Sometimes you just want to get away and as the fall colors begin to adorn the trees, nothing could be more welcome than a day trip to Washington, Va., home of the famed Inn at Little Washington.
Just 67 miles from its larger namesake in Rappahannock County, Little Washington is little more than a country crossroads that has managed to become a mecca for fine dining since chef Patrick O’Connell settled there in 1978. Since then, O’Connell’s inn and restaurant have racked up awards from the James Beard Foundation, Zagat, Wine Spectator, Mobile Travel Guide and AAA, with rooms starting around $800 a night and dinner ringing in at about $200 per person (a price that used to seem other-worldly but is now becoming de rigueur in D.C. among even the youngest chefs).
But if these flights of fancy are a bit out of reach, consider instead simply spending a sunny Sunday at the Inn’s Village Market, where you can taste treats from O’Connell’s kitchen while shopping for local goods. Meandering among the tents and tables set up in the shady Parsonage Garden, just across the street from the Inn, you’ll find tiny fresh quail eggs, goat milk ice cream and both sweet and savory gluten-free baked goods. It runs Sundays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. through Oct. 30. Details here.
For O’Connell (the Blade interviewed him here in 2015) the market provides an opportunity to showcase the local farmers and vendors who supply the Inn with much of the food that ends up in its dining room, but, perhaps even more importantly, to introduce city folks to his corner of Virginia, saying, “What could be more pleasant than spending a day in the country?”
When you get to the Village Market, head first to the Inn’s own table, because the biscuits piled with cured pork made by Tom Calhoun of nearby Culpeper, whom O’Connell has referred to as a “ham artist,” will go quickly, along with freshly baked croissants and pastries, sometimes selling out before noon. Once you’ve had a nosh and grabbed a hot- or cold-brewed coffee from Before & After’s table, you can seriously peruse the offerings and begin to load up on purchases to take back to “civilization.” Pro tip: stash a cooler in the trunk so you don’t have to rush the return journey.
A few items to be on the lookout for at the Village Market:
Dried herbs from Full Moon Farm. Forget the stuff you bought at the supermarket, because farmer Michael Frank — also an expert glassmaker — can prove in one sniff why it pays to buy freshly dried herbs. The organically grown herbs, such as marjoram, dill and tarragon, are cured and packaged quickly, retaining a fresh-from-the-garden scent and flavor that packs a big punch in home cooking. The Herbes de Provence at $7.95 is a winner.
If you’re lucky, Purcellville butcher Lothar Erbe will be decked out in his traditional lederhosen when you stop by the Lothar’s Sausages table. Some of his signature creations include Whyskey Bacon, pork belly cured with Himalayan salt and local Catoctin Creek rye whiskey; Smoked Yucatan Gaucho Brats, made with beef, pork, spices, herbs, jalapeños, queso and tequila; and authentic Hessen Style Potato Sausages.
Amp up your cocktails with botanical syrups from Wild Roots Apothecary. Actually brewed in D.C.’s Union Kitchen, these bottled syrups feature creative blends of flowers, herbs and fruit that work in both cocktails and mocktails. The Nettle Orange syrup has bright notes of fennel and citrus, pairing well with gin or rye, while the Rosehip Hibiscus syrup, with hints of star anise and coriander, mixes perfectly into a margarita. Pair the Elderberry Lavender — a personal favorite — with chilled green tea, vodka and a fresh lemon garnish.
Great Greens offers a wide array of unexpected flavors with its microgreens and lettuces, from purslane and red sorrel to mini kale and salt wort. Some folks are hesitant to purchase fresh greens, microgreens especially, because of concern that they will deteriorate quickly, but they will generally stay fresh for up to seven days if stored properly in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Sample the different varieties, which change frequently — the micro nasturtium was a recent favorite: its snappy horseradish bite is perfect for topping deli sandwiches.
While you’re wandering the market, keep an eye out for the tall, rangy figure of Chef O’Connell (who’s openly gay), who loves to extoll the virtues of his adopted home and point out his favorite treats. And be prepared to unplug while you’re there — cell phone service is sketchy at best, so take a break from social media to live, and eat, in the moment.
Kristen Hartke is a D.C.-based food writer and editor. Follow her kitchen adventures on @khartke.