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No matter where you’re headed, one of the highlights of any trip, be it an overnight stay or a weeklong vacation, is the food. So for this year’s fall travel package, we decided to cut out the middleman and highlight four destinations where dining is the whole reason for making the trip. Which isn’t to say that there’s nothing else worth checking out in these towns in Maryland and across the commonwealth. But when you’re eating at restaurants where the menu is choreographed by James Beard Award nominees and Top Chef alums, it’s hard for food to be anything but the main event.


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This page: (clockwise from top) photo by Steve Hedberg; Chris Smith; courtesy Trummers; courtesy Town House; opposite page: photo by Jonathan Timmes/courtesy Foti’s

A quartet of destinations with travel-worthy restaurants

big cuisine

Foti’s chicken paella, with herb roasted chicken on paella-style rice with garlic-and-whitewine-steamed mussels served with grilled andouille sausage



The Top Chef alum is the big draw, but Frederick, Md.’s historical links also compel a visit. By Andrew Zaleski

star wat tage


hen you first set foot inside Volt, the restaurant of Top Chef competitor and culinary wizard Bryan Voltaggio, you will know if you’re u nderdressed. Because if the exterior of the place hasn’t already given you a clue — it’s housed in a 19th-century brownstone mansion — the interior décor of the dining room, with its white tablecloth settings sitting atop tiled floors, the flatware arranged just so and the precisely polished stemware will dictate whether showing up with sneakers was an appropriate move. Lest you be confused, it’s only the servers and bartenders who are allowed to wear Chuck Taylors. That being said, any inordinate attention paid to superficial matters like dress misses the mark. (For the record, Volt suggests business-casual attire.) Indeed, the real prowess of Volt (301-696-8658 or, which opened in July 2008, rests squarely in the dishes it serves. Warm lighting gives a glow to your pre-dinner drink, an effervescent, gin-infused French Seventy-Five. An a la carte dinner menu offers dishes that evoke New York City streets or movie-star panache — asparagus arranged beside a dipping sauce of béarnaise flavored with tarragon; bacon lardon-wrapped chicken that cuts like warm butter; a dessert of bourbon-poached apples and walnut cake. Located in Frederick, Md., Voltaggio’s hometown, the restaurant is about an hour to the west of Baltimore and some 50 miles northwest of D.C. On the surface, it may seem that Volt is the attraction here. And while that’s partially true — after Voltaggio appeared on the sixth season of Bravo’s Top Chef, business at Volt boomed, with foodie fanatics flocking to sample the practiced


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restaurateur’s culinary creations — the assumption misses the mark. Frederick, settled in 1745, was influential in the histories of both the revolutionary war and the Civil war. Before the Boston tea party, local leaders in Frederick burned effigies of British officials in protest of the 1765 Stamp Act. George washington walked the brick-lined streets here, as did robert e. lee. today, the character of an earlier America still exists, with 18thand 19th-century Federal-style homes of red brick lining the more than 70 blocks of Frederick’s historical district. this character mixes with the pizzazz of a large-scale city wrapped up in a quaint, deceptive package. Volt is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Further up Market Street is Brewer’s Alley (301-631-0089 or, which serves up pub grub and dishes in homage to Maryland: hereford beef burgers topped with tobacco onions, breaded old Bay-seasoned calamari. the real draw is the house beers, brewed on premises — go for the nut Brown Ale, a dark beverage without a lot of hoppy bitterness. Across the street is The Tasting Room (240-379-7772 or, with a selection of wines and champagne — Cristal for $390 a bottle — rivaling that of any d.C. restaurant. And coming early next year is Voltaggio’s tentatively named north Market kitchen, a 10,000-square-foot food empori-

oum, with dining for 200 people and counters offering cheese, charcuterie, pasta and more. the chef is also scheduled to open a steakhouse in Chevy Chase next spring. exploring all of Frederick requires a weekend, and any number of Frederick’s bed-and-breakfasts will do. Hill House B&B (301-682-4111 or hillhousefrederick. com) offers accommodations straight out of the Victorian era, and it’s conveniently nestled nearby Brewer’s Alley. For shopping, stride along South Carroll and patrick Streets, where antique and apparel stores such as Chic to Chic (301-620-8889 or and Silk & Burlap (240344-4173 or silkandburlap. com) sell boutique clothing and vintage home furnishings. the arts also figure prominently in Frederick: the Weinberg Center for the Arts (301-600-2828 or wein b e r g c e n t e r. o r g ) h o s t s performances rangi ng f r om comed ia n Br ia n re ga n to Beatles tribute bands, and the Cultural Arts Center (301-662-4190 or freder acts as gallery space for local and national artists, with new exhibits debuting monthly. what fi rst appears to be a sleepy little community actually possesses a vibrant downtown reminiscent of a pricier, more congested metropolis. For Frederick, there’s more to the electricity in the air than that provided by a satisfying meal in an elegant brownstone. Bring dress shoes.

Left: photo by Chris Smith; above: photo courtesy Volt; right: photos by Andrew Zaleski

Far left: Chef and owner Bryan Voltaggio at the front entrance of Volt; chefs prepare for dinner; take a guided walking tour on weekends May through October; Silk & Burlap storefront



a full menu


wenty minutes off I-95 in Northern Virginia, you can escape the traffic and congestion in tiny Clifton. Once the la rgest tow n in Fairf a x C ou nt y, C l i f t on now doesn’t even rate a stoplight. Along the streets are beautifully restored 19th-century homes complete with white picket fences, even around the town’s only B&B, Canary Cottage, with its attractive gardens (703-322-1811 or canary The downtown, if you can call it that, boasts a couple of little antique stores and a general store that does extra duty as a pub/sandwich shop and florist. Apart from that, there really isn’t much else to do in Clifton — unless you’re hungry. For that, there are a few interesting options, not least of which is a chef who was named one of the country’s best new chefs by Food & Wine magazine in 2010.


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Clifton, Va., delivers small-scale delights and an award-winning chef By Piet Jones

Clockwise from top left: The dining room at Trummer’s on Main; Cherry Leaf Marinated Hamachi; antiquing in Clifton; the Clifton Store

You could grab a cold beer, tap or bottle, from The Main Street Pub (703-266-6307 or, located in the back half of the general store, and then sit out front with a juicy burger on a brioche roll and take in the small-town feel or the rumble from the occasional train on the tracks just 10 feet away. if a burger isn’t your style, move a couple houses over to find Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot (703-830-7898 or petersonsdepot. com). open from March to the middle of november, peterson’s serves up slightly spicy gourmet hot dogs, accompanied by their homemade sloppy-dog sauce (a zesty beef-chili sauce) or perhaps a range of hot sauces or peppers (banana, hot cherry or jalapeño). peterson’s ice cream is made in-house, both hard-pack and softserve, and there are more than 30 shake and Left: photos courtesy Trummers; right: photos by Piet Jones

malt flavors to choose from. the hand-cut fries alone are worth the trip. if you’re in the mood for wine tasting, there are a couple of options. right next to Clifton’s permanently parked big red caboose, you’ll find the Clifton Wine Shop and Tasting Room (703-266-1607 or clifton, a rather eclectic and reasonably priced little wine shop that offers a tasting flight of wine for $3. the Spanish Motivo was very drinkable. the Maui Blanc pineapple wine? not so much. Just outside of town is Paradise Springs Winery (703-830-9463 or paradisesprings, producing only since 2007 and already putting out some fairly nice wine. try the Cabernet Franc ($25 a bottle) or, if it’s a warm day, nana’s rosé ($23 a bottle), a crisp dry rosé that is very refreshing. there isn’t much in the way of food here, but you’re allowed to bring your own and enjoy their wines on the tasting room’s newly built balcony. perhaps the chicken Caesar wrap or some spinach artichoke dip from the Main Street pub? the star in Clifton, however, is Trummer’s on Main (703-266-1623 or trummers remodeled from the Clifton hotel, built in 1869, trummer’s has kept the historic exterior but completely revamped the interior prior to opening in 2009 with award-winning chef Clayton Miller. Just inside the entrance, you’ll find the signature translucent granite bar. there you can pair a range of gou r met snacks a nd sandwiches with handmade cocktails such as the Sgt. pepper — a surprisingly sweet martini made with muddled red peppers and plymouth gin. Match

that with warm, freshly fried potato chips served with a curry mayo, and you may forget you’re far from any city. the dining room is open and airy, with a view of the heavy forest enveloping the town. the fare is decidedly upscale, with a menu that changes daily and features fresh ingredients. to start, you might want to select Burgundy Snails, perfectly sautéed with hedgehog mushrooms and finished with a chipotle-manchego froth. Several fresh fish are available as entrées, including a beautiful roasted irish Salmon indulgently served with duck confit, oysters and an aji panca (peruvian chilies) emulsion. All this could set you back quite a bit. Appetizers start in the teens, and entrees go from the high twenties well into the thirties. there is a way around this, though. tuesday through thursday and on Sundays, trummer’s offers a prix fixe: three courses for $38 per person (they also offer a prixfixe brunch for $32). the prix-fixe offerings are selected from the daily menu and are a great way to sample trummer’s cuisine on a budget. And if, by chance, you note they have the shrimp and grits on the menu, try it. You’ll be very happy, and the creamy goodness will remind you to come back to Clifton the next chance you get.



In Culpeper, Foti’s charms with thoughtful food and staff By Kate Andrews



platoon of waiters and waitresses marched through Foti’s dining room toward a table of 10, setting plates down in unison. we knew the food would be special here; the chef used to work at the inn at little washington, a résumé line that comes with certain expectations. But what really makes Foti’s (540-8298400 or fotisrestaurant) memorable is the friendly, unfussy and earnest service. My boyfriend, Craig, and i traveled the backroads to downtown Culpeper on one of the hottest days of the year — weather that doesn’t lend itself to fancy clothes, although we did our best to look presentable. Yet we needn’t have worried about a maitre d’ looking down his nose at us or handing Craig a house sports jacket. Foti’s wait staff appears to aim to make every guest feel contented and comfortable. they’ll


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happily offer extra bread and lavender butter, send the wine steward over to translate the extensive drink menu, or simply replace used silverware immediately. Foti’s, opened in 2005, established a great reputation early, wowing washington gourmands willing to make the trip to Culpeper. Both Chef Foteos “Frank” Maragos, whose childhood nickname was Foti, and his wife and service manager, Sue, came from the

Clockwise from top left: Culpeper’s historic Davis Street; Foti’s open-faced egg sandwich with country ham, Parmesan cheese and garlic ciabatta; reds at Chateau de Reaux; Foti’s chef and owner Frank Maragos

Top center: photo by Jonathan Timmes/courtesy Foti’s; all other photos by Steve Hedberg

Inn at Little Washington, where they rose to high posts in the kitchen and the dining room, respectively. Fresh and local are the restaurant’s bywords, a trend that’s prevalent enough at this point that it should simply be an expectation for any good restaurant. Foti’s menu changes with ingredients’ availability and the seasons, although several dishes are served most of the time. Open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday, the restaurant uses its historic environs to advantage. An exposed-brick wall, metal ceiling tiles and Billie Holiday on the sound system create a vintage feel. First courses are portioned for one person, although you’ll want to taste the other dishes at your table. We ordered two of the most popular starters, a fried-egg sandwich and the vanilla-roasted lobster tail with tiny johnnycakes. The open-faced egg sandwich was my favorite part of the dinner. You pierce the soft yolk, which runs down a stack of salty country ham, Parmesan cheese and crisp garlic ciabatta. I could eat this for breakfast every day. Craig’s lobster was a little

too sweet for his taste, with a strong burst of vanilla as its first impression, but the chardonnay butter sauce cut the sweetness for me. It’s definitely a memorable treatment of lobster. Our main entrées were prepared with equal care. My braised scallops, sprinkled with a crawfish sauce that added little flavor, were large, meaty and perfectly cooked. A bed of crushed carrots — delicious and smooth, belying the name — had the consistency and color of mashed sweet potatoes, and I thought the chef might be pulling a fast one on me. Nope, these were cooked carrots, the waiter assured me, and yet, there was no cloying sweetness at all. A buttery, velvety miracle. Craig ordered a beautifully seared tenderloin (filet mignon), sliced and laid atop creamy mashed potatoes. I had to fight to get a small bite of steak, which was spiced with a bold (but not too heavy) hand. By now, we had forgotten the fact that it was 100 degrees outside. We were in food heaven. Dessert — two scoops of house-made pistachio ice cream on lace cookies, plus orange-dream crème brûlée — was petite

and lovely, but we were at the tipping point between full and stuffed. Blame it on the lavender butter. If you’re making a day trip of it, you’ll find plenty of cute shops to browse on Davis Street, where Foti’s is. On a Friday evening, we encountered a beer and wine tasting at Chateau du Reaux (540-829-9463 or culpep, a shop in the same building as Foti’s. I got excited when I saw they were serving Ommegang’s Three Philosophers beer, a Belgian-style blend from upstate New York. Also on Davis is the It’s About Thyme (540-825-4264 or compound (I joke, but there’s no other way to describe it), with a swanky bed-and-breakfast on the top f loor, casual dining amid the stocked shelves of a gourmet food shop, and seafood cooked to your specifications at The Copper Fish. Finally, just outside of Culpeper is Old House Vineyards (540-423-1032 or oldhouse, a winery I’d never visited before. It’s well worth the trip, if only to hear why one of the reds is called Wicked Bottom. That was the nickname of an oldtime fueling station on the nearby Rapidan River, a spot that lured gamblers, hookers and other “wicked” people, according to our server. Excellent food and scandal, just what I look for in a day trip.



an uneXPeCteD PaIrING


five-hour drive for one meal: is it worth it? As i got into my car to make the trip to Chilhowie, Va., the speck of a town where Town House restaurant (276-6468787 or is located, i wondered. Chef John Shields, a James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist and one of Food & wine magazine’s best new chefs for 2010, was plying his trade in a town that’s 90 minutes southwest of Blacksburg? what was going on here? i set off to find out. Almost five hours later, i arrived in Marion, Va., about a dozen miles from Chilhowie, and checked into my bed-and-breakfast. The Collins House Inn (276-781-0250 or collins is located right on Main Street, with a few shops and restaurants within walking distance. innkeepers dave Fields and Sheila Quattrocchi go out of their way to make guests feel at home, from putting B&B newbies in their more secluded rooms to holding breakfast if you fall into a food coma and oversleep (not that this happened to me or anything). down the street is the lincoln theatre (276-7836093 or thelincoln. org), one of three Art deco Mayan revival theaters in the united St ates a nd t he venue for Song of the Mountains, a nationally syndicated bluegrass series that airs on public television. Hungry Mother State Park (276-781-7400 or, which offers fishing, boating, swimming with a small beach, and hiking and bicycle trails, is just a five-minute drive away, as well. As someone who prefers enjoying a good 95

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Small-town charm and molecular gastronomy mingle in Chilhowie By Megan Marconyak

Far left: Chef John Shields and pastry chef Karen Urie Shields of Town House; above: powdered chocolate, steamed yuzu sponge, bergamot tea and sorrel; center: cured shima-aji, buttermilk, asparagus, hay and juices made from fishbones; left: Primitive Quarter performs on Song of the Mountains; bottom center: Hungry Mother State Park

meal over burning calories while on vacation, I turned my attention to dinner. Town House is located in the small, picturesque area that makes up downtown Chilhowie’s historic district. A five- and a 10-course menu packed with molecular gastronomy are all that’s offered each night. Wine pairings are available. Since we’d made the drive, my boyfriend and I decided to go for the 10-course meal with wine pairings.

It started when certified sommelier Charlie Berg brought over some Virginiamade Foggy Ridge hard cider. Throughout the meal, he delivered creative, unexpected pairings that included wine, sake, Madeira and even a red rice ale. The cider was paired with an amuse bouche of two fresh oyster leaves topped with pickled seaweed and served elegantly atop a few stones in a white bowl. As the name connotes, the leaves tasted similar to a fresh, raw oyster, and the seaweed provided a salty finish. The cider’s sweetness washed it down perfectly. Next up was one of Town House’s signature dishes: chilled vegetable minestrone. Servers topped tiny, colorful tube-like rolls of thinly sliced vegetables standing on end with a consommé while they explained that the dish is made with 18 different vegetables, some cooked and some raw. The combination

Above: photo courtesy Virginia State Parks; above right: photo courtesy Tim White; all other photos courtesy Town House

was almost like a small salad — light, crisp and fresh. After that, a zucchini “gazpacho” served with clam ice cream, razor clams and young green tomatoes took us into crazy-food-mastermind land. Berg paired this with more hard cider, as well as sake infused with yuzu and orange blossom. While perhaps not my favorite, I appreciated the combination of earthy and sea-infused tastes, along with the textures — cool and creamy, slippery and smooth. Each distinctive course challenged my palate in new ways. Another mind-bending concoction was beef cheek and tongue topped with a cow’s-milk skin, toasted garlic, grasses and hay. The ingredients combined for a fresh-from-the-farm flavor unlike anything I’ve ever sampled. I could actually taste hints of hay in the milk skin. The barbecued eggplant topped with “ashes” of smoked mussels, which possessed the texture of very fine ice but tasted like the sea, is another dish I’ll not soon forget. Our favorite of the savory courses g



: cuisine cont’d

was lamb shoulder glazed in black malt and served with charred peaches, barbecued beets, licorice and black olive. It was a tiny bit gamey, sweet, burned and a little savory — exactly the kind of interesting, pleasing combination that makes you think for a second, then sigh with enjoyment and appreciation. The meal finished with sweet courses. Homemade broken marshmallows served with cucumber sorbet, whipped cream, green strawberries and geranium served as the perfect palate-cleansing predecessor for the addicting ring of light meringue and chewy, rich chocolate with tangy wasabi and kaffir lime that finished the meal. Even though I’d already consumed 10 courses (this was a special treat), I would have eagerly dug into more of that chocolatey, sweet-savory delight. It was a great finish to the meal. We’d spent four glorious hours eating, drinking and experiencing new tastes, and it was almost midnight. As we got up to leave, one of our friendly servers started chatting us up, and we realized she was Kyra Bishop, manager and co-owner of Town House. She and her husband, Tom, are responsible for luring chef John Shields and his wife, Town House pastry chef Karen Urie Shields, from Chicago to Chilhowie. Bishop’s genuine down-to-earth demeanor and desire to point me to other fun things to do in the area was incredibly winning. (Those looking to make their weekend a total secluded splurge can book one of the two luxury rooms at Riverstead [townhouse], a Victorian on a 30-acre farm that’s owned by the Bishops. Your stay includes dinner at Town House, as well as transportation to and from the restaurant.) We finally rolled back to our room at the Collins House and fell right to sleep after this meal to remember. The next day, after oversleeping just a little, we swung by Davis Valley Winery (276-686-8855 or dvwinery. com) on the way home. Located in nearby Rural Retreat, it’s a must-visit for the stunning 360-degree views of the Southwest Virginia countryside, as well as the selection of reds, whites and sweets for tasting. As I made the drive home, the flavors I’d tried the night before ran through my mind as I tried to wrap my head around some of the crazy creations. I decided that this destination was definitely worth the drive. 97

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Small Towns Big Cuisine