Best of the Burg 2011
January 22, 2011
__Best Value, Best Late Night: WaWa__
Whether supplying students with a much-needed slushie fix at all hours or serving as a close mini grocery store, Wawa is a means of survival for students. As the only 24-hour convenience store within walking distance of campus, Wawa is the most convenient and accessible place to fulfill all late-night cravings.
Wawa provides the 24 oz. coffee drinks for a study break or pints of Ben and Jerry’s after a long night out at the delis. On the weekends, Wawa is the beacon to which all students, in whatever state of mind, are drawn to at all hours of the night. When making the trek to Wawa, try to avoid the crowd of students flocking to the late-night haven at around 2 a.m. You will undoubtedly run into half of the student body, looking like all kinds of a hot mess.
Not only is Wawa the perfect place to grab a late night snack or fourth meal, it is also the best value near campus. While the Student Exchange can be overpriced, Wawa has all of your essentials at college student-approved prices. Grocery shopping at Wawa is convenient and cheap. Pick up your milk, cereal, fruits, snacks and beer and you have all of the essentials in a well-balanced diet for a low price. In addition, the walk to Wawa is much shorter than the walk to Bloom. When it comes to late night food runs, Wawa never fails.
__Best Mexican: Plaza Azteca__
The options for Mexican food can at times seem bleak in Williamsburg, Virginia. While 18th century colonists make a mean game pie, enchiladas and quesadillas are not exactly their specialty. The marketplace provides us with a semblance of the taste of Mexico at the Zoca station. Chipotle satisfies our humongous calorie-packed burrito craving. Casa Maya and La Tolteca serve as mediocre Mexican restaurants, but to truly satisfy your craving for the spicy flavor of Mexico, Plaza Azteca is the best place to go. The authentic decor and ambiance draw passers-by in, but the deliciously irresistible Mexican cuisine keeps them coming back again and again. Their specialties include chimichangas, enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos and endless combinations of all of the aforementioned. The guacamole made at your table and endless bowls of tortilla chips are just some of the things that make this Mexican restaurant unique. If it’s your birthday, expect a sombrero and a wonderful rendition of “Happy Birthday” in the cuisine’s native tongue. Birthday or not, Plaza Azteca is the best way to satisfy your Mexican food craving in Williamsburg.
__Best All-Around, Best On-the-Go: The Cheese Shop__
The moment I pull off of Interstate-64 each break, there’s one thing on my mind: The Cheese Shop. Forget seeing my friends or preparing for classes, the desire for a Cheese Shop sandwich overpowers all other duties. In a town filled with every indistinguishable chain restaurant imaginable and taverns serving food that only Thomas Jefferson would find edible, the Cheese Shop presents the ideal food alternative. With a simple menu and excellent ingredients, a sandwich from the Cheese Shop is practically perfect.
My first time at the Cheese Shop, which I had heard so much about, I was incredulous about both the lack of lettuce, a staple of any sandwich in my mind, as well as this so-called house dressing. (Who puts dressing on a sandwich?) But I gave into the madness, and my life was changed forever. Who would have thought that bread, turkey, provolone and house dressing could be turned into something so amazing?
The worst part of a sandwich from the Cheese Shop is having to make choices. From the amazing, freshly baked bread to the heaps of meat, from the special house recipe to the cheese for which the restaurant is titled, every bit amounts to an unsurpassable sandwich.
Of course, everything about the Cheese Shop is memorable. With a bag of delicious Route 11 chips and some sort of silly bottled drink to complete your meal, nothing says lunch more perfectly than the Cheese Shop. An often over-looked meal, forgotten between the syrup-covered mess that is breakfast and large dinners, lunch has become a hurried affair, not afforded the respect it deserves. Americans once celebrated lunch as the largest meal of the day. The Cheese Shop conforms to the idea of a quick lunch but refuses to give up any of the taste that goes with it.
Besides the lunch that you can eat anywhere, the Best On-the-Go is due in large part to another Cheese Shop signature: bread ends. Eaten alone or with house dressing, bread ends are the most ingenious, simple concoction ever presented to a purchasing public. Selling a bag of the ends of bread loaves for one dollar seems simply criminal, but the Cheese Shop does it every day. The Cheese Shop is not just an integral part of this year’s Best of the ‘Burgs; it’s an important part of the College of William and Mary and a landmark for the City of Williamsburg.
__The Marketplace – Best on Campus__
I was once presented with a list of the best campus dining in the country, which inexplicably featured our very own William and Mary. While the Marketplace certainly isn’t serving up lobster (as is done at Virginia Tech) or showing off a chocolate fondue fountain (like the one enjoyed by the students at Boston College) the options offered at the Marketplace are one thing the options at the other dining halls on campus can’t say they are: constant. There is never any worry that Zoca won’t be serving tacos, or that Montague’s Deli won’t make you a grilled cheese.
With seven different meal options from which to choose, including fresh sushi, the Marketplace really is something to brag about. Whether you like to mix it up, choosing from a different station every time, or are so consistent that the nice people at Zoca start making your burrito as soon as you get to the front of the line, the Marketplace seems most like the real world in all of the campus dining universe. Instead of a mess hall or an elementary school cafeteria, it seems like a food court, somewhere people would go when not confined by circumstance to a small campus. Its location at the edge where campus meets Merchant’s Square certainly adds to this feeling, certainly, and its location in the Campus Center probably helps somewhat, too.
The most shocking part of the Marketplace –aside from the fact that they make everything, including the sushi, right in front of you – is that it is actually all pretty good. While it is hard to manage world-class food on the budget of a public university, the Marketplace manages to put together meals that are actually enjoyable, an unheard -of feat among colleges and universities across the country. What’s more, if you can’t find something freshly prepared that you want, the Marketplace has a small convenience store at the front, stocked with all sorts of snacks – and that is something that does not go unnoticed by those of us who spend long hours in the basement of the Campus Center.
__Best Frozen Treat: Sno-to-Go__
Sno-to-Go, while lacking the letter W, stands above all other seasonal slushy purveyors in Williamsburg. Of particular note is its signature item, the stuffed “snoball,” which alternates layers of slushie with soft-serve vanilla ice cream. The chilled combination of textures and flavors is the perfect antidote for Williamsburg’s exhaustive heat and humidity. Sno-to-Go also offers milkshakes, sundaes and dipped cones for those looking for a different variety of brain-freeze. Although it isn’t open on Sundays, and the parking situation can be treacherous, it’s just a ten minute drive away from campus. Sno-to-Go boasts over forty flavors, enough to please even the most fickle of palettes. Our favorites include the Ninja Turtle, Ocean Breeze and the William and Mary Tribe (a combination of mango and Granny Smith apple that seems illogical but works well). You can start working your way through all of them when Sno-to-Go opens again this April.
__Best Deli: Paul’s__
We call them delis, not bars, in Williamsburg — and for good reason. Delis are where college kids go to party. Bars are where men and women go to drink. And if you want to find a bar at the College of William and Mary, you want to go to Paul’s Deli. Looking for a watering hole to cheer you up after a long day? Pull up a stool and have a chat with some of the friendliest and fastest bartenders around. Want to reserve some privacy for a large group? Just slide into one of the booths to the right of the bar where the lights are always dim. The bar has a relaxed environment. Hell, they’ll even let you play quarters if you promise not to spill anything. But the lifeblood of any good bar is its social scene, so if you’re looking to meet someone head on over to the right side of the bar and order a drink. You’ll soon strike up a conversation about any one of the games on the flat-screen televisions hanging nearby. If you’re lucky, there may even be a band playing. If you’re not able to use the good food, music and drinks at Paul’s to help you find that special someone, maybe you don’t belong there. Take heart, though: If that is the case, at least you know that you belong at William and Mary.
__Best Asian: Mongolian__
Like a Nicholas Cage film, the Mongolian experience is incredibly awful but ultimately
Mongolian Peking does not don’t have the best Chinese food in Williamsburg. It’s barbecue is average, it’s sushi is suspect, and while its cheesecake is inexplicably delicious, its chicken varietals are slightly below what you would expect from Panda Express. They might as well sell Pepto-Bismol at the door.
But you don’t go to Mongolian for the food or the atmosphere: Beauty doesn’t lie in the faux-dojo decor and the bizarre videos playing in the main
dining room. Culinary ecstasy does not exist in its unfluffy rice.
People go to Mongolian-Peking Restaurant not for quality but for quantity. For the low, low price of $11.99, you can ingest as much as you want for as long as you want. No one will judge you, look down on your tastes, or make fun of you for eating that yellowish chicken with the weird creamy white sauce.
Because they are here, too. They made the same decision you did. Like ike pigs arriving
to the trough, you eat together. As one.
And when you look down upon your empty plates, you will share a look of both pride and embarrassment. You will be contented, yet anxious, by the task you have completed.
You have been Mongolianed.
If you want good, cheap Chinese food, go to China House. If you want Thai, try Bangkok
Garden. If you want it all, go to Mongolian-Peking Restaurant.
Beyond those Golden Dragons is immortality. Take it — it’s yours.
__Best Dessert/Date: Aromas__
The delicately wrought iron chairs and tables outside of Aromas evoke the image of a petite Parisian cafe. Thankfully, all illusions of daintiness are abandoned upon opening the door. Customers are greeted by a huge glass display case featuring half a dozen desserts as monumental as they are delicious. If you’re eager to indulge in a sweet treat with a sweet someone, Aromas is sure to satisfy.
A quintessential coffeehouse, Aromas is almost drowsily cozy. Its cheerful yellow walls and mellow music give it the feel of a caffeine-laced cocoon, with dim corners perfect for sitting snugly beside your date. If your rendezvous is going well, you won’t even notice local artists’ pieces hanging above the tables or the stacks of newspapers and books available for diners to peruse.
It’s fortunate you’ve brought someone with you, because when it comes time to order dessert you’ll want to try more than one. Big jars bursting with biscotti and saucer-sized cookies sit atop shelves laden with even more substantial offerings. To those who crave cocoa, slices of chocolate tower cake and chocolate cheesecake will beckon. Lemon berry mascarpone, scones and cinnamon buns as big as hubcaps are also tempting. One of the cafe’s top sellers is its signature apple pie, a five-inch high pile of apple strata served warm with melted cheddar cheese or vanilla ice cream for $6.50. Many of these baked goods are made in house, although some of the pastries and cheesecakes are provided by equally esteemed outside vendors.
From 3 p.m. until 8 p.m., Aromas offers more intimate desserts ideal for couples. For $5.25, you and your companion can create your own s’mores over an open flame – an inspiration for next weekend’s camping getaway. Chocolate fondue ($10.99) comes with a selection of fruit and pound cake — and a guarantee that you’ll have to kiss some stray chocolate off of your dining partner’s cheek.
Even the drinks at Aromas are reminiscent of dessert, making it great for a more casual coffee date. Among the coffee choices are candy-flavored fare like Snickers and Almond Joy Lattes ($3.50-$4.25), while other warm beverage options include hot chocolate and Hot Apple Pie, a mixture of cider, caramel, whipped cream and cinnamon. Sweet cold drinks like fruit and coffee smoothies, root beer floats and Creamsicle Delights are also available ($3.25-$4.25).
With its warm atmosphere and decadent confections, Aromas is perfect for a romantic dessert date or relaxed coffee meeting. Among Williamsburg venues for dining with someone special, Aromas takes the cake.
__Best Beer: The Green Leafe__
Despite lacking adequate bathroom facilities for 17 consecutive years, the Green Leafe Cafe continues to attract College of William and Mary students with its wide beer selection and Euro-pub ambience.
Boasting 39 permanent beers on tap, the downtown Leafe offers cold, frosty options for every student, from a refreshing Bud Light after a night at the units to Stella Artois for the more pretentious just-back-from-a-study-abroad-trip crowd.
The Leafe also has a long list of seasonal and rotating brews, and taps a keg every Thursday for a new alcohol experience.
Whether you’re ordering a tried and true Budweiser or experimenting with a Widmer Hefeweizen, nothing says a night out in Williamsburg like avoiding randos and townies while watching TWAMPs search for hookups at the Leafe. Just be sure to make it out safely before you hear “Wagon Wheel.”
__Best Breakfast: Five Forks__
Flat Hat Executive Editor Russell Zerbo recently had the temerity to question the supremacy of the Five Forks Cafe, a Williamsburg diner, over the area breakfast scene. He was promptly forced to duck under his chair, as several objects were forcefully propelled in his direction. Such is the following that Five Forks Cafe has engendered in its short history on Jamestown Road, and with justifiable cause.
Serving breakfast daily until 3 p.m., a clutch offering given the weekend sleep schedules of students at the College of William and Mary, a morning trip to the small, unvarnished restaurant involves an often-difficult panoply of choices. The Big-Chili omelet competes with the banana pecan pancakes as premier breakfast options, bolstered by sides of loaded hash browns, cheddar grits and the cafe’s traditional southern corn cakes. The diner features the usual roundup of pancakes, waffles, omelets and egg dishes, and Five Forks’s outstanding milkshakes are available at all hours. Five Forks’s shining beacon, however, is its ever-changing breakfast specials. The specials are considerable, ranging from fresh peach crepes topped with whipped cream to crab and potato hash, paired with bacon, toast and a crisp glass of orange juice.
Closed Mondays, rarely does a breakfast visit require less than a minimal wait for one of the few tables, which, frankly, adds to the mystique; the restaurant’s old-fashioned booths and tiled interior evoke the fading diners of a superior breakfast era. But, let’s be honest, what could be better than a greasy plate of liver and onions after a late night? And who doesn’t love scrapple? As you can see, there are many compelling reasons to go to Five Forks. (Plus they still take faxes!)
__Best Coffee: The Daily Grind__
There are many coffee shops in Williamsburg, each with its own niche and target population. Many are cute, most are overpriced and some are just terrible. With most options covered by a meal plan falling into the last category, waking up 20 minutes earlier to make your own coffee can seem like the only solution. However, for less than two dollars, the Daily Grind can do that for you.
In contrast to chain venues like Starbucks, which provide a uniform manufactured atmosphere, the Daily Grind’s eclectic music, handwritten signs and un-uniformed baristas seem unique, authentic and original. The Grind is far enough from Colonial Williamsburg that it doesn’t attract tourists or parents, and close enough to most academic buildings to be a viable option between classes. With a basket on the counter designated for returning used coffee cup sleeves and recycled plastic straws — which are so eco-friendly as to threaten functionality ¬(they break easily and frequently) — the Grind can add to its list of attributes an obvious concern for the environment. In fact, the Grind was eco-friendly before it was cool to be eco-friendly. It is perhaps for these very reasons that the Grind could easily be mistaken as a stand-in for the front steps of Tucker Hall.
However, even if you don’t look like you just stepped out of American Apparel, you can appreciate the Grind for its no-nonsense approach to coffee. Be prepared for a French roast and an Italian roast that actually taste different, and to encounter people who understand the difference between a cappuccino and a latte. Ignorant or inexperienced coffee drinkers might get glared at from behind the counter, and ordering a macchiato generally results in the question: “The Starbucks kind? Or a real one?” (For the record, a macchiato is just espresso and a small amount of foam — no caramel syrup or whipped cream is involved.)
Your drink will be worth the embarrassment. The Grind provides what can only be described as genuinely good coffee. If you have a legitimate opinion on how dry your cappuccino should be, you’re in the right place. Drink names may not be cute or Tribe-themed, and your order may even result in a dirty look from the person making your drink, but the drink will be made well. Although it also has wonderful scones, cookies, muffins and other goods baked on site, significant discounts for bringing your own cup (50 cents off any drink), and even a good selection of sandwiches, soups, fruit and yogurt, the Daily Grind’s best attribute is its coffee, which is refreshing when compared to other coffee shops that seem to have forgotten their namesakes.
__Best to Take Parents to: The Blue Talon__
Getting the parents to spring for dinner is a treat and a privilege. You shouldn’t waste it on Domino’s or Taco Bell.
The Fat Canary, Trellis and Barret’s are all great options if you’re spending Mom and Dad’s money, but the Blue Talon Bistro is easily the best restaurant in town.
The menu offers a wide variety of dishes — everything from decadent macaroni and cheese to blackened salmon. The restaurant’s French-inspired dishes are surprisingly hearty, and the portion sizes guarantee you will be bringing home leftovers.
If you haven’t had the macaroni and cheese, you should probably try it soon. It’s delicious. You will never open a box of Kraft again without experiencing feelings of inadequacy sprinkled with resentment.
Daily specials run the gamut from braised rabbit to shrimp with polenta.
The food is complemented by an excellent bar and an impressive spread of after-dinner cordials, while the specialty cocktails are far from standard fare.
Although never empty, obtaining reservations on busy days (i.e. Family Weekend) does not require a herculean effort.
The atmosphere is formal but friendly — far from stuffy. Unlike the delis, you don’t have to yell to have a conversation if it’s crowded. The Blue Talon Bistro is perfect for a night out with the family.