New Column – Flavors of Fredericksburg
By Regina Kenner
You don’t need to look far in this ‘burg to find a place serving up savory eats that will satisfy most appetites. Fredericksburg Virginia is a bona fide food lover’s destination. The variety of dining options is vast, ranging from quaint cafes to elegant dining; Mom and Pop joints and casual bistros; bakeries so good, your cholesterol rises just by walking in the door; and popping up all over town are the breweries, and it’s not just the beer that is drawing in the crowds.
Did you know that taking a cooking class is one of the more popular ways to spend an evening out for dinner? And wine tastings are not just reserved for the vineyards; they’re right here in town. Specialty shops are joining in on the food frenzy, serving up samples, turning the “shopping experience” into a “tasting experience”.
Authentic international cuisine that rivals any found in most major cities, can be had right here. You can even learn to speak the native language of the restaurants’ roots, if you are so inclined to take their classes.
So, when did this flurry of food begin to steep our charming city? Let’s take a very brief look back in history to answer this. In colonial times, Fredericksburg was a thriving town. River access provided easy transport of goods and the surrounding agricultural lands offered an abundance of produce and meat. Located 50 miles to the north of Richmond and about 50 miles to the south of Alexandria, Fredericksburg had its share of taverns for over-night travelers. For the price of a shared bed and a meal, a traveler could spend the night and continue on their way the next morning.
In the 19th century, taverns gave way to hotels. Grand dining rooms where built for the guests and locals alike to enjoy a special meal. Thus, dining became an event to be experienced. Less eating, and more “to see and be seen”. The early 20th century ushered in the lunch counter, either free standing, walk up or inside the five and dime department stores. Convenience was now the focus of eating out, though the social aspect was still enjoyed.
The latter part of the 20th century brought the shopping mall to Fredericksburg and fast food was king. Suburbia and the westward sprawl, kept consumers away from downtown, now in favor of a quick bite between soccer practice and homework.
Then, something happened. What exactly, who knows? Surely there must be a sociological explanation to the renewed interest in the historic downtown at the dawn of the new millennium. Shabby chic is in. Exposed brick and worn hard wood floors replace Formica countertops and mismatched chairs. The culture of downtown after dark is inviting. Venturesome chefs introduced a mix of flavors outside the comfort zones of most palates and the Fredericksburg food scene is reborn.
Why does Fredericksburg’s food culture continue to thrive? Location, Location, Location. Restaurant proprietors are buying locally grown vegetables and meat raised on sustainable, clean farms. Menus change to incorporate seasonal produce. At the crossroads of availability, Fredericksburg has it all; the finest seafood caught this morning and plated tonight, freshly picked fruit atop a delectable dessert and home-made breads, brought to the table piping hot from the oven.
Most importantly, the longevity of Fredericksburg’s food scene depends on the entrepreneurial spirit of the individuals who continue to mold this culture: world class chefs, immigrants seeking a prosperous way of life, necessity driven, life changing decision makers, fame and fortune seekers. Whatever it is that inspires them, the dedication they possess to make their dreams a reality is admirable.
Thanks to Chris Muldrow and Fredericksburg Today for the opportunity to share this column. In the future, read along as Fredericksburg restaurants, food centered businesses and events are highlighted.
“I am by no means a food critic. My palate is not adventurous. I simply savor the pleasures derived from sharing a meal that brings me together with others.”
Regina is a long-time resident of the Fredericksburg area and the founder of Flavors of Fredericksburg, A Food Tour, Garnished with History.