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Dinner and Drinks in Shenandoah

Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley has long been one of the most agriculturally rich pockets of the eastern United States. At its heart sits the college town of Harrisonburg, whose streets are chockablock with farm-to-table restaurants, sophisticated wine bars and warehouses turned microbreweries. But a real food lover’s tour of Shenandoah also encompasses out-of-the-way farms and roadside spots highlighting the foods that have defined this region for 200 years. Exploring the winding byways of the Valley—dotted with clapboard barns, silos and white church steeples—reveals a deeply loved food culture that’s more exciting today than at any point in the past two centuries.

Leading the local-food vanguard in Harrisonburg are two restaurant mainstays, the Local Chop & Grill House and the Joshua Wilton House. Both establishments celebrate the rich food history of the Shenandoah. At the Local Chop & Grill House, that means sourcing foods from more than 50 producers in the region. Housed in a 1911 city-produce-exchange building, the restaurant is set in a loft where photos of local farms adorn bare brick walls. Farm-fresh vegetables abound on the menu, but the focus is squarely on meat—it’s a chophouse, after all. Diners build a meal by first picking a protein, such as a sirloin from nearby Buffalo Creek Beef or trout from the Rappahannock River, and then a spice rub, a sauce and sides. Chef Jakob Napotnik presents classic cuts and preparations alongside innovative ones, like pork belly in a Thai-style peanut sauce with bok choy, sprinkled with crispy duck cracklings.

Farther south, the more formal Joshua Wilton House serves elegantly composed dishes in a restored Victorian manse. Chef Brian Bogan’s menu changes seasonally and may include baby beets from a farm down the road or tomatoes and peppers from the chef’s own garden, just outside. A plate of local cheeses may feature a nutty Taleggio-style from Meadow Creek Dairy, or the creamy-sharp Merry Goat Round brie from FireFly Farms, in Maryland. One standout: Sewansecott oysters from the Chesapeake Bay, which arrive at the table lightly fried in a Virginia-cornmeal crust brightened by a lemon-and-caper aioli and arugula.

Just a few blocks away, Bella Luna bills itself as Harrisonburg’s first farm-to-table pizza joint. Out of the restaurant’s huge woodfire oven come piping-hot pies piled high with local ingredients. One summer favorite features roasted peaches and cured Virginia Surryano ham and a bubbly, crackly crust. For a sweet finish, cross the street to sister spot Bella Gelato, opened last year. Flavors such as basil and lavender are made with herbs from Shenandoah growers and milk from the grass-fed cows at nearby Mt. Crawford Creamery. You can pick up more local goods around the corner at the Laughing Dog, an art gallery and shop that stocks custom hand-screened T-shirts and other fun finds.

To get even closer to the source, it’s hard to beat Swover Creek Farms. Nestled in a cozy hollow some 30 miles north of Harrisonburg, it’s designated a Virginia Century Farm, meaning it’s been in the same family for more than 100 years. Since 2011 the operation has produced and sold a variety of handmade sausages—bratwurst, kielbasa, apple-maple and more—some made from produce and beer from the farm. Each plump link is served on a just-baked pretzel roll topped with a homemade sweet zucchini relish. In 2015 the farm opened a new taproom in a converted barn, where sausages are paired with suds from Swover’s own super-small-scale “nanobrewery.” Hops, of course, are grown right on the grounds .

The Shenandoah is also an ideal region for winemaking. “The mountains protect us from late-season rains, so we’re one of the driest parts of the state,” says winemaker Lee Hartman, of Bluestone Vineyard, in the heart of the Valley. “But we also have big temperature swings, which helps develop flavors and acidity in the wines we grow.” Hartman and a few friends planted grapes for personal use in 2003, and officially planted vineyards for production in 2008; now they sell bottles from a recently opened tasting room. Their Steep Face red, a big-tasting Rhône Valley hybrid, is named for Bluestone’s steep hillside vineyard. Another standout is the Chardonnay: It’s smooth but not too buttery, allowing crisp citrus flavors to come through.

Nearby is CrossKeys Vineyards, Shenandoah’s largest winery, with 30 acres of vines and another 7 acres added just this year. Every wine at CrossKeys is estate grown, meaning it’s made exclusively from grapes grown on-site. In the tasting room, set in a Mediterranean-style manor house, popular pours include the Joy white, a stainless-steel-aged vidal blanc named for a friend who suggested they start a vineyard. On warm summer evenings, CrossKeys’ outdoor patio is thronged with wine lovers listening to live music and having a bite to eat. (An on-site bistro offers duck nachos and other fare.)

The Winery at Kindred Pointe sits on a former horse farm, and its past is evident: Statues of the noble animals greet visitors as they approach the tasting room, which is in a former stable. And the Picasso, a Bordeaux blend, is named for one of the horses that are still boarded on the farm. Kindred Pointe has a knack for the unique: In summer, it offers sangria made from the winery’s own merlot and sweetened with peaches and berries.

Virginia may have a burgeoning vineyard scene, but the Shenandoah Valley has a much longer history of producing hard cider. (When Thomas Jefferson found that wine grapes wouldn’t grow at his Monticello home, he switched to apples—and cider became his table drink of choice.) But when Old Hill Hard Cider started selling bottles, in 2012, it was the first commercial cider house in the Valley. Situated on a century-old 40-acre orchard, Old Hill uses vintage apple varieties to produce heritage-style ciders. “We think of ourselves as growers first,” says Sarah Showalter, who runs the farm with her husband, Shannon. “It’s not about adding sweeteners and adding flavors. It’s about knowing apples and celebrating their different attributes.” Forget sickly-sweet sippers: These are drier, food-friendly and more wine-like ciders. In the orchard’s tasting room, blends include the Cidermaker’s Barrel, a Colonial-style throwback that’s slightly fermented for a fun finish.

The region’s craft-beer scene, centered on Harrisonburg, has exploded in recent years. Pale Fire Brewing Co., which recently opened in a nearly century-old icehouse downtown, focuses on traditional styles made with precision. The dry, tart Salad Days saison recently won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival. There’s also an emphasis on lower-alcohol brews, like the Saving Grace, a Belgian-farmhouse-style table beer. At nearby Three Notch’d Brewing Company, traditional beers share the menu with wilder brews. Since this Harrisonburg outpost of a popular Charlottesville microbrewery opened, in 2014, head brewer Mary Morgan has played with ingredients for some out-there ales. The Roggenberry German Rye is finished with a strawberry-and-herb infusion. Morgan takes seasonal inspiration from area growers—the summer Bee Peaceful is made with chamomile from Morgan’s own garden and sweetened with honey from an apiary just outside town. And inspiration here is not hard to come by.


Local Chop & Grill House: 56 W. Gay St., Harrisonburg; 540-801-0505;

Joshua Wilton House: 412 S. Main St., Harrisonburg; 540-434-4464;

Bella Luna: 80 W. Water St., Harrisonburg; 540-433-1366;

Bella Gelato: 49 W. Water St., Harrisonburg; 540-217-5657;

Laughing Dog: 82 S. Main St., Harrisonburg; 540-564-0928;

Swover Creek Farms: 4176 Swover Creek Rd., Edinburg; 540-984-8973;

Bluestone Vineyard: 4828 Spring Creek Rd., Bridgewater; 540-828-0099;

CrossKeys Vineyards: 6011 E. Timber Ridge Rd., Mount Crawford; 540-234-0505;

The Winery at Kindred Pointe: 3575 Conicville Rd., Mount Jackson; 540-477-3570;

Old Hill Hard Cider: 17768 Honeyville Rd., Timberville; 540-896-7582;

Pale Fire Brewing Co.: 217 S. Liberty St., Harrisonburg; 540-217-5452;

Three Notch’d Brewing Company: 241 E. Market St., Harrisonburg; 540-217-5939;

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.