According to astronomers, the first day of summer marks the day of the year when the sun is farthest north. This year, it was June 20.
But for many of us, summer truly begins when picnics, barbecue parties, and porches boast bowls of potato salad circling the table. Recipes vary, but potato salad is a summer staple. Richmond has its share of experts.
You Can Take “Soul” from the Sign, but Not from the Food
La V’s Homemade in Shockoe Bottom serves up classic Southern cuisine. Call it soul food or country cooking, just mind your manners when in La V’s. “This is a family restaurant. You can play games while you wait on dinner, or just talk to your neighbors. But everyone who comes here knows I don’t tolerate mess.” The gracious hostess with a motherly manner opened La V’s in March of 2007 and quickly developed a loyal following. When she expanded the menu, she removed the sign advertising “soul food” from the window. “A customer suggested that I take it off, since we have a lot more.” La V’s features dishes that originated in the rural South, including BBQ spareribs, beef liver, and fried broccoli. Her home baked desserts are a hit, and her most popular dish is the rich baked macaroni and cheese.
La V’s potato salad is classic Southern style, with hard boiled eggs, the crunch of sweet relish and celery, and tender potato dice generously stirred with mayonnaise. La V doesn’t guard her recipe. In fact, she doesn’t have one. “I don’t cook by numbers, I cook by taste. If I like the way it tastes, it’s ready.” La V didn’t hurry to divulge the seasoning our party hadn’t yet identified when the spoon scraped the bottom of a second bowl. But she insists, “The only secret I got, honey, is just to do it.”
Dinner Bell at Sally Bell’s
Sally Bell’s has been serving its famous potato salad for eighty four years, since the honored Kitchen first opened at Pine and Grace Streets. It moved into its “new” location at 708 W. Grace Street fifty years ago. Today the modest building housing Sally’s Bell’s appears to be lowered in a curtsy, tucked among towering buildings of Virginia Commonwealth University. They serve their famous potato salad in small paper cups, or by the pound. Assistant Manager Anne Byrne, 29, says they dish up about 200 pounds daily. With the annual exodus of VCU students, summers at Sally Bell’s are often sluggish. So last July they began making group-sized portions of their menu available for pick up. Sally Bell’s potato salad is marked by its hand chopped texture, creamy homemade dressing, and the murmur of satisfaction it elicits that hasn’t changed since 1924.
Generations Choose Mrs. Marshalls
Richmond has enjoyed Mrs. Marshall’s Foods for decades. Although its location has changed, its well-guarded recipes endure. The Carytown location at 3125 W. Cary Street has been open for nine years. Asked about her salad’s history, Owner Frances Daniel makes clear, “Honey, the recipe is from 1921. The word was out before my mother was born.” She doesn’t remember when she first tasted Mrs. Marshall’s recipe, but she says, “In 1996, I bought it.” Daniel didn’t tinker with any of Mrs. Marshall’s recipes. Ukrop’s was impressed enough to make Mrs. Marshall’s available in its retail stores. Richmonders young and old have grown up on Mrs. Marshall’s potato salad. “It’s kind of they’ve either had it or they know about it,” Daniels says. The secret? “Homemade mayo. It’s a homemade product.”
Personalize Your Potato Salad
Healthy – Pump up the protein by adding eggs, or unsalted sunflower seeds. Scrub your potatoes well, and skip peeling to retain nutrients of the potato skin. Use light mayo instead of traditional mayo. Salt-free seasonings reduce sodium. Sweet potatoes add beta carotene.
Zesty – Drop in a dollop of spicy mustard, a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce, diced jalapenos, or curry powder for your choice of zing!
International – Add bacon, onion, a touch of flour, and serve warm for German potato salad. Or add olives and pimentos…Voila! For Italian flavor, add parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning.
Garden Goddess – Add green onion, red bell peppers, grated carrot, or diced tomatoes.