How the Shenandoah Valley Shines as a Leading Food Capital of the Country
January 30, 2018
Who doesn’t love sitting down for a memorable meal at a great restaurant? Or sipping a glass of wine, beer, or cider produced with love and attention? For hundreds of years, the Shenandoah Valley has been the source of some of the nation’s best food. Now, more and more people are discovering for themselves what this region has to offer food and drink lovers. An abundance of farm-to-table restaurants, farmer’s markets, specialty food producers, breweries and vineyards have made the Shenandoah Valley a hotspot for East Coast culinary tourism. Add the stunning natural beauty of the region, and you’ll understand why the Shenandoah Valley makes for a perfect weekend getaway for foodies.
Today, four of the top five agriculture-producing counties in Virginia are in the Shenandoah Valley, with tomatoes, apples, grapes, peanuts, cotton, turkey, and broilers (chicken) among the top 15 commodities in the U.S. In fact, Rockingham County even claims the title of “Turkey Capital,” leading the state in turkey production.
For visitors, however, the draw is enjoying these ingredients put to use, as the region’s creative chefs turn fresh, high-quality produce into culinary masterpieces. Want to see for yourself just how tasty the cuisine of the Shenandoah Valley can be? Here’s a quick guide to just some of the offerings to sample.
Many leaders of the farm-to-table movement can be found in the Shenandoah Valley. Polyface Farms, with its emphasis on humane and environmentally friendly meat production, catapulted into fame after being featured by Michael Pollan in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and its meats are used by restaurants throughout the Valley. Why outsource when you have an abundance of fresh produce practically in your backyard?
Towns like Staunton, Harrisonburg, Lexington, and Winchester, with their charming downtowns, often dot the list of must-dine locations in the Shenandoah Valley. The Red Hen was Lexington’s first farm-to-table restaurant, and has been serving “inspired Shenandoah cuisine,”since it first opened in 2008. The menu changes frequently to emphasize what is new, fresh, and in-season locally.
Bella Luna Wood Fired Pizza in the historic Livery Building in downtown Harrisonburg features farm-fresh food, including wood-fired pizzas, handmade pastas, and seasonal salads. You can also get locally-made craft beers and ciders, and wine, in addition to artisan cocktails. Also in Harrisonburg is the Local Chop and Grill House, located in the City Produce Exchange Building. It features a menu with hand-selected seasonal foods prepared by Chef Brian Bogan, including steaks and chops, organically raised poultry, house-made charcuterie, and organically grown seasonal produce.
In downtown Staunton, Zynodoa offers inspired southern cuisine from produce and livestock primarily sourced from independent farmers in the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont regions of the state. Its seafood comes from the Chesapeake Bay, with the menu changing daily to reflect what’s seasonally available—expect creative interpretations on southern classics. In Winchester, The Butcher Station is known for its artfully prepared meals using locally produced meats and bread baked in-house. If you’re in the mood for a dry-aged steak, this is the place to go.In Front Royal, Element on Main is known for the creativity of its chefs, David and Stacy Gedney, who use local ingredients extensively on their menu. You’ll find a comfortable and modern atmosphere in this restaurant that’s open for lunch and dinner, with a wide-ranging menu that changes often. A full bar and extensive wine list make it a perfect spot for a relaxing evening.
What else might you find on your plate in the region? Typical Shenandoah Valley cuisine often taps into its immigrant and agricultural roots, with hearty stews, grits, cornbread pudding, or famous Virginia ham with redeye gravy. Trout, sourced directly from Shenandoah Valley rivers, is often a mainstay. You’ll find lots of apples—apples and pork, apple butter, applesauce, apple bread, and apple pie. There’s a multi-day festival in Winchester—the Apple Blossom Festival—that has been an annual tradition for more than 90 years and that celebrates the region’s top fruit.
Fields of Gold Farms Trail
For those who really want to explore the region’s food system, the Fields of Gold Farm Trail offers something for everyone. The Trail features 256 farm-oriented activities to choose from, ranging from fresh pick-your-own produce operations and farmer’s markets to on-farm experiences and lodging. Whether you’re interested in picking orchard fruit, savoring a wine tasting, touring a working farm, or finding a great farm-to-table restaurant, the Trail lets you customize your experience.
At the Woodstock Brewhouse, you can sample smoky local barbeque and handmade beers in a former blue jeans factory. Posey Thisisit Llama Farm invites visitors to make crafts using llama-wool and allows them to feed the animals. A Better Way Goat Farm & Dairy (hyperlink) sells soaps and cheese, and visitors can try Goat Yoga. After all, there’s nothing better for stress relief than snuggling a baby goat.
Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail
Although winemaking dates back to Thomas Jefferson, vineyards didn’t open to the public until the later 20th century. Shenandoah Vineyards opened its doors in 1976 and today, is the second oldest winery in the state and the oldest in the Shenandoah Valley.
The Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail now features more than two dozen different wineries, producing some of the best wines in the eastern United States. Cross Keys Vineyards was a gold medalist in the 2017 Governor’s Cup for its 2015 Cabernet Franc. inding award-winning wines plus mountain views? Now, that makes for a great getaway.
Shenandoah Beerwerks and Spirits Trails
More into craft beer than wine? The Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail stretches from Harrisonburg to Lexington and includes 14 breweries. Use the Beerwerks Trail to navigate to acclaimed craft beer makers operating in the Shenandoah Valley. Many of the breweries host food trucks, and some offer a full menu. Many breweries host live music events, and most are kid- and dog-friendly.
The Shenandoah Spirits Trail expands the map of beverages to include it all—wine, beer, spirits, and ciders. Here you’ll find more than 40 establishments offering tastings and selling homemade products in their rural outposts. Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse has farmed apples for more than 50 years. Owners Sharon and Shannon Showalter recently expanded to produce award-winning hard ciders under the name Old Hill Cider. Surrounded by 40 acres of apple trees, the rustic tasting room is a popular hangout, and the place to sip extraordinary ciders with blends that are tart, dry, sweet, or aromatic.
So if food and drink is important to you—and frankly, that’s just about everyone, isn’t it?— the Shenandoah Valley offers enough options to keep you coming back for seconds all year long.
Originally written by RootsRated Media for Staunton.
Featured image provided by Shenandoah Valley