I could hear my stomach rumbling, but I was distracted from my hunger by the views. As I was cruising down US 211 on a sunny spring morning, Rappahannock County unfolded on either side in wide-screen beauty rich with verdant forests in fine fettle, fields dotted with golden hay bales, and the Blue Ridge Mountains looming in the background and rendered in deepening shades of bluish gray.
My destination was the Mint Cottage, a pastel peppermint Airbnb perched on the edge of Little Washington, Virginia. Recently renovated and artfully decorated with a neo-Nordic sensibility, the chic country getaway was my home base for the next few days. The spacious one-time church featured everything I could want, including comfy lounge and dining areas in the same main room as the large, well-equipped kitchen. In the back, there was a nicely appointed bedroom with a walk-in closet, a couple’s bathroom with side-by-side sinks and a soaking bathtub, and a back porch.
If I wanted to cook a meal, there were plenty of places nearby to grab fresh ingredients, including ecologically grown produce from Sperryville’s Waterpenny Farm and superb apples at Williams Orchard in Flint Hill. Every Saturday from spring well into fall, the Rappahannock Farmers Market in Sperryville offers the chance to buy Bean Hollow Grassfed’s meats, almost-too-beautiful-to-eat breads from Jackalope Ridge, chef-level ’shrooms by Madison Mushrooms and more.
But on this trip I eschewed the kitchen in favor of exploring the Rappahannock’s vibrant restaurant scene. Not long after I arrived, I addressed my hunger pangs by meeting dear friends at Patty O’s for dinner. A two-minute walk from the cottage, the French- and Americana-inspired cafe/bakery from chef Patrick O’Connell is located kitty-corner to The Inn at Little Washington, his celebrated Michelin 3-star restaurant. We began with a squat jam jar of pimento cheese with crackly, caraway seed-studded flatbread that snapped into shards perfect for scooping the iconic Southern dip. For an entree, I treated myself to the half-pound burger topped with a coverlet of gooey Comté cheese and crispy onions. Between it and the well-executed side of frites, I was beyond satisfied. No dessert required.
The next day, after grabbing an empowering oat milk latte at Before & After cafe in Sperryville, I rendezvoused with a friend for a hike in Shenandoah National Park to burn off the previous night’s indulgences. We chose the challenging Little Devil Stairs trail, which wends its way up the mountains for nearly 1,500 feet along a gurgling stream, past charming waterfalls and over rocky tumbles. Upon achieving the ridgeline, we found an Instagram-ready overlook where we enjoyed a picnic before beginning a leisurely stroll back down to the trailhead.
That evening I dined at Houndstooth, a romantic one-seating-a-night tasting menu restaurant tucked away inside Glen Gordon Manor in Huntly. Chef Dayn Smith unveiled the five-course meal with toothsome asparagus paired with grapefruit segments and vanilla gelée before moving on to toasted coconut and crème fraîche gingery carrot soup, which was well sopped up with slivers of fresh-baked, butter-slathered sourdough. For the main, a braised short rib paired with pink-centered tenderloin came with a port shallot sauce that required another round of bread—not that I was complaining. Had I been interested in wine, the restaurant offered an impressive list, 500 varietals strong and stored in its 4,000-bottle wine cellar, which you can tour upon request after your meal.
As I headed back to the car, fireflies blinked over the lawn under the velveteen blue-black sky. Driving back to the cottage along narrow roads dipping and ducking through thick forests and past sprawling fields and pastures, I encountered several deer, their eyes gleaming ghostlike in the darkness. Arriving at the cottage, I took a moment to marvel at the stars glittering above, looking brighter out here than they are when forced to compete with harsh city light.
A few nights later, for a change of scenery, I moved over to Blue Rock, a boutique inn situated in nearby Sperryville. Nestled into 80 pristinely maintained acres, it features a picturesque pond and a vineyard on rolling slopes. There are two dining options: In the more casual tasting room, the staff dishes up share-friendly small bites and a few entrees, including exceptional fried chicken. In the intimate, modern country-minded dining room next door, chef Bin Lu (an alum of Pineapple & Pearls in D.C.) oversees a four-course tasting menu that revels in showcasing whatever is fresh at local farms, indulgent ingredients, and surprising flavor combinations.
Case in point was a bowl of saffron-accented rice pilaf bejeweled with trout roe that hid sugar snap peas and the gentle zing of preserved lemonlike etrog fruit. Another standout: Parmesan broth punctuated by fiddlehead ferns and agnolotti plump with grits that have been nixtamalized, or cooked and steeped in an alkaline solution to render them softer and tastier. Caviar with hoecakes to mound it on was offered as a supplemental; I couldn’t say no.
There are five rooms upstairs at the inn—plus a chic farmhouse on the property that can sleep 10 guests. The next morning, I brought breakfast onto the small rooftop terrace so I could savor the gorgeous views and splendid weather. A muffin, fruit salad, yogurt,and granola are all included—as well as coffee or tea—but the pro move is to order the cold fried chicken as an addendum. It comes with vinegar-forward hot sauce hiding a slow burn that helped kick-start the day.
After checking out from Blue Rock, on the way out of town, I made a stop at the Sperryville Corner Store, a wonderfully bougie market stocked with everything a gourmand might want. There is an excellent meat counter, cut-above pantry staples, local produce, grazing board goodies, blue-ribbon snacks, strong selections of beer and wine, well-constructed sandwiches, and housemade baked goods, including must-buy oaty Park Ranger cookies punctuated with shredded coconut and chocolate chips.
Turning the car out of Sperryville and back onto the scenic stretch of US 211 heading eastward, I tucked into a mustard-slathered ham and cheese sandwich, a Park Ranger cookie waiting in the wings. This would power me for the ride home, while allowing me to enjoy some Rappahannock bliss for just a little longer.
If You Go…
Sperryville is 75 miles southwest of Bethesda and accessible only by car.
Mint Cottage: On the outskirts of Little Washington, the recently renovated, utterly charming neo-Nordic cottage offers an elegant retreat with an extensively outfitted kitchen, lots of room for lounging and entertaining, and beautiful countryside views.
Blue Rock: Pineapple & Pearls alum Bin Lu oversees an engaging tasting menu experience punctuated with head-turning presentations, electric flavor combinations and luxe addendums.
Patty O’s: The Inn at Little Washington’s little sister is both a twee cafe serving up classy casual French and Americana favorites and a blue-ribbon bakery specializing in boules, baguettes, flaky croissants and dainty pastries. pattyoscafe.com
Houndstooth: Hunt Country modernism meets Old World technique at this one-seating-a-night, five-course tasting menu restaurant under the watchful eye of chef Dayn Smith, whose artful plates showcase the season and region.
Before & After: The cozy, always-buzzing coffee shop is the de facto heart of Sperryville, a beloved gathering spot serving up strong coffee, excellent pastries and hearty sandwiches. beforeandaftersperryville.com
Sperryville Corner Store: The boutique market offers casual grab ’n’ go fare, gourmet grazing board accoutrements, pantry staples, a formidable butcher’s counter and a well-curated selection of beer and wine.
This story appears in the September/October issue of Bethesda Magazine.
If MoCo360 keeps you informed, connected and inspired, circle up and join our community by becoming a member today. Your membership supports our community journalism and unlocks special benefits.