In 1927, after a century as a public house and almost as long in disrepair, Mrs. Mark Henderson, a local businesswoman purchased Michie Tavern and, in a stroke of genius, moved the historic structure downhill from Monticello four years after the Thomas Jefferson Foundation purchased it to create a museum. Now, the percentage of Monticello visitors who lunch at Michie Tavern is high, and they are all happy.
Michie Tavern has a gift shop, a mill shop, and a museum, but the centerpiece of their operation is ‘Midday Fare’ from 11:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Christmas. Women in colonial garb greet and direct you to the Keeping Room, which contains a serving line that never changes: cole slaw, cold beets, black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes, biscuits, cornbread, fried chicken, baked chicken, and pork. $17.95 per adult, $10.95 for the vegetarian selection. They also offer a number of beverages and dessert cobblers although, after a double portion of biscuits topped by the sweetest stewed tomatoes I ever tasted, I had no room for dessert.
I visited Michie mid-afternoon on a drizzly day; they were uncharacteristically slow. Debra, my server, explained that though they only served the public four hours a day, there were so many charter buses and private parties, she had a full time job. “We can have four buses in here at 10:30 in the morning, people eating fried chicken.” When you do something right, you can just keep doing it.
Debra is from Norfolk, where she used to work the Chesapeake ferry. “I saw all kinds of cyclists on their cross-country trips. I started to cycle myself. Did it for nine years. I was never in better shape. I figure I saved $10,000 in gasoline.” Debra doesn’t ride in hilly Charlottesville. “It’s too dangerous.” I agree with her assessment. Though drivers are friendly, there are few accommodations for bicycles in this college town. Shoulders are narrow, bike paths rare. “We need to get out of our cars and onto bikes.”
We chatted for some time, though Debra was not allowed to sit on one of the polished stools that line the dining room. At one point she snatched my check away. “I’ll take care of that.” I protested, to no avail. She laughed. “What goes around comes around. There’s good in this for me.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“The world is going to hell. There’s too much building. Where is our food going to come from? The economy is a mess. Where is our retirement going to come from? It can’t keep going. We’ve spun out of control.”