Thursday, February 17, 2011


The Hunter's Head Tavern sits directly on historic John Mosby Highway in Upperville, VA, with Middleburg to the East and the Blue Ridge to the West.

by Carol Joynt

“Punxsutawney Phil” may have assured us of an early spring this year, but technically it's still a month away. While the days grow longer, those of us on the East Coast still need to be warmed and encouraged, and what better way than over a meal. The choices are obvious: fireplace or sunshine. Today I offer a little of both, one familiar, the other new to me.


The Hunter’s Head Tavern in Upperville, Va., has appeared in a few of my columns, but usually just in passing. Whenever I visit friends in the “hunt country” it is a favorite stop. The locals like it year round, particularly in the summer out on the terrace, but I love the place in the winter. It sits on the edge of the John Mosby Highway, which courses a centuries old path from the East to the West, toward the Blue Ridge Mountains. The building dates to 1750 and in every way shouts the authenticity of a welcoming roadhouse.
The view when arriving in the early evening.
By contrast, in summer this terrace is filled with tables, umbrellas and people.
Inside the cozy bar, early evening.
Another view of the front room/bar.
Hello, Mr. Fox. ...and Mrs. Fox.
An ideal winter's meal...for carnivores.
A large table by the hearth in one of the ground floor dining rooms. A table by the fire in an adjacent ground floor dining room.
Coming in from the cold, the first impression is of coziness and wood—the furniture, the floors and walls, the bar, and the logs tossed on the fire. At ground level there are three rooms with two fireplaces and one wood stove. The bar room is a total immersion in English tavern ambience. For this city girl it’s a treat to sit at the bar itself or one of the adjacent small tables and soak up the “hail fellow” among neighbors as they arrive, line up to order and walk away with a wooden spoon that bears a number. They may drive many country miles to get there, but inside it is their corner pub.

And then there’s the food. It has a legacy. Hunter’s Head is owned by Sandy Lerner, a co-founder of the San Jose-based multinational tech corporation, Cisco Systems. Two decades ago Lerner departed the company very well funded, brought her fortune East and, among other ambitious projects, invested in the 800-acre Ayrshire Farm. She applied principals of “humane, organic, sustainable” farming to the crops and herds and built a formidable operation that encompasses not only the farming but a range of outlets, including a terrific market in Middleburg and, of course, much of what’s on the menu at Hunter’s Head.
The number on a wooden spoon corresponds to the customer's order. Symbols that denote origin and preferences.
Behind the bar-everything, plus ale, lager and cider on draft.
Personal tankards over the bar.
Scotch Eggs, English mustard, and entertainment in the pub at night. Complimentary wings and veggies in the bar.
Playing an electronic game by candlelight.
The Sausage Sampler.
Fried sweet potatoes.
The Wedge salad.
Classic Caesar salad.
Grilled Duck Breast.
Filet Mignon.
A slice of the filet.
Creme Brulee.
Sticky Toffee Pudding.
The menus offer a broad range of conventional and popular fare, but it is the “Pub Menu” that is an Anglophile’s delight: Shepherd’s Pie, Fish and Chips, Welsh Rarebit, Bubble and Squeak, Bangers, Liver and Onions, Guinness Beef Stew, plus burgers, dry-aged steaks, and “Sunday Night Prime Rib” with Yorkshire Pudding. Various symbols denote what is “from Ayrshire,” or “Sustainable Harvested Seafood,” “made with local ingredients,” “suitable for vegetarians,” and so on. Some of the menu items have several symbols beside them.

The bar offers lager, ale and cider, on tap and by the bottle, and is festively adorned with pewter tankards that are marked with customers’ personal i.d. numbers. The decorative details throughout have a theme of horses and fox hunting and you can be sure that just about every other person you meet there rides to the hounds or just plain rides. Horses, dogs and land are the lingua francas. The dress code is “country” casual.
At the Home Farm market in Middleburg its possible to buy some of the same Ayrshire Farm products on the menu at Hunter's Head Tavern. Home Farm's uniforms of the trade.
Inside Home Farm, counters with meat, poultry, prepared foods, cheeses, produce and more.
The butcher counter.
At Home Farm, fresh from farm to home.
Ayrshire Farm's fresh micro greens.
Hunter’s Head is open for dinner every day of the week, but serves lunch or brunch only Tuesday through Sunday.

9048 John Mosby Highway
Upperville, VA
Looking through the door at Washington's Puro Café.

Puro Café opened on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown about a year ago, and those who live in the village couldn’t help but notice. It was conspicuously stylish for the location. The motif was a cheerful white and red. Inside the big windows it was easy to see a polished white communal table, and sometimes someone sitting at it, reading a newspaper and sipping a coffee.

For months the owner, Rashid Hassouni, reached out to me to come in for a visit. I finally got around to it last week and my first thought upon entering was what a bright and sunny contrast it was to the cold day outside. Just as with sitting in a cozy room by a fire, similar warmth can derive from a bright contemporary ambience. The second thing I noticed was that the communal table was gone.
Rashid Hassouni, trying his luck in the restaurant business. Looking up (and down) at one of the chandeliers.
Inside Puro, deuces have replaced the communal table, fashion on the TV, and a good people-watching view of Georgetown.
“You know, people are interesting here,” Rashid said as we talked over a sampling of the café’s food. “They seem to want their space and not to sit with strangers. So, I took away the big table.” In its place are several deuces, and two of them are beautifully placed right at the windows, bathed in sunlight, ideal for people-watching outside.

Rashid is a native of Morocco and a first-time restaurateur. Before Puro Café he was in the “fashion business,” he said, as the proprietor of a Georgetown boutique. “That’s why there is the television showing fashion videos,” he added, gesturing to the big screen on the wall. He thought the transition from fashion to restaurants would be easy and profitable, but has learned his new business has its own challenges—chiefly, drawing in the customers. I suggested maybe switching from fashion videos to CNN. He laughed.
Flatbread with Argugula, Prosciutto and Fig
Salad Nicoise
Fruit Salad, Croissant and Greek Yogurt with honey and Nutella
The Egg Brunch Panini
After cutting into the well-poached eggs.
Hot chocolate at Puro Cafe. Puro Cafe's chocolate mousse.
The food at lunchtime was easy, light and delicious. I particularly liked the flatbread with Prosciutto, Arugula and Fig. It covered all the bases. I could easily see someone developing an addiction to the Egg Brunch Panini, featuring ham, asparagus, tomatoes and poached eggs. (It’s so hard to find a well-poached egg.) Rashid also brought out a Nicoise salad, Greek Yogurt with fresh berries, and tempted me with a beautiful Chocolate Mousse, not to mention an afternoon cocktail: a Chambord Cosmpolitan. I demurred on the drink but it was beautiful.

Which brings us to another point that makes Puro Café interesting. For years Georgetown has had a restrictive moratorium on new liquor licenses, meaning to win a new license had about the same odds as winning the lottery. Recently, and stunningly, five new licenses were issued and Puro was one of the lucky recipients. That’s major. What was merely a sunny daytime retreat has the added lure (and profitability) of wine, beer, cocktails, and not just in daytime but until midnight.
Thanks to a new liquor license, the well-stocked bar at Puro Cafe.
A Chambord Cosmopolitan at Puro Cafe.
The lunch hour begins at Puro Cafe.
A happy patron wrote on Yelp: “My bf & I came here one afternoon and it was completely empty. It was kind of awkward especially with the super neat and super white decor. However, once we sat down and made ourselves comfy and really took a closer look, I realized how cute this restaurant was.”

That says it best.

1529 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington DC
The flagship Georgetown Cupcake store, in Georgetown, where the TLC show "DC Cupcakes" was shot.

Cupcake sisters Katherine and Sophie.
Washington’s famous and popular Georgetown Cupcake this Friday begins its second season as a reality TV show.

The program, “DC Cupcakes,” airs on the TLC channel at 10 PM. It follows the antics of owners Sophie LaMontagne and Katharine Kallinis as they and their mostly young staff face the challenges of “creative” cupcake orders.

On Valentine’s Day the cupcake sisters celebrated their 3rd anniversary in business by filling some 400 local delivery orders, not to mention satisfying the long line of customers at the flagship Georgetown store.

Note to New Yorkers: they may be coming your way!


3301 M Street NW
Washington, DC 20007

4834 Bethesda Avenue
Bethesda, MD
Late in the autumn, when the cupcake reality show was in production.
Georgetown Cupcakes with a Valentine's theme.
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