I’m going to tell you about a divine place to eat but it comes with a caveat: It’s south of the river. And not just a little to the south of the river like Manchester — where eateries struggle despite their proximity to the city proper — but nearly 20 miles south. OK, it’s in Chester.
Some of you will stop reading here, because how many Richmonders are willing to drive to Chester, even for a finely executed meal? But if you’re sticking with me, consider Divine Restaurant, a place that will get zero hippness points from the culinary cognoscenti given its corny name, strip-mall location and unimaginative décor.
That’s a shame because there’s plenty to like about a kitchen turning out dishes as stunning as they are delicious, using fresh, high-quality ingredients presented by a personable, professional staff that not only can speak to the details of the menu, but also, for the most part, has been trained in the finer points of service.
Make one of your opening choices fried chicken skins ($10), a childlike way to have all the cracklin’ pleasure of fried chicken without any of the protein of actual meat. The flavorful purple potato croquette that accompanies them amps up the fun, while making our table wish they were available a la carte.
In the heat of September, the kitchen is still offering a daily chilled summer soup ($7), concocting a savory mango Dreamsicle — rich, yes, but also one that veers clear of the ordinary with a vibrant basil-oil drizzle.
Small plates offer myriad ways to assemble a luscious meal without even looking at the mains. The usual suspect, seared scallops ($14), swell with flavor thanks to a warm mushroom and red pepper salad, and a tantalizing swipe of vanilla-lime cream. Lamb chop lollipops ($13) are just plain fun to eat out of hand or jazzed up with their plate mates: boursin goat cheese, beet puree and sweet pea coulis.
One dish among several that underscores the back-of-the-house talent is jaeger schnitzel ($21), a tender pork loin bathed in hunter’s sauce — a classic brown mushroom sauce — with a mound of pillowy spaetzle and brilliant green beans on the side. Dressed-up, moist, Joyce Farms pan-roasted chicken ($21) takes on earthy flavors after being rubbed with porcini mushrooms, a fitting complement to the nuttiness of quinoa, forest mushrooms and obscenely buttery asparagus that share real estate on the plate.
Divine is just as strong on a Sunday morning. Brunch options span a deconstructed Spanish frittata to a bratwurst sandwich and omelets in between. Crepes are the size of plates — a good thing in this eater’s estimation — and the classic combination of Black Forest ham and Gruyere cheese ($9) gets the star treatment with a divine Dijon mustard-fennel-potato cream sauce. The accompanying mascarpone goat cheese grits are every bit as over-the-top rich as they sound.
Ask for the BLT ($12) and you’ll get an upscale take meant to be savored as an entree, not a sandwich. Supported by ciabatta under a mountain of grilled tomatoes, apple-wood-smoked bacon, wilted arugula and two sunny-side-up eggs, its smoky sass is augmented with bacon-tomato jam to take it over the top.
For a kitchen that gets so much right over three visits, the surprise is lackluster bread. Its flaccid crust and ho-hum crumb make it easy to ignore. Maybe this is a good thing given the delectable plates that follow, but in these days of breadless restaurants or those that charge for it, better not to offer any than present this version.
My preferred perch is the compact patio out back — not for its view of asphalt and grass — but for its thoughtful details. The couches and a coffee table for lounging with drinks, big, colorful flowering plants and plenty of lanterns, make it feel gardenlike, and its asymmetrical canopies provide relief from sunny skies.
The chef’s tastes are easy to appreciate, which means you don’t have to be a food adventurer to fit in at Divine. But if you live in the city, you’ll have to make that drive. Just don’t pack a lunch for the trip, because once you get to Chester, you’re going to want to eat. S
13127 Rivers Bend Blvd., Chester
Mondays-Saturdays 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m.