Back in the 90’s I used to go to Helen’s as often as I could. I was a huge fan of their rack of lamb and knew I could always have my foie gras cravings satisfied. As the restaurant scene in Richmond became more varied Helen’s started falling off my dance card. The last night we ate there was the night of my wife’s mother’s funeral just after Thanksgiving, 2001. We had a large group of us in their back room late on a cold and nasty night. The food and service was excellent. Right or wrong we didn’t go back. The dinner that night had became part of Susan’s death ritual and some wounds take time to heal.
Fast forward to August, 2008. RVA Foodie and I were trading emails about going out to our monthly brunch. Several names were thrown back and forth until he mentioned Helen’s. I wasn’t even aware they did brunch. Perhaps it was time to go back. So, Sunday morning we treked off to Helen’s (they do not do Saturday brunch).
With both Finn and Jasper in tow we decided to take the back room so we could relax in case Chef Andy was out and about. The back room is a nice place to have a private dinner with a group, dark and intimate. In the morning light the worn dark purple paint with gold trim seems a bit garish. The table cloths were quite possibly the ugliest thing I have ever seen. Red plastic adorned with fruit. The coverings were actually able to take my hangover up a notch or two…
The menu was pretty basic, I actually thought it a bit short until it was discovered that I had been given only half a menu. There was also some problems with ordering. When we were told items we ordered were not available the waitress mumbled something about some upcoming changes to the menu but wasn’t very clear about what was going to happen. Back in the day when restaurant menus had to be ordered from a professional printer one could understand things being still on the menu but no longer available. With todays menus being printed off a computer (or at Helen’s typed and photocopied) it’s hard to understand why things are not kept up to date.
Mrs RVA Foodie decided to start with the Soup Du Jour. Sweet Corn with Potato & Bacon. The bowl was huge. She said the soup was a bit sweet but she seemed to enjoy. Mr Foodie took a bite trying to avoid the bacon but it turned out the red bits were actually red potato and bacon was infused throughout. The comments on the soup, however, were positive and may have been the best dish of the meal.
Finn had the Blueberry Pancakes. He ate them.
Mrs Foodie had the Quiche Du Jour while Mr Foodie had the Veggie Omelette. The quiche got good feedback but there was some speculation that the crust may not have been made in-house. Mr Foodie ate the omelette but I think he found it a bit dull and would have liked it with some more interesting (read local or unusual) ingredients.
Both M and I had the Sausage Gravy & Biscuit. It was pretty disappointing. The gravy was tepid and very bland. The biscuit had the texture of having been refrigerated and then allowed to sit out on a counter (cold interior, tough slightly stale exterior). The dish comes with eggs. My two fried eggs were rubbery.
Plate presentation was non-existent throughout. No garnishes or real thought as to how the plate looked. The only plate that had any real garnish was the soup and that was a thoughtless clump in the center of thick cut green onions. While good plate presentation doesn’t ensure that a dish is good, poor presentation can be an indicator of a kitchen not making an effort.
Service was barely minimal. I expect dishes to ‘auctioned’ off at Denny’s but not Helen’s. A lot of it also had to do with us being in the back room. I think they kept forgetting we were there.
I’m curious to see what changes they have in store in and if it is a complete overhaul or just a rethinking of brunch. Since the brunch was so haphazard I’m not sure if I want to see what has become of their dinner service. Also, it is hard to not look at the dishes with a critical eye due to the multiple functionality of their sinks. Guess I’ll just have to keep an eye on their Facebook page and see what happens….