Fat Canary Delivers Sweet Song Among Williamsburg Restaurants

Food — By Mike Virgintino on October 16, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Places to dine in Colonial Williamsburg are plentiful, but not necessarily rated four stars for such a highly visited and promoted family travel destination. Williamsburg has every kind of eatery on the spectrum from fast food to family dining to historic food to fine dinning. The area is tilted more toward the first two than the last two.

Easy to find, but probably difficult to secure a table during peak summer vacation time, are every possible chain restaurant and plenty of stand alone eateries. Visitors take a chance with some of the no-names. A few are excellent while others, including at least one BBQ place, are very disappointing. Some restaurants that are on the next higher level also are lacking. One suggestion is to fully research restaurants before entering town rather than relying on pot luck.

To fully experience the historical setting, plan to dine at some of the taverns in and near Colonial Williamsburg. The traditional dishes are very good to excellent and the atmosphere is, for lack of a better word, historic.

Casual upscale contemporary dining also can be found in town, but walking through the doors without reservations is not recommended during peak times of the year. The few quality restaurants in this category pack in locals and vacationers.

One restaurant that sings out is the Fat Canary, though the name has nothing to do with the bird.

Ships that sailed from the Old World to the New World stopped in the Canary Islands for supplies. One of the important provisions brought aboard was wine, which was referred to as “Canary.” The restaurant is named after a reference in poem by Colonial era playwright John Lyly — “Oh for a Bowl of fat Canary, rich Palermo, sparkling sherry…”

This contemporary bistro has a comfortable setting with an open kitchen. The menu reflects Executive Chef Thomas Power’s diverse regional and ethnic experiences (New Orleans, southern California, Hawaii and North Carolina) and seating is intimate (60). A handful of stools at the bar are worth grabbing if they become available as the entire menu is served at the liquor cabinet.

Some of the menu items are seasonal and include:


  • Crispy Virginia Soft Shell Crab with Roasted Chili Butter, Sweet Onion, Cilanto and Tomato Salad
  • Seared Foie Gras with Hazelnut Toast, Cherries and Watercress
  • Ginger Barbecued Pork Ribs with Marinated Cucumber Salad


  • Manakintowne Greens with Pickled Beets, Toasted Almonds, Caramont Virginia Goat Cheese
  • Arugula and Frisee with Gorgonzola, Summer Figs and Aged Balsamic


  • Pan Roasted Quail, Fresh Berries and Frisee, Scallion Spoonbread and Foie Gras
  • Free-Range Pheasant with Gnocchi, Chanterelles, Sweet Corn, Scallions, Pancetta and Parmesan
  • Mobjack Bay Clams, Tomato and Chorizo
  • Sweet Soy Grilled Pacific Salmon with Citrus Ponzu, Stir Fry Vegetables and Nori Rice
  • Pan Seared Sea Scallops with Crispy Pork Belly, French Green Lentils, Cherry Tomatoes and Thyme
  • Heritage Breed Pork Chop with Gruyere Bread Pudding, Swiss Chard, Apples, Walnuts and Bacon
  • Grilled Piedmontese Beef Tenderloin, Potato and Leek Gratin, Grilled Asparagus and Summer Truffle Butter
  • Braised Boneless Beef Short Ribs, Wild Mushrooms, Farro and Brussels Sprouts

Tried and enjoyed: Pan Seared Monkfish with Lemon and Roasted Fennel Risotto; Pan Roasted Quail, Fresh Berries and Frisee, Scallion Spoonbread and Foie Gras

[Image: Fat Canary]

Tags: Colonial Williamsburg, Fat Canary, upscale dining