Cover Story

A Memorable Holiday Meal Doesn't Have to Be At Home

Holiday Dining Out


Story and Photos by Daniel M. Walker, Contributing Writer

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 Bower

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 Historic Places.

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 dressing.

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.

The Homeplace

Owner Harold and Manager Kevin Wingate

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.

Bistro 1888

Owners Barbara Cage and Margaret Moorefield

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. S

Southern Sisters

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 Southern Sisters.

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.

(540) 384-7252


Bistro 1888, South Boston, Va.

(434) 572-1888 •


Southern Sisters, Courtland, Va.

(757) 653-9070



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