Sweet Tea & Barley is Colonial Williamsburg’s newest restaurant located in the Williamsburg Lodge. Chefs Anthony Frank and Sean Gonzalez chat about what went into creating a new southern-inspired restaurant and some of the dishes they put on the menu.
Rachel West: Welcome back to the Past and Present podcast, I’m Rachel West. Today I have two special guests with me to talk about our brand new restaurant over at the Williamsburg Lodge, Sweet Tea & Barley. I have with me Anthony Frank, the Executive Chef of the Williamsburg Lodge as well as Sean Gonzalez, sous chef over at the Williamsburg Lodge. Thanks for joining me today.
Anthony Frank and Sean Gonzalez: Hello.
Rachel: So, let’s talk a little bit about Sweet Tea & Barley. It is formerly known as the Lodge Lounge, right?
Anthony: Yes, yes. Now it has a name.
Rachel: Great! Sweet Tea & Barley. Let’s talk about that name. What went into coming up with that name—Sweet Tea & Barley.
Anthony: We’re southern-inspired, and what more southern than sweet tea? And then barley, which is in all of our drinks, so when you connect that together, the sweet tea and the barley, we get our cocktails and some traditional drinks that we serve to all guests.
Rachel: So I know Traditions, which is over at the Lodge as well, is known for its southern cuisine, is Sweet Tea & Barley a kind of sister restaurant to Traditions in the same hotel?
Anthony: Yes, and it’s more lounge, bar-style food in that it’s southern-inspired, quicker service, it’s not as fine-design in the plates, the higher cuisine that Traditions would be.
Rachel: So if you’re looking for something that’s a little more casual, you can head over to Sweet Tea & Barley?
Rachel: And if you want something a little more fancy, you can go to Traditions?
Rachel: Great! Let’s talk a little bit about why we wanted to change the Lounge into something a little bit more casual.
Anthony: The Lounge has always been kind of casual, but it was more lounge. It was an experience in front of the fireplace, where you could get a drink and maybe a little bit of food here and there, but not a full-blown menu because we didn’t have a kitchen out there. With talking since 2006 when we opened up, we continued to think that it would be a great opportunity for us to have a full kitchen out there to give fresh, hot food to the guests.
Rachel: I know that with coming up with a new restaurant of sorts and we have a new kitchen, we have all of that, you’re going to have to create a menu. So, Chef Sean, can you talk a little bit about this menu and what people can expect to have?
Sean: Yeah, when we were tasked with the idea of coming up with this new concept, it was a lot of fun. We sat down—Chef Justin Addison and I, we wrote the menu—and it was a great experience. As for the menu, we have a lot of options. We have a couple of salads, we have some bar nibbles, we have a section called “stacked,” which is sandwiches—they’re real big—we have one that’s the Blacksmith Burger, it’s a seven-ounce patty, fried onion rings, barbeque sauce, ham and a fried egg.
Rachel: What was the inspiration behind that?
Sean: Well, it was just something that I wanted to eat.
Rachel: It sounds good!
Anthony: Most of the food we create is something that we want to eat, so it comes out of “oh wow, let’s put all this stuff together.” You know, you take a donut and you put an egg in it with some country ham and you have something that a chef will eat.
Rachel: Right, and I know you guys are way more experienced in the culinary life than I am, but I guess that really is anytime you’re creating a menu you think about foods you want to eat, and things you want to share with other people. Is that right?
Sean: Well, you have to control it to a certain extent, because you can’t just do exactly what you want. You have to thing about what the guest wants as well.
Rachel: So you can’t go add hot sauce to everything and jalapenos, which is what I would add…
Anthony: Creativity without control is chaos.
Rachel: Right. The kitchen—I’ve seen the kitchen over there and I got to see it before it got up and running and it looked really awesome—how much work went into that and about how long did it take?
Anthony: Well, we started designing the kitchen, I started designing the kitchen probably March. We went through many different drawings and the final drawing with the equipment that we have now was finalized in August. And to turn a whole kitchen around like this, we gave the keys to the builders and the architects September 1 and they were done in November. It was amazing how quickly they were able to turn this kitchen around. They took space that was a bellman’s closet and an area where we serviced beverage, so we had a coffee machine and stuff like that and turned it into a full kitchen. We have a grill, a fryer, a flattop, sauté, and all refrigeration, it’s pretty amazing what they were able to do. And a full dish area, too, so we have dish machine and pot sink and everything, so this tiny little space converted into a full kitchen is pretty amazing. And how fast they did it.
Rachel: I know the Lounge itself, which is now Sweet Tea & Barley, the area where the tables and the bar is was changed as well, the décor was completely changed, the color scheme was changed, some new chairs were brought in, the television was moved, for instance. How are fans who have been coming to the Lounge and they’re coming to this new place for the first time, how do you want them to feel when they come in?
Anthony: We kept some of the stuff very similar. We changed some colors, there’s definitely a brighter look to the room, but the fireplace and the lounge-y front side of the bar, what was always considered the Lounge, the TV doesn’t go up and down, so the TV’s there all the time and we do have two TVs up on the bar, I think it’s inviting for more people than it was before that, you know, “oh you only have one TV, we can only watch one thing,” so we’re getting a better crowd for football, we can put on more events on screen, and we also have built a whole fresco patio outside with fire pits and lighting and a great sound system. The bands that we will have there will be playing outside and we have the music piped into the lounge, so if you’re sitting in the lounge, you don’t have the loud music on a Friday night, it’ll be outside, but you still get to experience the musician.
Rachel: That’s great. I know a couple of months ago I was invited to come to the cocktail tasting we had for the new Sweet Tea & Barley and there were a lot of cocktails that were tasted and tried out and it was wonderful, have we created a signature drink, a signature cocktail? What’s the process for that right now?
Anthony: Sean, talk about your iced tea you came up with.
Sean: Right now we have a signature iced tea. It’s a ginger-citrus iced tea. As far as the cocktails go, they’re still in development, but they are really good so far. I’m excited to see when they come out.
Rachel: So right now when guests come they can get their classic, usual cocktails that they would order: gin and tonic, bourbon and ginger…
Anthony: Absolutely, and they’ll still be able to do that, but we’re going to have eight signature cocktails, four specials, we do have a holiday special right now that’s being run, so we have drinks, cocktails, and we want to make sure it’s right before we just open it up. So training and getting everybody on the same page of how to make the syrups—we’re making all the different tinctures and syrups in house from rosemary from the King’s Arms’ garden, or thyme from across the street at the old garden, so we have local ingredients inspiring our products, too.
Rachel: You mentioned seasonal drinks and holiday drinks and I know that’s something the Lounge did often was create a new set of drinks that were seasonally-based, or monthly-based, that sort of thing, so that tradition is going to continue with Sweet Tea & Barley?
Rachel: Great! Another question that I think everybody wants to know is when are we open?
Sean: Well, we’ve been open.
Anthony: We never really closed.
Anthony: And the hours are very similar to what was the Lounge, they are Monday through Thursday 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. for food service and 4 p.m. ‘til close for the last person drinking, of course the latest you can drink is last call is always 1:30 a.m. And then on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we open at 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. for food service and on holiday weekends we open at noon.
Rachel: Do you have a favorite item on the menu right now?
Sean: Yeah. It’s definitely the Dixie Stacker.
Rachel: What’s in the Dixie Stacker?
Sean: Okay, this is a barbeque sandwich with coleslaw, pickles and a little bit of sugar ham.
Rachel: What does it come with?
Rachel: What about you, Chef Frank?
Anthony: I would have to say the fried chicken sandwich.
Sean: Oh, the Rooster.
Anthony: The Rooster is a friend—we sous vide cooked and marinated, sous vide means slow cooking in a very consistent temperature that tenderizes but keeps all the moisture inside of the product—dredge it in flour, fry it, toss it in a buffalo spicy sauce, with blue cheese, Bibb lettuce and tomato.
Rachel: I think you’re speaking my language, Chef. I hear there is a burger that has a classic southern staple on it, pimento cheese.
Sean: Yes, there is.
Rachel: That pimento cheese, do you make it yourself in house?
Sean: Yes. Yes, we do.
Rachel: What goes into that pimento cheese?
Sean: Cream cheese, cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, hot sauce and roasted peppers.
Rachel: What else can you get on that burger? What’s it called?
Sean: The Southern Burger.
Rachel: The Southern Burger, classic with the pimento cheese.
Sean: It’s got caramelized onions and mushrooms, herbed mayonnaise, Bibb lettuce and tomato.
Rachel: What kind of desserts are on the menu?
Sean: My favorite by far is the—we did a play on the hummingbird cake—it’s basically a hummingbird pound cake but we made cream cheese ice cream that goes on top of it that melts onto it and it’s delicious.
Rachel: Cream cheese ice cream? I have never heard of that before!
Anthony: It’s got the flavor profile of cream cheese icing, so we froze it.
Rachel: That sounds awesome, I really like that.
Anthony: And the hummingbird cake is pineapple…
Sean: Pineapple, pecan and banana.
Rachel: Well that you so much, chefs, I really appreciate you coming out and talking a little bit about our brand new restaurant. I know I’m excited to visit, I’m ready to go, and if you want more information about Sweet Tea & Barley, you can head to colonialwilliamsburg.com and look under our restaurant section. Thanks for joining us, we’ll see you next time!