Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Fit for a king: holiday dining in the Historic Triangle

From cookies with Santa to all you can eat glazed ham and turkey, Busch Gardens has options even Scrooge would approve of. (Courtesy Busch Gardens)
From cookies with Santa to all you can eat glazed ham and turkey, Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town has options even Scrooge would approve of. (Courtesy Busch Gardens)

Christmas dining in the Historic Triangle isn’t just about tradition in the colonial sense.

It’s about historic and nostalgic influences in a variety of settings, from the farm-to-table scene to Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg.

For Ian Robbins, who started as the executive chef at Williamsburg Winery in March, Christmas dining means a contemporary take on the region’s agricultural roots: it’s as farm-fresh as possible.

The winery, located on a 300-acre farm, has a hoop house, which is a tunnel-like structure that functions as a greenhouse and helps extend the growing season with indoor carrots, salad greens, arugula, spinach, beets and radishes.

Some of that bounty will show up at Cafe Provencal in a four-course Christmas tasting menu showcasing local produce and fresh interpretations of seasonal ingredients.

“We want to make it approachable for everyone,” Robbins said.

Hoop house carrots
Ian Robbins, executive chef at Williamsburg Winery, with carrots harvested from the farm’s hoop house. (Courtesy Williamsburg Winery)

The first course is a butternut squash bisque, with heirloom carrot, a sage marshmallow and savory granola.

The salad course features local beets, local apples and local goat cheese, along with baby greens and a vinaigrette made with wine from the winery.

After a main course of Wagyu beef from a Colorado supplier, dessert will be a pumpkin pound cake with Mexican-inspired hot chocolate and a coffee-mushroom pudding. The pumpkin and mushrooms are locally grown.

“We’re trying to keep it as local as we can,” he said.

Still, the winery and Robbins would like to broaden their home-grown offerings even more.

“Our goal is to have a lot of the ingredients be from our own farm, which is different,” said Michael Kimball, assistant vice president of marketing for the Williamsburg Winery, meaning different than just buying from local producers.

To that end, Robbins would like to grow more vegetables on the property, rehabilitate a chicken coop and tend to some fig and apple trees that have been neglected. He’d like to dry cure meats in the wine cellar.

Also, the winery is building a production kitchen, adding extra storage and the potential to have an onsite butcher.

“It’s a farm-to-farm dining experience,” Kimball said. “We are located on a farm.”

Christmas dinner at the Williamsburg Winery costs $ 65 per person, excluding tax and tip. To make a reservation, call (757) 941-0317. A credit card is required for the booking.

For holiday dining with an 18th-century vibe, Colonial Williamsburg’s historic taverns will be open on Christmas Day: Shields Tavern, King’s Arms Tavern, Christiana Campbell’s Tavern and Chownings Tavern.

The menu will be same at each of the restaurants, with classics such as corn chowder, prime rib, roasted turkey breast and caramel apple pie.

(Courtesy The Whaling Company)
The Whaling Company will be open on Christmas with one set of dinner options for adults and another for patrons who are age 12 and younger. (Courtesy The Whaling Company)

Christmas dinner at one of the taverns costs $70.95 for adults and $24.95 for children between the ages of 6 and 12, including tax and gratuity.

Advance prepaid reservations are a must. To make one, call (888) 965-7254.

Tradition of a more recent vintage flavors dining at Christmas Town in Busch Gardens.

The holiday lineup includes an all-you-can-eat Black Forest buffet, with hand-sliced turkey, apricot-glazed ham and Trappers Smokehouse chili.

For nostalgia buffs or parents with children, Christmas Town offers a buffet lunch with Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, a carving station, pasta and a salad bar. There are also photo-ops with Rudolph and his love interest, Clarice.

Dining with Rudolph starts at $31 for adults and $20 for children between the ages of three and nine. For more information, go here.

Busch Gardens is open Christmas Eve from 2-10 p.m. and closed on Christmas Day.

Speaking of children, The Whaling Company, 494 McLaws Circle, will be open on Christmas with one set of dinner options for adults and another for patrons who are age 12 and younger.

The adult selections include traditional dishes such as baked salmon or filet, but not holiday fare.

Adults cost $30 each, not including tax, tip, dessert or alcohol. Children cost $10.

The kids’ selections include baked macaroni and cheese or pasta marinara with green beans and ice cream.

“We take care of the kids so mom and dad are happy,” said Vicki Barbour, the owner.

Reservations are required. For more information, call 757-229-0275.


This story has been corrected. The name of the executive chef at Williamsburg Winery is Ian Robbins, not Phillips.

Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley is a former Miami Herald business reporter, a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and an attorney. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post,, and Talking Points Memo. Her recent book, Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital, was shortlisted for the 2017 Mark Lynton History Prize. Her first book, The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy, won the 2005 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

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