Hill Café 

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Though the has had its ups and downs since its inception a decade or so ago, this corner has stayed lighted, proof that there is demand for a convenient neighborhood restaurant in Church Hill.

Veteran Shockoe Slip chef-restaurateur Michelle Williams, who co-owns The Hard Shell and its neighbor Europa and who is a resident of Church Hill, has taken over the reins of the Hill Café with co-owners Ted Wallof and Jared Golden and is giving this cozy dining room a new life. Chef Williams has put her stamp on the current menu, which perhaps offers fancier food than it needs to, but she avoids clichés by giving almost everything a twist, which probably annoys traditionalists, but they ought to get over it. There are lots of choices from simple salads, soups and burgers to more exotic and trendy entrees of seafood and meat.

The starters ($3-$7) are almost all good for sharing — homemade potato chips, coconut shrimp, a hummus plate, crab and artichoke dip, bean cakes, a mushroom and cheese quesadilla. Salads range from a simple house mixture ($3.50) to those that make a satisfying summer entree, such as one with portabella mushrooms with Asian seasonings ($6), or a rare beef sirloin salad over spinach with fried onions and blue-cheese dressing ($8).

Entrees ($13-$18) are dressed in Asian, Southwestern, or merely fashionable clothes. Grilled tuna is served over pasta with vegetables, ginger, cilantro and a curry broth. Crab cakes are paired with Smithfield ham and are accompanied by a spicy pineapple remoulade. I liked the chile- and tomato-glazed grilled shrimp and scallops served with a slice of corn, potato and goat-cheese torta, a nice foil to the zesty shrimp but short on goat cheese for my cheese-addicted palate.

The Hill Café has a wonderful patina of age, a kind of urban permanence. Those who frequent the corner restaurants of the Fan will certainly feel at home in this typical turn-of-the century space that keeps on working, despite the weird inconveniences of adaptive reuse. Let's hope the Hill Café continues to be a neighborhood institution.


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