“Let’s stop fooling around. Get me out of this basket (by Brenda McCall) and let’s go get some lunch.”
We had a couple of options. First, stay at Heartwood and have lunch in their on-site restaurant (below, as seen from the performance stage). Second, drive into Abingdon, VA, and try to find one of the six or so restaurants listed in our copy of A Guide to the Crooked Road. But the book has a copyright date of 2006, and given the regularity with which restaurants open and close, there was no guarantee that any of these would still be in business.
And, we must admit at feeling some guilt at wandering through the Heartwood galleries for over two hours and making nary a purchase. When, in yesterday’s blog, Chuck referred to “museum-quality works,” he wasn’t exaggerating. These pieces were collectors’ quality crafts with prices to match. You don’t go to Heartwood to purchase a small trinket as a souvenir. So our feelings of guilt obliged us to at least spend a few dollars in the restaurant (below, looking toward the stage).
And, as luck would have it, just as we made our way to the restaurant, a teeming mass of humanity came through the restaurant’s entrance. (Alright. It was a group of sixteen to twenty.) Much moving of tables and chairs ensued until this group took up a substantial portion of the smallest dining area.
Fortunately, there was an adjacent and larger area where one can dine “while taking in a scene through the dining area's oversized windows that includes, on a clear day, a view of Virginia's highest peaks--Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain” (Bill Lohmann at timesdispatch.com).
“Visitors can get a taste of Southwest Virginia’s local food and wine through Heartwood’s restaurant and wine and coffee bar (below). At the Heartwood restaurant, diners can experience upscale home cooking with the freshest ‘farm to table’ ingredients. Inspired by the freshest, regionally-grown ingredients, our chef re-interprets home cooking to incorporate the tastes of Southwest Virginia. Fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry from the Southwest Virginia region are showcased at Heartwood to create a one-of-a-kind dining experience” (heartwoodvirginia.org).
The menu offers some regional favorites like the pimento cheese sandwich on a croissant with Applewood smoked bacon, shrimp and grits, chicken and dumplings, and pulled pork. And there were some items that one does not normally associate with the South. Items like the black bean quesadilla, Reuben sandwich, vegetable lasagna, and chicken Marsala.
But we both opted for the Southern regional specialties. And what could be more Southern than my choice of breaded and fried buttermilk marinated chicken? I could choose two from the list of sides that included Southern green beans, macaroni and cheese, buttered corn, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad, or mashed potatoes and gravy. From this list I chose the green beans and cole slaw.
When I see the words “Southern green beans” I expect beans that have been long cooked—usually with some form of smoked or salted meat. Instead, these—which, by the way, were marvelous—were fresh thin beans that had been cooked just past the raw point. And, until we arrived in Virginia three weeks ago, I had forgotten how good Southern cole slaw is. Instead of being shredded, the cabbage was coarse chopped and was combined with just a bit of shredded carrot and tossed in a very creamy and slightly sweet dressing.
The chicken, which included a breast, drumstick, and wing, had the crispest and thinnest coating possible. How good was this coating? So good that Chuck’s fingers kept creeping over to snatch some of the small bits that had fallen off the chicken.
Chuck chose one of his all-time favorites—the chicken fried steak with buttermilk mashed potatoes and green beans. This was a huge plate of food containing two—not one, but two—pieces of steak sitting atop a large bed of real mashed potatoes. While I am not a potato lover, I had to admit that these were excellent mashed potatoes.
But what really set this dish apart was the sausage gravy. This is the sausage gravy I have been looking for and—just my luck—it is covering Chuck’s chicken fried steak and not my breakfast biscuits. It’s too bad that the restaurant at Heartwood doesn’t serve breakfast.
During the course of our meal, the chef walked through the dining area to check with each table. I have seen this often done in high-end restaurants, but never in a café within a tourist attraction. And it is this attention to detail that results in our 4.5 Addie rating for our lunch at the restaurant at Heartwood.