Friday, January 13, 2006

Gone But Not Forgotten

Over the years I have been to a few buffet restaurants that are no longer with us. I have great memories of wonderful offerings and fine meals. Two of the great places were part of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Both restaurants still exist, but neither serves a buffet.

The best of those two was short lived - about a year. It was at Shield's Tavern - one of the colonial dining experiences of the restored 18th Century living history museum town. It was in 2004. When it opened the restaurant's theme was to serve meals as they were served in the 18th Century. While part of the menu reflected choices to this theme, it was pretty much the same as any other restaurant. One thing of note was always small portions and high prices with no value - actually unlike the other colonial restaurants in the restored area. The others serve significant portions with value for what you are paying (which is high). In 2004 Shield's changed to try a bold experiment in dining. They charged one price (yes, it was a high price) and served an all you can eat meal served to your table "family style" with by two servers - one a "serving wench" in historical tradition. The meal was fabulous and worth every penny. The atmosphere was pure 18th Century with authentically dressed, character interpreters roaming the restaurant and interacting with the guests. You began your meal with soup - all that you cared for. The soups chosen for the menu were authentic 18th century recipes. This was followed by a large salad bowl. (Skip the salad and get to the good stuff.) Your table was next brought a cast iron skillet filled with pan fried chicken, baby back short ribs, vegetables, potatoes, and on the side a crock of stew. The server brought a large skewer of barbecued shrimp and pushed each succulent shrimp from the skewer on to a platter for your table. The servers came by frequently. If you wanted more of anything, you just asked and it arrived. More ribs, more shrimp, you got it! The food was tasty and well prepared. The ribs would fall off the bones cleanly. As I write about it I can see and taste it! Oh my! When you had enough it was time for desert. A sampling selection of cakes and pastries were brought to the table. Again, if you wanted more of one thing or everything, your "wench" brought it to you table. Soft drinks and coffee were included in the price. It was an experience and great entertainment. The meal cost about $40 or $45 per person including tax and tip, but it was more than worth everything that you got. We enjoyed this meal twice during our stay in the summer of 2004 and again when we returned in December 2004. When we returned in 2005 the meal was gone! In fact the restaurant changed to what is being called an 18th Century Coffee House during the day (more of an order sandwiches at a counter) and a cocktail lounge at night. What a waste! Of all of the restaurants that have gone - I miss this one most of all, and we hardly had time to get acquainted.

The other buffet, or rather smorgasbord, meal that was served in Colonial Williamsburg was at the Lodge hotel, one of the Foundation's hotels. It was served on Friday and Saturday nights. It was a spectacular array of appetizers, seafoods, and entrees. This meal had been served for many years up until a several years ago. It one time was billed as the meal that was served to the Queen of England when she came for a visit. The buffet tables were presented with elegance. There was a raw bar with clams on the half shell and oysters. There were both hot and cold, large crab leg clusters. There were thick seafood and clam bisques. The was carved smoked ham and prime rib with Yorkshire pudding. The entrees included meat and seafood dishes that would make an impression on the menu of any fine restaurant. Vegetable offerings always included spoon bread - a hot, soft corn meal cake with plenty of butter. This is a Southern specialty. The appetizer table included caviar, pates, a variety of smoked fish, and prepared salads. There was a dessert table with a variety of cakes and pastries including local favorites such as sweet potato pie and pecan pie. This was a step beyond most buffets and would definitely be considered fine dining. Price was not out of bounds - around $25.00 per person. About ten years ago the dinner was discontinued to the chagrin of many visitors and diners. By demand, it was brought back. A few years ago the dinner was discontinued and did not return - despite comment and demand. The hotel is currently under renovation. No one has spoken of the restaurant and what may happen when it reopens - but it seems unlikely that we will see this smorgasbord again.

There are other restaurants in my past that offered good buffets and have passed with the years. I will write about them in future chapters of Gone but Not Forgotten.

1 comment:

Robert A said...

The all you can eat special dinner at the colonial restaurant Shields Tavern has returned on Friday and Saturday nights. I will be back there in two weeks I will report if it has changed.