Best of the ‘Burg: Fall 2011

Best place to buy a gift for your mom: The Williamsburg Craft House
By Abby Boyle

The last few weeks leading up to the holidays, while filled with anticipation and excitement each year, are always accompanied by certain challenges. Year after year, one of these difficulties is finding the perfect gift for your mom. Choosing a gift that is the perfect balance of useful and sentimental is often a seemingly impossible task, especially if you’re on a budget. Luckily, this is where the Williamsburg Craft House comes in.

Located in Merchants Square, the Williamsburg Craft House is a big draw for tourists because it is elegant inside and out. With soft music in the background and a color theme throughout, the store is full of possibilities for gifts. The Craft House sells plates, glassware, cutlery and art pieces, along with silver and jewelry. There are also greeting cards and even books and DVDs about all things Colonial Williamsburg. All of these items are definitely suitable gifts for moms: they are quality products that will no doubt be useful in some part of your house, and they will look nice whether they are on display or put to use.

While you can order these gifts online, going to the Craft House itself is a part of the experience of buying a gift. Especially in the weeks before the holidays, with all of its its holiday decorations, you really can’t help but feel the holiday spirit as you browse through the store’s offerings. It’s also nice to shop among the various tourists, many of whom are discovering the store for the first time. Although you will probably never have the store to yourself, the enthusiasm that the tourists have for admiring and purchasing home décor is unexpectedly infectious and makes for an entertaining shopping experience.

One downside to the Craft House is that it can be pricey, especially if you have limited funds to spend on a gift. Since the products are of a high quality, many potential gifts cost $60 or more. However, if you are willing to search through the piles of items on display, there are plenty of options that cost a little bit less.
A gift bought at the Craft House is clearly meant to last a long time, and it is an item that can either be used or displayed for years to come. The quality and variety of the products, along with the experience of buying the gift itself, make the Craft House the best place to buy a gift for your mom in Williamsburg.

Best Deli: The Green Leafe
By Katie Demeria and Walter Hickey

The debate to select the best deli in Williamsburg was, to err on the side of understatement, rather contentious. The discussion grew animated. Names were called. Mistakes were made. Insults flew. An associate suggested the Hospitality House; he was promptly sacked. In the end, the final decision was made based upon rank, since the Variety editor does, in fact, place the column on the page, and the Online Editor has no such authority.

This year the Best Deli award goes to the Green Leafe Cafe.

The Leafe offers an innumerable amount of beer brands. Their selection varies seasonally, and it’s the go-to establishment for the beer snob in your life. While the other delis have the old classics, the Leafe’s experimentation with its selection allows adventurous weekend warriors to switch up the routine at their leisure.

Moreover, the menu at the Leafe, while not as vast as at the other delis, has some delicious drunk food as well as food that can stand on its own. Green Leafe Head Chef A.J. Garrelts has made some excellent decisions with his menu. Specials stand out, and the man behind the kitchen has crafted an exceptional menu. Staff recommendations include the calamari.

Finally, the Leafe is the most conscientious eatery with specials. Monday night is half-price burger night, a great deal that allows students to get great burgers starting at a mere $4. The staff recommends the Black ‘n’ Bleu burger. When talking about deals on drinks, we’d be remiss if we failed to mention Mug Night, the iconic ritual when the senior class gets together every Sunday to get drunk on the cheap.

In short, the Leafe won this year because it remains the deli for those seeking a modicum of adventure while living in Colonial Williamsburg, of all places. For those bold souls among us, The Leafe offers them the chance to try a new beer or a bold menu selection, or just try to score on a Sunday.

Praise is due to similar establishments; the College Delly requires significant kudos to accurately convey our satisfaction with the restaurant’s metamorphosis over the past year. The College Delly went from “that place where I once saw a drug deal take place on the porch” to having a re-vamped menu, classy interior and cheap alcohol. “That is worthy of incredible commendations. Moreover, Paul’s Deli continues to serve as a reliable, consistent sports bar with a great crowd, strong drinks and great cheese fries. And the Hospitality House continues to have a bar, as far as we know.

But in the end, the Green Leafe Café won out this year. It was close, and the Online section seems to be deliberately sulking just to convey disappointment with the selection, but the Leafe’s versatile menu, vast selection of craft and imported beer, and excellent deals made it this year’s champion.

Best Coffee: Aromas
By Ariel Cohen

With the warm yellow walls, eclectic artwork and Ella Fitzgerald’s bluesy melodies, the atmosphere in Aromas on a rainy November morning is anything but dreary. Tables packed with students and local residents starting their day over coffee show that, this coffee shop is the ideal place to start or end a hectic day.

Colonial Williamburg’s only coffee shop, located just across from Brown Residence Hall on Prince George Street, is cozy and full of locals grabbing coffee by morning. However if you walk in to the shop at night, Aromas gives a completely different vibe.

A local jazz trio plays live music in the corner while members of student groups discusses their next fundraiser over cheesecake. A graduate student, on his fifth cup of coffee, furiously works on his research paper next to that couple from your freshman hall cozying up in the corner below the Christmas lights.
In a town with few places for a casual coffee date, Aromas provides a warm atmosphere to get to know someone better. Aromas offers an array of specialty brews and flavored lattes and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

On a daily basis, the coffee shop offers four regular brews, two decaf brews plus one flavored brew along with an assortment of espresso drinks, teas and smoothies. Aromas’ “Stimulating Specialty Drinks” include the delicious and ever-popular dessert drinks: the Snickers Latte, Almond Joy Latte, S’mores Latte, Prince George’s Mint Mocha and the ‘Honey Dew’ Latte.

A lover of Wawa coffee, I had never ventured to Aromas before. So, when the local coffee shop was voted the Best of the ’Burg, I dragged along four bluntly honest boys from my freshman hall to help me critically review Aromas’ house brews and was quite pleased with what we discovered.

The coffee selection offers something for everyone, from the caffeine connoisseur looking for an espresso fix to the dessert lover looking for a sweet drink to end the evening. One member of our group, Cameron Teaster ’14, who had never had an espresso drink before, found himself going up for a second cup. He described the Prince George’s Green Mint Mocha as “warm ice cream in a cup.”

Aromas one drawback is its high-priced menu. On a college budget, a $3.50 “Tribe Mocha” can become an expensive habit. However, for those cold mornings when you just feel like you need extra pep in your step or evenings when you just need to unwind, Aromas has just the right drink.

Best ice cream: Sweet Frog
By Meredith Ramey

Flavors upon flavors of frozen yogurt fill the pink and green walls. An abundance of candy, fruit and other toppings spill from the counters. Students fill the shop, self-serving their way to delightful desserts.
That’s right, it’s Sweet Frog time.

Many aspects set Sweet Frog apart from other shops of its kind, and the most notable of these is its self-serve concept. The process is relatively simple enough to understand. So easy, a freshman could do it. First, a customer walks in and selects a serving container from the three sizes offered. Next, they approach the large frozen yogurt wall, home of 14 distinct flavors. There are many different ways to tackle the flavor wall. Do you mix and match or delve into one distinct flavor? It’s up to you to decide.

Now that you have decided on the yogurt, it is time to choose your toppings. The toppings range from classic chocolate chips and sprinkles to fresh fruit and caramelized nuts. The combinations are limitless. Depending on your mood, you could spend all day deciding on the perfect combination or run in, wing it, and enjoy the results.

Lastly, customers pay, but how much does this sweet treat cost? Again, it’s up to you (for the most part). Sweet Frog weighs each customer’s dessert on a scale and charges 37 cents per ounce. That’s less than $6 for a pound of ice cream!

Another appealing aspect of Sweet Frog are the health facts. Frozen yogurt is low on fat, and a number of flavors contain no fat at all, allowing for a healthier way to satisfy a sweet tooth. The self-serve concept also allows students to control their portions. Of course, the ability to control your portions can end up swinging both ways. Can I hear a freshman fifteen?

One of the only drawbacks of Sweet Frog is its location, but students can deal with that as well. As it is not located in the area adjacent to campus, it is not easily accessible by walking like Aromas or BerryBody. However, the Williamsburg trolley and red line of the Williamsburg bus system both stop right by Sweet Frog. Also, convincing a friend with a car to drive you to Sweet Frog should not be too hard, either.

While Sweet Frog does not offer any specific discounts for students at the College, they do have a number of other promotions. When you pay for your dessert, be sure to ask for a punch card. Every time you buy a treat at Sweet Frog, you just have the cashier punch your card, then on your tenth purchase, you get $4 off. In addition, the Sweet Frog manager, Grace Clemente, said the shop does a lot of fundraisers for both the Williamsburg community and College students.

Best Date Place: Blue Talon
By Ellie Kaufman

Need a place to take your campus cutie that isn’t the Commons Dining Hall or Sadler Center dining hall? While some of my personal favorites include this town’s fine selection of pancake houses and Mexican restaurants, the staff has spoken, and the word on the street is that the best place to take your date is the Blue Talon Bistro.

Conveniently located on Prince George Street across from Aromas and the Campus Store, the Blue Talon Bistro provides a cozy but sophisticated atmosphere if you are looking for a quiet evening alone. Blue Talon serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with delicious combinations of traditional favorites and original creations. My personal favorite, the Blue Talon Mac and Cheese, is a comfort food classic, but the dinner entree menu includes plenty of specials to satisfy. Dinner entrees are priced at around $20, just enough to impress your date without breaking the bank.

To make Blue Talon more affordable for the average college student budget, those 21 and over should take advantage of half-priced wine on Tuesday nights. Get a bottle of expensive wine for half the price combined with a delectable Blue Talon meal, and you are sure to win over your crush’s affections. The Bistro also provides birthday boys and girls with a free meal if you ever feel like making all of your friends pay for an expensive dinner while you sit there and eat for free.

The Blue Talon provides a comfortable atmosphere so your date won’t feel overwhelmed by the sophistication of the Trellis but still will feel special on a night out. While the other options in Merchants Square scream serious commitment, the Blue Talon says “I like you enough to pay at least $50, but I am not asking you to marry me— yet.” It also gives your date the option of wearing the always-preferred slightly-dressed-up date outfit without having to go all out. Blue Talon is the perfect balance between way-overpriced Williamsburg and the are-we-just-friends-or-are-we-on-a-date off-campus options including Panera or Chipotle.

Best of Richmond Road: Sal’s by Victor
By Walter Hickey

Williamsburg has unparalleled restaurant quality, largely due to its tourism, strong local character and abundance of students. This mix creates the perfect environment for independent, locally owned businesses to prosper. In short, to be considered the best restaurant on Richmond Road, a business has to beat out some very strong competition.

Sal’s by Victor sets the bar high, to say the least. Unequivocally, Sal’s is the best Italian restaurant in town. It’s locally owned, inexpensive and the quality of the food is superb. I hadn’t been to Sal’s since it suffered a crippling fire two years ago, forcing it to close and rebuild. Other restaurants may have balked at the task, but the eponymous Vittorio Minichiello, or Victor persevered and rebuilt his decades-old business. Rising from the ashes, Sal’s is better than ever.

Victor has an unwavering passion for food. I stopped by Sal’s to reacquaint myself with their menu the other day. While I was enjoying the freshly prepared lasagna, I overheard Victor talking to a person waiting for a pickup order. Victor promptly invited the man to sit down and offered him a coffee on the house while he waited. In many ways, that interaction conveys exactly what makes Sal’s stand out in an outstanding field: Victor and his staff sincerely want their customers to enjoy their visit. The walls are adorned with imported Italian art and Victor prides himself on his decor. When describing his restaurant, Victor’s pride is palpable. It’s also completely deserved.

Sal’s is an excellent dining experience; with passionately prepared food, the ambiance is the result of thirty years of experience in entertaining guests. College oenophiles won’t be disappointed either as the wine selection is superb. Sal’s exemplifies what makes Williamsburg restaurants unique. Every locally owned restaurant I’ve been to in this city has been largely a labor of love on the part of the omnipresent owner. Sal’s is, by far, the best example in town of the impact of passion has on the dining experience. Once Victor learned I was covering his restaurant for Best of the ’Burg, he gave me a personal tour of his reconstructed restaurant. The kitchen is precisely what one would expect: rows of packed ovens, cooks preparing sauce from scratch, the staff preparing for the lunch rush at eleven in the morning. Victor even showed me the walk-in freezer; the deli meats were all top-notch brands, specialty meats imported from Italy and a veritable mountain of prosciutto.

In spite of the fact that Sal’s seems to spare no expense on their ingredients, the food is surprisingly affordable. Entrees can go for less than ten dollars. Moreover, Sal’s also has — in my opinion — a severely underused delivery option. With comparable prices but superior quality, skip Domino’s next time you order in and give Sal’s a shot. Sal’s is an excellent choice for an inexpensive but quality date night, or just one of those nights where you need some home-style Italian food. The passion of the owner, the superiority of the ingredients and the exceptional quality of the food are just some of the reasons why Sal’s by Victor is Richmond Road’s Best of the ’Burg.

To view a slideshow of the Best of the ‘Burg, click here.


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