Thursday, May 16, 2013

Washington Social Diary

Buttercups in bloom in Rappahannock County, VA.
by Carol Joynt

It’s not uncommon among people of a certain age and means to hear someone wax on about their fantasy of an idyllic life after the decades-long grind of making it. The goal is a patch of land in Burgundy, France, Tuscany or California’s Napa Valley, with vineyards nearby, plus good restaurants and interesting like-minded people. The dream is a particular way of life that’s humble and bucoloic, removed from the rat race yet still sophisticated and not idle. A charming home, beautiful view, peace. 

Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s just down the road, especially if you live in or near Washington, DC. 

The town of Washington, Virginia, has been famous for decades, ever since Patrick O’Connell opened his now hall of fame worthy Inn at Little Washington restaurant and hotel. It has won every top award that can be won and several times over. There was a nasty bump in the road a while back when Patrick split with his long-time partner, but that was then and now the Inn is better than ever.
A pretty morning in Rappahannock County Virginia.
The bigger story here is what’s grown up around the Inn — Rappahannock County. I’ll be glad to sit down any day and wager Rappahannock against the route 7 corridor of Connecticut, the hamlets surrounding Beaune, France, the hills above Santa Barbara, and oh, what the hell, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, too. Name your dream spot and I'm in for the debate.

We just spent 24 hours in Rappahannock to celebrate Mother’s Day. While we didn’t stay at the Inn, we stayed nearby at the home of good friends Beverly and John Fox Sullivan. John Sullivan is the town’s mayor and an activist mayor, at that. He also has a day job as publisher at large of Atlantic Media. Beverly, too, has a full life — working for many charities, running their homes, minding their brood of  King Charles Spaniels and being John’s best friend. The night before we arrived they’d hosted 125 people at their home at a potluck dinner to raise funds for Rappahannock’s Food Pantry, an event Beverly started. 
The driveway to the mayor's home.
On the Sullivan's front porch.
The entry hall of the Sullivan home.
The Sullivan's back terrace.
A table on the Sullivans kitchen terrace.
In the country one never has too many shovels. A pretty vignette.
For our visit it was a smaller dinner party, which included their neighbors from one field over, Nevill and Clare Turner, who met on Mustique in the Grenadine Islands (Clare, or Nevill? ran Basil’s bar before it was Basil’s), married on Anguilla, and have had rich and interesting lives since, but settled in Little Washington to start a chutney business, The Virginia Chutney Company, which they operate quite successfully out of their barn.
Clare and Nevill Turner's compound, where they also produce their chutneys under the label The Virginia Chutney Co.
During our Mother’s Day cookout we slathered their chutney and pepper jelly on our burgers and it was delicious. Like the Sullivans, the Turners represent the kinds of interesting people who flock to Rappahannock.
The table set for dinner.
Everyone pitched in with preparing dinner in the kitchen.
John Fox Sullivan's comprehensive and interesting bar.
The coffee table on a Sunday evening. We used this Virginia Chutney Company pepper jelly on our hamburgers and it was a winning combo.
The Mother's Day burgers (using Rappahannock beef).
Nevill Turner.
Clare Turner and Spencer Joynt. Clare Turner shows off the asparagus with morels.
Too bad this photo doesn't have scent, because the potatoes smelled great (and tasted great, too).
Clare Turner and Spencer Joynt.
Sunset on Mother's Day.
Time for a nap.
Not to forget all the ex-CIA who are out there (including two former directors of the intelligence agency, and a number of former station chiefs). John Sullivan and I tried to figure out why so many spooks are in Rapp. One theory, mine, is that the CIA’s training center is nearby — it’s often called “the farm”— and some spies fall in love with the region during their training.

His theory is that it’s affordable, because most spies live mainly on a government income. Our combined theory is that it’s possible to buy a house on top of a mountain and have a long driveway, the kind of positioning a former CIA operative would appreciate. Regardless, it adds to the mystique.
Taking a seat in the Inn's lounge, Mayor John Sullivan, CJ and Spencer
On Sunday night before dinner, John, my son Spencer and I walked over to The Inn for a cocktail and to say “hello” to Chef Patrick on what is easily one of the busiest days of the year in the restaurant business. We arrived in the lounge at 5. The restaurant had been serving customers steadily since 11 am and planned a last seating at 7:30.

Still, the staff were all smiles. In particular O’Connell, who emerged from the kitchen with a giant basket of morels. He wanted us to know the morel season in Rappahannock was the “best ever,” and that hippies were showing up at the back door daily to sell their “shroom" crops to The Inn. If we were in doubt, he returned to the kitchen only to come back with two more members of the staff, each of them carrying large trays of morels.  The scent of fresh earth was bliss.
"The Diplomat," a new bourbon cocktail created at The Inn. The best possible accompaniment for cocktails: truffled popcorn.
Some spring brilliance at The Inn at Little Washington: potato chips with lobster and caviar with a sauce from the morning's peas.
We ordered the Inn’s new bourbon cocktail, The Diplomat. Chris Castle, the Inn’s “ringmaster” (actual title) arrived with little boxes of popcorn, a truffle and started shaving over the popcorn. Oh, yum. We decided The Diplomat, with its “toasted green cardamon syrup,” was a hit — zingy and refreshing. Patrick sent out a couple of plates to woo our palates, including a dish with morels and asparagus and another that was basically and brilliantly potato chips with salmon and caviar. Were we spoiled? Yes, of course. It was Mother’s Day. (The best gift? My son, the creative advertising major, home from college for a few days before beginning his summer internship with big oil in Houston). 
Chef Patrick O'Connell. Mother's Day is one of the busiest of the year at the Inn, but Patrick has a moment to hang out.
The morel bounty is the "best ever" said Patrick. Here's proof.
Two of Patrick's senior staff gently coerce him back into the kitchen for more Mother's Day work.
Showing off the morels, Patrick sent out this dish with country ham, asparagus and morels.
The three of us walked back to chez Sullivan, with the mayor pointing out what new businesses are coming to town. It’s a town that's easy to traverse, but when you go always make time to visit the various public gardens, and to walk The Inn’s field path, which circles the sheep pen, passes the vegetable garden and the chicken house.

Get deep into that path and it is transporting — to Glocca Morra, perhaps? Take a seat on one of the white Adirondack chairs and contemplate the mountains. There are vineyards nearby, too (not France, California or Italy, but not bad at all) with some notable wines coming out of Linden, Barboursville and RdV Vineyards. 
The Inn at Little Washington, it's paint color changed from peach to blue, is better than ever.
Is this England? No, it's the herb garden at the Inn at Little Washington.
A place to relax — the Inn's herb garden.
Phlox in the Inn's herb garden.
In the Inn's herb garden. The Inn's walking path that passes the vegetable garden, the chicken house, the sheep and Francesca the llama, who protects the sheep.
The vegetable garden.
The chicken house.
The Clun Forest sheep.
Francesca the "guard" llama, doing her job in the sheep field.
Buttercups and the sheep shed.
A place on the property sit and contemplate the beauty.
Sullivan, as any mayor would, was keen on pointing out new construction.  DC developer Jim Abdo has bought the old Heritage House B&B and plans to transform it into new luxury overnight accomodations that should open by fall. He’s invested big in the town and the mayor is delighted.

Across the street, O’Connell has bought and is buffing up a handsome period building to make way for more Inn rooms. Just down the road two more notable overnight guest houses that have been operating for years: The Gay Street Inn, a sweet spot of shade on a sunny day, and beyond that the handsome red brick Middleton Inn, which has its own CIA connection. 
DC developer Jim Abdo has big plans for this period building. It will open as the White Moose Inn by the fall.
One of several guest cottages owned by the Inn at Little Washington.
This building, across the street from The Inn, includes what Patrick O'Connell calls the Inn's "ballroom." The front porch of the Inn's store.
Patrick O'Connell plans to add more rooms in this house across the street from The Inn at Little Washington.
The Gay Street Inn on Gay Street. A side porch at the Gay Street Inn.
Do you recall the Petraeus affair? Of course you do. The former CIA director, Gen. David Petraeus, stepped down after announcing he’d had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. A bit of interesting trivia is that at the time the affair went public, viral and global, Broadwell had checked into the Middleton Inn with her husband, for a romantic celebration of her birthday. The scandal broke in the media the very night they checked in — to a room where a vase of flowers and an ice bucket with champagne were waiting. He was described as being “untalkative” at breakfast. I bet.
The Middleton Inn, with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains (and a small connection to a big romantic scandal).
This log cabin is available for overnight guests through the Middleton Inn.
The Sullivan spread is literally in the heart of the little town, and yet it is a bucolic spot with a big pond, surrounded by fields. It’s a 5 minute walk from the Inn. In every direction around the town are little streets lined with interesting homes, and views in the distance of unspoiled mountains and then the big blue sky.

What I found during this springtime visit was literally a carpet of buttercups across the  green fields, young gardens ready to thrive, sheep and cows enjoying the sunshine, little shops, new B&B’s and restaurants to augment The Inn, incredibly lovely places to walk or sit, in and around the town, and lots of real estate on the market. 
The view from John and Beverly Sullivan's home in Washington, VA.
... and from the other direction.
What there are a lot of in Little Washington are realty offices, such as this one in a log cabin.
It is the county seat and the county courthouse in the center of town, on Gay Street, with azaleas in bloom outside. The county jail is nearby, and even the inmates have their own vegetable garden, which they tend, to produce food for their meals. 

Geese and their goslings waddle down Gay Street, making it from a pond on one side of town over to a pond on the other side. There’s an old-time small-town movie theater, beautifully restored, that also has jazz and classical concerts. There’s Tula’s Cafe and the Country Cafe, both popular with the locals. 
This garden is tended by residents of the nearby Rappahannock County jail to provide vegetables for their meals.
Goslings and their watchful parents.
The Rappahannock County courthouse on Gay Street in the center of Little Washington. A detail at a street corner.
View through a window.
The town's theatre, home to movies, and Smithsonian concerts featuring jazz, ragtime, folk and classical music. A place to find food — Stonyman Gourmet Farmer.
A public garden off Main Street. In the garden beside Stonyman Gourmet Farmer.
A relatively new eatery that is popular with locals and visitors, Tula's. It's across the street from the courthouse.
Ballard's store sells all kinds of charming items and was recently named one of the best stores in the state by Northern Virginia magazine.
The Country Cafe is popular for basic, down-home cooking.
Outside the Country Cafe, a man asks, "please take a picture of me and my dog."
Rappahannock is a good place to get lost. Maybe only for a weekend, or maybe for that idyllic dream life. Certainly for a splendid Mother's Day. The photos tell the story best. 

If you plan to visit, it's an 80 minute drive from DC, and a little less than an hour from Dulles International Airport. Skyline Drive atop the Blue Ridge Mountains is another 25 minutes to the west. The Inn has a field suitable for a helicopter to land, if you just can't wait.
Monday morning, after a festive weekend, Mayor John Sullivan focuses on the town's business before an evening council meeting.
Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt