ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) – After Abingdon, Virginia earned USA Today’s top spot for Best Small Town Food Scene in 2021, I decided to take a quick tour through some of the unique offerings that have the town punching well above its weight class when it comes to food.
A quick disclaimer before we start: In no way is this list exhaustive, and the order in which businesses appear is not a ranking or reflection of their quality. Abingdon won nationwide for a reason, and if you don’t see one out of this list that calls to you I still greatly recommend giving the town a shot.
The Girl and The Raven
If you accidentally stumbled into The Girl and The Raven, you might be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into a gallery. From the bright, warm lighting to the original paintings adorning the walls, the fledgling coffee bar and café has a first impression like few others.
Founded in 2020 during the height of COVID-19 precautions and uncertainty, The Girl and the Raven is forever linked to the turmoil of the time.
“We actually took our inspiration from The Girl and The Raven from a story in The Bible when God chose ravens to take care of his prophet, send him food and drink, Elijah when he was in the wilderness,” said cofounder Hugh Belcher. “There was once a girl who was lost in the wild and a raven found her and brought her food and drink that saved her life. The Girl and The Raven were lifelong friends – the legend was lost, the hunger persists, we’re here to help.'”
In more concrete terms, the idea was born after Belcher’s daughter and son-in-law returned from New York City after spending time pursuing acting.
“We’re all nestled in our beds watching the news, and one day we got a call from our kids in New York. Our daughter and her husband are both actors and based out of Manhattan and they said ‘we think we better come home for a few weeks.'” said Belcher. “So, that they did. After a few weeks, we saw it was going to last a lot longer than that. They needed something to do, my friend’s old coffee shop had just closed permanently because of COVID. And so frankly we saw an opportunity to put people back to work.”
The business currently employs 23 people and provided work for 18 people who lost their jobs during the pandemic.
The Girl and The Raven celebrated their one-year anniversary last week; that’s no small feat for any business, much less one started in the height of a pandemic.
“We’ve been really blessed to do great business, and bring something to the community that probably would not have been here had it not been for COVID,” Belcher said.
The Girl and The Raven was highlighted as one of Abingdon’s standout newcomers in USA Today’s description of the award, and it’s easy to see why. From a full breakfast and lunch menu featuring southern fare and classic sandwiches to a well-stocked cocktail, beer and wine bar, there’s plenty to enjoy.
And that’s all before you make it to the heart of the historic home-turned café: coffee roasted in-house and prepared by internationally-trained barista and co-owner Cillian Hegarty.
Originally hailing from Ireland, Hegarty met Ariene Belcher, daughter of co-owners Hugh and Julie Belcher, when she studied at the same acting conservatory during a semester abroad. After a 2-year transatlantic relationship, the two were married in Alvaredo, Virginia. There they ran The River Café, and cut their teeth in the industry.
“A large part of roasting is a knowledge of the beans, a knowledge of the farms, kind of the flavor profiles that the beans have. So, I always knew that we wanted to try that out, it was a matter of when rather than if,” Hegarty said. “It took a couple of weeks of research, like there was definitely a lot of study involved, but I think you don’t need a university degree to figure it out.”
Alongside personal study and honing of the craft, Cillian and employees are pulling shots with a $30,000 Victoria Arduino Black Eagle Espresso Machine. That kind of hardware has some serious horsepower under the hood, and has been described as a machine “for all of those who dedicate their lives to coffee.”
They even sell their own small-batch roasted beans under the name Brazen Raven Coffee Roasters, if you want to take the flavor home with you.
“Abingdon is a special town, it really is.,” Hegarty said. “It has a lot of great restaurants. A lot of people here already knew, and were familiar with coffees from around the world, the flavors associated with specific coffees. So, I had people coming in, it was kind of intimidating to begin with, they were saying ‘I like Yirgacheffe, I like my Yirgacheffe with an Earl Grey tint.’
“So there was sort of a pressure to live up to expectations because people here were actually quite versed in coffee because of Zazzy’Z and the work that they’d done, and it’s been a real joy to see people embrace us and kind of enjoy the experimentation that we’ve been doing as well.”
Some of those experiments include a S’mores latte complete with graham cracker crumbs and a toasted marshmallow top, and if that somehow isn’t enough to convince you then I’m not sure I can help you here.
The Victorian-style home has a newly expanded deck and drive-thru window if you don’t have time to enjoy the interior décor, and there’s no shortage of gluten and allergen-friendly menu options.
Quoth the Girl and The Raven, brew some more.
This is only one part of a larger Abingdon Eats series. Make sure to visit other Abingdon Eats stories throughout the week for more recommendations.