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Anticipating Thanksgiving in Williamsburg

By Patricia B. Mitchell, 1990.

Kathy Bohince delivers syllabub at the Shields Tavern

Kathy Bohince delivers syllabub at the Shields Tavern.

Chef Ed Swann in the Shields Tavern kitchen

Chef Ed Swann in the Shields Tavern kitchen.

Thanksgiving in Colonial Williamsburg can be a gentle, sunny, leaves-crunching-underfoot autumn day, or you may instead discover a snow-dappled Duke of Gloucester Street and bone-chilling temperatures as we did in 1989.

Whichever weather you encounter, you can be sure of enjoying tasty food and cheer in Chef Ed Swann's convivial Shields Tavern. An atmosphere created by servers in 18th-century garb, in a setting which includes antique reproduction furniture and dinnerware, gives the sense of history expected of Colonial Williamsburg. Scholarly food research by Rosemary Brandau, manager of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's historic food programs, and her staff, and expert culinary ability enable Chef Swann and his kitchen to arrange educational and tempting foods on the plates.

It is necessary to make holiday reservations far in advance at Shields (or any other Colonial Williamsburg taverns). We chose to eat at Shields Tavern because this, the most recently-opened historic tavern operated by the foundation, offers dishes closest to authentic 18th-century cooking.

The special Thanksgiving menu gives a few appetizer, entree, and dessert selections. At the 1989 Thanksgiving repast, a rich cream of crayfish soup stimulated our appetites, which were also pleasantly teased by a tossed green salad with Shields dressing.

Entrees of braised sirloin of beef with Bordelaise sauce, roasted young turkey, and red snapper with crabmeat butter sauce all pleased us. Accompaniments of yams, sage stuffing, or red bliss potatoes and fresh vegetables rounded out the meal.

To top off the feast, cranberry apple pie, mincemeat pie, or pumpkin pie were available in addition to lemon cheesecake and spoon-licking choice ice cream. All of the foods were skillfully prepared, and the history-permeated ambience made the Thanksgiving meal a memorable occasion.

Chef Swann said, “A lot of times people in my position (as chef) don't have holidays. You give those days to the public because people like to go out and enjoy themselves on holidays and special occasions. That is when I like to do my best creations, like my Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter menus. I just love doing it! I love being there for other people when it comes to food.”

A dinner at Shields costs approximately $15-$20. The tavern is located on Duke of Gloucester Street near the capitol. The normal schedule includes light breakfast 8:30 - 10:00 a.m., lunch 11:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., and dinner starting at 5:30 p.m. Holiday schedules vary.