Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Town Ave. Coffee & Tea - Uber Casual Bistro Dining

The New Town Coffee & Tea eatery is located in the back of Parlett's Card Shop - a longtime Williamsburg purveyor supplying birthday cards and fancy cocktail napkins the genteel host or hostess. At first glance, you could easily dismissed the counter displays of pastries and chocolates as just another coffee bar but there is a breakfast-lunch-dinner menu that one could easily find in the upper 80s and 90s of Madison Avenue in Manhattan. In fact, the name of this place is soooo understated, that I had no idea that a first rate bistro menu was even available (although you place your order at the counter and then find a seat at the rudimentary tables). And so we have a situation. I love the fact that this place is a hidden gem but perhaps a more enticing name would bring the crowds they so deservingly deserve. Borrowing from my very favorite Lexington Avenue diner...how about "Eat Here Now!"

I don't know the full story of the chef/owner who decided to take up residence in a upscale card shop in the horrible Truman Show-esque, perfectly planned community of "New Town", but I'm glad they are here. For breakfast, one could have a number of egg dishes from a hole in one French toast to an oat meal souffle.

I have had lunch here several times now and the soup is a must which changes every so often-soup du le saison. The current offering is a creamy Tequila roasted chicken with corn. I have enjoyed the lamb chop salad and the grilled mozzarella sandwich. My friend Hank has sampled the decandent duck confit sandwich and exclaimed that it was "frickin good". I thought the avocado and grapefruit salad was going to be a sublime experience but it turned out to be disappointing as it was drenched in an Italian dressing that tasted like it came straight from the bottle. A lighter treatment is warranted in my opinion.

The dinner menu is tastefully written and as their website proclaims, it "speaks for itself."  I would suggest that it actually shouts: "Lamb Chop Provencal Merlot Reduction", and "Grilled Rockfish Salad" and "Wild Mushroom Studel with Whipped Brie."  A selection of wine is also offered.

If I had more civility (and companions of a similar ilk) I would definitely check out the "light afternoon tea" - note Reservations Required!

New Town Ave Coffee and Tea is gradually being discovered by the more food astute Willliamsburg resident but we need to spread the word! Word of mouth is important--as my friends Luke and Peggy told me after being told by another friend.  The food at this place is terrific and you get acclimated to the lack of atmosphere-like living in Orlando I guess. The prices are right. And its a perfect place to write your thank you notes on the cards you can purchase at Parlett's. I should write the owners of the New Town Ave Coffee and Tea a big thank you while I'm at it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Charly's at the Airport - Where the Boys Are

Many people will find it hard to believe that Williamburg has an actual airport much less a wonderful little lunch spot. If you need some proof before visiting, check out the book by John F. Purner, The $100 Hamburger: A Guide to Pilot's Favorite Fly-In Restaurants. Apparently Charly's is rated quite high (#5 I think). Unfortunately, they don't seem to have a hamburger on the menu though. If you can't locate this book, just jump into your vintage Cessna 150E and navigate to the small landing strip adjacent to James River. If you are stuck on the ground, the Williamsburg Jamestown Airport is off of Lake Powell Road just south of Route 199 and on your way to the Williamsburg Winery.

Charly's is basically a lunch counter with a soup, sandwich, and salad menu open during the week from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and a little longer on the weekend. It is a small place with a dozen tables virtually on the runway. You can even get closer to the action if you can snag one of the outdoor tables in nice weather. The sandwich bread is baked daily and you must order the dark brown Bavarian wheat. It's like eating chocolate cake and its goes fast so show up early otherwise you will end up with white or regular wheat.

On our visit we chose a sandwich-The Chandler-off the menu and the "special" ribeye on the Bavarian wheat. The Chandler turn out to be ok-nothing special-but the "special" was especially good. The lesson here is to be adventurous in ordering the daily special. The homemade sides and soups are also excellent choices.

Given its exotic location, you could ask who goes to Charly's? Well, a bunch of old guys seem to hang out there-those 70s year olds who love their planes. In addition, you see the Williamsburg power brokers: developers and chamber of commerce types. I have seen Navy pilots flying vintage World War II planes stop in as well as the "my other plane is a Ferrari" types with their latest girlfriend in tow.

Charly's would be a great treat for dads and their sons or daughters interested in dining with airplanes close up and personal. It was a treat for me to see my friend Hank get into the experience and share his knowledge of small plane aviation. Did you know that you can track any aircraft by their tail numbers on this website: http://flightaware.com/live/? Next time, I'm going to find out how far the pilots have flown for their lunch. Charly's is a perfect place to impress your friends and neighbors with your inside knowledge of the Williamsburg scene.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sweet Home Philadelphia-The Oyster House

Ok...I hate Williamsburg. Or at the very least, I realized this blog is wishful thinking that Williamsburg will actually have a good place to eat someday.

Tonight, I'm on one of my frequent business trips to Philadelphia. Over the years, I have found a number of really neat low-budget eateries-from Lebanese to Belgian to Italian foods. Within a few hours of checking in today, I read a review in the weekly PM magazine for the Oyster House on Sansom Street and developed an immediate hankering for the highly touted Oyster House Punch--a rum and apricot brandy concoction. In addition, the Oyster House had a promising raw bar menu.

We sat at the marble topped bar in the spacious restaurant that featured a separate raw bar and very nice seating throughout. The young bartender-a native of Detroit-was instrumental in making sure we were well served. We first ordered the special house punch and a draft stout both exceedingly good and potent. There were at least 7 varieties of oysters available from Maine to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. We simply asked the young bartender to select his favorite and we had a mixed dozen-a very sublime experience. The varied seafood menu was incredibly appetizing and we went with the recommended small plates. We had grilled sardines on crostini and a cajun style, whole shrimp in an amazing sauce of fish stock and jalapeno peppers.

A second round of drinks were in order and I placed myself at the mercy of the barkeep who recommended a Dark and Stormy. They make their own ginger beer and I almost wept at the suggestion. I was seriously considering spending the rest of the evening sampling the menu and more rum-based drinks but we pulled away to hit our favorite Monk's cafe--a Belgian beer and mussel joint. Unfortunately Monk's had been closed due to a strange structural problem with the building. We had some mussels and calamari in a nearby Italian bistro instead..which were great but the restaurant was also BYOB and we were SOOL.

On the way home, I decided to end with dessert back at the Oyster House. They were happy to see us back at the bar. We had a light plum rum cake with vanilla ice cream and the most incredible root liqueur...a sassafras tasting distillation made in the Philadelphia area. At this hour, all I can say is wow! I can not think of a single Williamsburg experience that could come close to this evening's outing on the streets of Philadelphia. Oh well, tomorrow we head home, taking some geological samples from White Clay Creek in Newark, DE and picking my prodigal son up from Dulles who has just spent two months in London, Paris, and Berlin. Maybe we will have Mexican food somewhere on our return