This is the second in the Life desk’s series of reviews during Charlottesville’s 2023 Restaurant Week — food writers also ate at Mockingbird, Fig, Bizou, Tavern & Grocery and Maru.
There are few things I value more than brunch — I marvel at the delectable options of sweet and savory flavors, and I love the freedom to lean into either the breakfast side or the lunch side depending on my mood. In the name of spicing up my Saturday morning and previewing Restaurant Week, I enjoyed brunch at The Ridley — a Southern cuisine restaurant — conveniently located on Main Street and within The Draftsman Hotel. I have walked by it several times over my first two years here at the University, and I decided it was finally time to check it out — after devouring some French toast and a flavorful yogurt parfait, I could not be happier with my decision.
As if the mouthwatering food was not enough to make The Ridley my new favorite spot in Charlottesville, the story behind the restaurant makes it even more meaningful. The Ridley is a Black-owned restaurant, and its name is a nod to Dr. Walter Ridley — the first Black person to graduate from the University.
Additionally, a portion of the profits from The Ridley are donated annually to Walter N. Ridley Scholarship Fund, which supports scholarships for Black students at the University.
As soon as I walked in, I was struck by the peaceful yet upbeat atmosphere. I decided to take myself out to brunch, which is something that made me feel slightly apprehensive at first. Thankfully, everyone at The Ridley was very friendly, and I never felt awkward about being a party of one. Instead, I felt comfortably nestled in a quiet spot in the restaurant. I immediately placed an order for a freshly-brewed hot coffee — which arrived at my table remarkably fast — and began to peruse the menu.
While deciding on my brunch of choice, I was really happy to notice the wide variety of both gluten-free and vegan options on the menu, making it an ideal choice for groups with people of varying dietary needs. Everything piqued my interest, making it difficult to decide on an order. Nevertheless, I finally landed on the Traditional French Toast and the Yogurt Parfait. Since I went for brunch, these options are not on the Restaurant Week menu, which instead offers a three-course dinner for $45 per person with enticing options ranging from a Poached Pear Salad to Spaghetti Alla Calabria.
While waiting for my order, I enjoyed my own company and seeing the influx of groups sporting orange and blue filter into the restaurant — the laughter and joy of reuniting and reconnecting with friends permeated the room. It appeared that many of the people in the restaurant were likely staying at The Draftsman, making it feel like a different environment with different people than my usual go-tos closer to Grounds. The Ridley has a variety of seating options, including small tables, large booths, high-top tables and a bar. An elegant dark, wooden palette forms the interior, creating a cozy refuge from the chilly winter air.
I could barely contain myself when the French toast and parfait appeared in front of me. Four pieces of beautiful brioche bread delicately sprinkled with powdered sugar were arranged with precision on the plate. As someone with a sweet tooth, I drenched the toast with deliciously sticky maple syrup. The fluffy bread cut easily, and once inside my mouth, it melted into a state of sugary perfection. The French toast found the ideal balance of flavor and thickness — sweet but not overpowering, and filling without stuffing me.
To complement the French toast, I began indulging in spoonfuls of the yogurt parfait. The vanilla yogurt was topped with fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Honey was drizzled throughout, and granola added a much-needed crunch. Not only was the parfait picture-perfect, but it was also scrumptious. The combination of the juicy berries and the crunchy granola intermixed with the smoothness of the yogurt was divine — transporting me away from the cold January morning and into a glorious summer day of enjoying my favorite fresh fruits.
Fantastic food, a delightful atmosphere and an inspiring mission — what more could I ask for in a restaurant? My brunch was so spot-on that I know that I will be returning, and I am especially looking forward to trying their dinner menu sometime soon — perhaps I will return for Charlottesville Restaurant Week from Jan. 30 to Feb. 5. For now, I will keep fantasizing about my spectacular morning at The Ridley.