Friday, December 01, 2006

Shields Tavern, Colonial Williamsburg, VA

I am in Virginia again and I am going to tell you about an all you can eat experience that I also wrote about this past September. I am purposely not looking back at that article so that I may give this restaurant a fresh review for the second time around. If I repeat myself...- it is worth reading it again. We dined at Shields Tavern tonight and had their special groaning board feast dinner. This is one of the best kept secrets in Colonial Williamsburg. It is easy to find out about this restaurant, but almost impossible to find out about this special dinner. It is not on their website. It is not in their advertising literature. It is not on any sign. How did we find it? By chance when making reservations, the dinner was mentioned when we asked if there were any reservations available for this special holiday weekend. Now, you may ask - what holiday weekend? Go ahead, ask - Ok. In Colonial Williamsburg this is the hottest weekend of the year - not in temperature but in popularity. This is Grand Illumination. A weekend of Christmas activities that come to an explosive crescendo on Sunday night when fireworks fill the sky in three areas of the historic city.

The special dinner is served on Friday nights during the summer months and, apparently now, on Friday night of Grand Illumination Weekend. This is a reserved seating dinner and advanced reservations are required. You cannot just walk up to the door and expect to get in. Let me first explain that this restaurant is part of the museum. It is a rebuilt 18th Century building on its original foundation. It is authentically decorated as it was when it operated as a tavern in 1760 - a tavern then was a like a hotel today. You could eat, drink, and sleep there. Today, at Shields Tavern you can eat and drink. When the special dinner is not being served this is a counter service sandwich restaurant during the day and an alcohol lounge in the evening. At one time not so long ago it was a full service restaurant all of the time. Now the only full meals served here are this special dinner.

The dinner costs $29.00 per adult and $13.00 per child. It includes a beverage of coffee, tea, ice tea, or lemonade. This is an all you care to eat dining experience. The food is served to you at your table and every platter is refillable at your request.

The meal starts with salad. This was a mixed greens and tomatoes salad served in a large serving bowl and covered in a special malt vinegar dressing. The dressing was wonderful - sweet and salty at the same time. Unfortunately, it was so good that I had two bowls of salad. Why unfortunately - well, without realizing it at the moment, the salad filled me up. At our table for two, we had enough salad for four plus. With the salad, you are brought of a basket of rolls. There is home churned butter on the table when you sit down. The ever present server comes by when you look like you have had your fill of salad and politely asks if you are ready for the main servings.

You are now brought a ten inch cast iron frying pan filled with slices of roast turkey covered in a thick, rich turkey gravy, real mashed potatoes, and a savory bread stuffing. You are also brought a metal platter full of sliced Virginia ham, string beans, and stewed peaches, pears, and prunes. You are ALSO brought a kettle of stew - tonight it was braised beef in a wine sauce with vegetables. You serve yourself, or each other, from the platters on the dish that the table was set with. There is also a bowl for your salad.

All of the food is excellent. The Virginia ham is not what you might expect in Virginia. It is not the Virginia salt ham, but a mildly flavored sliced ham. The turkey slices are thick and fresh. The gravy was on the salty side, but very good. I enjoyed the stew. My picky wife does not like anything that has wine on it, so she tried a bit, but left the rest for me. I asked for a second kettle to be brought. As the platters are emptied you ask for more of whatever you would like or more of everything. The server is there so you do not have to wait so long to ask for more that you do not want it anymore (as happens at some other restaurants where you must rely upon the server to get you more). There was so much - especially after the second kettle of stew and the second fry pan of turkey, potatoes, and stuffing - that I broke the rule and ate more than I really should have. It was good - and perhaps it was the two bowls of salad, but I was more than full. I was even a bit uncomfortable - which is really not a good way to be - especially since dessert was still to come.

When you have decided that you have eaten all that you care to eat you are asked which dessert you would like. I do believe you could get both of the two choices if you really want them. The desserts are pumpkin bread pudding covered in a sweet custard and a fruit cobbler which tonight was apple with blueberries, and this, too, is covered with the same sweet custard sauce. The pumpkin bread pudding is more of a pudding than bread. It was not too sweet and very good. The cobbler was a biscuit on top of lightly cooked fruit. I tried the pumpkin and my wife tried the cobbler. I could only finish half of the large portion, as I was full before dessert arrived. (But you will note that I did manage to get down half.)

While we were dining there was a server in the corner of the room playing 18th Century tunes on a recorder. During dinner there are two visitors. One is a strolling musician who will entertain the room with a few songs. Tonight in our dining room it was a gentleman with a fiddle. Stamp your feet! Sing along! Or just enjoy the music. No matter what it is polite to stop dinner conversation and eating while the musician plays. You also will be visited by Mr. James Shields, the 18th Century proprietor of the tavern. This costumed, first=person interpreter talks to each table and the room. He will make small talk, ask where you are from, and talk in general about whatever comes to mind. This character interpreter is one of Colonial Williamsburg's longest working interpreters. He was part of the original pilot program of first person interpretation many years ago. He remains an excellent interpreter and a very amiable fellow - especially with children. It is always a delight when he enters the room.

So for $29.00 plus tax and tip you get an excellent all you care to eat SIT DOWN dinner and entertainment. No so bad for a vacation evening or special occasion.

Like Glockamora, the special meal fades into the mist and is gone until it appears again. (If you do not know the reference, look up the play (or movie), "Brigadoon") If you plan to be in this area call the Colonial Williamsburg reservation line - you can find it from 800-HISTORY - and ask if the Shields Special all you can eat dinner is being served, If it is make a reservation and enjoy!

1 comment:

Robert A said...


Thia ia atill the best kept secret in Williamsburg, but I did find an obscure reference to this meal in the weekly Colonial Williamsburg schedule. It is a corner ad that says Dine with a Colonist and talks about the Shields Feast. It does not mention that it is an all you can eat meal. It also says that the meal ia available also on Saturday nights.

I correct myself and I stand corrected.