Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A HUNT COUNTRY GETAWAY, Part 2

The GPS knows the way to hunt country - the historic John Mosby Highway (Route 50) west to Middleburg.
A HUNT COUNTRY GETAWAY, Part 2
By Carol Joynt

There are a couple of primary routes that lead from Washington and nearby airports to Middleburg, the heart of Virginia hunt country. The fast way is six lane Route 66, but I prefer Route 50, also known as The John Mosby Highway, a historic stretch of road first tracked by American Indians. It later served a principal role in the Civil War, where troops met battles all along its many miles between the nation’s capital and west to Winchester. As the rural hills begin to lift and drop the road shrinks from four lanes to two - time to turn off the news, ease up on the gas, open the windows and smell the countryside. Okay, so there’s a whiff of manure lilting through the scents of hay and grass. So be it. You’re in horse country now.
The view of two-lane route 50 in Aldie, Va., - Middleburg is five miles down the road.
Clockwise from above: The local newspaper, held down, of course, by a horse shoe; Counter lunch at The Coach Stop, where breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails are on the menu; Pork barbecue with cole slaw at The Coach Stop. Soon the cole slaw will be on top of the BBQ.
Once in Middleburg, a good start to a weekend getaway is The Coach Stop for a counter lunch. I love the pork barbecue on a soft bun with cole slaw and a fresh spun milk shake. The Coach Stop is Middleburg’s all-purpose deli, with cocktails, too. It’s filled with locals, even though the relationship is sometimes hot/cold. The residents can be that way – about everything, and everyone, except maybe their dogs and horses. Drop Sheila Johnson’s name and you’ll get a taste of what I mean. In an earlier era, when I lived there, they fretted about Elizabeth Taylor (while married to Sen. John Warner). But Taylor was an exotic curiosity, where Johnson, the co-founder of BET and a sports team owner, is a force of nature, and is in the process of building a large luxury spa complex on the literal edge of town.
Market Salamander sits on Middleburg's main boulevard, also known as Route 50.
Lunchtime at Sheila Johnson's Market Salamander in Middleburg.
A construction site now, but when it is finished this will be Sheila Johnson's 340-acre Salamander Resort & Spa, with 168 guest rooms, conference facilities and a full-service equestrian center. It has the full attention of hunt country denizens, both pro and con.
Johnson also owns the attractive Market Salamander, which is another option for an eat-in or carry-out meal. They offer a cafeteria line of chef prepared foods, including spit-roasted meats, fresh vegetables and salads, and a yummy macaroni and cheese. A colonial option, and particularly popular with tourists, is The Red Fox Inn, where a specialty is peanut soup. The decor is quintessential hunt country, especially the cozy tap room. Stop upstairs to see the where President Kennedy held press conferences when he, Jackie and the children spent weekends at nearby Glen Ora Farm. You’ll appreciate how small the press corps was in the early 60s.
The entrance to the Red Fox Tavern and hotel in Middleburg. A table for two in the main dining room of the Red Fox Tavern, which is owned by the Reuter family.
Lunch by the fire in the pub room of the Red Fox Tavern.
Upstairs at the Red Fox Tavern, where President Kennedy held some press conferences when staying at nearby Glen Ora farm.
Part of my weekend journey covered familiar territory, but there were some discoveries, too, especially the lovely Goodstone Inn, where I stayed, and a few interesting and delicious restaurants that have stepped up the quality and variety of area dining. Hunter’s Head Tavern in Upperville is a good example.
Roadside on Route 50, the very British Hunter's Head Tavern in Upperville.
The stone gate to the Tavern's entrance in the rear, where there's also a large terrace for dining under umbrellas on warm nights.
It’s an authentic British pub, owned by Sandy Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems. She cashed out of Cisco, a marriage and California in a big way and cashed in at Upperville, buying the nearly 800-acre Ayreshire Farm, where she practices humane and organic farming. Some of the best menu items at Hunter’s Head come from Ayreshire. Like Sheila Johnson, Lerner also owns a market in Middleburg: Home Farm.
Clockwise from top left: The menu at Hunter's Head. Please note the "Bubble and Squeak," and the "Bangers"; Playing by authentic pub rules, patrons line up to put in their food and drink order; The bar at Hunter's Head Tavern; A table for two by the fire at Hunter's Head Tavern; At Hunter's Head Tavern, an appetizer of Stilton, Liver Pate, Cornichons, Salad and toasted pub bread; A toast from Macbeth.
What hunt country story would be complete without a photo of a Jack Russell? This one the Hosta family's "Bruiser," relaxing at home in a leather chair he believes is his alone. Locally made Bangers (Bruiser's favorite). The man who made them was drinking at the bar - with spicy mustard at Hunter's Head Tavern.
From farm to table, at Sandy Lerner's Home Farm market many of the items are from her nearby Ayrshire Farm. Home Farm also sells a variety of prepared foods, like Shepherd's Pie and soups made from Ayrshire Farm's bounty.
The Plains is a little village to the south. It’s most famous resident is actor Robert Duvall. You’ll pass his Byrnley Farm on the 15-minute drive from Middleburg. Head to Forlano’s Market for chef Nicholas Forlano’s inspired cooking. Loyal patrons wait patiently for lunch or dinner at one of the three wood tables.
Eat here: Forlano's Market in The Plains, owned and run by chef Nicholas and Molly Forlano.
My friend Sally Hosta and I opted for the counter – the better to watch Nick prepare lunch with the passion of a man who loves his work. Sally had crab cakes, dense with chunky backfin, a salad, and a glass of wine. Nick’s Philadelphia connection prompted me to order the cheese steak, a wise choice, paired with a cold imported beer.
Clockwise from top left: Getting the food from kitchen to table at Forlano's Market; The counter seats with the view of Chef Nicholas Forlano at work; Forlano's lunch menu; Enjoying lunch at one of Forlano's three tables.
Clockwise from top left: Chef Nicholas Forlano contemplates what to do next at his market-restaurant; A lunch Nick Forlano serves inspired and good sandwiches (here, fresh roast turkey with stuffing, cranberry and mayo) and some salad items, but at dinner it's a full menu of more elaborate preparations, including fresh pasta; Is a South Philly Cheese Steak worth it when it's not served in Philadelphia? Yes, when it's made by Nick Forlano in The Plaines, Va; Nick Forlano's grilled scallop salad with artichoke hearts, olives, arugula and mozzarella.
No hunt country getaway is complete without some time spent on the dirt back roads. They provide views of stone fences, horses, and occasionally awesome estates like the famous Llangollen Farm, which dates to the 1700s, and was home to horsewoman Liz Whitney Tippett till her death. She got it from ex-husband John Hay “Jock” Whitney. She lived there with three more husbands, a few dozen dogs, and, according to rural legend, even invited one of her prized thoroughbreds into the house. After brief and dashed rumors that Tom Cruise would buy it, Llangollen sold to a Morgan Stanley executive in early 2007 for a record $22 million.
The back country roads of the hunt country are a treat. In another month this view will be emerald green with baby leaes on the trees. Still, it has something to offer in every season.
Llangollen Farm, famous in the hunt country for its past occupants and its $22 million sale price. Nonetheless, you can see it from the road.
Mt. Weather sits on a hillside overlooking the Virginia hunt country. It is supposed to be a secret location for the highest government officials in the event of an enemy attack, but it's secret was blown when a passenger jet crashed nearby in 1974.
Once upon a time Virginia wines were a joke, but no more. There are many wineries worth a visit. I chose Linden because it is highly acclaimed and the scenic drive from Middleburg takes just under an hour. The owner and winemaker is Jim Law, who arrived from Ohio. He was impressed with the upstart wine region and decided to plant his roots, literally. His wines are complex, but his mission statement is simple:

“Our job is to express the forces of earth, weather and vine in the bottle.” Jim’s favorite subject is wine, and you can hear his thoughts during a weekend special reserve cellar tasting for $12. There’s also a vineyard tour. Individuals who join his “Case Club” get more perks. When Sally Hosta and I visited we tasted his 2008 Linden Rose, which was being labeled and boxed for shipping. It was summer in a bottle.
Winemaker Jim Law at Linden Vineyards. He says his objective is not to get rich or win awards but to make great wine. Jim Law checks out a grape vine that is ready for spring and summer warmth.
Jim Law opens a bottle of his new Rose at the wine bar where he welcomes guests who visit his vineyard to tour, taste and buy.
Clockwise from top left: Just some of the awards bestowed upon Linden Vineyard; Some of the boxes getting packed with bottles of wine at Linden Vineyards; Sally Hosta swirls and tastes the Linden Rose, which is ready to be shipped for summer sipping; A wine barrel at Linden Vineyards. Winemaker Jim Law cites the Bordeaux and Burgundy wines of France as the models for his Virginia wine;
Jim Law in his cellar. He opened Linden in 1988. He specializes in blends. Some 36 acres of vineyards provide the grapes for Linden wines.
Middleburg’s shopping area has many interesting “ma and pa” shops. There are no mall stores here. My enduring favorites are The Tack Box for all things equestrian (I go for gloves and boots); Thomas Hays’ Jewelers for hunt-themed jewelry and silver; The Sporting Gallery, a venerable seller of equestrian art, and a fun shop called The Fun Shop, for everything imaginable.
Tully Rector is the go-to for lots of denim. If you forgot your jeans, or need more, stop here. They also have some cocktaily things, but focus on the jeans.
All the pretty pale Swedish furniture at Skandina.
Tully Rector sells dresses, but also has stacks of designer denim, and Karen Jackson’s Beyond the Pale offers a vast range of mostly imported bath and beauty products. The Christmas Sleigh, owned by Linda Tripp (yes, of the Clinton-Lewinsky era), sells beautiful German and Austrian holiday ornaments and clothing. Skandina Antiques has fashionable Swedish pieces, while Hastening Antiques, owned by Lou Shields, offers French and English country furniture.
The place to go for well-made jewelry with a hunt country theme; A silver flask at Thomas Hays Jewelers.
Clockwise from top left: The Tack Box, unassuming from the outside, but a wealth of essential hunt country kit on the inside; All things equestrian for sale on the Tack Box bulletin board; The Tack Box' shopping bag is a keeper; The Manolo Blahniks of the hunt country - Ariat paddock boots in many styles; Doing business at The Tack Box.
While Linda Tripp's Christmas Sleigh specializes in authentic German and Austrian Christmas decorations, it provides for other holidays, too. Tripp runs it with her husband, Dieter Rausch. Dogs rule in the hunt country. This is the window of Wylie Wagg, a popular dog (and cat) supply store.
The Fun Shop has its name because it aims to be fun - and affordable - for all ages, selling everything from toys and tchotchkes to kitchen utensils, pet gear and lampshades, and lots of silly stuff.
Founded by the late Gordon Barton, and now run by his heirs, the Sporting Gallery specializes in high quality sporting art, particularly equestrian and canine. The places to go for that coveted Munnings, Herring or Voss.
Step into Mello-Out’s stone basement for a cup of real hot chocolate with house-made vanilla marshmallows. (I returned three times!)
Clockwise from top left: The door that leads to Mello-Out's basement cafe and world class hot chocolate; Picking up a hot chocolate at basement Mello-Out. A must stop; The hot chocolate with house made vanilla marshmallows melting on top.
Get more calories at the great Upper Crust Bakery. Make sure to buy “cow puddles” and sugar horse cookies. I’m addicted to this bakery.
The Upper Crust's staff - making it all fresh and daily.
Delicious horse shaped sugar cookies at The Upper Crust bakery. Another must, for sugar cookies and "cow puddles." Cow puddles.
An essential stop before departing town is The National Sporting Library, called “a research center for horse and field sports.” It’s that and so much more, especially for students and lovers of equestrian art. There are rows and rows of books, lots of good pictures on the walls, and an exhibition space in the basement. While there, look through and even buy a copy of “Animal and Sporting Artists in America.” Its author is F. Turner Reuter, Jr., the library’s fine arts curator, who recently presented a limited edition, numbered copy to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at Clarence House. Though as expensive as a hotel room, it’s quite the hunt country souvenir.
Outside the Chronicle of the Horse building, a sculpture memorializes the Confederate and Union horses and mules that died or were wounded in the Civil War, particularly in the battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville.
The exhibition gallery of the National Sporting Library, which was founded in 1954 by George L. Ohrstrom, Sr., President of the Orange County Hunt, and Chronicle of the Horse Editor Alexander Mackay-Smith. F. Turner Reuter's comprehensive "Animal and Sporting Artists in America," which he recently presented to Prince Charles, is a scholarly and collectible - if pricy - keepsake of a hunt country visit. This version is $195, a slip-cased limited edition version is for $495.
In addition to the sporting art on display, the library has 16,000 books on field sports, including 17th century manuscripts. The National Sports Library is located in downtown Middleburg and is open to the public.
Websites for some of the places mentioned:

Goodstone Inn:
http://www.goodstone.com

The Coach Stop: http://www.coachstop.com

Forlano’s Market: http://www.forlanosmarket.com

Market Salamander: http://www.market-salamander.com

Ayrshire Farm: http://www.ayrshirefarm.com/

The Red Fox Inn:
http://www.redfox.com/

Hunters’ Head Tavern: http://www.huntersheadtavern.com/

Linden Vineyards: http://www.lindenvineyards.com

The Tack Box:
http://www.thetackboxinc.com/

The Christmas Sleigh:
http://thechristmassleigh.com

The National Sporting Library:
http://www.nsl.org/
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.