When I think about traveling across Virginia, I think about particular Virginia foods. Fried chicken, pecan pie, whoopie pies, Krispy Cream Donuts (mmmmmm, a favorite) shrimp and grits, boiled peanuts, pimento cheese, collard greens, Goo Goo Clusters, Dukes Mayonnaise, and barbecue. Let’s not forget to mention country ham and red-eye gravy. As I drive the roads of Virginia, I am always looking for my favorites.
Sugar and Dukes—Southern Staples
When I am in Harrisonburg or Richmond and see the light on at Krispy Cream, a sign that they are baking fresh donuts. My car seems to have a mind of its own and automatically swerves into their driveway.
While visiting my son and his family, we stopped for lunch. The waiter asked my grandson, Grayson, what he wanted on his hamburger. Grayson responded, “Do you have Dukes Mayonnaise?” The waiter was not sure how to answer until my son nodded his head for the waiter to say yes. After the first bite, my grandson said, “Dad, this does not taste like Dukes.”, a connoisseur of southern mayonnaise at age ten.
I had not seen Goo Goo Clusters in a store for some time. However, I was in Cracker Barrel, a restaurant that specializes in Southern items including many Virginia food items, and there they were, along with just about every southern thing I mentioned. One of life’s simple pleasures is sitting on one of the rocking chairs at Cracker Barrel and enjoying a Goo Goo Cluster for desert.
While in Smithfield, Virginia
If you have not tried country ham, you are missing one of our great southern traditions. Virginia ham was one of the first agricultural products exported from North America. In 1775 the Reverend Andrew Burnaby reported the Virginia ham was superior in flavor to any in the world.
Today, after more than three centuries of progress, Virginia ham is still considered a superb product because of its distinctive savory taste. There are many country hams, one of the most well-known is Virginia Food Smithfield Ham, a meat that made a town famous. For an authentic country ham, purchase an uncooked ham in a cloth sack. The ham has been aged, smoked, and dry-cured with salt. So, to truly enjoy the taste, serve the meat in thin slices. When buying your first southern ham, look for a ham aged 5 to 6 months. You will find it has a milder flavor. If you crave a more concentrated flavor, a 12-14-month ham should be your choice.
Any true Southerner will tell you that you need to have red-eye gravy with country ham. Legend has it that Andrew Jackson, during the war of 1812, called his cook to tell him what to prepare for dinner. The cook had been hitting the “moonshine” corn whiskey (another southern delicacy.) The cook’s eyes were as red as fire, and General Jackson told him to bring him some country ham with gravy as red as his eyes. Soldiers nearby heard the remark, and after that, the ham gravy became “Red Eye Gravy.”
Recipe for Red Eye Gravy:
Pan juices from frying a 1pound ham slice about ½ inch thick.
½ cup strong black coffee
Fry the ham slice in the usual manner. Deglaze the frying pan with the coffee, scraping all bits and pieces loose from the bottom of the pan. Boil mixture for approximately 2 to 3 minutes or until reduced in half. Season with pepper and Worcestershire to your taste. Pour Red Eye Gravy overcooked ham slice.
While individuals may have their favorite southern food. If you asked most people what is genuinely southern, the answer would be barbecue.
In Virginia, you will find all of the different types of barbecue…chopped, sliced, or pulled, along with your choice of mustard, vinegar, or Jack Daniels sauce. I have a sweet tooth, and my favorite is Virginia barbecue, which uses tomato sauce with a touch of sugar.
So, next time you’re traveling down the road, and you see smoke coming from a large drum outside a building and smell hickory smoke—chances are where there is smoke there is barbecue.
Here are a few of my favorite Virginia Food BBQ stops:
In Staunton, you can’t go wrong with Pecks BBQ on Route 11.
In Verona, try Rack’em and Smack’em Ribs; they offer three styles of BBQ, including Jack Daniels BBQ.
If you are going to Wintergreen Resort or visiting the many wineries and craft beer breweries along RT 151 in Nelson County, try Paulie’s Pig Out. It is not very fancy but great BBQ. They also have excellent potato salad, made from his grandmother’s recipe. In Nellysford, visit the Blue Ridge Pig.
Moe’s Original Bar B Que was named one of the top 10 rib joint chains in the U.S. Try Moe’s Original in their location next to Foods of all Nations in Charlottesville.
In Gordonsville, stop by the Barbecue Exchange.
A friend told me a few years ago about Buzz & Ned’s in Richmond, and I never got around to eating there until a few weeks ago. I should have gone sooner!
My son lives in Ashburn and said we should try The Yummy Pig BBQ in Leesburg. A great name with excellent BBQ that lives up to their name.
Whenever I see a farm market, I stop. Your local farmers market is an excellent opportunity to eat local and eat fresh. The markets offer a chance to talk to local producers and try different products from fruits and vegetables to meats and baked goods.
The state of Virginia is not a newcomer when it comes to markets. The two oldest Virginia food markets in Virginia are the market at 17th street in Richmond, established in the late 1740s, and the Old Town Alexandria market, which has been in continuous operation since 1753.
Here are a few of my favorite Farm Markets:
I enjoy stopping by Chiles Peach Orchard in Crozet, Virginia. They are open Spring through December. In Spring, you do not want to miss the strawberry season. You can pick your own or purchase some already picked. This season is followed by peach and apple season. And there’s cider donuts and ice cream.
For one of the best sunset views in Virginia, put Carter Mountain Orchard, near Charlottesville, on your list. They have a robust market and pick your own peaches and apples. You do not want to miss the Thursday night Sunset Series. Listen to live music, sip some wine, or enjoy some Bold Rock Hard Cider with local food. This Spring, Bold Rock will have their expanded collection of Hard Seltzer available at their Carter Mountain Tasting Room. Did you know that the apples to make Bold Rock come from Carter Mountain?
Whenever I drive through Lynchburg, Virginia, I stop at the Lynchburg Community Market. Here’s a story about this historic market, written by Team DW&S: Lynchburg Community Market
Coming in 2020, you will be able to drink a craft beer after visiting the Lynchburg market. I am looking forward to having a cold one at both Starr Hill and Champion Brewing Company this Summer. Both will have a tasting room on Main Street in downtown Lynchburg by this Summer.