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The patio at Mom's Siam in Carytown fills up quickly. Photo by James Dickinson.
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The Lily Pad is nothing fancy — it's the location and company that matters. Photo by Steve Hedberg
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Patrick Henry's deck catches cool breezes, even on a hot day. Photo by Steve Hedberg
In the tradition of hard-hitting investigative journalism you've come to expect of me, I go to the ends of my world to bring back the news of exterior eats. This is not an exhaustive list, but my eccentric and impressionistic one. I'm not a foodie but a reviewer of views and vibes.
Cornering Carytown: Mom's Siam
2811 W. Cary St., 359-7606, or elisink.com/sub/siam/index.htm
On a fine evening, this patio gets busy early, often with a line of diverse clientele waiting. Mom's is family-run and an immigrant success story. The view of Carytown toward the Byrd Theatre on a Friday night gives you a sense of a city excited about the weekend. I'm having the mojito.
Over It All: The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing
4708 E. Old Main St., 622-2628, or boathouserichmond.com/rocketts_landing
The glorious panorama from the sleek outdoor deck over this sensual and historic bend of the James River gives Richmond a sense of majesty. Christopher Newport and the boys of 1607 rounded this same curve. Later there were bustling dockside villages of Port Mayo, Rocketts and Fulton. In the 1970s, boat builder Newton Ancarrow began river conservation efforts that ultimately made a place like The Boathouse possible. Following a storm (and my half-price happy-hour pizza), I'm mesmerized by the dramatic play of river and clouds, and the server points to a rainbow.
Nestled in the Fan: F.W. Sullivan's Fan Bar & Grille
2401 W. Main St., 308-8576, or f wsullivans.com
Here, it's about the weeping cherry tree. This lovely natural companion isn't actually on the Sullivan patio; it drapes across from next door like a feature in a Toulouse Lautrec poster. There's an enchanting quality about the way it shields patrons from both sun and rain. Try visiting on a weekday night, when it's not as busy. From behind the patio's low brick wall, enjoy the view of the neighborhood as the sun goes down and the lights come up. There are happy-hour specials and brunch, too.
Land's End: The Lily Pad
9680 Osborne Turnpike, 795-4155
Yes, Richmond is on a navigable river, and no, not everyone owns a yacht. The Lily Pad is a sky-blue cinder-block building painted with its namesake plants. Outside, there's an assortment of metal and plastic patio furnishings, frog statuettes, gliders that seat parties of eight, and, most importantly, a grand view of the river, boats, trees and sky. While I pair my can of Yuengling with a tasty crab dip, a storm brews over Charles City County, and a jaunty red speedboat docks at nearby Osborne Landing. The Lily Pad is nothing fancy (except for "Sushi Tuesdays"), but that's not why you go here; it's the location and the company that matter.
Skyline Serenade: Legend Brewing Company
321 W. Seventh St., 232-3446, or legendbrewing.com
Legend Brewing, a pioneer among Old Manchester businesses, opened its pub and deck in 1997. Legend is our own, so when you quaff the porter or the brown (my faves), you're supporting your local brewer. There's also a regular schedule of live acoustic and Americana music. And at night, you can take in the lights of downtown Richmond and generally feel good to be alive.
Casual Feel: Capital Ale House, Midlothian
13831 Village Place Drive, 780-2537, or capitalalehouse.com
There's a mighty thirst down in central Chesterfield that Capital Ale strives to quench (80 draught beers assist in the effort). Its stone-and-wood veranda is also appealing, with fans to combat heat, a high ceiling and a big country-style fireplace flanked by a stack of firewood. A grouping of chairs by the hearth indicates you could enjoy this space in practically any weather (including periodic showers, as was my case). A line of trees and other plantings make an effort to obscure the parking lot. Props, too, to the blues playing on the house stereo system.
Beach Bar Sans Surf: The Sunset Grill
1601 Hockett Road, 784-4500, or sunsetgrillgoochland.com
I was expecting a place that sought to emulate the Don Henley song, but instead the Sunset — with its wooden siding, enclosed patio and open-air seating section — looks like a spot that should be at the end of a wharf with boats bobbing nearby. A maritime motif carries through to the patio. There, a waitress carries buckets of beer on ice to the thirsty patrons. She calls folks darlin' and doesn't ask a dime for my tea. It's worth a trip to Manakin-Sabot.
Like a Vacation: Havana '59
16 N. 17th St., 780-2822, or havana59.net
The industrial metal steps leading to the upper deck at this venerable restaurant, opened in 1994, make it seem somewhat enigmatic. The theatrical design, made to appear worn and evocative of pre-Castro Cuba, has aged well, and it's been supplemented by the patina from various Shockoe Bottom storms. I sigh at the wonderful dusk-time view of the multihued red bricks of Shockoe, the cupola of the Masonic Meeting House and the big industrial windows of the Philip Morris plant-turned-residences. A sign proclaims, "The Cocktail Capital of the World," and that's fine by me. There's also live music on Saturdays.
Above the Rest: Amuse
200 N. Boulevard, 340-1580, or vmfa.museum/amuse
Sit back and enjoy the overhead view of the sculpture garden from the deck at Amuse, the fine-dining restaurant at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. If you've wandered out there without your sunglasses, the solicitous staff offers to lend you a pair of colorful 1980s Wayfarers that are dispensed from a silver bucket. You may wish to retreat to this deck if you've spent the day exploring 5,000 years of creative endeavor, or just to get two fingers of that special something, read or use the Wi-Fi. There's the White House-like Pauley Education Center below and the spire of St. Benedictine's Catholic Church beyond, and a sense of refinement and ease. Amuse is open for lunch Monday through Saturday, brunch on Sunday, and dinner Thursday and Friday.
Church Hill Oasis: Patrick Henry's
2300 E. Broad St., 644-4242, or thephpub.com
The deck behind Patrick Henry's Pub and Grille feels secluded because you need to take a couple of staircases through two pre-Civil War buildings to get there. Once outside, old brick walls and balconied back porches surround you, and the grand branches of a male ginkgo tree supplement the shade of table umbrellas. Around you in the quiet, gates sometimes squeak, and big old doors shut. A good breeze makes it a perfect spot even on a very hot day.
On Track: Iron Horse Restaurant
100 S. Railroad Ave., Ashland, 752-6410, or ironhorserestaurant.com
Near the corner of Railroad Avenue and England Street, the Iron Horse features a rare view — that of a working railway. You can see the station from where you're sitting. The eight tables arranged on the sidewalk are partially covered by several small metal awnings. But late in the afternoon during the summer, this side of the street is in the shade. You also are within sight of the handsome campus of Randolph-Macon College and in the commercial heart of the small town of Ashland, which residents have dubbed "the Center of the Universe."