Friday Forays: Boomers Discover Richmond, Adventure #1: Poe and Perly’s
So Camille and I both took the very interesting I Am Tourism class, offered through Richmond Region Tourism.
Now we are Richmond Ambassadors! This one-day class provides an overview of the hot spots and venues in our fantastic city, followed by a guided bus tour. One of the benefits is a free pass to the many venues around town. We have decided to play tourist in our own fair city, from the Boomers-eye view, and report back with our findings. Tough job, right?!
It seems every major travel reviewer has been rating Richmond as a top city to live, to eat good food, find fantastic wineries and breweries—with new ones opening all the time—and to have adventures. Here are some of those reviews:
- Food 52: The Many (Fried & Friendly) Charms of Richmond, Virginia
- Fodor’s Travel: Richmond, VA
- Yahoo! Finance: Here are the 25 best places to live in the US in 2017
On our Friday Forays, we will visit a Richmond venue, such as a museum, garden, or other attraction in the morning, followed by lunch. At Boomer Connections we really, really love lunch. Dinner is a commitment, so many choices, often requiring a reservation. Lunch is much more easy and breezy—and usually less crowded, and cheaper.
We choose our venue based on the weather, an inside attraction if it is rainy or cold, outside if it’s nice. We choose the restaurant arbitrarily, sometimes because it is a Richmond “institution,” or favorite, or one we have heard is fun, or because it is new, or because we know it has that inexplicable feel that can only be described as “heart.” Because Richmond has so many of these, we are continually delighted at our discoveries.
So here goes, our first Friday Foray: The Edgar Allan Poe Museum followed by lunch at Perly’s Restaurant and Delicatessen.
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum is quirky and fascinating—and very Richmond. A curious mix of light and dark, just like our friend Poe. Although I guess he was mostly dark.
When we entered the museum at the front desk we got a warm welcome from Mr. Tyler Minks, the museum’s Communications Coordinator, who gave us a brief introduction and noted that the museum held the largest collection of Poe memorabilia in the world, “from the socks on his feet to the hair on his head.” (!?!) The world’s largest collection of Poe memorabilia, right in our own backyard? That is a wonderful claim to fame. These mementos include his boyhood bed, clothing, copies of the first editions of his books, his walking stick, his letters and photos, even his waistcoat and stockings. Mr. Minks was not kidding. There behind glass was a lock of Poe’s hair, which had been tested to try to determine how he died, mysteriously.
Although Poe was born in Boston, he lived in Richmond much of his life. The Old Stone House which houses the museum is fascinating in its own right, the oldest remaining house in Richmond, built circa 1650s. It was not actually Poe’s residence, but was saved from destruction in 1913 and loaned to the Poe Foundation. The adjacent Enchanted Garden, inspired by Poe’s poem To One in Paradise, is paved with the very stones he walked upon. The bricks include those from the home where he once lived.
The Garden, by the way, can be rented for special events. While we were visiting, we spoke with some folks who were attending a wedding in the Garden the next day. A Poe themed wedding? Interesting.
There are Poe-crazy people out there. When we visited the courtyard, housing the Poe “shrine,” the bust of the dear man was covered with lipstick kisses. Admirers left behind dried flowers and other small mementos. Apparently, after all these years, Poe is still attractive to the ladies.
We enjoyed the company of the two cats in residence, in honor of Poe’s love of cats, both black of course. Pluto and Edgar were found in the Garden as kittens, a providential discovery, and now roam freely and frolic in the grass.
And this sounds fun: Every 4th Thursday of the month from April to October the Museum hosts “Unhappy Hour” 6-9 PM in the Enchanted Garden, with music, light fare and cash bar. “Come get miserable with us!”
Edgar Allan Poe left behind an amazing body of literature, and his life story is an intriguing, albeit often very sad, dark one. This fantastic, quirky little museum captures that life beautifully. It’s a Richmond treasure.
The Museum is open 10-5 Tuesday-Saturday, 11-5 Sundays, closed Monday. Admission is $8.
And then we were off to Lunch at Perly’s. Oy vey! Such a fabulous foodie experience! We discovered a Jewish deli to write home about. This is one of the few food cultures I have little experience with, but I was about to get educated. Camille, my Boomer partner (in crime!), is from NYC originally, grew up in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood, and has loved this food all her life.
We were welcomed warmly at the door and the host who told us that Rachelle would be serving us. We didn’t realize it, but the lovely lady who took our order is the owner! The fascinating framed vintage photos covering the interior are her family through the generations.
I wanted to try at least six different menu items, but after I ordered the first two, Rachelle suggested that I already had as much as I likely could handle. Getouttatown! Really? She was so very right, however. Matzo ball soup to start, then cabbage rolls. Look at the photos! Have you EVER seen such fabulous soup?!!
I had never heard of, nor tasted cabbage rolls before, and they were delish, the sauce on top slightly sweet. Camille ordered the other deli standby, potato latkes, which I wanted to taste, so I had a bite of hers. Fried to a very delightful crunch on the outside, just-right soft on the inside. As much as we wanted to try to deli sandwiches and so many other intriguing dishes, we had to leave room for the dessert.
The restaurant was getting busy and Rachelle was executing a flawless dance as she greeted, chatted and served. We asked if she had just a few minutes to give us the scoop and she happily paused to brief us on Perly’s history.
Perly’s was founded in 1961, by Harry and Mary Perlstein. It fell into the category of greasy spoon/diner, a Richmond institution for over 50 years. Then, in 2013, the restaurant unexpectedly shut its doors. Rachelle Rosengarten-Roberts and her husband lived nearby and were terribly disappointed because the restaurant had been one of their favorites—Rachelle’s go-to spot for the food she grew up with and loved. It was dear to her heart. Day after day she passed by the shuttered storefront and finally approached her husband with a crazy idea: Let’s buy it and make it our own. And so they did—an ambitious undertaking to say the least.
“We decided to take it back…back to its roots,” said Rachelle. As she sped off to take care of her other customers, the host who introduced paused at the table: “Isn’t she great?” he said. “The best boss I ever had!” I had to agree that she is pretty great, and the space she and her husband have created is a Richmond jewel. The place is buzzing with a most wonderful vibe. Rachelle is so obviously invested in her Perly’s, the staff is welcoming, and the menu is just awesome. Perly’s really is more than lunch, it is an experience.
There are a lot of excellent choices of restaurants in the Richmond area, and I hope to try them all. But truly there is not any other restaurant in town at which I have felt so at home, and that has—and I can’t think of a more appropriate or complimentary term: heart. Perly’s has heart.
As we wrapped up lunch, Camille suggested another favorite from her New York childhood for dessert: chocolate babka.
O…M…G…Again, just check out the photo.
It seems you can go home again, at least in a manner of speaking….and take your friends.
We are lucky to live in Richmond; it is a great city. And Camille and I feel especially fortunate that we get to experience the best of the Richmond region, then write about it. Stay tuned! And…if you want to come along for the ride on our Friday forays, let us know. No kidding, come along. (Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org)