Monday, January 05, 2009

Dinner at Stronghill Dining Company

On Friday night, I coordinated an after work outing for the distance education facilitators whom I supervise. I'd reserved a big table at Stronghill Dining Company across from Buzz and Neds on the Boulevard. The entrees ranged from $14-27. Pretty typical prices. However, the more I thought about the menu I'd seen online, I worried it might be a little steep for a mandatory meal where each was responsible for their own tab (state employment red tape, not my cheapness manifesting here). I explained this to the group, but they didn't balk at the prices.

Last time I got this group together, we went to the Phoenician, which didn't go over too well with a few folks who were put off by the strange sounding dishes and foreign ingredients. This time, I had to deliver meat and potatoes to regain their trust. Luckily, that's basically what Richmond's hip new restaurants specialize in these days: familiar favorites with a fancy sounding twist in miniature portions. (yawn) Let the fun begin.

The inside of Stronghill is a real feast for the eyes. The creative details in the design give the place an element of fantasy, which certainly sets the scene for a good time (credit the owners who also run the neighboring tattoo parlor, according to this love at first bite review). Their "social hour specials" were a hit: $4 highballs, $2 beers, sides of jalapeno hush puppies, and other discounted apps. They also had a $3 "wedge salad," but it appeared to be a quarter of a head of iceburg lettuce. Even with a tangy sauce, does that sound good to you?
Stronghill's attractive facade serves as an inviting
lower back tattoo - improving upon
the Boulevard's trashy hind parts -
although just short of uniqueness,
an indicator of probable good times.
I had a raw oyster shooter for $8. The four oysters were swimming in minuet sauce at the bottom of a tall narrow glass. It wasn't easy to gracefully slurp one at a time, and kinda impossible (inappropriate?) to share a glass of aphrodisiacs with coworkers. Nonetheless, I was satisfied with it and everyone was amused seeing me gulp the slimy critters down.

Some of us were interested in the crab cakes, but not "game" for the quail hash accompaniment. In the end, between the eight of us, four of the menu's entrees were ordered: the scallops (3), the gnocchi (2), the rib-eye (2), and the stew (1). Have I explained about my pet peeve about groups where items are ordered in duplicate? I can't really justify it except to say that I really wanna try everything on the menu (or at least see it and get your opinion about it). That's a lot more feasible if you have a bunch of people (unless they all order the same freakin' thing!). It's usually a case of diners with no confidence hearing someone else's order and saying, "that sounds good, I'll have that." Whatever. I didn't expect to be swapping plates with my coworkers. Maybe I should just stick to family style eateries in the future.

Of the above entrees, I can speak from experience about two of them: The sweet potato gnocchi were big, oddly chicken nugget shaped, and kinda sparse - thinly distributed in a small circle at the center of my big white plate. The sauce was salty and garlicky and the spinach and tomatoes were very lightly cooked. The gnocchi dumplings themselves were tender and firm at the center, but without any flavor of sweet potatoes. I think that element was included for aesthetic effect (they matched the decor and looked great on the plate) and to help the dish fit into the uppity southern style fare they're shooting for at Stronghill (and Rowland, Julep's, Lulu's, deLux... the list goes on).

The coworker across from me also happens to live in Byrd Park and has helped with Jasper a few times. We traded a gnocchi for a scallop or two. She'd heard that the scallops were great in a best of 2008 list. We both found them salty, but the crusty pan-fried tops were fun to eat in the way that brulee topping is a joy to crunch. Similarly, the crispy fried sweet potato shreds were a great contrast to the jiggly center of the shell fish. As far as scallops go, I give'em a 7.5.

My finicky friends said they would eat at Stronghill again, praising the predictability. Personally, it's probably not gonna be my kind of place (in part because it's probably too many other people's kind of place), but they do have enough going for them to lure me back for another investigation. I think I'd probably go for the drink and appetizer specials during "social hour," or maybe if they do a brunch service. But, to be sure, Karen needs to see the swirling two tone wood paneled booths and imaginative light fixtures. That interior design alone is worth the trip, if you ask me.


  1. Anonymous11:41 AM

    I can't agree with you enough on the duplicate ordering thing. I want to leap across the table and strangle people when they do that. Maybe I should next time.

    LOVE the tattoo quote. Brilliant work, my friend.

  2. Anonymous12:57 PM

    Read Reinhart's chapter in Sacramental magic on iceburg lettuce wedges...

  3. Good tip, Matt. I just perused it (day off from work today). Reinhart's beef is with "hearts of lettuce with thousand island dressing." But, I think we've got the same question. In his words, "Why would anyone order this every time, even after discovering what it was?" It's basically lipstick on a pig.

    WMDM: I constructed that sentence with the goal of impressing you (and provoking others). Glad it worked.

  4. It would have been easier to avoid the duplicate ordering thing if 1) there had been more choices (you can't expect 8 people to order 8 different entrees when there are only 8 on the menu) and 2) if the options had been more appealing.

  5. I've read several reviews of Stronghill, but for some reason no one has mentioned the biggest problem I have with the place: why are the chairs and booths so daggone uncomfortable??


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