As an evening breeze cools a warm summer day, life in Hilton Village tangos on.
A glass of white wine rests by the window at Kismet Bistro. Sun-kissed children whiz past atop bicycles. Their hurrahs cascade up and down Main Street. Their haste is made reckless by a trio of Bananaramas from Couture Cakes.
As they pedal up to an English cottage to seize their prize, a dog is loose on Piez. She’s corralled, and the APB goes out on the Greater Hilton Network Facebook page. The owner of the mischievous mutt sidles up with a sheepish look. Neighbors stand in the apricot shade of a canopy of trees, and the gesture for a beer on the porch is inevitable.
A well-heeled couple strides out of Circa 1918, their bellies full of culinary refinement. With their pets stowed at Happy Dog Daycare and the Meow Manor, respectively, they’re jumping on the James River Bridge for the fifteen minute drive to Smithfield for the night. A family takes a stroll after a plate of octopus stir fry and three servings of kimchi at Mona. A crowd begins to assemble outside the Peninsula Community Theater. The Music Man is playing, and the story inside the theater is as much of this community as the stubborn and proper folks of River City, Iowa.
Anh Butz started singing and acting in medical school to cope with performance anxiety, and now she’s on stage as part of the ensemble with her young daughter Madeline. During the day she is an OBGYN resident at nearby Riverside Hospital. After a lifetime of wondering whether she should try musical theater, Juliette Wilcox is playing Mrs. Paroo perfectly–the meddling and goodhearted mother of Marian, played beautifully here by Laura Apelt, who guards her tender heart from John Cauthen’s Harold Hill until she can no longer resist. The feeling in the theater is inescapable. The joy that The Music Man brings to the stubborn Iowans is the joy the performers and audience feel. The show lets out in time for a beer at the Hilton Tavern, which is scheduled to reopen soon.
In the morning, as the light breaks and birds chirp and tweet and caw, a single diesel engine thrums on the river, collecting blue crabs. Joggers on their way to the Noland Trail and bikers on their way everywhere pause near the pier behind Hilton Elementary, a neighborhood school that draws parents from all over the Peninsula. The cranes of the shipyard jab into the morning sky. The James River Bridge looks like a long piece of protracted machinery stretching the breadth of the river.
Michele Smith at Indulge Bakery and Bistro is just opening up shop. She remembers how it all began: open air markets with her French mother, “spending time together in the kitchen preparing, and sharing our creations with our friends, sitting at the table for hours.” For her, “opening a little bistro has been a lifelong dream.”
“From the moment we open the umbrellas,” she continues, “our guests start arriving on foot and upon wheel.” Breakfast features “loaded biscuits and gravy, cinnamon buns, croissants, blueberry hazelnut crumb cakes, or a spinach sriracha egg sandwich. Our house blend coffee is always fresh, but the favorite is our Affogato–gelato with a shot of espresso.” For lunch there’s “chicken salad served on a croissant, quiches, or a BLTAE.” On special there’s “a pan-seared salmon salad sandwich with cucumber, red onion, and feta–tossed in white balsamic vinaigrette and served on a toasted sub roll.” On the side there’s a “watermelon, cucumber, feta, and fresh basil salad drizzled with balsamic glaze.”
“Several weeks ago, we began Tapas on the Boulevard on Saturday nights. My son Greg is our chef. He creates fabulous dishes. His plates are works of art. From sauteed shrimp with housemade chorizo and cannellini bean puree to seared ahi tuna with corn avocado salsa.”
“My lifelong dream has become a reality. The tradition continues with spending time in the kitchen with family and friends, creating fresh and innovative dishes, and sharing them with all of our customers. I love what I am doing, love that I can share this with my children, and LOVE to be in Hilton Village.”
Normally I eschew all caps as emphasis, but she means it. As do Karan and Allison at Rooms, Blooms and More, Betsy at the Red Feathered Nest, Melissa at The Magickal Attic, Pam at Plantiques, Betsy at Busy Bodies, Jennifer at Primrose, James and Tracy at Hilton Village Goldsmith, Marian at Village Stitchery, Virgie at the Deli Basket, Katie at Smoke, Tammy at Tammy Mason Salon, Kimberly at Kreations by Kim, Rick and Libby at Rick and Libby’s, Mitch at Fantasy, Jenneane at Mother Earth Herbal Apothecary, and Lorain at Cozzy’s.
Every single business owner I spoke to for this article expressed great affection for Hilton Village and the surrounding area–many saying they could not imagine being open anywhere else.
Several lifelong residents (I moved here earlier this year) speak of being able to go back in time in Hilton Village. Nowhere is this more present than at Monty’s Penguin.The 70s are usually associated with disco and dayglo, but Monty’s takes you back to the blue collar Americana of the 70s. Less flash, less glitter, more well deserved meals after a long day of back-breaking work. Once you eat at Monty’s you won’t ever eat fast food anywhere else again.
Danny’s Deli transports you to not another time, but another state of being. A friendlier, simpler state. The complimentary pickles and tasty sandwiches are worth the trip alone, but the monthly newsletter that’s full of fun facts, customer birthdays and anniversaries, recipes, quotes, and stories that had to be written by the Southern Garrison Keillor, will calm your nerves on the most frantic day.
Greater Hilton, the area that arguably stretches from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore to CNU is one of the most gracefully calm places I’ve ever been. It began as a place for shipbuilders to live during WWI, and in the ensuing years it has become a lovely neighborhood. Tradition Brewing and a spate of good restaurants (Aago, Nawab, Los Paisas Locos) are five miles away, and Whole Foods is a bit beyond them. The Main Street library and a slew of other small, locally-owned businesses and thrift stores complete the picture of a delightful place to live.
I am already happy to call it home, and everyone in this community feels the same.
About the Sponsor of this Post:
Rose & Womble Realty Co. was born and bred in Hampton Roads – our owners live and work here in the Seven Cities. We are a family-owned and operated business – with multiple generations working at all levels, from agents to managers.The leadership within the company is LOCAL – not out of state – but right here in Hampton Roads.