Friday, July 31, 2009

Pop's Hotdogs - The Best Breakfast Not in Williamsburg

In nearby York County, at the corner of Route 17 and Denbigh Boulevard you can find Pop’s Hotdogs. I have no idea of how long they have been in business but I have been aware of them for a least 30 years. If you like no-frills, short-order food served in a rushed but highly competent fashion, then this is the place. The regulars who sometimes form a line out the door in the busy mornings are primarily tradesmen loading up on the carbs, grease, and cholesterol before a day full of installing aluminum siding, unclogging toilets, or rewiring breaker boxes. Some of the tables are communal-you may be rubbing elbows with someone named Sonny, Bubba, or Butch. They offer free morning papers and the informed local politician or CEO is often part of the crowd. You won’t see too many copies of the Wall Street Journal though.

Great eggs, great bacon, great sausage, great grits, great biscuits, and great pancakes make it a great place to eat. The food and servers contribute to a true authentic experience and the antithesis of Williamsburg’s plethora of Greek-run Pancake Houses or the inedible breakfast buffets. Pop’s is for the very adventurous tourist or suburbanite. If you are on your way to install a tile floor, you already know about Pops. Regardless of who you are, you will be welcomed and you can get out of there for less than $5! Be sure to tip these hard working waitresses well!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Starbuck's - Location, Location, Location

Starbuck’s is a late 20th-century phenomenom still going strong in 2009. Part coffee bar, part social club, and part diversion, Williamsburg now has at least a half dozen locations of this universal franchise. Since the appeal of Starbucks is its consistency of products, what difference does location make? In Williamsburg, incredible differences in demographics, service, and overall atmosphere can be found. For the record, I drink iced green tea with an occasional hot chocolate in the winter. I am not really qualified to understand the motivations of the coffee fiend…but I do enjoy observing them.

The Monticello Avenue Starbucks is located in the “new” part of town…the suburbs really. Williamburg’s power crowd can be found in the long line on any given morning—from soccer moms to contractors to young professionals. Ironically, this Starbucks has the smallest square footage of all the stores which may contribute to the feel of its high energy. In contrast, the Starbuck’s at the Kingsmill strip mall on Route 60 has a cavernous location that contributes to a very gloomy environment. It also has an interesting assortment of regulars..locals who take up residence in the overstuffed chairs throughout the day. Some are very chatty and will bend your ear while others are buried deep in newspapers. A new Starbuck's located near Mooretown Road has a drive thru. This is the most convenient location of I64/Route 199 travelers. Seems to draw a lot of introverted computer users/book readers. My personal choice is the strange Starbuck's outpost in the Farm Fresh on Merrimac Trail.

What Williamsburg needs is a Starbucks within the newly renovated Williamsburg Lodge, owned and operated by Colonial Williamsburg. Most conference goers expect a convenient access for their caffeine fix when traveling in strange cities. A Starbucks in the Lodge location would benefit the entire Colonial Williamsburg organization as well. The chance of this happening?? ZERO!

Pierce's Barbecue - The Undefeated Champion

What defines an authentic local place? The list should include consistent food; oversight by a committed entrepreneur, and a loyal local following. Pierce’s has all of these in spades plus it attracts ravenous Interstate 64 travelers and tourists galore twelve months of the year. The staple order at Pierce's is the jumbo with slaw, order of crinkle-cut fries, and a self-serve fountain drink-but freshly brewed tea is the obvious choice. There are other things on the menu but I don’t think I have ever ordered anything else in 30+ years of eating here. And I have never had a bad experience…food, service, or otherwise.

Part of the secret to their success is the pit cooked pork barbeque fired on premises daily. Another element is the orange and yellow paint scheme which is slathered on the often expanded dinner room. While take home is an option, nothing tastes as good as on-site dining while contemplating the neon colors. I always bring my overseas visitors to sample the barbeque and their consequent facial expressions tell it all. Pierce’s is possibly the most democratic experience in the entire, overly conservative Williamsburg area…from celebrities to truck drivers to Camp Perry trainees to tattooed bikers…the totality of the experience is not too be missed.

The Search for A Good Place To Eat in Williamsburg

Williamsburg is a strange place.  A community that dates back to the early days of the English colonization of America, the town now makes its living through the glorification of the good old days. To paraphrase Colonial Williamsburg's motto:  "So the future can earn from the past!" Besides the local community of history workers, William and Mary college professionals and students, and a newly arrived flood of northern retirees, millions of tourists visit each year to experience the pleasures of hot, sweaty historical reenactments, thrill rides at Busch Gardens, and avant garde shopping at the numerous outlet malls.  As a consequence, food is a big part of the Williamsburg experience...the good, the bad, and the downright awful.

The title for this blog was lifted from the name of a restaurant once run by Colonial Williamsburg in Merchants Square.  The restaurant was geared towards fast food/cafeteria items for the school bus crowds that used to flock into the historic area.  As you can imagine, it really was anything but a good place to eat.  Fortunately, that eatery is now defunct but its name still haunts my sensibilities about the greater Williamsburg dining experiences.  In the future, I intend to log my experiences, reactions, and recommendations in this space.  I have no preconceived audience--I hope only to entertain myself--in reporting on the search for good food.  I expect to host occasional guest reviewers who share similar interests.  Soup's on!