I travel quite a bit. I dine out quite a bit. It is a rare occasion when I find a restaurant that is worthy of its own Chronicle. After 12 years of pretty much non-stop travel, I can think of 6 that stand out:
Beau Jo’s Pizza – Idaho Springs CO…Gritty Mc Duffs – Freeport ME…Terry’s Turf Club – Cincinnati OH…Crook’s Corner – Chapel Hill NC…The Outback Steakhouse on Huguenot Road in Richmond VA…and now Perky’s in Alta Vista VA.
Perky’s would be a perfect place to feature on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives show on Food Network. As I walked across the gravel parking lot toward the gray painted brick building with just a few windows, I kinda wondered if I was given false information. Maybe the clerk at the hotel told me about this “best restaurant in Virginia, no lie” place because I complained about the lack of towels in my room, and he had to hump a set up to me. Maybe this dude wanted to punish me. (I had no towels. I don’t think I was out of line to ask for some) Sending me to some dump would be the desk clerk’s way of spitting on my burger.
Perky’s is no dump.
But…with all due respect to the proprietors of this Perky’s place, the outside appearance doesn’t exactly say, “Eat Me”. Hmmm…I guess you really wouldn’t want it to say, “Eat me”. Maybe, “Eat here!” What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t look like a place you would drive by and say, “ooohh let’s stop there! That looks good!” It’s divey looking. It’s not ugly, it’s just not pretty.
This changes when you get inside the door. Not so much structurally; inside the door it maintains its dive appearance. But when a girl named Ashley greets you with her bright smile, and her sweet southern accent, things pretty up immediately. When you take in that aroma of grill fire, beer, and bacon, you know you’ve made a good choice. Perky’s is not a dive; it’s a nice restaurant with a distinct personality…a vibe.
The best thing about the place is that it isn’t trying to be anything. It is what it is. You can tell when a place tries to create a vibe or a personality; that didn’t happen here. This place is authentic. The personality of Perky’s is simply what it became through its aging process.
Ashley sat me down at a booth across from the bar as I took in the ambience. A few buck heads, a bobcat and a skunk stuffed and mounted, a sign that said, “If you are grouchy or mean, a $10 charge will be added to your bill for putting up with you.” (Ricks $10.00 is deducted from his paycheck automatically),another sign reminding us that they have the right to refuse service to anyone, a couple of cattle skulls, and about 100 different license plates were all mounted on support beams and walls throughout the place.
In front of the bar, there were 10 round top barstools on chrome stands fixed to the floor. The brick-red vinyl padding on the stools looked thin, and well used. The stools matched the linoleum bar. There are whiteboard signs with today’s specials…Beef Kabob, Crab Cakes, Grilled Tilapia, and Rack of Lamb. The pretty waitresses in tight jeans (not that I was looking) move from kitchen to dining area with purpose, but they don’t seem rushed. The girls seem to get along and help each other out. Every now and then a few would get together in a little nook on the other side of the constantly swinging kitchen door for a chat.
Behind the bar is the grill. It’s not hidden behind a kitchen door; it’s out there for all of us to see what’s going on. Greg Toren is the grill master…I guess his title is Chef and General Manager. I don’t care what his title is: Greg is a grill master. I can only imagine how crazy it gets when the evening rush comes in. Working with Greg is Rick; another grill master who I’m guessing is the guy who gives up $10 every paycheck. He seemed pleasant enough to me. Both of these guys have a nice rapport with everyone; the customers at the bar, the waitresses, and the folks from the kitchen.
About 12 to 15 feet to the right of the grill and the bar is…is…is…
…The BEER COOLER!
There had to 100 different bottles to choose from. Micros, world brews, as well as your standards were available. I was in a slight hypnotic trance when Karen (pronounced Kay-rin) came up and introduced herself. She told me she was my waitress, she asked me how I was doing, and if I would be interested in a cold beer. Karen (pronounced Kay-rin) is my new favorite waitress of all time. Big expressive eyes, silken hair pulled back into a ponytail, a heather gray Perky’s t-shirt, and of course the nice jeans that I already mentioned, but are worth mentioning again. As pretty as Karen is, what I liked most about her was that she had full access to the beer cooler. I chose a Harpoon IPA, and just like Kay-rin, it didn’t disappoint.
Over the next 10 minutes, I pondered over a mostly steak and seafood menu that reminds us why we shouldn’t judge books by their covers. This place has a nice variety of entrees, but it doesn’t do more than it should. It’s a little bit more than what you would call standard fare, yet the menu is primarily just simple American food. I picked a ribeye and grilled shrimp instead of grilled salmon (I had a note from my mother), salad and green beans. I also had another Harpoon because I stick with what works.
The meal was great, not good…GREAT. The steak was grilled just right; the shrimp were as good as you could get anywhere, the bacon in the green beans was very bacony, and the fresh, crisp salad had a sliver or two of bacon as well. Bacon makes everything better. It was all outstanding. A few reviews I read after I left Perky’s used the phrase “comfort food”… I would disagree. I would say “good food in a comfortable place”. This food would stand up against any kitchen.
If I have any regret, and I don’t; it would be that I didn’t have my meal at the bar. It would have been nice to sit there, watch the grill choreography, and chat with the local gentry. The people at the bar seemed to come for conversation as much as for dinner. I could have had some fun there. This is a friendly place. But then again, if I sat at the bar I would have missed Karen, so no regrets. None!
Perky’s sits almost secretly on the southbound side of US Route 29 in Alta Vista VA. The place is definitely off the beaten path, but still accessible. It’s about 20 miles south of Lynchburg, about 40 miles north of Danville on a pretty drive through the country. Great for a day trip if you’re in Northern VA, or the DC area, but keep in mind that it’s only open for dinner. I think it would be a cool place to visit in the fall as the leaves are turning.
The restaurant is good enough to be a destination all its own, but there are other attractions in the area as well. Local hotels are very close and very inexpensive, so get a room and take a tour of that beer fridge.
More info at http://perkysrestaurant.com/
Tell them The Large Man sent you.