The Middle of Somewhere – Of Wine, Virginia, and Red Fox

First off, no, this is not about Redd Foxx.
Second - I grew up in California where I still frequent Musso & Frank Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, having first opened in 1919. So when I'm on the east coast I try and look for restaurants that also have longevity. There’s something unique and very cool about eating at the same place that people have eaten at for hundreds of years; a connection to our collective past by way of a gathering place of food and drink. I have dined at places like Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria (started in 1770) and Sobrino de Botin, the oldest restaurant in Madrid, Spain (1725), and the amazingly cool Berggasthaus Ascher in Switzerland (1840s), tucked into a rock in the Alps. So when I was recently in Virginia I knew there would be compelling choices.

The Interior at the Red Fox
The Red Fox Tavern was built in 1728. The Tavern, originally known as Chinn’s Ordinary, it has gone through many iterations through the years. It was called the Beveridge House in the early 1800s, renamed the Middleburg Inn in the late 1800s, and finally renamed again as the Red Fox Inn in 1937, and it has provided food and lodging more or less non-stop for almost 300 years. The current owners have operated the Red Fox since 1976. It is situated in Middleburg, Virginia. Not familiar with Middleburg? Neither was I. An odd name at best - however it was a practical solution as it is the halfway, or middle, point between Alexandria and Winchester on John Mosby Highway, hence its monotonous moniker.

The Country Benedict
But the tedium ends there. The narrow doorways and low ceiling of the Red Fox remind you this was built many moons ago when people were smaller of stature. The local stone on the interior is painted a thick white, there are fireplaces in both rooms that illuminate and warm the convivial space. Colonial style wood chairs and wide plank flooring complete the visual with lots of paintings of horses and hunting dogs.
I stopped in for brunch and all brunches start with a plate of warm pastries made at a bakery nearby but they are light crisp and delicate. Also warm bread is provided and whipped sweet butter, which sets the stage for a two or three course prefix menu for brunch. But it is the peanut soup for which they are known. Served warm, add a bit of cracked pepper for an extra dimension of flavor. Peanut soup is pretty much peanut soup in that it tastes like, you know, peanut, and this iteration is mild and creamy and something most of us never try (the recipe is listed below from the restaurant), with a long history in the region. I do suggest The Country Benedict also, which offers a delicate, lemony Hollandaise.

Surrounding Middleburg, are numerous wineries adding to the already 230 wineries in Virginia. Best visits include GreenhillWinery nearby who make a delightful all Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc sparkler as well as several red blends. The tasting fee is $14 for 7 wines. The tasting room opens up to a covered porch and freestanding tables and chairs on the lawn. You'll also find local cheese, honey from the bees on their property and packaged frozen Charolais beef to take with you from their own cows. They also offer carriage rides through the vineyard.

Down the road is Chrysalis, a sleek and modern facility perched on a hill overlooking a small valley. Tastings are done both inside and outside which means dogs and kids are welcome. Jennifer McLeod was one of the first to plant Viognier in Virginia, and Viognier is now the state’s signature white wine. I originally wrote about this winery a decade ago for a magazine and now ten years later the Viognier still holds up well with lively nice acidity, notes of honey, apricot and lime.  Also you need to make a stop at 50 West who is turning out some stunningly good reds from grapes grown in Virginia including a very cool 100% Chambourcin Port called Dusk. And every Sunday they have hot mulled wine for $5 a glass. So if you're passing through this middle ground take time on either end of you trip to check out the charming Middleburg area.
The carriage rides at Greenhill Winery
Red Fox Tavern: Peanut Soup, 15 Servings
2 quarts chicken broth, 3 tablespoons flour
Small diced onion
1/3 teaspoon celery salt
Quarter pound butter
1 teaspoon salt
Two stalks celery diced
1 pint peanut butter
Half cup cream
Ground peanuts for topping
Melt butter add onion celery sauté for five minutes but don't brown.
Add flour and mix well.
Add heated chicken broth cook for 30 minutes.
Remove from stove, strain, add peanut butter and celery salt. Thicken with cream, top with ground peanuts, garnish with parsley.

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