North, South, East and West – I’ve got some great ideas in our special GET OUT OF TOWN edition of TasteBudz.
PUTTING ON THE DOG: I’ve known Walter Wilkes since he was born. I’d heard friends talk about what a great chef he’s become (i’m guessing Walter is in his 40s now). But I had never really sampled his fare until a couple of weeks ago when four of us visited his restaurant, The White Dog Bistro, in Mathews. Now, if you’ve been, you don’t need me to say a word. You probably know what a fantastic place The White Dog is. First of all, the building is beautiful. It’s a 175-year-old (or so) structure that began as a hotel. It’s also served as a private home and and as a bed and breakfast through the years. Today Walter and his lovely wife Amanda run the place as both a restaurant as well as one of the region’s most popular wedding venues. Of course, they do other private events as well.
There’s so much to love about The White Dog. Where do I start. As Ms. Julie Andrews sang, “Let’s start at the very beginning.” From the moment you enter, you’re greeted by a warm welcome and with the warmth of the beautiful, cozy building. There may even be a fire in the fireplace to add to the homeyness. Perhaps Amanda, herself, will be there to welcome and direct you to your table.
Take a look at the menu. For a small restaurant, Walter has put together a rather sizable menu featuring seafood, beef, duck, even game. There is plenty to choose from as regards appetizers. I had the charcuterie – very lovely presentation of cheeses and cured meats. Other appetizers ordered at the table included a fantastic shrimp cocktail as well as a seafood and salad combination. We all sampled everything and it was all a hit with our table of four.
I chose the dry-aged ribeye for my entree. Now, I’ll admit, I’m more of a very rare sort of guy when it comes to my beef. And with the way this is aged and smoked, it only is available in medium and up. But I decided to give it a try. It was outstanding. The smokiness of the roasted prime rib was a delight. The accompaniments, which were highlighted by the garlic mashed potatoes were also excellent. As someone with a healthy appetite, I was surprised and happy that the portions were generous. There are many great local restaurants, but I’m not a fan of the current “Let’s give’em a twig and a smear of mashed potatoes” mentality. Since when did a good meal have to look as if it were part of a starvation diet. Walter says that while a large percentage of his guests are from Richmond or other metro areas, including D.C., he still has to keep the preferences of the locals in mind and according to him, the locals like a bountiful meal. I’m with the locals and probably a lot of the out-of-towners, too, truth be told.
I hesitated to order the crab cake because sometimes a talented chef will get too cutesy with the dish and flavor it up so that it doesn’t exactly taste like crab. Walter didn’t play with the taste. It was perhaps the best crab cake I’d ever had. So fresh and moist with just enough filler to make it a cake. It was indescribably delicious. Okay, I stole that line. So sue me.
Next time, I’m going to go with the duck or the venison. But, from my experience as well as the raves coming from our party, The White Dog Bistro is a total winner. They also have an excellent little bar, as well. It’s well worth the hour drive to one of the coolest little towns on the Middle Peninsula.
PUTTING THE SHINE BACK: If you’re in the mood for a unique and refreshing cocktail, then head southwest to Franklin County. I was back down that way just before the snowstorm and spent an evening enjoying the creative concoctions from Franklin County Distilleries’ tasting room manager Katarina Utermark. Katarina is always concocting great cocktail ideas using the delicious products being distilled down there in Boone’s Mill, such as their White Label Corn Whiskey or their Roanoke Rum or Rocky Mountain Rye. Next time you get down to the Roanoke area, head south for about another 15 minutes and check out the tasting room. Say hello to Katarina and enjoy her crafty creations.
There’s also some great moonshine as you head just a little
of the city into Powhatan. and to the new Three Crosses Distilling Co. I had an opportunity this week to meet and speak with Michelle Davenport, who operates the business along with her husband, John. The distillery and its cool tasting room opened this past August. Michelle tells me that John’s background is in the financial industry. “About seven or eight years ago,” she says, “he got really interested in distilling. We started visiting distilleries up and down the east coast.”
When he started talking about opening a distillery, Michelle says she assumed it was a pipe dream of his. “I just went along with it… in theory,” she says. “The next thing I know, I’m on a plane to Kentucky to learn how to run a distillery. He kept his day job and here I am.” Michelle says that she had no previous distillery experience but has been a longtime fan of Bourbon. Indeed, the Three Crosses American Whiskey, featuring a traditional bourbon mash recipe, is my favorite among their product line. I thoroughly enjoyed the rye, the vodka and their shine, which has a very distinctive corn taste. But their American offers a very rich bourbon taste. The whiskey is aged for two years in oak, which adds to that taste.
Their products are not yet being sold in state stores. However you can purchase bottles as well as tastings and cocktails in their tasting room at 3835 Old Buckingham Road in Powhatan. The tasting room is open from Thursdays through Sundays. Check their webpage for hours.
The distillery offers a variety of events and other promotions. For the past several months they’ve been offering a portion of their rum sales to VAU – a Veterans support group aimed at helping disabled vets participate in athletic activities.
This Saturday, starting at noon, Tara Powers of Vanilla & Bourbon will be on hand offering her wares. Tara operates a southern style bakery serving bourbon-infused desserts. She uses Three Crosses products in many of her pastries.
It all sounds quite delicious to me.
GET READY FOR THE WEEKEND: Okay, let’s run down the upcoming music scene. Kari Smith is back at The Wine Loft beginning at 8 p.m. this evening. Ask her to play The Luckiest, one of my current favorite songs.
And to complete the compass, heading
No matter which direction you head in, there’s good food, music and drink to be had. So don’t let me hear you whining that there’s nothing to do.