As a true South of the James girl (shout-out to Chester!), I have long appreciated the history that Petersburg – just a short drive down I-95 from Richmond – has to offer. Known for its pivotal Civil War battles, visiting history buffs can have their fill of its historical richness. However, what few outside of the Tri-Cities may know is Petersburg, and specifically Old Towne, is a place where foodies and families (and yes, foodie families!) can spend a fun-filled day eating, exploring, and eating some more.
First, Fuel Up with Breakfast
Start your morning off right with a visit to the always-busy Demolition Coffee for a latte and a grilled blueberry muffin. This coffee shop is a cozy, family-friendly establishment where you can relax and enjoy one another’s company. The menu here also offers two delicious variations of the breakfast sandwich – The Hombre Burrito served with homemade pico de gallo, and the Bipski (egg, cheese, and meat served on an English muffin).
If sweet sustenance is more your thing, Buttermilk Bake Shop might be your breakfast or brunch spot. Homemade doughnuts, doughnut sandwiches, cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, scones, and cupcakes – need I say more? The bakery is located on East Bank Street, and you can smell all of the delicious goodness from blocks away.
Shopping and Sightseeing
In between breakfast and lunch, hit up The River Street Market for unique vendors selling everything from local produce to handmade jewelry to organic soaps. If the kids didn’t have enough breakfast, they might enjoy snagging a treat or two from several vendors before you head out for more exploring. From there, stroll up to Centre Hill Mansion, which was most recently a site for filming the PBS series Mercy Street. The draperies and furniture used in the series are still in the house and tours are available Thursdays through Sundays.
Old Towne might be historic, but they are still in with the times. They even offer an app that can be downloaded that offers a walking tour, called The Petersburg Old Towne Landmarks Walking Tour at theclio.com
What’s For Lunch?
You can’t do Old Towne without a visit to the famous Dixie Diner. Owner Frannie Rawlings calls it an institution, and many would agree it’s a special part of Petersburg’s history. Operating in the same building on Sycamore Street since 1939, families have enjoyed its simple southern cuisine for decades. Stop in at lunchtime to grab an infamous Dixie Dog (a red hot dog topped with a spicy chili sauce and mustard and onions), or try one of their many delicious rotating hot plate specials.
If you are looking for authentic Greek food paired with first-rate service, head over to Alexander’s Fine Food. Voted 2017’s best waitstaff and best lunch menu by the Tri-Cities official People’s Choice Awards, Alexander’s menu will not disappoint. Popular items include their souvlaki platter (marinated tenderloin served with rice pilaf or a twice-baked potato) and mouthwatering stuffed chicken, filled with a special cheese mixture.
Historic Afternoon Adventures
After lunch, proceed directly to Blandford Church, the most visited historical attraction in Petersburg. The church’s fifteen stained glass windows were installed and designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany himself. The church also sits on the grounds of the infamous Blandford Cemetery, where the remains of 30,000 Confederate soldiers who were killed during the 392-day Siege of Petersburg are buried in a mass grave at Memorial Hill. The records only contain 3,700 names. Tours are available Thursday through Sunday.
Another breathtaking Petersburg property to visit is Historic Battersea. Located on the western side of the city, the 1768 house is a Anglo-Palladian villa built by Colonel John Banister, the first mayor of Petersburg, a congressman, and a signer of the Articles of Confederation. Visitors can witness a work in progress, as restoration is currently underway.
From there, take the older kids to Escape Old Towne on North Sycamore Street where you can work together to try to solve a mystery inside a locked room using the clues and elements provided. If you have to divide and conquer, younger kids might enjoy visiting The Blue Willow Tea Room on West Old Street for a traditional afternoon tea full of delicious desserts and exotic teas.
Delightful Dinner Destinations
Once you’ve had your share of walking, shopping, and time-traveling, end your day with a relaxing visit to the Trapezium Brewery. The brewery, housed in an old ice and coal factory that was originally built in the 1870s, loves welcoming families to share in their mouth-watering pizza (the Monterey, made with prosciutto, goat cheese, and a honey and fig glaze is my personal favorite) and tasty chicken wings. Play a round of trivia on Thursday nights while nibbling on warm pretzels with beer cheese. They also have a toy and gravel area where the kids can get messy.
Family-operated and located in a breathtaking building with decor that will transport you back to the Italian Old Country, you may want to stop into Maria’s Old Town 21 for amazing pasta dishes like their seafood ravioli or signature bang shrimp. Not into seafood? No problem. The chefs at Maria’s will whip up practically anything you desire – as long as they have the ingredients!
Quaintly tucked away on the cobblestone streets of Cockade Alley, Brickhouse Run is a family-owned, full-service pub offering traditional British fare as well as seasonal specials. The 190-year-old building has been featured in countless movies and television shows, including Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and AMC’s Turn. Pop in for a serving of their fish and chips and shepherd’s pie. You won’t be disappointed.
Located just a few feet from The Brickhouse Run in a building that has been voted one of the most one hundred recognizable structures in Virginia, City Table serves up classic American cuisine, including their delicious Mama Bertie’s meatloaf and pork chops and applesauce. The building has been used for a number of movies and television shows and is definitely one you will want to check out.
Wherever you go, don’t forget to slip on your walking shoes because exploring Old Towne will definitely tire out the kiddos – and mom and dad. Nevertheless, Petersburg’s small town vibe and historical charm will make the sore feet worth it. If there’s time, work in a trip to nearby Pamplin Historical Park and explore its Civil War battlefield and three museums. Your kids will probably fall asleep as you head home, dreaming about historic battles, the old South, and Buttermilk Bake Shop goodies all the way home.
Photos: supplied by petersburg tourism, Edwin M Betts III (Battersea), John A. Rooney, Jr.(City Table)