A Memorable Holiday Meal
Doesn't Have to Be At Home
Holiday Dining Out
Story and Photos by Daniel M. Walker,
If you close your eyes and let
your imagination drift back to thoughts of holidays past, chances are you’ll
recall family and friends sharing good food and good cheer.
Norman Rockwell, the popular American artist known for
his Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations, portrayed such warm occasions
around the family dining table. But they might just as easily have taken
place in one of the many fine restaurants across the Old Dominion. In fact,
celebrating a special holiday meal in a restaurant can be far more relaxing
than dealing with the logistics of holiday home-cooking.
At all points across the breadth and depth of Virginia,
restaurants offer holiday gourmet treasures to please most every palate.
Let’s box the compass with a few blue plate-legend eateries that have been
featured in Cooperative Living over the years.
To the north, there’s the horse-country ambience of the
Tavern on the Rail near Mineral. In western Virginia, over the river and
through the woods, nothing bespeaks hearth and home more authentically than
a family-style dinner at The Homeplace in Catawba. In Southside Virginia,
gourmet serendipity awaits diners at Bistro 1888 in South Boston. And to the
east, the family feel of Courtland’s Southern Sisters will warm the heart
with holiday spirit.
Tavern on the Rail
Owners Meloday and Kenneth
Stroll into Tavern on the Rail during the holidays and
you immediately perceive Virginia country elegance: dark shiplap paneling
decorated with greenery and the seasonal scents of sugar and spices. Adding
to the ambiance are white-clad dining tables with holiday appointments — a
picture of history preserved that’s now listed on The National Register of
The drink and dinner menus capture the spirit and history
of the area. This holiday season, diners can choose from such selections as
grilled quail with pomegranate sauce or shrimp grilled in blackstrap
molasses and coffee sauce, served with white corn grits. Those wanting a
holiday meal with a twist can start with an appetizer of oysters Rockefeller
served in a martini glass. For a real blast from the 1800s, you can also try
an appetizer soup of smoked salmon, flavored with whiskey or baked brie with
Chambord. For some, it wouldn’t be the holidays without turkey, so Chef
Melody will be preparing turkey breast stuffed with homemade sausage
A holiday visit to Tavern on the Rail wouldn’t be
complete without a sampling of Melody’s luscious desserts. Just for the
holidays she is featuring her moist apple and berry fruitcake, as well as
her much-requested divine chocolate layer cake.
Owner Harold and Manager
The gorgeous mountain vista approaching The Homeplace is
almost, in itself, worth the trip. Situated at the end of a long,
white-fenced drive, this restaurant is a turn-of-the-century farmhouse with
an inviting wraparound veranda. Harold Wingate, creator of The Homeplace,
says he wants people to feel like they’re going “back home” for the
holidays. The only thing missing from this picture is a sled, a chubby man
with a beard and a few reindeer ... but he could be just over the mountain,
ready to make a holiday appearance!
If your ideal holiday meal is comfort food, The Homeplace
is sure to be a hit. Dishes are served family style, with all-you-can-eat
fried chicken, roast beef, country ham, and pork barbecue comprising the
entrées. Side vegetables of green beans, pinto beans, cole slaw, and mashed
potatoes with gravy are served in large bowls just like at grandmother’s
house. And of course, this picture wouldn’t be complete without hot
buttermilk biscuits and a sweet variety of fruit cobblers.
With large tables, old fireplaces, and individual rooms
graced with ageless antiques, groups of any size will find pleasant dining
at The Homeplace.
Owners Barbara Cage and
For the holiday season, Bistro 1888 is serving up a
special menu of traditional holiday flavors accented with Chef Margaret’s
personal gourmet touch.
To start this holiday feast, you can choose from the
special menu of French onion soup with a rich beef broth, gruyere cheese and
crostini, or an autumn butternut squash soup seasoned with fall spices. The
holiday entrées include classic duck l’orange. This entrée is a crisp and
tender duckling served with an orange Cointreau sauce, accompanied by mashed
potatoes, sautéed asparagus and Parisian carrots. A second holiday entrée is
the roasted double quail with gorgonzola, walnut and shiitake mushroom
stuffing and sage gravy. The quail is served with mashed potatoes, braised
red cabbage and apples, and haricots verts.
Bistro 1888’s regular menu features numerous and varied
selections of beef and seafood, such as the flat-iron portabella steak,
which is grilled with portabella mushrooms and served with a thyme demi-glace.
Bistro 1888 also offers a variety of combination dishes such as grilled
salmon, crab cake and basil shrimp. Another tempting combination dish is
filet mignon with jumbo lump crab and crawfish sauté. At Bistro 1888, the
tastes and flavors are like decorative ornaments on a Christmas tree, each
having its own special place.
Owners Samantha Jones, Peggy
Jones and LeeAnn Alexander
With its home-like setting of individually decorated
rooms, Southern Sisters offers a charming place for a family, friends or
office celebration. Jean Marie, Southern Sisters’ kitchen magician, explains
that for special affairs, it’s like a private party. You enjoy great food,
the run of the house, and the care and attention of all the women of
For events, the hosts pick a main entrée and their guests
choose from a long list of southern sides. The selected entrée might be a
beef roast hand-rubbed with special spices and seared to capture its natural
flavors. Other choices include a baked pork loin in teriyaki sauce and roast
turkey with cornbread dressing. One delightful entrée is the center-cut pork
chops with a decadent maple apple glaze. As Jean Marie notes, the
special-events menu is priced so as to not deflate the holiday spirit. For
regular Wednesday- and Friday-evening dining, Southern Sisters will be
serving entrées such as their famous crab cakes, Chateaubriand, and the very
elegant beef Wellington.
When a chill fills the air, a hot soup is particularly
inviting. One of Southern Sisters’ most-requested is their Hearty Italian
Stew, which is loaded with fresh vegetables, brown sausage, and shell pasta
with a wonderful lasagna flavor.
Tavern on the Rail, Mineral, Va.
(540) 872-7245 •
The Homeplace, Catawba, Va.
Bistro 1888, South Boston, Va.
(434) 572-1888 •
Southern Sisters, Courtland, Va.