May 2018

Daniel M. Walker, Contributing Columnist

     Deep in the heart of Virginia’s lush horse country is a unique restaurant on a mission. This restaurant, Hunter’s Head Tavern, and its neighboring Ayrshire Farms in Upperville, are dedicated to the experience of organic local farm meats and produce.

     “Hunter’s Head is an authentic English pub serving fine dining cuisine and mouthwatering homemade desserts in an authentic 1700s surrounding,” says Kevin Millman, the tavern’s manager.

Outside entrance to Hunter’s Head Tavern

Outside entrance to Hunter’s Head Tavern

     Kevin continues, “While the Tavern structure has changed somewhat over time, the walls, its many fireplaces and wooden parts are true to its heritage.” It’s rumored that the heavy gate into the restaurant’s walled garden is from the old Upperville jail.

     The garden serves as a gathering place and   accommodates outside dining in the warmer months.

     A number of things about this dining experience are exceptional. On entering the restaurant, you order from a large board and then you’re escorted to your table. The Tavern’s menu of “gentle harvest” delights is divided among “Pub Fare” and “Farm Table Appetizers and Dinners.” Each menu item includes a description of its unique ingredients and origin. On my visit, for example, I enjoyed chicken-fried steak and I could tell from the menu it contained peanut oil, was an organic and local ingredient, and was certified humane; and, I might add … was very tasty. I have been to very few restaurants that go to this extent to assure that the diner knows what comprises their dinner selection.

Ordering board

Ordering board

Key to ingredients in menu items.

Key to ingredients in menu items.

     Our dinner ensemble consisted of four very hungry travelers from Richmond. The route from Richmond to Upperville is one of the most scenic in Virginia. The roadway near the community is lined with gentle rolling hills sculpted with miles of hand-piled fieldstone fences and dotted with horses and livestock.

      As noted above, I ordered chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes, gravy and onion rings. My tablemates ordered shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie and lastly, baked half-chicken. I was delighted that each person ordered something different, because I got a taste of everything and  each dish was a pleasure to the taste buds.

     I have always believed that the quality of food sourcing is one of the most important elements of good restaurants. Hunter’s Head Tavern re-affirms this idea. My only regret was that no one ordered from the “Farm Table Dinner” menu. There seemed to be some very interesting items on that menu, such as grilled salmon with a teriyaki glaze, chicken apple sausage with sweet-onion gravy in a Yorkshire pudding hat, grilled maple-and-rosemary-brined pork chop and dry-aged steaks. These menu items comprise a good excuse for a return visit.

     Nearing the conclusion of another great dining experience, I felt it appropriate to celebrate with some desserts. We indulged with a traditional English dessert of sticky toffee pudding, bananas Foster ice cream sundae and their “chocolate” chocolate cake. For chocolate lovers, this is the ultimate treat; but they were all mouthwatering, just as Kevin had forewarned us.

 So many things must work together to create a great dining experience. At a good restaurant, the food is fresh and wholesome, the service is friendly and accommodating, and the surroundings are delightful. At the Hunter’s Head Tavern, you will experience this and more.

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And “Be of good cheer”!

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