That special place on the corner in Urbanna
by Tom Hardin
In small counties and towns throughout Rivah country, restaurants come and go. The best ones stick around because they give customers what they want: good food and reasonable prices.
Middlesex County has several restaurants that continue to thrive. Virginia Street Cafe in Urbanna is one of them.
The cafe opened on June 16, 1989, and will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2014. When it opened, there were four other restaurants in Urbanna, and of those four only one—Marshall’s Drug (old faithful)—is still serving food today at its soda fountain.
Judy Erskine is the owner and co-manager of Virginia Street Cafe and her son, Ray Wade Jr., is the co-manager.
What is the secret of their success? “Good food and consistency,” says Judy. “We offer a good, honest product at reasonable prices.”
There’s more to it than that.
Virginia Street Cafe has one of the prime locations in Urbanna. It sits on the corner of Cross and Virginia streets and its large front windows give diners a great view of who and what is coming and going in Urbanna. The cafe is a sociable place, where friends often meet, laugh and discuss the problems of the world.
201 Virginia Street
Monday: 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Tuesday: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Wednesday: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Thursday: 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Friday: 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Saturday: 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
On the Menu
Breakfast platters: $5.75-$8.25
Breakfast buffet on Saturday, Sunday: $7.95
Lunch platters: $6.95-$9.95
Dinner entrees: $8.95-$19.95
Did you know?
Virginia Street Cafe is directly across Virginia Street from R.S. Bristow Store, the oldest retail establishment in Middlesex County.
Virginia Street Cafe is the former Urbanna 5&10 Cent Store. Once Judy acquired it, she pulled up the old linoleum floor and refinished the beautiful maple flooring, installed ceiling fans, lowered the ceilings, and turned the old store into something very charming. It has a small but fully-stocked bar, room to seat 80, and plenty of elbow space between tables.
The cafe also has one the best cooks around. Connie Henderson of Lancaster has been home cooking there for 18 years. “Is Connie cooking tonight?” is the first thing many customers ask, said Judy.
Virginia Street Cafe is not a fancy restaurant by any means. Its tables have no linen cloths, its silverware is wrapped in paper napkins, and its wait staff has no uniforms. But diners don’t come to Virginia Street for ambience and atmosphere; they come for really good food at good prices.
As I was leaving the cafe one night, I saw an old friend eating. “Every time I come in here I see you,” I told him.
His response: “Best food in town.”
On that evening, I knew what I was going to order before I walked in the building. When soft-shell crabs are in season and on the menu, Judy always puts a big white sign on her front door to lure in soft-shell lovers like myself. At Virginia Street Cafe, fried soft-shell crabs are the “star of the show.”
Fried soft-shells, along with fried oysters, crab cakes and the seafood platter, are Virginia Street’s most popular entrees. On my plate I got four nice-sized soft-shells, two sides and hush puppies.
My wife got the special—blackened sea trout, salad bar, baked sweet potato, and hush puppies.
My crabs were great, as always, as were the hush puppies and cole slaw, both homemade and the best I’ve ever had. No kidding, the absolute best.
As an appetizer, we shared a bowl of another Virginia Street Cafe specialty—cream of crab soup. Again, among the best crab soups I’ve ever had.
For dessert, Bev and I fought with dueling spoons for the cafe’s homemade bread pudding with lemon sauce.
I also had two beers (I heard they were good for you) and Bev had iced tea (she’s just not into health). Our total bill before taxes: $46.
Jill Taylor, a waitress at the cafe for 22 years, said that in addition to seafood, the most popular dishes on the menu are fried chicken (I’ve had it and it’s really good), marinated chicken breast, meat loaf (the recipe of Judy’s mother), marinated pork chops, and ol’ reliable—hamburger steak with grilled onions.
The salad bar is fresh and has all my favorites. The soups are all homemade.
The cafe also serves a good breakfast and lunch. Whenever my youngest daughter, Molley, is in town, she always makes a trip to the cafe for its club sandwich.
- Always find out what the special is. Once I got a plate of barbecued ribs and oysters, salad bar, baked potato and hush puppies for $12.99. The specials are sometimes written on a chalkboard, and sometimes not.
- Judy learned the trade while working at Taylor’s Restaurant in Deltaville in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Taylor’s was owned by the Wade family and was the most popular restaurant in Middlesex County at the time. Taylor’s seafood buffet attracted diners from all over and lines of people waiting to be seated at times. From Taylor’s, Judy brought recipes for several of her best cafe dishes.
- Virginia Street Cafe has been cooking for the Middlesex Kiwanis Club’s weekly dinner meetings for about 20 years. This involves enough food for 35 meals. “They love the fried chicken and fried oysters,” she said.
- Judy’s father, the late Everett H. Johnston, played a huge role in the success of Virginia Street Cafe. Mr. Johnston, a World War II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, passed away last year. Mr. Johnston grew much of the vegetables and fruit Judy used at her restaurant. He also built by hand all of the tables and other pieces of wood furniture in the restaurant. “He will be missed,” said Judy.