Men Who Like to Cook - David Latt

Monday, June 6, 2011

Loudoun County Food

Twenty-five miles west of busy Washington, D.C., Loudoun County is close enough to be far away. Dominated by vineyards and horse farms, the idyllic setting can quiet the mood of anyone wanting to take a break from their over-stimulated life.  
Leaving behind turnpikes and highways, travelers enter the slower paced world of small towns like MiddleburgLeesburgLovettsville and Purcellville.

Where to Eat

Middleburg
Equestrian farms surround Middleburg. A road trip on Route 50 takes visitors through beautifully maintained pasture land.
There are fast-food outlets, but you are more likely to eat in a small restaurant or market that is soneone’s passion-project.

For anyone who enjoys picnicking, Market Salamander and Home Farm Store on Washington Street carry high-quality prepared foods, made-to-order sandwiches, whole cooked chickens, smoked turkey wings, charcuterie, cheese and desserts.

Down the block and around the corner, you can stop for a good cup of coffee, a piece of Danish or a freshly made sandwich at Mello Out Cafe.
Looking to the future, the 168 room Salamander Resort & Spa , opening in 2013, will change Middleburg in a good way. The luxury hotel will have several restaurants and bars as well as full spa facilities and, a first in the area, a full-service equestrian center for guests.
The historic Red Fox Inn, with it's dark wood, low ceiling, was built in the middle of the 17th Century and was frequented by a young George Washington.  The future president would have liked the Inn's "Tavern Fare" of soups, salads, sandwiches and grilled fish, poultry and meat.
On the edge of town, the Goodstone Inn & Estate restaurant is in a building that originally housed the stables. What had been a private estate, with stables, barns, staff cottages and a main house has been transformed into an elegant bed and breakfast inn with 18 rooms and three and half miles of hiking trails on 265 acres of a working ranch.
With a lovely view of the woods and stream below, the restaurant serves an upmarket menu, featuring French and American classics like steak frites, French dip sandwiches, mussels in broth with French fries, onion soup, crepes, tarts, foie gras, roquefort salad, duck a l'orange, filet mignon, rack of lamb and Virginia soft shell crabs.
If you are lucky enough to stay at the Inn, you will be the beneficiary of chef William Walden's confectionary talents. Waiting for you each night on your bed will be a cellophane sack tied neatly with a bow and filled with the most delicious peanut brittle on the planet. Light, crunchy and full of caramel flavor. A bite of the brittle at night is a good way to finish the day after you have been exploring the expansive landscape of pasture land with cattle enjoying their moment in the sun.

Leesburg


Located across the street from Dodona Manor, the George C. Marshall International Center, Mom's Apple Pie is the perfect spot to refuel with a slice of pie and cup of coffee.
With almost two dozen varieties of pies to choose from, there's something for everyone: apple, peach, pecan, coconut custard, strawberry-rubarb, wild blueberry, sour cherry...well, you get the picture. The buttery crust is flaky. The fillings made with good ingredients, which means brown sugar, butter, fresh fruit and nuts.

For anyone not in the mood for pie, Mom (Avis Renshaw) also bakes breads and cookies.


Upperville

Just over the county line on Route 50, eight miles from Middleburg, Upperville is home to the Hunter's Head Tavern.
 Owned by Sandy Lerner, a co-founder of Cisco Systems and an animal rights advocate, Hunter's Head Tavern prepares chicken, turkey, pork and beef raised on Lerner's Ayrshire Farm. Key to the quality of the food served at the Tavern is Lerner's determination to raise livestock sustainably, organically and humanely.
The result of that determination is peace of mind for her personally. For the consumer, the result is uniquely tasty food. The ribeye steak, grilled to perfection, served one evening recently, had a depth of meat-flavor that was surprising and delicious. The chicken was mild and flavorful, the pork chop, sweet and moist.
Besides good food, the Tavern is also worth a visit because of Lerner's perverse sense of humor. She tells the story that when she bought Ayrshire Farm she was asked by a local equestrian society if they could continue to ride across her property for their fox hunt. She said no.
 Maybe that led her to name the tavern, Hunter's Head. Placed prominently next to the bar is the head of a hunter, mounted on a plaque. The period cartoons on the wall feature a world ruled by animals, with foxes in control of a gentrified world.

The meat and poultry served in the Tavern are also sold at her Home Farm Store in Middleburg. Anyone with a kitchen or a grill will want to bring home a selection of Lerner's home cured bacon, sausages, veal chops, ribeye steaks and rib roasts. 

Purcellville

Magnolias at the Mill has the casual feel of a neighborhood hang out. The horseshoe bar takes up half the dining room. Moderately priced salads, soups, sandwiches, burgers, crab cakes (this is Virginia, after all), pizzas, and grilled meats, poultry and fish dishes are a home run for the customers who fill the restaurant. 



Light and airy, the restaurant works well for families, couples on a date and groups of friends who want a place to talk a bit, eat a lot and have a few drinks.


Well-prepared, with an attention to detail, chef Mark Marrocco's dishes hit familiar notes in the best way. A delicate crust protects the crab cake, with large flakes of sweet meat inside. Happily gilding the lily, chef layers on a topping of crisp bacon (an excellent addition!), creme fraiche and salsa. 


Fried green tomatoes are a specialty, for good reason. The filet mignon, asked for medium-rare, makes an appearance, pink within, grill-mark charred outside. The juices run thick and sweet. A great piece of meat. The thin crust pizza is cooked to order. The classic margherita is just that, "classic," with fresh basil and ripe tomatoes topping that crisp crust with just enough olive oil to compliment the salty flavors of the mozzarella. 

Lovettsville

At the northern tip of Loudoun County, the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm
takes a GPS to find. Following winding Lovettsville Road brings you to a house and a large greenhouse on a bluff overlooking the valley below. The 
greenhouse is the restaurant.
Owner Beverly Morton Billand meets diners at the door as if they are dinner party guests. Come at dusk and the dying sunlight adds a magical quality to the location. That is what Billand wants. Magic. 
An appetizer appears, looking like a pot of dirt with plants. She stops at the table seeing that you are confused and explains with a wry smile, the "dirt" is coca, edible, as are the plants--delicate baby radishes, asparagus and beets. Possibly her riff on the pretension of "grazing."

The appetizers have a sense of whimsy. 

Wild purple nettle fritters with a wild elderberry sauce. Winter raddish kimchi with thin slices of salami and roasted pork belly cubes that are deeply flavored and rich with sweet fat.
Using the farm to table connection to advantage, the maple glazed bacon and the raw asparagus salad dressed lightly with olive oil and a little feta were simple, elegant and delicious.

Billand has a good story. Twenty-five years ago she escaped to the hill top to become a vegetable farmer. Her kids convinced her to go organic. Because farming doesn't make enough money, she sold prepared foods. When people wanted to see the farm, she gave nature tours. People got hungry, so she served meals in a tent on the terrace.

Slowly but surely the idea of a restaurant evolved. "Farm to table," a common catch phrase now, energized her. She would serve what she grew.

Billand must be doing something right. In 2010, the restaurant won the Sante Awaard for Culinary Restaurant of the Year, an inclusion in the 50 best restaurants by Northern Virginia Magazine and in Washington Magazine's 100 very best restaurants.



One last memory about the meal. With the spring lamb, Billard paired a wonderful bottle of Chambourcin from Fabbioli Cellars, a winery down the hill in Leesburg. 

Wineries

Virginia is currently the 5th largest wine producer in the United States. In Loudoun County there are 29 wineries, all of which have tasting rooms. 


A free Touring Guide with detailed descriptions of each winery is available on line or can be requested from the guide section of Visit Loudoun. Before visiting a winery, check the times of operation. Some are open by appointment only.
The Touring Guide helpfully organizes the wineries into five, day-trip "clusters,"with lists of "Destination Restaurants" and "Local Favorites" so visitors will know where to eat as they pursue their day of wine tasting.


If you stop at the Sunset Hills Vineyard to sample wines, the Guide will point you to nearby B'z BBQ Company at Paeonian, The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, Lowry's Crab Shack and the Wine Kitchen.


Also, when you have decided on a winery or cluster, check the Visit Loudoun web site to find the location of nearby Civil War sites.


For instance, the wineries in the Mosby Cluster--Quattro Goomba's Winery, Chrysalis Vineyards, Swedenburg Estate Vineyard and the Boxwood Winery--are near interesting sites associated with the Confederate cavalryman, Colonel John Singleton Mosby, known locally as "The Gray Ghost" because he commanded a small troop of soldiers who lived off the land and attacked Union forces using hit and run techniques.


The wineries specialize in small lot production, averaging several thousand cases a year. By and large, the wineries sell the majority of their wines in their tasting rooms.
A few, like Boxwood Winery, are getting enough acclaim to be sold by retailers as well as served in high end Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. restaurants. For Rachel Martin, who operates the winery, Boxwood is a labor of love. With young vines, Martin takes the long view, knowing that her wines, which are winning awards now, will only get better in time.


Tours of the winery include a tasting and are by appointment only. There is also a more easily accessible tasting room in Middlebury.
At Bluemont Vineyard you'll find yourself perched on a hill side at the top of a steeply winding dirt road. Taking advantage of that promontory, the winery has picnic tables and a wooden deck overlooking the valley below. On a clear day, you can see Washington, D.C. in the distance.  


During the summer, local bands play while families and friends hang out on the lawn having picnic lunches. To enjoy with Bluemont's mix of drinkable wines, people bring all kinds of food: fried chicken, pate, baguettes, sandwiches and cheese. 


The wines are nicknamed--"The Goat," "The Donkey," "The Cow," "The Ram," "The Strawberry" and "The Blackberry"--so customers don't have to stumble over the names of unfamiliar varietals (viognier, vidal blanc, petit manseng or rkatsatelli).


But these are not the destination wineries of Napa and Sonoma. The vines are still very young. They need more time to mature before they reach their full potential. 


For the time being, the Loudoun County wines have good qualities, perfect for an afternoon picnic or a summer dinner on the patio. If you want to take the long view, buy some bottles and put them away for a couple of years.