Monday, November 27, 2006

Food For Thought

A sage Ben Franklin, sporting a chef’s toque, hovers serenely over the motto, “Eat. Drink. Think.” Food For Thought is the surprising new addition to Richmond Road’s cluster of pancake houses, fast food franchises and national chains.

The dining area is split fore and aft, with a small bar-type area joining the two. The walls are lined with famous faces and scrolling lines of memorable and interesting quotes.

My husband Dave and I were led to the center of the room, where European-style seating (small tables set closely together) was brightly lit. So much so that I soon felt like I was sitting under a glaring spotlight, on display to all the diners in dimmer sections.

Browsing the menu is an experience in and of itself. Arranged like a book, it meanders through courses in chapter form, ending with a lovely “About the Author” page. On it, owner Howard Hopkins waxes eloquent upon his motto, vision, and expectations: “Have fun while enjoying a deliciously inspiring meal, and expand your mind as well as your belly.”

As Dave and I finally settled upon our entrees, our waitress returned with our wine, laughing cheerfully at her own attempt to remove the cork without it crumbling. Finally, she poured us each a glass of the Mirassou Pinot Noir 2005 ($25), took our orders, and hurried off.

It wasn’t long before our appetizers hit the table, along with some complimentary bread. I had the veggie bisque ($3.50/cup), roasted seasonal vegetables with a swirl of sun-dried tomato pesto. It was a simple soup that magnificently showcased the pungent, earthy flavors. Even better, the excellent sweet potato spoon bread was just right for dipping. There were other rolls in the basket, but the spoon bread by far was the best.

Dave went with “Smoke and Fire” ($5), hand-breaded strips of chicken that came with a smoky chipotle sauce.

When I heard him laughing after the first bite, I knew I was in for a treat, and indeed, my tongue joyously awakened. The strips were chunky, juicy and fresh: you could practically taste the TLC that went into them. The sauce was the perfect mix of tart vinegar and warm chipotle, partnered with cool green stalks of celery ready to put out any lingering fire. A mild, tasty blue cheese dressing sat forgotten as we battled for the last tender strip.

Our salads arrived ($2.50 with entree), vibrant, crisp and colorful. Just as we began to dig in, our waitress descended with an armful of entrees and sides. Faced with an unexpected mountain of rapidly cooling food, we sucked it up and dug in.

Our hands reached simultaneously for the sweet potato fries ($2). They were blessedly salty and sweet, hovering somewhere on the crisp-tender border. I usually don’t like my sweet potatoes to be adulterated, but this is one form that’s okay with me.

Following the server’s recommendation, I decided to go “Down South” ($15). A massive plate held sautéed sweet peppers, mushrooms and shelled shrimp, piled high on a bed of ultra-creamy cheese grits. The menu says, “Ya gotta try this un, y’all,” and I must agree. While some of the peppers were still a bit too crisp, the explosive combination of grits, 'shrooms and shrimp more than made up for it.

Dave, in the mood for some good old-fashioned comfort food, chose the pot roast ($11.50). Smashed redskin potatoes went neck to neck with the fork tender meat. A small river of gravy flowed between the two, tasting rich and more-ish (ie: you keep going back for more!). Finally, we threw in the towel, and asked for the check.

Food For Thought happily demonstrates my mantra: good food can be simple, tasty and without pretension. I saw the owner personally clearing tables, checking on customers, and really making an effort to be attentive to both patrons and staff. From the food to the service, this attention to detail shines brilliantly through.

Food For Thought Restaurant
1647 Richmond Road, Williamsburg
Phone: 645-4665 Fax: 645-3074
Website: (but only if your computer handles flash!)
Specialties: classic American and international dishes
Price range: appetizers: $4-$9; soups & salads: $3.50-$11.50; entrees: $11.50-$19; sandwiches & wraps: $6.50-$9; dessert: $5-$6
Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11:30 a.m.-9:15 p.m.; Friday-Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-kitchen usually closes around 10:15
Alcohol: yes
Smoking: no
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, major credit cards
Noise level: conversational
Atmosphere: casual
Additional Information: daily specials, live music on Saturday
Star rating: food 4, atmosphere 3, service 3 1/2
(out of five stars)


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