Though more than 3 centuries have passed since George Washington and Thomas Jefferson strode along the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, the recipes they relished have hardly disappeared from its menus. Several taverns still serve authentic meals, where waiters clad in 18th Century clothing may offer such delicacies as “chop of shoat.”
The one-time Virginia capital also has many other dining options, including handsome inns serving southern fare, seafood, decadent brunches and afternoon tea.
A favorite of Revolutionary statesmen, Jane Vobe opened the King’s Arms Tavern in 1772 and affectionately called it “a place where the best people resorted.” Although the rustic building has been reconstructed, the authenticity remains intact. Waiters wearing wigs, ruffled shirts, and high stockings serve peanut soup, a chop of shoat (similar to a pork chop), and something called colonial game pie. Hungry diners should consider a multi-course meal called “Mrs. Vobe’s Tavern Dinner,” perhaps followed by Williamsburg ice cream or Chocolate Fudge Torte. Although 21st century chefs have made minor adjustments to the original recipes, Patrick Henry and other outspoken patriots would feel at home with both the cuisine and the music.
Diners who believe bison is healthier than beef will be glad to find buffalo meatloaf on the menu at Shields Tavern, where ale-potted beef with mushrooms, carrots, and pearl onions over mashed potatoes – best described as colonial pot roast – is a specialty. Such familiar fare as corn chowder, seafood gumbo, ham biscuits, and roast chicken round out a menu that also includes pulled pork barbecue sandwiches. Peanut pie presents a dessert diversion unfamiliar to most patrons. Strolling fiddlers and servers in colonial garb add to the atmosphere of the candlelight dinners, which may be followed by guided ghost tours that begin in front of the revitalized tavern.
3. Josiah Chowning's Tavern
Barbecue isn’t the only special of the house: strolling balladeers, colonial games, and other diversions familiar to the patriots are also on tap in this historic tavern, where patrons can sample a salad or sandwich while sitting in the garden (weather permitting). An ale house that was a colonial proponent of fast food, Josiah Chowning’s has been rebuilt without losing any of its original charm. Chicken pot-pie, crab soup, and other southern fare are the forte of this popular pub, which is also a late-night gathering spot where strong beer, porter ale, and sing-a-longs are on tap.
4. Christiana Campbell's Tavern
Not satisfied with colonial cuisine? Christiana Campbell’s still uses several 17th century family seafood recipes that pleased the palate of the future first president. The menu runs from crab cakes to filet of beef with crab-stuffed shrimp, plus fritters and southern spoon bread. Adding to the authentic flavor, wait staff and musicians are outfitted in colonial wardrobes. Reservations are recommended but Colonial Williamsburg admission is not required.
A true room with a view, this 4-diamond restaurant in the Williamsburg Inn blends classical cuisine with the sounds of classical guitar while affording guests the chance to watch players at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club. Known for American cuisine with European roots, the Regency Room rates high marks for crabmeat Randolph, Berkshire pork tenderloin schnitzel, and – for those who still have room – hazelnut ice-cream cake marinated in strawberries and Kahlua fudge sauce. Pretzel bread, homemade relishes, and weekend dance music have been Regency staples since it opened in 1938. Afternoon tea is served in a cozy, adjacent room, with a wide selection of drinks plus pastries. Impeccable service stems from the seasoned wait staff, many of them long-time veterans of the Regency Room.
Friday night is a fine time to unwind in the Williamsburg Lodge, where the Seafood Feast buffet is accompanied by Wine, Wit & Wisdom: tastings, pairings, and discussions often led by the Traditions executive chef. Specials of the house, which parlay Chesapeake and classic Southern cuisine, include she crab soup, Eastern Shore oysters, and fennel-crusted shrimp and scallops over pappardelle pasta. Adults wishing to extend their relaxing evening may retire to the 1939 fireplace in the nearby Lodge Lounge, where the tapas-style menu includes desserts.
7. Old Chickahominy House
Old Chickahominy House serves up southern cooking and southern hospitality in an old plantation setting. Lunch choices range from dumplings to Brunswick stew to buttermilk pie. Although the menu is small, the atmosphere compensates: The restaurant resides in a restored 18th century cottage not far from Colonial Williamsburg. There is a bar, but note that this restaurant is not open for dinner.