One of the times that should be most enjoyable with family can also cause the most angst – dinnertime.
The destination from appetizer to dessert can sometimes be one filled with potholes and detours for folks with kids. What do you do when traversing Virginia, either for a weekend outing or a week-long vacation, when it comes time to eat?
Folks are more savvy now than ever before about food. Although some kids would be happy with children’s menus filled with grilled cheese, pizza and chicken nuggets, others would not; many of them are watching alongside parents when the food channel is on television.
And speaking of destinations – sometimes the restaurant is the destination. There are plenty of places for families to eat within or along side attractions, but how about visiting a restaurant just because it’s a great place to dine?
Here are some of our picks; scroll down for some tips on dining out with the whole family.
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Locations in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Richmond, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg; menu may vary between locations.
Tip: Baker’s Crust has many events and promotions; check their website for more details. On Mondays, active, retired and dependent military receives 15 percent off their meal by showing their identification card.
– At breakfast, the Riviera Toast lives up to its rich name. Housemade cinnamon bread is sliced thick, dipped in a custard batter, grilled, and served hot with a dusting of powdered sugar.
– The whole family can share a BBQ Chicken wood-fired pizza at lunch or dinner. Atop housemade, hand-stretched dough, barbecue chicken, barbecue sauce, fresh mozzarella, pecorino cheese, caramelized onions, scallions and cilantro is baked in the oak wood-fired brick oven until the crust is bronzed and crispy and the toppings bubbling hot.
– Golden brown and delicious, the Noisette Crepe for dessert comes folded over like a thin, edible envelope filled with a hazelnut-chocolate spread, toasted almonds and coconut. It’s topped with vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream.
Tip: The restaurant is filled with memorabilia of the legendary Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, the winningest active coach (he coached teams to 19 bowl games so far) and longest tentured coach (25 years) in Division 1 NCAA football.
– Hummus is a tasty and healthy way to start a meal, and easy to share. Beamer’s is made with freshly pureed garbanzo beans blended with roasted garlic, tahini and olive oil and served with cucumber slices, olives, green beans, tomato and pita chips.
– Kids want a burger? The Turkey Burgeris a lower fat choice of fresh ground turkey seasoned with sage and garlic and served on a bun with avocado, lettuce, tomato, fresh mozzarella and lemon-basil aioli. Splurge and upgrade to tater tots. Seriously, who doesn’t love tater tots?
– Treat the family and split a dessert. Fried Oreos is a funnel cake with four double-stuffed Oreo cookies added to the batter. Why not add ice cream, too?
Locations in Brambleton and Leesburg; menu may vary between locations.
Blue Ridge Grill, Brambleton
Tip: Blue Ridge Grill offers an extensive menu for budding gourmets, including dishes at brunch, lunch and dinner as well as a single-scoop sundae with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and even a cherry on top.
– The kid’s menu here is pretty impressive. Along with the usual suspects of a burger, grilled cheese and chicken tenders, dishes that caught our eye are Grilled Salmon, Half-Rack Ribs, and Filet Mignon. They’ll substitute fries for fresh fruit, too.
– We’ve found Calamari to be a good gateway food to introduce other cultures and other flavors to kids. The brunch appetizer offering here is plated over marinara sauce (who doesn’t love that?) and lemon-butter sauce with a smoked corn and pepper salsa. Tender tummies may want the fried jalapeno slices left off.
– Although there is a separate kid’s dessert menu, get the Sorbet Trio for the family to share. It comes with scoops of raspberry, mango and lemon sorbet plated with mango and strawberry purees and candied Nilla Wafer cookies.
Locations in Ashburn and Richmond; menu may vary between locations.
Family Meal. Image by James F. Smith.
Tip: Be on the lookout for James Beard Foundation Award nominee celebrity chef/owner Bryan Voltaggio, who was a contestant on Top Chef, the Bravo channel’s cooking competition show.
– On the Happy Campers children’s menu, the Spaghetti comes with a fresh tomato pomodoro sauce, grated cheese and garlic bread.
– We love the B.F.D. – Breakfast For Dinner – section, and think the kids will love Granola Hotcakes served with caramelized apples, cinnamon maple syrup and cream fraiche.
– Here’s a soda you can feel good about: housemade sodas come in a number of flavors – apple, cranberry, ginger beer, grapefruit, mango, pineapple and pomegranate.
Tip: Sit outside on the covered porch of this multi-story beach house-inspired eatery and watch the boats on Rudee Inlet coming and going on the Atlantic Ocean.
– For the table, start with sharing the Housemade Pimento Cheese and Shrimp Spread, a sassy rendition of the Southern classic with shrimp added in, spread on hot hushpuppies.
– From the Kid’s Menu, classic offerings are augmented with a Half Rack of Ribs & Fries as well as a Shrimp Basket & Fries.
– Our beverage choice is Rockafeller’s Homemade Blueberry Soda, made with real blueberries and honey, served over ice and topped with additional blueberries.
Tip: Mrs. Rowe’s is a Shenandoah Valley tradition and has been serving up goodies since 1947; grab a tasty souvenir like a whole pie or box of cream puffs or muffins to take with you.
– Kids will love to share the He-Man Omelet at breakfast, filled with cheese, steak and potato and served with fried apples and biscuit.
– Classic Southern offerings pepper the lunch and dinner menu. Grab the Grilled Hamburger Steak and load up on vegetables on the side: green beans, lima beans, and apple sauce are just a few of the dozen-plus options.
– Of the myriad of baked good – from chocolate eclairs to cookies to pecan sticky buns – we recommend pie. There you have decisions to make too, there are more than a dozen varieties, but classic apple can’t be beat.
Southbound. Photo courtesy of Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Tip: Southbound was opened in 2014 by Richmond chefs/restaurateurs Lee Gregory (The Roosevelt) and Joe Sparatta (Heritage) to be a locally-sourced culinary venture that is also family friendly.
– Here’s an appetizer the whole family can get around – Nachos are familiar but fabulous with toppings of barbacoa, black beans, pickled chiles, green tomato salsa and queso.
– From the Kids Menu, look for the Chicken Breast served with local grits or the Mac & Cheese featuring with housemade elbow pasta and a house sauce with four cheeses. Seasonal veggies are also a side option.
– This could be pushing the envelope, but there are kids that would love to go back to school and say they ate Squid Ink Bucatini. In reality, this thick spaghetti-like pasta is colored with the squid ink, giving it a black-ish hue but not really imparting a discernable flavor – and topped with calamari, chili flakes and an oven-roasted tomato sauce.
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Here are some tips on dining out with the whole family:
– Evenings and weekends are typically the busiest times for restaurants, so look for earlier seatings to avoid a big crowd – and potential big waits.
– Do some due diligence and preview a restaurant on their website and social media pages. Think about seating, such as dining on a patio, and look over menu options. Don’t limit yourself to fast food or fast casual restaurants, but pick one that fits your family.
– Know your children’s tolerance levels. Will they get antsy with a long wait? Will they be bored with the food offerings? Do you need someplace that you can pack up and leave quickly if need be?
– Have a quick briefing before going in the restaurant about table manners.
– Consider a light snack for small children while you are waiting on your food to arrive.
– If you allow children to use cellphones or other hand-held devices to play video games at the restaurant, be sure the sound is on mute.
– Think outside the chicken nugget box; if a children’s menu only has the typical high fat, high calorie offerings, look for dishes on the main menu and see if the restaurant will do a smaller portion or consider sharing the offering with your child.
– Along the same lines, expose your child to different flavors and offerings, even if its just sharing an appetizer with the whole table. Chinese dim sum and Spanish tapas are great for sharing, but many restaurants now offer small plates on main menus.
– If your children make a mess beyond that of an ordinary diner at a restaurant, do the waitstaff a favor and help clean up around their seat yourself. If you’ve asked the waitstaff for any special assistance during the meal, tip accordingly.
– Everyone loves a little treat; reward good behavior at the end by having the table share a dessert, or order a smoothie or something special.
Patrick Evans-Hylton, a Johnson & Wales University trained chef, is a Norfolk, Va.-based food journalist, historian and educator. His work has appeared in print, television, radio and social media since 1995. Evans-Hylton calls his cookbook, Dishing Up Virginia, his love letter to the state’s foods and foodways. He blogs at PatrickEvansHylton.com.