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A Taste of Culpeper’s Top Chefs

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One way to know if you love a town is to eat the town. How many superb restaurants are available to keep you coming back for more? In Culpeper, there are quite a few for me.

At Flavor on Main, Executive Chef Garth Hansen serves traditional American food, but in a way that is beautiful, fresh, and of course, flavorful. Chef Hansen’s previous gig was working the kitchen at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, a five-star establishment.

During my recent visit, I sat back with a signature cocktail - the Bees Knees - and took in the vibe of the place. Flavor’s décor is Prohibition Jazz style with hand-stamped ceilings, chrome, and an overall slick, clean look. Southern Comfort grabbed my attention. Not the whisky, but an entrée. True to the name, the dish was a vision of juicy downhome goodness. Fried chicken, white truffle mashed potatoes, grilled Brussel sprouts, and a red-eyed gravy made this southern girl want to smack her mama and lick the plate.

 

On vibrant Davis Street is Foti’s, a farm-to-table restaurant by former five-star Inn at Little Washington Executive Sous Chef Frank Maragos and his wife Sue. The Mediterranean flare menu includes items you may not expect but will be curious to try. Take the fried buffalo frog legs, an appetizer served with celery slaw and a bleu cheese sauce. Let me know if they taste like chicken. My personal Foti’s favorite is the pork and fennel sausage sandwich. It’s a gooey, melty delight of mozzarella and pork with house-made sauerkraut on top, and it’s the perfect comfort food on a chilly day.

In addition to the delicious food Foti’s offers, the atmosphere is amazing. There are so many details to ponder over with delicate murals and fine touches everywhere. Attempting to take it all in will be reason enough to dine again.

A cute umbrella-filled alley immediately drew my attention to Thyme Market, a European deli. It’s the place to pop in when you need a cold drink on a hot day, a snack, or a full meal. I know, because it was my go-to for each of those things. The brick oven pizzas are popular, as are the huge salads. Order from the deli case to pick up a Panini filled with farm-fresh delights. I enjoyed a heated focaccia in the alley with an ice cold Perrier and a side salad for a perfectly simple but more-than-I-could-eat downtown lunch.

For fine dining, consider It’s About Thyme, the Market’s older sibling. Both establishments were created by John Yarnall, Assistant to the Chef in the White House during the Nixon administration. His daughter, Joclyn Yarnall, is a French-trained Chef and the restaurant’s Head Chef. The menu represents Italy and France very well, but a hearty ground filet mignon cheeseburger is also on the menu.

Yarnall’s third foodie hot spot is The Copper Fish, his answer to fresh seafood in Culpeper. Take your selections home for preparation or enjoy them in house. The menu includes oysters, shrimp, po’ boys, fish tacos, lobster, crab cakes, a mean Étouffée, and plenty more.

Quietly tucked away on behind Davis Street and down an alley in an 1890s brick warehouse is Piedmont: A Virginia Steakhouse. Take just a single step inside and your eyes begin to wander, noting all of the history beneath the soaring ceilings. The old elevator – the first in Culpeper – is still intact but not used.

Chef’s gracious menu set me up for a tough decision, but I finally chose the Pasta from Hell. It was more than generous, piled high and topped with jumbo shrimp. The “hell” part refers to the sauce, of which there really isn’t any. The pasta is tossed with red pepper flakes and banana peppers, and perhaps a knob of butter. Be prepared to request a doggy bag and refills on your drink.

Thai Culpeper consistently receives rave reviews for authentic Thai, as well as fast, friendly service. Located in the Lord Culpeper Hotel, it’s a hidden gem owned by the Jaipayungton family, who have opened three other Thai restaurants across Virginia. Try the Thai tea and drunken noodles on the patio the next time you’re in town for lunch.