Best Farm-to-Table Dining in Williamsburg
Local Virginia farms, smokehouses, rivers, and offshore waters provide Williamsburg-area restaurants with a rich bounty of ingredients for their menus.
Modern foodies speak of the farm-to-table movement as if they invented it. Defined as locally sourced seasonal foods packed with fresh goodness and free of chemicals required for long-haul cross-country delivery, farm-to-table is actually a time-honored way of life in Greater Williamsburg. People here have been eating this way for centuries.
Cooks have always appreciated the wonderful regional foods grown, harvested, and produced in the waters and land known as The Coastal Plain of Virginia that extends about 100 miles inland and includes three peninsulas. There is Northern Neck, between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers; Middle Peninsula between the Rappahannock and York rivers; and the third, simply called The Peninsula, between the York and James rivers. All are hospitable to many crops — corn, barley, soybeans, asparagus, pumpkins, peas, and strawberries, to name a few. Farmers have long raised hogs, poultry, and lamb here. The riverbeds abound with shellfish. And the area along the Atlantic is where Virginia’s commercial fishermen haul their plentiful catch.
At the Williamsburg restaurants Waypoint Seafood & Grill and Berret’s Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse Grill, you will find menus inspired by Chesapeake ingredients: produce from local farms and seafood harvested from regional waters. Both feature Tommy Leggett oysters, raised in the York River’s clear waters. You’ll also discover an array of tempting crab dishes such as Waypoint’s renowned crab cake served with local ingredients such as succotash created from just-picked garden-fresh produce, and rainbow chard. An herbal mustard sauce crowns the whole. At Berret’s, offshore Atlantic waters provide a wealth of fresh seasonal catches, among the most popular is rockfish in season. But the menu’s most intriguing dish is The Original Blue Plate, comprised of blue crab in an amazing variety: she-crab soup, sautéed lump crab cake, baked crab imperial, all accompanied by crispy fried oysters and shrimp.
The Fat Canary is one of the best-known farm-to-table restaurants in Williamsburg. Located in the heart of the Historic District, it has earned an excellent reputation for its use of fresh local ingredients in creative American fare such as fricassee of rabbit with wild mushrooms, leek and sage accompanied by a lighter-than-air, house-baked buttermilk biscuit. House-made mozzarella is served with local ham from Edwards Virginia Smokehouse, fresh basil pesto, and locally grown heirloom tomatoes dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.
Diners at the James Landing Grille at Kingsmill Resort (the restaurant is only open to resort guests) find a culinary map of sorts, showing where the local oyster beds of the bivalves featured on the menu can be found. Oysters from the Rappahannock, York, and James Rivers, are always lush and plump, and one dish, called Oysters JLG, features oysters topped with bacon, cheddar cheese, spinach, and hollandaise — a real crowd pleaser. Another locally sourced dish is Baywater Crabcakes using famed Chesapeake Bay crabs.
Although “farm-to-table” sounds like simple down-home comfort food, a visit to Café Provencal at the Williamsburg Winery illustrates just how elegant farm-to-table can be. In this fine dining, sophisticated, and romantic setting reminiscent of the South of France, diners enjoy creations inspired by regional foodstuffs, some produced on the winery grounds. There’s foie gras served with plum and rhubarb compote and peanut tuile; vintner's salad composed of mixed greens, red and green grapes, and toasted almonds; hanger steak accompanied by roasted cauliflower, haricots verts, cambozola cheese, and hazelnut butter. Local lamb, pork, produce, and seafood are always featured here, especially in the Farmer Spotlight Series, which includes Border Springs Farm rack of lamb and pork from Autumn Olive Farms. And dishes paired with vintages from the winery make for a great culinary adventure.
The Yorktown Pub, a local favorite, boasts a plethora of indigenous seafood and regional fare. Overlooking the York River, the plain and simple bar offers fish and shellfish fresh from neighboring waters such as tender and juicy York River oysters or middle neck clams steamed or raw on the half shell, or Cape May sea scallops blackened, fried or broiled from nearby Seaford, a settlement dating to 1646. The catch of the day is always fresh and hand battered in house, and the crab cakes are notoriously large. Appetizing desserts come from The Carrot Tree, a small local restaurant chain that takes pride in using local ingredients.
With three locations in Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown, Carrot Tree Kitchens offer fresh-made restaurant and bakery goods from ingredients gathered from within an hour’s drive. The heart of all three stores is the carrot cake, impossibly moist with a fine crumb, developed by owner Debi Helseth from an old family recipe. The food cases here are chockablock with made-from-scratch savory and sweet delights. The Yorktown location is especially charming in a historic stone house in the Riverwalk Shops.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus offer regional dishes prepared with local products. Eggs and pork sausage are from a local farm (“…we even send scraps of our food to help feed the pigs,” says Glenn Helseth, Debi’s husband and partner). Herbs and basil are grown in the Helseth’s own garden. Garlic comes from a gardener in York County; tomatoes are bought from three different growers. The Romas are sun-dried under the Virginia sun. Locally grown cucumbers are used in salads, and pickled in house. Ingredients for the summer crab pickin’s are sourced from within a mile. Don’t miss the Old Dominion ham biscuits made with another family recipe and filled with sugar-cured Virginia ham with chutney dressing.