Early winter is always a time of nexus for sports lovers' multiple foci, and this year is particularly good from my perspective.
Why is this germane to a restaurant review? Because, as any sports fan will tell you, where you watch is nearly as important as what you watch. The holidays make it difficult. Instead of at home, on the couch with the clicker, where you belong, you end up racked on your in-laws' footstool, a paper plateful of pretzels, cheese sauce and rum balls in one hand and a homebrew in the other, trying to subtly ignore the conversation about Aunt Moolie's bursitis while Antwaan Randle El rips off a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown. It's too much to handle gracefully.
After your couch, a bar is the second-best place to watch a game. Superior among bars are restaurant bars, because you can have a real meal with your beer and sports instead of dining on frozen pizzas and snack mix. The pinnacle is a restaurant bar in an establishment with strong team loyalties. Such places are blissful. And it doesn't matter if the restaurant is affiliated with a team you don't necessarily pull for, as long as you don't pull against the house favorite. All that matters is that the staff, patrons and you all share a common trait: a curious and rabid emotional link to the success of one group of humans attempting to get a ball or other object somewhere another group of humans doesn't want it to go. Ah, sports. Ah, humanity.
The Forest is a pinnacle type of place. They serve the right type of food: hearty, tasty and plenty. The prices are such that you can watch the whole game, celebrate or commiserate afterward and walk out with a few bills left over. And the place is owned, operated and patronized by sports junkies with not one but two strong team leanings. I'm surprised the place hasn't burned down since it opened 10 years ago. But it is still standing, and due to some current events, it is the place to be for sports fans in Richmond.
First, the food. It's good home cookin'. Every night of the week offers a couple of specials such as Tuesday's all-you-can-eat lake trout (fried, broiled or blackened) for $6.95 and Friday's prime rib special for $8.95 or $15.95, depending on the size of the cut. I had the large cut, of course. It wasn't gussied up. It was 16 oz. of juicy, tender prime rib. The potatoes were gravied, and the green beans were seasoned like Mom's, with onion and pork I believe. The crab-cake special on Thursdays features G.M. Diane Hood's recipe, which calls for a pair of plump, fried cakes that are stuffed with crabmeat and little else. They're better at $13.95 than those a lot of places offer for five or six dollars more. Two veggies accompany most dinners and also a house salad. Draft beers run $1.35 for a 10 oz. glass. It just gets better and better.
Here's the kicker: Owners, Ed Boggs and Joe Valenti are from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh respectively. The place is plastered with Eagles and Steelers memorabilia. In the very plausible event that the Steelers and Eagles play in the Super Bowl (go Steelers), they plan a blowout. I couldn't get many specifics out of Diane, but she sounded both excited and fearful. I can't wait. Regardless, The Forest is a top-notch place, serving tasty comfort food at reasonable prices in a sports-lover's paradise. S
Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years in every job from dishwasher to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.
The Forest Restaurant ($$)
5857 Forest Hill Ave.
Lunch and dinner: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner: Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.