The South has long presented some of America’s most exciting and delicious food. And while it’s impossible to say that any one Southern cuisine is better than the other—how would you even compare South Carolina low-country to New Orleans cajun?—it would be fair to say that just like the rest of the country, the South is not immune to food trends. Every couple of years, a different food city attracts national attention: Richmond, Virginia; Nashville, Tennessee; Charleston, South Carolina; and most recently Asheville, North Carolina have all had their turns.
But now, a new proposition; perhaps a surprising one: The South’s new foodie hotspot is not a specific city, but a region—Western Virginia (not to be confused with West Virginia). Specifically, a host of local farms, boutique hotels, and new eateries that are popping up all along the I-81 corridor from the Shenandoah Valley down to the Tennessee border.
The restaurants in this region are using local ingredients like ramp, paw paw, and Virginia-grown truffles (yes, truffles grow in Virginia!), and serving elegant tasting menus featuring Virginia meats, Virginia oysters, and Virginia wines. They are attracting chefs trained in places like Asheville or even New York City. Best of all, they’re ushering in a new wave of prosperity to a region that has languished since the demise of the coal industry. So if you’re a gourmand with a taste for road trips and eating at the next cool place before everyone else does, hop in the car and head to Western Virginia. Here are some of the best spots you should check out along the way.
Autumn Olive Farms, Waynesboro, VA
If the idea of visiting a pig farm sounds horrible, think again—you won’t see any signs of “processing” at this bucolic country estate, just lots and lots of happy pigs frolicking free-range in the woods. Autumn Olive is known for supplying some of the state’s best pork to area restaurants, and their attention to each animal’s wellbeing is extraordinary. Their Berkabaw pigs are a proprietary breed which combines two heritage breeds, Berkshire and Ossabaw. Contact the farm through their website to setup an ATV tour of the grounds.
Réunion Bakery, Staunton, VA
Classical Parisian pâtisserie and boulangerie in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley? You heard that right. The team here pulls the meanest espresso in the Shenandoah Valley; owner and head baker Bryan Hollar’s croissant is the stuff of legends. They’re flaky, and just chewy enough. Make sure to get there on the earlier side for breakfast—it’s not uncommon for Réunion to sell out of its most popular items.
Zynodoa, Staunton, VA
Farm-to-table restaurants are more run of the mill these days, but an adherence to local ingredients is especially personal to chef Matt Hull. “I was born and raised in the Shenandoah Valley,” he says, “And I can’t imagine a place with better land for agriculture or an area more saturated with farmers committed to sustainable and humane farming practices. If you’re truly committed to the farm-to-table movement; this is absolutely the place to do it.” You’ll see paw paw on the menu here, as well as those Virginia-grown truffles. If you visit in the springtime, get the faro succotash made with Virginia ramps, asparagus, and turnips, topped off with Caromont Farm goat’s milk cheese—all local, of course.
The Shack, Staunton, VA
Chef Ian Boden doesn’t mince words when he talks about why he moved home to small-town Virginia: “After spending ten years in New York City I was ready for a change. Work-life balance was important to me, as well as opening my own restaurant, and in NYC it’s not possible to have both of those things without millions of dollars on the line. Also there is no room to find yourself as a chef with the pressure of that kind of debt hanging over your head.” Boden has certainly found himself as a chef, with instant classics like black pepper spaghetti with housemate ricotta miso, scallop bottarga, and parsley. The burger—served with black garlic mayo, cheddar, marrow-roasted onions, bacon and dill pickles—is also a local favorite.
Harvest Table, Meadowview, VA
If it isn’t grown within two miles of its associated farm, it isn’t served at Harvest Table. Such is the stance that acclaimed author Barbara Kingsolver took when she opened this restaurant, and her approach hasn’t steered her wrong yet. The menu is filled with southern classics like pecan-crusted trout, but the best dish here is also the simplest: Field Peas and Rice, made with red peas, rice, turnips, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and ginger.
White Birch Juice, Abingdon, VA
Here, you can drink the area’s rich produce. White Birch Juice in Abingdon serves up cold-pressed, house-made juices and tonics worthy of any big city juice bar. The Tart Cherry, made with carrots, beets, and cherries, packs a punch of flavor. And when it’s in season, the Autumn Apple, made with local apples and just a pinch of apple pie spice, is divine.
Milton’s, St. Paul, VA
Nestled on the edge of coal country with a population of just 887, the town of St. Paul is something of a mirage. Frankly, it’s the last place you would expect to find a brand-new boutique hotel in a historic building. But we are so glad we found it, because chef Bradley Griffin’s restaurant Milton’s inside the Western Front Hotel is a perfect example of the energy revitalizing this part of the South right now. The Asheville-trained chef specializes in Appalachian cuisine with sophisticated layers of flavor—for his signature dish, he boils collard greens, then uses the leftover fluid (called pot likker) to poach mountain trout. He then serves the trout with the collard greens alongside a duo of beets under a pickled beet gastrique, and it’s amazing.
For the complete article as published on vogue.com, click here.