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The Williamsburg Lodge’s Sweet Tea & Barley celebrated its grand opening Wednesday with an open house featuring live music, refreshing cocktails and southern-inspired hors d'oeuvres.
The new restaurant and lounge has actually been quietly open since November, but Food and Beverage Director/Executive Chef Anthony Frank said the decision to hold off until March for the open house allowed the staff time to work out any kinks.
Taking over the space the Lodge’s Garden Lounge used to occupy, Sweet Tea & Barley aims to mix comfort and elegance to create a dining experience that’s both welcoming and invigorating, according to Frank.
“We looked at what comfort is. What do we like to enjoy in the comfort of our homes?” Frank said of designing the menu. “We wanted something elegant but not stuffy.”
Frank has been with Colonial Williamsburg since 2006, and he views this latest venture as an opportunity to “break the mold” and experiment with more modern, cutting-edge flavor profiles while still upholding his employer’s reputation for tradition and excellence.
The menu is broken down into categories like “nibbles,” “tossed,” “stacked,” “rations,” “supper” and “indulgence,” which represent food categories like appetizers, salads, sandwiches, sides, entrees and desserts.
Frank selected a few of the restaurant's most popular items to offer up at Wednesday’s open house, including shrimp rolls, pretzels and pub cheese and char-grilled skirt steak with tomato relish and chimichurri sauce.
Also on display at the open house was Sweet Tea & Barley’s eponymous signature cocktail – a mixture of Jefferson’s Bourbon, citrus oleo-saccharum and chilled mint tea.
“We try to stay on the cutting edge of trends – what foodies and wine and beer people are doing in the area,” Frank said.
Part of the push toward updated, bolder flavor profiles is to attract younger guests to the restaurant. Frank believes young people are more willing than ever before to spend their limited disposable income on good food and beverages.
“The whole demographic of dining is changing,” Frank said. “I want to appeal to Millennials and to their parents.”
In keeping with this approach, Sweet Tea & Barley offers several different dining experiences. Guests looking for a traditional sit-down meal will be ushered into the updated but still sedate dining room, while more casual snacks and cocktails can be enjoyed in either the lounge complete with bar, fireplace and piano – or the patio, which features fire-pit tables and heated umbrellas.
Frank and Restaurant Chef Sean Gonzalez are also eager to incorporate locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Care is taken to favor Virginia-produced meats and spirits, and some of the restaurant's produce – figs, pomegranates and persimmons, especially – are grown right in the historic area.
Though the Lodge, and Sweet Tea & Barley by extension, caters to its fair share of tourists, Frank believes the restaurant has plenty of appeal for locals, as well.
“The food, the price point, the entertainment is all really going towards driving in locals,” Frank said.
Timeline Jazz Quartet can be found playing on the terrace most Fridays, and Smith and Wade take the stage with their unique blend of acoustic ballads, standards, Top 40 and good-time rock 'n' roll on Saturdays.
The music, food and cocktails combine to create and atmosphere Sweet Tea & Barley’s staff hopes will make it a memorable night out for tourists and go-to hangout for locals. The common thread is a sense of comfort that will draw both crowds in.
“It’s a space where people could have a small bite or drink or a meal – and it’s all fine southern cuisine,” said Melissa Moses, Williamsburg Lodge’s general manager. “We’d like to make this a fun, inviting place.”