friends Bob and Joan seemed equally tickled as they flipped through pages.
Don and I always feel pretty lucky when we find a place that still exists in our old travel cookbooks.
Usually the featured recipe has disappeared from the menu. But the Chowning's menu still featured Brunswick Stew! I don't know if it had been altered, but I made sure to order it!
While waiting on our orders, we shared some travel stories with Bob and Joan. Bob had some good cell phone pics to accent his funny stories. They seemed a lot younger than the ages they claimed. And they certainly had no problems hiking up the rickety stairway to the attic dining room.
However, Bob admitted that just the day before, they claimed they "needed an elevator" during their visit in D.C. Their daughter was able to set up a special tour at the "White House", which included a bit of stair climbing. But somehow the 2 had determined, the route would be different if they needed an elevator. They ended up with a sneak peek into the White House kitchen and some extra chat time with the Secret Service! Our dining buddies were gave us some tips for the future!
Food and Drink
The beers came in festive clay mugs. Bob and Don teased over who had the most beer in theirs.
I was actually pretty crazy over the heavy dishes with yellow and blue peacocks! It was quite an incentive for any child to clean their plate.
Don and I did a little sharing for lunch. Our order came with Brunswick Stew (made with young fowl and fresh garden vegetables) and two Pasties, plus slaw. The meat and veggie "pasty" pies were flavorful and seemed like an authentic choice for an alehouse. The stew was thick and tasty, as well.
I took off on a wandering mission and only got in trouble once. Evidently one staircase is for employees only. A different schoolmarm got on my case, this time. But I did see some wonderful antique youth chairs and some curious sconces and pewter items.
Colonial Williamsburg is full of costumed characters and I found a few at the bottom of the stairs. Two were seated, playing a table game. A man in a 3-cornered hat, was warming up on the mandolin and a cheery woman in cap and apron was just passing through.
On the Porch
By the time we 4 had finished our meal, the porch had been relieved of the hosting schoolmarm. Joan and I enjoyed a little music and threatened to dance a bit. We posed for a picture instead.
All in all, the place was memorable. The grumpy hostess gave us something to laugh about with our new friends. Food was decent and our sweet server Tansu was the best. Next time, we'll have to arrive at night, when I hear the games and music can become very lively!
An American Gastropub
Evening in the Olde Town
It had been a hot day, so as we headed towards the pub, it was nice to see the old street becoming quieter and cooler as the sun went down. All those poor employees in their hot costumes!
From Costumes to Uniforms
As we traveled down the street we noticed some different costumes. There seemed to be a number of men in uniform, looking very serious. There was also some crime tape around an area near the historic City Hall. It seemed someone had left a backpack on a wooden bench near a barrel.
We were curious, but continued down the road towards the pub, where we knew beer and food awaited.
The pub on the corner was appealing, with tower and weathervane above. There was a small crowd dining outside, which looked inviting.
The inside was actually pretty comfortable, with a bar and a few levels. Lots of big windows and iron light fixtures. But we are from Texas and we don't get to do much patio dining in the summer, so we waited for an outside table.
Beer and Food Made With Beer
Don was most excited about all the beer options. But I was pretty delighted with so many unusual choices on the Small Plate Menu.
The Rueben Croquettes were pretty crazy! Panko covered corned beef, Swiss and sauerkraut! And then Don went for some Mulligtawny, a yellow curry soup with chicken and coconut milk. Welsh Rarebit was my favorite of the three.
Excitement Besides Food
We enjoyed our food, while watching the tourists and locals wandering by the patio area. Then we had more to a watch, as a parade of emergency vehicles flew by, with sirens blasting. It was dark, but we were pretty sure we saw the words, "bomb squad" on the side of one.
Eat and Run
Since I'm always up for a dining adventure, I pushed Don to get the bill so we could go see what all the excitement was about. But we could no longer get anywhere near where the backpack was sitting on the bench. (which is a good thing) The crime tape area had been enlarged and we wandered around to the end, where the most important trucks were parked. We watched one man put on a suit that looked pretty much like the Michelin Man.
All is Good
There really is nothing amusing about this at all. It's a sad thing that a backpack, probably holding a water bottle and a guidebook, must be treated with such caution. But that's the world we live in now. Don and I watched while 2 suited men disappeared towards the backpack. Before long they returned, holding the pack. Their body language showed relief. There were high fives and the hot suits were removed.
A Restaurant... Not a Group Home!
Don and I totally lucked out when we found ourselves dining at this 256 year old Manor House.
It was built on a grant of land from George II of England, by a patent dated 1743. For many years it was a lodging stop for travelers halfway between Richmond and Petersburg.
How We Found It
Once again, we owe it to one of our vintage Ford Cookbooks. While staying in Williamsburg, we flipped through this 1950 edition and found a page featuring the "Halfway House" restaurant.
I Googled to see if it still existed, then called to make sure it was open! A couple hours later, we found the old building under some grand trees... right next to old US Route 1! I can't believe it's still there!
Facing the Highway
White boards and red shutters, faced the traffic. I saw curtains in the low windows, surrounded by brick. Sure enough, that's where we ended up dining, in the basement.
We arrived at 11:30, since we were squeezing this in on the way to the airport. The hostess had been expecting us and let us choose where to dine.
We picked a table right across from one of the 2 fireplaces.I studied the fireplace, then pulled a cookbook from my bag. Oh how I love traveling with our vintage cookbooks, put out by Ford Motor Company!
Our server appeared with a basket of cinnamon rolls and poppyseed muffins. As she lit our candle, I opened the book to the page featuring Halfway House. I pointed to the recipe and asked if they served Beets in Orange Sauce. Of course they didn't, but she was amused by the book and illustration.
We noticed that the fireplace in the book looked similar to the one near our table. The brick floor and the painted door seemed to match. But who were the people in the picture?.
On the other side of the dining room there was another fireplace.
Hiding behind a beam, to the right, we found the actual framed watercolor image, that appeared in the book.
People in the Picture
We learned that the woman in the painting was the owner, at the time when the cookbook was put out.
The boy was her son. The door and mantel haven't been changed, but the cabinet to the right was moved up stairs.
We learned this info from Sue and Rick, when they came downstairs from an office.
The Youngs have owned the business for over 30 years and they graciously spent some time sharing some of their knowledge about the place.
So Much History
I loved looking out the tiny basement window and wondering who else had peered through, in the past. Union General, Benjamin Butler used this house as a headquarters during the Civil War.
So you can be sure there was some peeking going on, then. And even before the Revolution, this basement space had been a tavern. The boots of many historic figures have evidently walked on these floors, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
I'm sort of glad they didn't have the beets, so I could get the Chicken Pie with flaky puff crust. It came with a twice baked potato and fruit. That seemed fitting for my Colonial Lunch!
Don had a crab cake which also came with a potato and green beans. For travelers who don't like hefty lunches, this was perfect.
Our Cozy Nook
The small table behind us was the only table that didn't fill during our stay. It was surprising to see so many business lunches going on. No one else seemed to stare at their surroundings the way we did. I can only imagine how the atmosphere must change at night, especially when fireplaces are lit.
Rick and Sue invited us to wander around after our meal. Finding the bathroom was the first adventure.
I'm not sure when plumbing was introduced, but the shed-like bathrooms with the whitewashed doors were a hoot. And for our trip upstairs, luckily there was a sturdy railing. I have no idea how many footsteps it took to make those stair-boards go from flat to wavy!
The second floor had 2 rooms. Don posed in the Meeting Room, so you can see the ceiling is actually pretty high.
The Lady's Parlor
This had been a room for the Ladies at one point, so I did the posing. There was a third story that we didn't visit. That may have been where overnight guests stayed long ago.
This was the part that made our meal feel most authentic. Our food was all prepared in this separate kitchen house!
We could see in through the screen door where the chef was bustling around with various dishes. There's was lots of coordinating going on between the kitchen and the house, just to relay orders. Then our meals had been carried on trays from the cabin into the house. I can't imagine anything more complicated, especially when weather was an issue! But everything ran smoothly and food was hot and delicious! What a memorable meal and a fun visit!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.