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Houndstooth Café 

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on the northwest corner of the intersection of Routes 54 and 301 in Hanover County sticks to big-flavor Southern basics with a lineup of barbecue, pork, beef or chicken plates with two veggies and rolls, or deliciously dark and rustic hush puppies. Most entrees are $9-$20.

Fresh seafood is referenced on the menu, but for this you have to turn your attention to a white board on the wall for a surprising list of 21 seafood specials — more than any other restaurant I've been to in Richmond. And they aren't just your ordinary baked, broiled or fried plattertudes.

I ordered the Seafood Flounder, an admiral's-size fillet rolled up, stuffed with copious amounts of crab, shrimp and scallops, then broiled. On the side: boiled potatoes and green beans cooked with smoked bacon. My wife chose the Chilean Sea Bass, one of her favorites for grilling. The generously cut 1-inch-thick fillet was lightly breaded yet was a little dry and short on flavor from too long under the broiler.

We also ordered an unusual sausage, apple and onion soup, the mini crab cakes and a gratin dish of crab-stuffed mushroom caps. Aside from the Hollandaiselike sauce applied to all the seafood items, each maintained a unique identity, and the crab cakes tie for the best I've had anywhere.

We can personally vouch for the warm Derby Pie (pecans, chocolate chips and bourbon), and the warm brownie topped with ice cream and fudge.

The horn-of-plenty menu is balanced by occasional reminders that you're not in a fine-dining establishment: plastic water cups, country window treatments and too much lighting. Yet rare is the occasion around Richmond to feel like you're on your own front porch sipping ice tea or a beer with your neighbors while you wait for an open table. Unless, of course, you're at home, which is what Houndstooth feels like.



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