The Aberdeen Barn in Charlottesville, Virginia
Where time stands still - plus happy hour at The Desserterie
Richmond food and travel writer Steve Cook takes us to the Aberdeen Barn in Charlottesville, a steakhouse that stirs memories of the old Aberdeen Barn in Richmond (may it Rest In Peace). Will the C’ville restaurant live up to those fond, decades-old memories of the Barn?
It was nearly 50 years ago that one of my best friends would frequently phone and say, “Let’s go to the Barn.” Regardless of my schedule, I’d make time for the Barn. That’s because the barn to which he referred was the Aberdeen Barn Steak House on West Broad Street. I loved the Barn. I loved the steak and the huge baked potato. But perhaps what I loved the most were the breadsticks and cheddar cheese spread, which you were given as soon as you were seated. I could and often would make a meal on the breadsticks. Then, of course, I’d feast on a second meal of prime rib or New York strip.
Perhaps the fact that there were very few restaurants in Richmond at the time makes the Barn stand out in my mind as being more special than it was.
The Aberdeen Barn has been gone for years. After it closed, the building was converted to an Awful Arthur’s and then to a Chinese restaurant. Today, there’s a carwash on the site.
So, when this same friend called me last week and asked me if I wanted to go to the Barn in Charlottesville, he didn’t have to ask me twice. I found my shoes (I haven’t needed them much over the past two years), grabbed a mask, and headed out the door.
Taking the DeLorean to Charlottesville
Time changes everything. I wondered just how the Barn had changed in the past half century. While my friend has been to the Charlottesville Aberdeen Barn (2018 Holiday Dr.) several times over the years, I have never been. So, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I was prepared to be disappointed. Nothing ever seems to be as good as you remember it to have been “back in the day.”
So, when we turned off Route 29 onto Holiday Drive, I was somewhat surprised to see that the building looked just like I remembered “my” Barn on Broad. I’ve done a little research and discovered that the Charlottesville Aberdeen Barn was built in 1965. I’m guessing that’s about the same time the Richmond location opened. Seems the owner admired the fancy New York City steakhouses and tried to replicate that.
Inside, this Barn was filled with UVA memorabilia on the walls. Otherwise, it was pretty much as I had remembered. As we were seated in a dark wooden booth, very much like I recalled from the past, I got to thinking. Being a fatalist, my first thought was that I’m sure they don’t still have the breadsticks and cheese. The thought saddened me.
As soon as we had entered, the hostess and the servers began to greet my friend: “Hey, Mike,” and “How you doing, Mike?” I guess Mike has been a regular but he had never invited me. Some friend, I thought.
When our server brought the iced water to the table, he said the most beautiful thing. “I’ll be right back with your breadsticks and cheese.” Wow, the Aberdeen Barn really is the place where time stands still. That includes the menu.
Where the rubber meets the road
Of course, nothing remains the same. Does it? Today, Richmond boasts some pretty fancy steakhouses – including places where you pay an arm and a leg for the steak and then the other hand or foot for the baked potato or another side.
But, again, time hasn’t changed that much at the Aberdeen Barn. Yes, the steaks are priced at today’s prices, but the huge baked potato is included. While I didn’t care for an appetizer, seeing that I had my (free) breadsticks and cheese, I did notice that the restaurant may have actually upped their game in the appetizer category over the last 50 years. You can start your meal with French onion soup, clams casino, shrimp cocktail, even crab cakes. In fact, the server asked the party at the table next to ours, “How is your escargot?”
Those things look too much like snails to me. And who wants snails with steak?
I told my server that I couldn’t choose between the New York Strip ($48) or the prime rib. The regular cut is $45, but you can get the extra thick cut for $57.
The server immediately replied, “Have the prime rib.” So, I did … the regular cut. By the time the meal arrived, probably no more than 10 minutes later, we had gone through two baskets of rolls and breadsticks and two ramekins of cheese spread.
But even if I had been starving, the prime rib would have been way more than I could have handled in one sitting. It was everything one could hope for in a prime rib. This prime rib was every bit as melt-in-your-mouth tender and delicious as any prime rib I have ever had. For the most part, nothing seems to taste as good as it did when I was young. This was a pleasant exception.
I’m a big fan of the baked potato, too. In fact, I think potatoes may be the most wonderful food ever created. This baked baby was big and beautiful and filled with baked potato tastiness. Needless to say, I enjoyed my meal immensely.
Now, you may be thinking that the Aberdeen Barn is a place old guys go to dine. And I can’t argue with that. But I saw many guests who looked as if they could have come straight from the nearby UVA campus. However, if you do enjoy traipsing down memory lane while you feast on certified Angus beef, and if you do find happiness when you receive old-fashioned friendly service in a good old-fashioned setting, then I’m thinking you may be the perfect candidate for the hour or so drive to C’ville. Because no matter how much things may have changed over the last 50 years, it still doesn’t get much better than this.
While in the area:
Happy Hour of the Week
About five years ago, when my office was over on Hull Street Road near Brandermill, I used to frequent The Desserterie at 6161 Harbourside Center Loop. It was a little dessert shop with beautiful homemade cakes, cookies, pies, and other sweets. Ultimately, they added gelato, for which I have a very special fondness. So, often, I’d sneak out of work, walk across the street and enjoy a tasty treat.
It was probably fortuitous that, in those days, the Desserterie had not expanded its menu. Today, you can enjoy lunch, dinner, and brunch, as well as cocktails and wine. Their online menu is rather extensive, considering this started off as a little bake shop.
If I were still working next door, my afternoon break may include a little something from their Happy Hour. Here are the details.
Happy Hour runs from 3 until 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Each day offers something different:
- Wine Wednesday – All bottles of wine are half price with any appetizer or entrée purchase.
- Tito Thursday – All Tito’s Vodka drinks are half price.
- Friday and Saturday – All mixed drinks are $2 off and all glasses of wine are $2 off.