Dining with Dan

Waterwheel Restaurant

at the Inn at Gristmill Square


by Daniel M. Walker, Contributing Writer


Dan Walker

How do you make a good thing better? 

How do you sustain, and even improve upon, the solid reputation of a Virginia travel icon, The Inn at Gristmill Square in Warm Springs?

That’s the challenge facing John and Kate Loeffler, the husband-and-wife team who purchased the inn and its Waterwheel Restaurant in 2011. Both have rich experience in the hospitality business at first-class facilities such as The Greenbrier in White Sulfur Springs, W.Va., and The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.

As John explains, “There were already so many good things about the Gristmill, we just wanted to add new memories for our guests and continue the tradition.”

Kate adds, “Our goal is to add our footprint and create a true five-star experience.”

A water-powered mill, first operated in 1771 and rebuilt in 1900, is the focal point of the gristmill complex. The restaurant is housed on the first floor of the mill. The original mill boss’s office is now a charming pub called Simon Kenton Pub. John encourages guests to explore the wine cellar below the restaurant to select their own wines for dinner. Visiting the wine cellar also affords the opportunity to see the gears and other millwork mechanisms.

A Taste of History

Guests enter the inn’s historic surroundings through a courtyard of fresh flowers. Towering above the courtyard is a picturesque silo. The silo, along with a converted hardware store and a blacksmith shop, provides space for nine guest suites and rooms. Two other 19th-century buildings offer a selection of eight more suites and rooms, tastefully decorated with period antiques and appointments. In one room, the wall siding and beams are from Fort Dinwiddie, a 1755 fort that once protected the Bath County Valley.

The restaurant menu draws guests from far and wide. Others visit the Gristmill for the total experience, which may include a spa treatment.

“Our goal,” says Kate, “was not to take anything away from the Gristmill’s gourmet heritage. We have kept some of the traditional favorites, such as the appetizer of roasted gold and red beets, and an entrée of local trout. We have added a prosciutto-wrapped salmon and a number of other new dishes.”

John points out the benefits of being in an area with a rich bounty of fresh vegetables, cattle and pork producers, availing the freshest local food ingredients.

For my dinner, I select an appetizer of smoked trout. My dinner companion, who has a very conservative palate, selects the traditional French onion soup. I am very tempted by the other appetizer selections, Little Creek clams and the roasted gold and red beets.

To refresh the palate, I’m served a Caesar salad with a “just right” dressing. My dinner companion is served a house salad with a very appealing visual presentation. For the entrée, I order the salmon wrapped in prosciutto ham. The salmon is moist and the prosciutto adds a crispy sensation. The salmon rests on a bed of lemon risotto. It’s an entrée I highly recommend.

To my surprise, my dinner companion (with whom I’ve dined for nearly 50 years) selects the Pappardelle Bolognese with a rich meat-and-pork sauce and a base of homemade wide pasta. I expected her to select the grilled filet mignon. I guess surprises from time-to-time make dinnertime interesting!

As you know from my past articles, dessert is required to complete the experience — not that I need too much encouragement upon seeing the extensive dessert menu. With very little debate, my dinner companion orders Gristmill chocolate cake. I, on the other hand, have the crème brulée, which is, to my surprise, served with strawberry sorbet. What a delight!  

My mom always said that to have a great dining experience, you needed great food, charming ambiance, and great service. We experienced a delectable, intimate dinner, with Debby providing that great service. She has worked for all three owners of the Gristmill and validates John’s belief that one of the assets of the Gristmill is, and has been, dedicated employees. Debby shows a wealth of knowledge about the menu and is pleased to guide us toward excellent food selections.

Given their relatively short tenure at the helm of the Gristmill, I believe John and Kate are well on their way to creating a successful five-star experience.

The Gristmill is open for dinner at 5:30 p.m. seven days a week. No lunch. Overnight guests are served a continental breakfast in their rooms, and that is what I call real room service!

Waterwheel Restaurant at The Inn at Gristmill Square • 124 Old Mill Rd., Warm Springs, VA (540) 839-2231 • www.gristmillsquare.com/waterwheel-restaurant.htm


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