Johnson's Grill; The Old Original Bookbinder's Restaurant
There's nothing fancy, or even remarkable, about , which sits humbly a few blocks behind the open-and-shut restaurants and clubs of Shockoe Bottom. But since it opened 30 years ago, Johnson's Grill or Mrs. Johnson's, as it is more affectionately known has been a refuge for a family of regulars.
Johnson's lunch menu of fundamental, orthodox Southern home-cooking is geared to those who like fast decisions, fast service and a cheap lunch. There are only a handful of items, and none of them is more complicated than the briefest of descriptions will complete: fish, country steak, liver, pork chops, spareribs, meatloaf, chicken (breast, leg). Each is available either as a sandwich ($2.50-$4.25) or dinner plate ($4-$7.50).
Get the dinner and you get to choose two vegetables: mac and cheese (it's a vegetable 'round here), lima beans, pickled beets, greens, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, coleslaw, honey carrots, cabbage, potato salad, yams and string beans. For an extra buck or so you can add a vegetable to a sandwich order.
Food comes to your table on plastic divided cafeteria plates with Mrs. Johnson's soft and buttery yeast rolls on the side. Homemade peach cobbler and some nonhomemade items round out the dessert offerings.
is certainly the most famous restaurant in Philadelphia, and with a history of more than 100 years, it has proved its lasting power. And in what must be the most ambitious restaurant project in Richmond in years, the Old Original Bookbinder's has come to town.
Seating 300 in several dining rooms, the restaurant has found a handsome home in one of the refurbished buildings on Tobacco Row. If the decor is traditional and comfortable, so is the menu.
Among the appetizers ($6.95-$14.95), you will find a shrimp cocktail, clams Casino, fried calamari, crab cakes, and fresh oysters and clams on the half shell. The old-fashioned snapper (turtle) soup ($3.75/$5.25), billed as "Bookbinder's World Famous," is rich and complex, and a cruet of sherry on the side adds a charming touch.
A dozen main dishes ($16.95- $25.95) featuring seafood are clearly house specialties, ranging from fried shrimp to a rich shrimp-and-crab casserole ("imperial"), and, of course, there is a lobster tank where you can choose a crustacean ranging from 2 to 5 pounds (market price). Fish are frequently grilled, and most are enhanced with a simple sauce.
The wine list is fairly extensive and expensive, most bottles above $25. And as one would expect, the service was attentive and amiably casual.
The staff seems pleased with the reception in Richmond. There's much about Bookbinder's that is very Richmond, indeed.