November 27, 2012
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts, Broadway Stars, and localKicks
Thanks to Visit Rappahannock County Virginia – Office of Tourism
‘Grey Thursday’. Who dreamt this one up? It’s so not right, on so many levels, and affords us little time to catch up with family, trim the tree together or settle in for a bit of football. Turkey sandwiches anyone? ‘Black Friday’ – a miserably stressful experience at best. Enough said. Now we have “Cyber Monday’ and we are urged to buy online. Let’s just say it’s a cheerless marketing ploy devoid of Santa and his adorable elves. Is this what Christmas has become, just a way to buy gifts more efficiently? If the meaning of Christmas is checking off items online, or battling frantic buyers in a department store for the last cashmere sweater, then surely the spirit of the holidays will pass us by. So count me out. I want the old-fashioned Christmas back – that glorious time of year when we greet our neighbors and find a store where we can meet the owner or the talk to the artist. So bundle up and sally forth with good cheer into the chill air. Have a mug of hot spiced cider, or something a bit more fortified. Tis the best season of the year!
I like to inch up on Christmas slowly, smell chestnuts roasting, bake cookies, make tiny marzipan pigs, put up fruit chutneys and fill tureens with homemade pimento cheese. As for shopping I prefer to patronize a local business. Last weekend we decided to take our list with us to Rappahannock County, Virginia and add to it an elegant country manor, a few wineries, galleries, specialty boutiques and a few sips of damn good whiskey.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, as department stores and parking lots were filling up with crazed shoppers, we headed west – a quick hour and a half drive from Washington, DC. Soon silhouettes of the Blue Ridge Mountains traced the horizon and we were motoring down country lanes past meadows dotted with Black Angus cattle drinking from placid ponds and on through valleys where horses grazed idly. Weathered red barns and hulking silos chockfull of fodder towered over fallow fields strewn with cylinders of winter hay. Our first stop was a mom-and-pop cider stand to pick up local sorghum and apple butter. Rappahannock County was once one of the nation’s largest apple producers and its rich history of agriculture is still thriving.
We begin in Flint Hill. The tiny town’s quirky not-to-be-missed 24 Crows boasts an art gallery, gift shop and lunch spot. It’s a friendly place where neighbors linger over a glass of wine and where you can get your hands on an extendable bug zapper or choose from a selection of fine wines, gourmet goodies and hand woven socks. The turquoise and yellow clapboard house also bears an array of gifties like dainty fabric handbags, handmade jewelry and wool scarves. Brightly colored fur trapper’s hats with pull-down flaps float down from the ceiling and handcrafted sock animals await the children on your list. We loved the original greeting cards and hand carved larch wood cutting boards. For the nautically inclined on your list take note of Sperryville artist Mark Malik’s classic one-of-a-kind 1950’s runabout models reminiscent of Henry Fonda’s speedboat in On Golden Pond.
Lunch changes daily according to owner/chefs Heidi and Vinnie’s caprices. From the ingredient-driven lunch menu we chose a Wagyu Beef Burger with Applewood smoked bacon and Maytag blue cheese on a challah bun, and the Curried Chicken Salad with apricots and toasted almonds on organic whole grain bread. End on a sweet note with Heidi’s Handmade Ice Cream. The challenge was in deciding on one of the intriguing flavors like Apricot, Drunk Pumpkin made with Meyers Rum, and Curious George Banana and Peanuts. We opted for a cone of Copper Fox Whiskey Sticky Toffee Ice Cream and didn’t regret a lick of it! Shades of things to come… 24 Crows is open Wednesday through Sunday 11:30 till 2:30pm for lunch only.
Across Zachary Taylor Highway (Route 522) is the Horse N Hound for the pet lover and equestrian on your list. The rustic cottage offers everything you need for riding and rough outdoor wear. A pair of Blundstone paddock boots or a jaunty oilskin equestrian cap would satisfy the sportiest on your list – horse owner or not. For the family dog there’s natural pet food and treats or a new collar and leash engraved in a thrice.
A few miles further will put you in Washington. The Inn at Little Washington is the cornerstone of the town and has been a destination spot since 20th Century pioneer chef Patrick O’Connell turned a run-down garage in an off-the-the-grid town into a mecca for international gourmands and the landed gentry. O’Connell has since bought up much of the village, turning Pre-Revolutionary homes into bespoke shops and posh accommodations. If you’re lucky enough to secure a reservation to dine there or stay in one of their romantic suites, you will be in for an extravagant bucket list experience. Executive Chef Scott Lyons gave me a tour of the gleaming kitchens and a dinner guest-only box of mignardises nestled in a replica box of the inn.
Housed in a 1740 restored tavern are The Shops at The Inn at Little Washington. Here you can buy souvenirs of the inn including cookies, preserves, and pies sold in a handmade Shaker box or, for the cook that has everything, one of their signature Dalmatian-spotted aprons. Irresistible Susan Carson and Company handbags; soaps and perfumes from the venerable 18th Century French house of Rancé; chic home accessories; fine art or a cocktail table-worthy cookbook from a fine collection in will beckon the discerning shopper. Mystique Jewelers has a small nook with a case of designer baubles. A pair of gold fleur-de-lis earrings caught my eye, as did some pretty silk negligees from Kumi Koocoon and lingerie from Veréna.
Stonyman Gourmet Farmer is a unique and beautifully restored 18th Century mercantile, one of the oldest in the Mid-Atlantic region. It boasts a series of enchanting outdoor gardens offering a relaxing respite to enjoy lunch or a plate of farmstead cheeses, pastries and fresh baked breads.
Scour Antiques at Middle Street for vintage pieces and collectibles including clocks, toys and porcelain or seek out French tablecloths, rugs and fine art at r.h. Ballard.
A Currier & Ives Christmas
This Sunday, December 2nd, the historic town will be all aglow with its annual Christmas in “Little” Washington Festival & Holiday Parade. Festivities begin 10am with an Artisans Market featuring over 30 local artists and crafters, along with specialty food and wine vendors. The Market will be at both the Washington Town Hall and the RAAC Community Theatre until 4pm.
The Washington Baptist Church on Gay Street will be the site of the “Hanging of the Greens” services at 10am. A rare Christmas stamp collection will be on display from 12:30 until 7pm.
Grand Marshal “George Washington” returns to the first town he surveyed as a young man of 19. Accompanied by other famous Virginia patriots from “The Committee for the Republic,” he leads the Holiday Parade along Main and Gay Streets. The parade begins at 1:00pm and showcases antique cars, homemade floats, a cavalcade of animals and marching bands, and, of course, Santa Claus himself.
At 2pm Stonyman Town Square hosts Santa Claus, who will have a gift for each child who stops by. Also on the Square, the Gold Top County Ramblers will play and sing country and Christmas favorites and visitors can stay warm by the bonfire. Also at 2pm you can experience “living history” as the Virginia Patriots re-enact events from Valley Forge. And for the piece de resistance magician Steve Kish performs at 2:30pm at The Theatre at Little Washington. All events are free and held whatever the weather.
Time for check in and we drive a few short miles to Huntly. A long stacked stone wall signals the entry to Glen Gordon Manor. Don’t look for a sign. The Bed & Breakfast is so understated you won’t see one. Situated below the sight line from the road and beyond a slight rise in the terrain, its discreet profile signals a private country estate. Winter in Virginia’s Piedmont arrives earlier here than in the city and as we come down the long drive we see the neatly stacked cords of wood, covered swimming pool and blanketed horses along with the source of our breakfast, breeds of chickens chosen for the color of their eggshells, skittering around in the backyard.
Originally built in 1833 as a Wells Fargo stagecoach stop, the Gordon family later converted the house to a hunting lodge frequented by the Prince of Wales and his wife, Baltimorean socialite Wallis Simpson, and their tony pals. Since then the manor has been lovingly reconfigured from residence to inn without losing any of its aristocratic identity. You enter under an arbor, where we saw the twitching tail of an elusive cat named Oreo, into a large center hall. We are greeted by owner Dayn Smith with a glass of wine and an invitation to relax beside the fire in the grand Hunt Room.
Dayn Smith and his wife, Nancy, are the manor’s proprietors. Full of genuine warmth, they look like they just popped out of the pages of Town and Country. Their nephew Trent, who is equally as charming, helps with cooking, serving and seeing to guests’ needs. Dayn comes to innkeeping through his years as an award-winning executive chef and owner/entrepreneur of several high-profile restaurants in Puerto Rico – his wife from her years as a nurse tending to VIP clientele in an exclusive New York plastic surgeon’s practice. Their gracious manner is reflected in the elegant details of the manor and the sumptuous cuisine. We immediately sense we are in the lap of luxury and we curl up like kittens beside the roaring fireplace.
The inn’s rooms are tastefully adorned with good art, great books, antiques and sumptuous linens, but the piece de resistance is the food. Though open only a short time, the area is already abuzz with talk of Dayn’s refined French cuisine and his delectable sauces. On off nights they host a members-only “Supper Club” that has diners eagerly rebooking as soon as a new evening’s festivities is proposed.
Our quarters are a few hundred feet down the driveway in the recently redesigned Glencroft Cottage Windsor Suite. The suite is tastefully appointed with a lavish bathroom and large tub situated beside a picture window looking out over the mountains, meadows and stables. We dress for dinner. And when we arrive at seven, the dining room is already lively.
Since the menu is chef’s choice the only decision we need to make is if we would like our five-course dinner paired with wines from the manor’s wine cellar. Dayn is partial to French wines, which suits us just fine.
We begin with a Willm Alsatian Blanc de Noir Crémant made from 100% pinot noir grapes. It is accompanied by an amuse bouche in the form of Aleppo-crusted quail with tiny potatoes fried in sumptuous duck fat. We are swooning already. The palate teaser is followed by cream of parsnip soup with chive spuma topped with crispy parsnip chips and paired with another Willm Alsatian wine – a Pinot Blanc Reserve.
A seasonally correct roasted pumpkin salad arrives constructed of local garden greens, jamón Ibérico, Manchego cheese and toasted pepitas dressed in a balsamic reduction. We continue with our fish course – steelhead trout nestled in a tangle of carrots, leeks and fennel and dotted with a dill beurre blanc and complemented by a glass of Bandol, a rosé from Mas de la Rouvière. If I were at home I would have thrown up my hands and called for my uncle, but who would turn down sheer rounds of veal cheek ravioli with truffle and wild mushroom ragout and delicate Brussel sprout leaves served with a Côtes du Rhône, Les Champauvins from Alain Jaume et Fils. And who in their right mind would resist apple gallette with caramel ice cream and caramel Anglaise and apple butter heightened by a Dow’s 10 year-old tawny port? It was an extraordinarily creative and outstandingly sublime meal, prepared with a light yet skilled hand and reflective of the superb ingredients and the chef’s mastery of sophisticated culinary techniques. We resume our contented feline positions after dinner, lingering by the fire and visiting with other equally impressed dinner guests.
The following morning a four-course breakfast awaits us in the sunny dining room – fresh orange juice, seven-grain oatmeal with milk spuma, Greek yogurt with raspberries and blueberries and wild rice pancakes topped with an orange yolked poached egg, Hollandaise and asparagus. Thank you little chickens. We are tempted to linger but unfurl ourselves and embark on our mission, armed with gift lists to complete.
Glen Gordon Manor, 1482 Zachary Taylor Highway, Huntly, VA 22640. www.glengordonmanor.com
Though Rappahannock Cellars winery is just around the corner we drive a few miles to the town of Sperryville, which lies beside the curvaceous South Fork of the Thornton River. We head for The Shops at the Schoolhouse where we find Coterie, which is defined by a group of artisans and designers housed in a series of rooms. Look for beautiful handmade leather belts, bags, jackets, medieval-style leather corselettes and dreamy full-length naturally dyed linen dresses perfect for wearing with cowboy boots. In the garden room we find unusual new and vintage outdoor ornaments. The whimsical hand made woolen figures, owls and elves, are particularly enchanting. Pick up a few boxes of Cocoa Bella hot chocolate blend for a perfect hostess gift.
Wandering around I found a few well-priced antique paisley throws, garden artifacts and collectibles in Monkey Business and I meet Rebecca Abecassis proprietor of the Knit Wit Yarn Shop. Rebecca carries an astonishing array of fine yarns and knitting supplies along with fair trade teas, jewelry, handknit hats, gloves and scarves.
Across the way is the River District Arts, an artist collaborative laid out in a series of spaces similar to Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory. Explore the open studios to find original art, photography, pottery and crafts. In the Artisans Market two exhibition galleries showcase regional artists and one-of-a-kind Virginia crafts. You’ll come upon Café Indigo for yummy soups, sandwiches and light fare. Pumpkin cupcakes were the flavor of the day, but the choices vary daily. After the holiday parade in Washington on Sunday, December 2nd they are planning an artist reception featuring the Small Works show. Sip a glass of mulled cider and meet the artists.
In the heart of the historic village is Rudy’s Pizza side by side with Thornton River Grille and the Corner Store. Warning: Do not leave town without having pizza at Rudy’s. It is the gold standard in Italian pies and once you have had it you will be forever comparing other versions to it. Repeat: Have this pizza. You will thank me.
We perused the aisles of the Corner Store discovering freshly made Hatfield pork sausage, Russian black bread, cheeses and local yogurt – picnic provisions for another day – when I ran into WJLA meteorologist and local resident, Bob Ryan, who had dropped by to say hello to his pal, local photographer Ted Pellegatta, at the counter signing his book – Virginia’s Blue Ridge – A Pictorial Journey.
But we are focused on gifts today so we trot down the road a piece to the Copper Fox Distillery for a few bottles of Wasmund’s Applewood Aged Single Malt Whiskey and their Copper Fox Rye Whiskey. Rick Wasmund is an old friend who lives above the distillery with his beautiful new wife and baby daughter. He showed us around the property and proudly told us his small-batch whiskies are now being exported to England and Scotland. Now that should tell you something about the caliber of his product. If you have a few minutes take the complimentary tour where you’ll taste the both the raw and toasted barley and learn about the process of making whiskey. It’s highly informative and the fumes are intoxicating.
A mile or so further down Route 211 is the cozy Central Coffee Roasters. Margaret Rogers is the engaging and well-traveled owner who along with her musician son, Tucker, roast the coffee on site, greet visitors and hold tastings.
As you head back to DC, drive along Route 522 (which becomes 211) and on to Amissville. There are no little shops to browse but some wonderful tasting rooms where you can pick up a few bottles of wine and wine accoutrements. Wasn’t that on your list too? Stop in at Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly, Narmada Winery and Gray Ghost Vineyards & Winery in Amissville.
Back to the city we go after a thrilling weekend in the country filled with real memories of the holiday spirit and a car laden with treasures. Move over Santa this sleigh is full!