Time's Up For The Clocktower
Every now and then I come across a place in my travels that so impresses or delights me that I vow to put it on my “let's go there again” list and recommend it to family, friends, and readers. Such a place was The Clocktower Restaurant & Bar at 27 W. Beverley Street in historic downtown Staunton, Virginia.
Please note: “was” is the operative word here.
When my wife and I visited The Clocktower about a year ago, we were absolutely captivated by the place. Located in the trendy downtown area of a small Virginia college town otherwise known as the birthplace of both President Woodrow Wilson and the Statler Brothers, the Google listing said: “Circa-1890 clock tower with a retro interior is the locale for Italian eats, sandwiches & drinks.” Sounded like our kind of place. And it was. The atmosphere was delightful, the service was friendly and efficient, and the food was superb. We immediately added The Clocktower to the aforementioned return and recommend list.
Alas, The Clocktower's time on that list has run out.
My son and his family were traveling through that part of Virginia the other day. They were overnighting in nearby Verona and my wife and I arranged to drive over to meet them. We had only a limited time to visit. Basically we were making a nearly four hundred mile round trip in order to have dinner with my son, his wife and her parents, and our four grandchildren. We raved about The Clocktower, just fifteen minutes or so down the road from where they were staying, so we all caravanned over to Staunton for a memorable dining experience. Well.....it was memorable alright.
The Google listing still touts The Clocktower as “the locale for Italian eats, sandwiches & drinks.” Don't believe a word of it. The place is about as Italian as Rome.....Georgia! No more four-cheese ravioli al forno. Ciao ciao homemade baked lasagne. No chicken parm, no chicken marsala, no “pastabilities” where you could create you own pasta dish from their selection of housemade pastas and sauces. All the delectable Italian dishes my wife and I had so enjoyed a year previous were gone, replaced by a pedestrian assortment of “pub grub” offerings. (Sigh) But we had come all that way, so we decided to see it through.
The waitress was perky and friendly and quite clueless. My son's father-in-law ordered a “Seven & Seven” from the bar for his wife and drew a totally blank look from the server. He explained it and then ordered a particular whiskey and Coke for himself. The server returned to inform him that the bar did not stock his brand and offered a substitute whiskey instead. When his drink arrived, it was a whiskey on the rocks with no Coke. The girl must have had a thing about ice because my wife's sweet tea, which she had ordered with no ice, came in a glass full of ice.
We had lots of time to contemplate the new menu; it was about fifteen minutes before anybody showed up to take our orders. That was another thing: in addition to being perky, friendly, and clueless, our server was also largely invisible. And it wasn't because the joint was jumping. There were only six other patrons seated at two tables when we arrived and they had already been served.
The kids got macaroni and cheese and French fries from the kid's menu. The rest of us ordered a variety of burgers, sandwiches, and fairly simple stuff. My wife opted for a “deconstructed shepherd's pie” while the in-laws chose to split a nominally Italian-American chicken and broccoli fettuccine Alfredo. And since no decent Italian would deliberately adulterate good pasta with chicken or broccoli, I chose to get just plain fettuccine Alfredo (which in and of itself is not truly Italian, but that's another story.)
The kid's stuff was out in about ten minutes. And it arrived with an extra ingredient. Fortunately, someone spotted the long strand of.....something......hanging from my granddaughter's fork before it made it to her mouth. It was too thick to be a hair. We didn't really know what it was. And there was nobody around to ask. I finally put the offending substance on a napkin and took it over to the bartender, the only staff person in evidence. A few minutes later, the manager/co-owner came out of the kitchen and apologetically informed us that they had identified the object as a thread from an apron. And they, of course, replaced the dish.
Good thing, too, because over the course of the next forty-five or fifty minutes, we adults were staving off starvation by snitching fries off the kid's plates. Yeah. You read that right. Nearly an hour for a burger, a sandwich, a “deconstructed shepherd's pie,” and a couple of pasta dishes. As the numerous clocks festooning the walls ticked inexorably through the minutes toward that one hour mark and as we hungrily contemplated the kid's leftovers, the food finally arrived. When I semi-seriously noted that my wife and I were cooks and that we were about to head back to the kitchen to lend a hand, I was told that there was only one cook on duty, the other having been dismissed earlier in anticipation of a slow night.
I guess this would be a good point to bring up a fact I discovered too late to save the evening. It seems that immediately after the wonderful visit my wife and I enjoyed last year, the building and the business were sold. The restaurant operation has been taken over by a triumvirate of people who have no restaurant background and who have admitted to experiencing a “learning curve.” It seems they want to "spruce up the place, add a couple of new dishes, and start a new legacy." Pssssst! Lousy start.
On the plus side, the food was good. Other than the extra fiber in the macaroni and cheese, nobody had any complaints and everybody cleaned their plates. We even ordered some desserts: a couple of decent cannoli and a gargantuan hunk of chocolate cake that probably would have fed the whole party.
So here's the bottom line: if you want Italian food in Staunton, Virginia, you ain't gonna get it at The Clocktower. If you want fast food in Staunton, Virginia, you ain't gonna get it at The Clocktower. If you want perky, friendly, clueless, and largely invisible waitstaff, that they've got at The Clocktower, along with good food that isn't anything to write songs about.
For what it's worth, The Clocktower is located at 27 W. Beverley Street in downtown Staunton. Dress is casual, reservations are not required and parking is onstreet. They're open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Call them at 540-213-0665 or visit their website at https://clocktowerstaunton.com
Buon appetito......e buona fortuna.