Saturday, September 09, 2006

Almost... And Then The weird Part

My article on January 13, 2006 was about buffets that are now gone, but not forgotten. Well, about four weeks ago when making advanced dinner reservations at the colonial restaurants in the Colonial Williamsburg restoration my wife was told by the reservation clerk that the "special dinner" at Shield's Tavern was once again available. My wife asked if this was the all you can eat dinner served in colonial style. Absolutely - it was! This was the dinner that I wrote about and was discontinued about a year ago. The dinner was brought back as a summer special and was now called the "summer feast". It was only available Friday and Saturday nights. My wife made the reservation for the Friday night of Labor Day weekend at 8:00pm - seating time specified by the reservation clerk.

Oh boy! This was the meal that I wrote about. This was one of the best! No longer gone - definitely not forgotten! We anxiously awaited this meal.

The Friday before Labor Day in southeastern Virginia was the day that Tropical Depression (no longer hurricane) Ernesto hit. Roads were flooded. Electricity went out - including at our hotel and in Colonial Williamsburg. Heavy rains and winds hit the area hard. So badly that we had to move to a different hotel or remain sitting in the dark (which at almost $100 for the night is not the thing to do). We managed to get through the day, carried our luggage down four stories in the dark in a hotel staircase that had no emergency lights, and hoped that electricity would be restored to the restaurant in time to open for the night. At 5:00 pm we called the reservation line for the restaurant. We asked if the restaurant had electricity and would be open for our reservation at 8 and we were told definitely. At 7:20 pm we headed over the mile or so to the restaurant. We walked in the rain from the parking lot and found a large crowd coming out of the restaurant. We went inside and thought it curious that the usual person greeting people coming in and checking in with their reservations was no where to be found. We found a young lady and made our presence known. She was confused and told us that they had served the dinner at 5:30 pm and it was done for the night. "Oh no", I said, "we have 8:00 reservations for tonight - Friday night." She said that she would find a manager and she disappeared down a staircase. We stood waiting wondering where we were going to eat in at such a late hour when most restaurants were closing - especially on a day of a storm.

In a short while a gentlemen wearing an apron came up and greeted us by name. He introduced himself as a manager and explained that the restaurant had been sold out to a party for the night. He said that it had been an error regarding our reservation and that they could not contact us because of the storm. Before smoke started to come out of my ears he said that to make up for the error, he would buy us both dinner at the colonial restaurant next door. I looked at my wife and we followed him out the door into the rain and over to the restaurant next door. Once there we were greeted by name, escorted to our table like VIP's and once seated the waiter came over and also greeted us by name.

While we could order anything on the menu (yes, here we had to order from a menu), we did not take advantage and ordered as we normally would. When the meal was over - it was a great meal - the waiter came over and told us good night and all was taken CARE OF. All right! The meal should have cost about $65.00 plus the 10% tax charged at Virginia restaurants. Of course, I tipped the waiter what I would have if I had paid for the meals.

Alas, though, this was not the anticipated - all you can eat - best meal that I was waiting for. It occurred to me that if the large party that had been booked for the night was leaving when we got there at 7:45, and we had 8:00 reservations, what was going on - really? Could it be that we were the only 8:00 reservations and given the storm, they did not want to serve another "special" meal just to one couple? When we had dined at one of the other colonial restaurants earlier in the week whey didn't they tell us then that our reservations for Friday had a problem? Why didn't they ask if we could come back the next night - it is supposed to be served Friday AND Saturday? No mention was made of Saturday. All good questions - right? But we did eat for free.

Now for the weird part -

It is Saturday night and we have reservations at 7:30pm in one of the other colonial restaurants. We get to the parking lot and notice that the lot is almost empty - just two or three cars. This lot is usually packed on Saturday night of Labor Day weekend. We get out of the car and walk to the front of the building. There are people in front of the restaurant and we go up to the reception desk, give our name - and then... we are told that this restaurant has no electricity (Odd - there were electric lights on behind the restaurant leading the way from the parking lot and in the service building adjacent to the restaurant there were loud fans running.). Then they say... we are having everyone with a reservation go over to Shield's Tavern for dinner tonight at 8:00pm. Did I hear that right? Perhaps I should not get my hopes up and they are serving this restaurant's menu over at Shield's due to the circumstances. She asks if this is ok with us and as a consolation we will receive 10 percent off on our dinner. OK! We head over to Shield's Tavern. Outside there is a menu board and the "special summer dinner" is listed as what is being served. Oh my!

We approach the door and we are seated. A menu is given to us that explains the "Special Summer Dinner". Yes! The dinner is $29.99 per adult and is listed as all you care to eat. The offerings are definitely different than they were when we had been here for the all you care to eat dinner two years ago - the one that was discontinued. There no longer were skewers of grilled shrimp, baby back ribs, and fried chicken. This new meal featured roast turkey, root beer glazed ham, a stew of braised beef, mushrooms, vegetables, and wine, served along with tossed salad, real mashed potatoes with the skin mashed in, turkey dressing, string beans, stewed fruit, and bread rolls. For dessert there was a choice of sweet potato bread pudding with a custard sauce or an apple cobbler (or both if you wanted). A beverage of coffee, hot or iced tea, or lemonade is included in the price. All of the food was good. The stew is exceptionally good and it changes from time to time to a different stew. This stew, again, was great - and I ate two crocks. The beef was in large pieces - not small chunks like usual beef stew. The sauce had just the right hint of red wine. The turkey and ham were not really different from what you would expect. The mashed potatoes were very good. The desserts were excellent. We each tried a different one. There really was no room to want a second - though it was available for the asking.

The way this meal works is that everything is brought to your table for you to share and then asked if you would like any or all items refilled. There is a skillet brought with the turkey in gravy, dressing, and mashed potatoes. To start there was a slice of turkey for each. We asked for more turkey when we had those two slices and three more were brought. Ask for more and you get more. There is a platter also brought with two slices of ham, string beans, and stewed fruit (peaches, pears, and plums). We asked for another whole platter and that was brought. A crock of stew is brought to the table filled to near the top. It is enough for two - I asked for another crock and it was brought. To start the meal a large bowl of tossed salad greens with a vinaigrette dressing is brought to the table tossed and served. The remainder is left for you to take more. The greens were the fussy, fancy varieties. The salad was good, and I had some - but later I thought that if I had skipped the salad I could have eaten more of the good stuff. (If you are not thinking healthy skip the salad and get right to the entrees. I do not say this in particular for this restaurant but in general.)

The service was excellent and there is entertainment in the form of colonial music and a gentleman portraying the 18th Century tavern owner. With the check we each received souvenir pins that sell for $3 each normally.

So after all, I got to eat the all you care to eat special dinner at Shield's Tavern. I believe that now that the summer has almost ended so has this offer, It may be back again. And we heard that the special all you can eat seafood buffet at the Lodge (which is under re-construction) may also return when the Lodge opens again. That was another meal written about in the January article. If you get down to Colonial Williamsburg, ask dining reservations if the Special All You Care to Eat Dinner is available at Shield's. As we found out, you never know!

Now, a little more weird. At different times ghostly things have happened in these restored 18th century taverns to us (actually, mainly my wife) and this night at Shield's was another one. Skeptics will scoff, but these things have happened and one may explain them away as one will. Tonight, my wife put the giblets from the turkey gravy of the end of her large, colonial knife - the type with the large round end. She was about to move them to the side of her plate on her right side. She looked down to place the little bits of meat and they were gone. They were not on her plate and she certainly did not eat them. She does not like them, which is why she was doing this in the first place. When the meal was over and her dinner plate was removed they were under - I say, under - the rim of her plate on the opposite side of where they had ever been. We can't explain it.

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