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Aug 17, 2009 03:12 PM

Real Down Home Southern Food in Virginia Along I-95


I have found many BBQ recommendations along the I-95 corridor between DC and Southern, VA, but I am looking for NON-BBQ stuff along this route. My dad and I will be road tripping through:

Fredericksburg (and surrounds)
Richmond (and surrounds)
Petersburg (and surrounds).

We should have two nights in each place. We're from California and want stuff like fried chicken, chicken fried steak, meat loaf, biscuits and gravy, Virginia ham, collards, okra, grits, fried green tomatoes, succotash, more gravy, more fried anything, real stick to your ribs Southern comfort food. We are not worried about ambience, calories or cholesterol, though if the place has heritage, all the better.

Breakfast is a big thing for us and diner food is great, though by dinner we'll probably be ready for something a bit more "new Southern" and seafood oriented.

Open to really anything, but want to stick with the Southern theme.

Thanks in advance.

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  1. Unfortunately Virginia is probably the worst state in the entire South in which to find classic Southern food. As someone who's spending a bit of time in Charlottesville, VA right now after having lived in NC, SC, FL, GA, I can tell you that it's next to impossible to find a place that even has those items you listed on the menu, much less prepare them properly. 95% of the places up here when specifying "down-home" cooking actually carry food you'd expect in home cooking in New England, like pinto beans and apple sauce. I'm about to crack open my Edna Lewis, Mrs. Wilkes, and Frank Stitt Southern cookbooks in order to remedy this situation.

    That said, go to Comfort in Richmond, VA. They probably have the best of what you'll be able to find in these parts.

    For something on the more fried seafood/soul side, go to Croaker's Spot in Richmond. A real artery-clogging but authentic down-home experience:

    10 Replies
    1. re: mikeh

      Outstanding. Thanks much. I will be ready to try these. We will be there in exactly a month and I'm looking forward to paying respects to the Civil War battle sites, and eating hopefully really good Southern food. I suspect that being so close to the Chesapeake Bay there is a lot of influence from that kind of food too.

      1. re: mikeh

        Hey mikeh, I've seen you saying in a couple of posts that pinto beans aren't southern and are more typical of what you would find in New England. Sorry,'re just flat out wrong. I grew up in the south (Kentucky) and pinto beans (called "soup beans") were a menu staple, in homes and restaurants. And I can thoroughly state, having lived in NYC for the last 25 years, as well as lived part of that time in NE and travelled there extensively, that I have never seen pinto beans on a menu in the north east.

        1. re: angelhair

          Fair enough, but the general point still stands. A home-cooking place that only has green beans and pinto beans as the veggie side dishes is seriously lacking the breadth and variety of southern sides that typifies home-cooking in the "real South."

          Edna Lewis herself admitted to not even knowing what collard greens were until she moved out of Virginia...

          1. re: mikeh

            "Edna Lewis herself admitted to not even knowing what collard greens were until she moved out of Virginia..."

            That's not a good sign for my dad and me, but we'll just eat what the locals eat, and adjust our expectations. I'll report back on my findings.

            1. re: EarlyBird

              i have had collard greens a million places since i moved to richmond.

              i love comfort. buz & ned's bbq has them (i know you don't want bbq). there's a new place called lucille's.

              lots of places do twists on southern food like lulus and juleps but are more upscale. i mean even lemaire (the high end restaurant at the jefferson hotel) has collards and va ham. it's just knowing where to look.

              the virginia diner in wakefield is going to be pretty far off the 95 but is what you are looking for too.

              1. re: AMFM

                I am a Virginia native and grew up with collards and as AMFM pointed out there are lots to be had in Richmond. My favorite collards come from Q Barbeque in Midlothian.

        2. re: mikeh

          I have no idea where you were raised in the commonwealth mikeh... (maybe northern (aka occupied) Virginia?), but here in Tidewater we were raised on collards, grits, fried chicken, fried okra, cornbread (in the skillet) and a whole lot of ham. Planting collards now for my Aunt Edna... most of the Tidewater natives have a fig tree in the back yard and we have wonderful muscadine grapes coming in now here now. There are some wonderful restaurants serving this type of food in the area, but as to the I-95 corridor, I am not as familiar, but I do know the best around the Tidewater is the Virginia Diner in Wakefield which is off 460... not sure how far from 95.. but can't be too far off the road.. they have Peanut soup (great), peanut pie (unbelievable) and great specials with Fried chicken, greens, and the like. It is worth the ride I will tell you that. And they have a small gift shop with the best peanuts on the planet. If you have not tried it... you should. The Surrey House in Surrey used to be great, (haven't been there in maybe 5 years), but the Edwards Ham shoppe is nearby and has the best Virginia Ham to take home. Take care all.

          1. re: southvaguy

            I've never lived in Virginia and still don't, southvaguy. I am spending time in C'ville, and my comments about lack of home-style southern food apply very well to areas west of I-95, no matter how far south you get in the state. Danville has a southern place, but they open cans for their veggies. Ditto to a place in Staunton. Harrisonburg, Lexington, and Roanoke (I believe) don't have any southern places with all those southern sides like OP mentioned. Same with Lynchburg or Altavista.

            The Tidewater is clearly a different kettle of fish, and I'm glad to hear it. Y'all even have Eastern NC-style Bbq there. But please note what the OP was asking. He asked about four specific places, two of which (Manasses and Fredericksburg) are within the "occupied" territory you yourself mentioned, and the other two, Richmond and Petersburg, are on the edge of where the real Southern food area begins in the state. He wasn't asking about the core of the Tidewater area, and as rightly mentioned, he WILL have to make a significant sidetrip to get to places like Virginia Diner. And as for Richmond itself, yes, a lot of BBQ places do serve southern sides like greens and such, but again, the OP said that they preferred not to have BBQ recommendations but country-cooking-style places instead. Those ARE harder to come by in the Richmond area.

            Finally, as to my statement about Virginia as a whole compared to other Southern states, it's still true. The area of Virginia that has honest-to-goodness Southern food comprises less than half of its total land area (maybe 35%). Compare that to other Southern states (NC - probably 80%), and SC, GA, AL, MS - 100%, and my point still stands.

            Speaking of Virginia Diner, I've read other reviews saying that they phone it in a bit. Any truth to that before I drive 120 miles from "upstate" to get my greens fix?

            1. re: NXS

              The OP should know its about an hour from I-95.

              1. re: NXS

                Re: Surrey House...
                For a nice diversion from your route, take the ferry across the James from Jamestown to Scotland and you'll be just a short ways to the Surrey House. It's a beautiful drive. BTW, Surrey House Restaurant has been (re-)opened for 3 years now since it closed for 10 months in 2005-06.

                1. re: fcbaldwin

                  Try the Virginia Diner on 460 going toward Tidewater area. Peanut country and the Diner has some good ham buscuits. Touristy but I think you would enjoy it.

              2. If you drive down Rt. 460 out of Petersburg towards Norfolk for about a half hour, then you can go to the Virginia Diner in Wakefield. It is famous for southern cooking, and has been around forever.

                1 Reply
                1. re: foodjack

                  Thanks a lot. VA Diner has gotten a lot of recommendations. It's got to be good. This will be on our list of stops.