Del Ray Café is what you get when you marry French cooking with American ingenuity.
A Frenchman walks into a Virginia country house… It’s not the start of a joke, but the story of the beloved local eatery, Del Ray Café. Tucked down a side street in a refurbished cottage home is the laid-back, come-as-you-are café that serves French-inspired cooking made with local Virginia products. The traditional farmhouse decor is mixed with classic images of France; you’ll spot champagne cases laying around while the Eiffel tower adorns the walls. Whether dining on the wraparound porch or on the upper floor beneath the raised, wood-beamed ceiling, you are sure to feel at home even while dining on delicacies from across the Atlantic.
Although they are open for both lunch and dinner, one of the major draws at Del Ray Café is that their brunch menu is served every day — no more waiting until the weekend (and waiting to get in) to enjoy your favorite meal! However, we went on a weekend with nine people in tow for a Sunday brunch (We had a reservation, of course! Don’t try this without one). And it was not just any Sunday; it was a holiday, and we were seated at a long wooden table in front of the back windows of the restaurant. Despite the holiday and the crowds, we were treated warmly and never rushed. The entire brunch menu was still being served, unlike the many restaurants that offered a buffet or limited menu. Even on one of their busiest days, they still offered specials.
We started with your typical brunch drinks: coffee and cocktails. The regular coffee was free flowing; you could barely drain your cup before a server had come around to refill it. The cappuccino was strong and dashed with a hint of cinnamon. The almighty queen of brunch drinks, the Bloody Mary, was perfect. Served with the traditional stalk of celery and an added lime wedge, this Bloody Mary was peppery, spicy, and fresh.
With our drinks, the table shared a plate of oysters on the half shell. The oyster on the menu that day was from Rhode Island. They were plump and briny — and disappeared almost as fast as they were put on the table. We also chose to share an order of the signature French toast, which was sliced brioche soaked in sumptuous Grand Marnier and served with a berry compote on top. The toast was grilled expertly on the outside, while the inside had a light, almost custardy texture. Flavors of both citrus and anise came through the crisp bread. The fresh jam was bright and delicious, and it was an excellent accompaniment to the flavors of the toast. No syrup is necessary for this French toast.
For our main dishes, almost everyone ordered one of the daily specials. Del Ray Café offers both a vegetable and meat quiche of the day, and we got at least one of each. On this day, the vegetable quiche was parsnip, olive, and kale. It had a light, earthy flavor with a salty kick from the olives. The meat quiche was broccoli, bacon, and onion, and these flavors came together with a smoky hit from the meat and crisp vegetables. Both quiches had the option to be served with or without crust, although if you can eat it, definitely go for the crust. It is a light, flaky pastry that crumbles on your fork and melts in your mouth.
The other special that was ordered several times over at our table was the lobster eggs Benedict. Among our non-scientific survey, this was the clear winner of brunch. Served on fresh toast, the generous portion of lobster was topped with perfectly poached eggs, and the whole dish was drizzled in a citrusy and delicate hollandaise sauce. Paired with a light salad and some fresh fruit, this is a must-order if you find it on the menu.
Finally, one member of our party ordered off the lunch menu and got the duck leg confit. Beautifully plated on a bed of salad that included hard-boiled egg, bacon, and bleu cheese, the duck leg was succulent. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, this was another excellent choice.
We finished off our brunch with a couple of desserts. A plate of airy, rich chocolate mousse paired with sorbet and mint, as well as a classic crème brûlée torched to a crisp, sugary finish, were passed around the table and enjoyed.
Del Ray Café is the best of both worlds, with delicate, intentional flavors, warm hospitality, and a focus on local and organic products that extends to the building materials and linens. Everyone will find something they already love and something new to love on the menu. It is an easy, approachable foray into French cuisine, without losing any of the pointed affectations that make French cooking among the best in the world. It will keep you coming back again and again — bon appétit!