After the Dining column for the July 31 Magazine was written, the chef featured in the Dining column, Sebastian Carosi, left Cafe Indigo in Sperryville, Va. The Magazine is printed in advance.
A pit stop becomes a new start for chef
Cafe Indigo celebrates what's local
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Maine-based chef Sebastian Carosi was en route to a $55-an-hour gig feeding Deepwater Horizon recovery teams in Mississippi last October when he and his wife stopped to sample the wares at the Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Va.
"A good stumble" away, says the chef, 37, was an unfinished restaurant with some operators in need of a vision. Carosi, who got his start in his family's Rhode Island chain of pizzerias and who later launched a sustainable food project in Maine, pitched in to help.
Having visited Virginia for the past dozen years, he liked the area, he says, and he had long been interested in "raising local food awareness around the world." Plus, his wife, Heather, was game.
What started as a pit stop became permanent.
Open since May in Sperryville's River District, Cafe Indigo shares a broad yellow, blue-roofed building, fronted by flower beds and a gravel drive, with local artists and food sellers. (The name comes from the owner's address on Indigo Lane.) Glass doors in the rear of the structure announce the 80-seat dining room. It's a tidy barn of a place set off with unfinished wood floors, exposed beams and corrugated metal on the front of the bar and exhibition kitchen. Sturdy white chairs and tables, some pushed together to accommodate the large groups that come here, fill out the setting. Table decorations change from one week to the next; grass is as appealing as flowers in a jar. Another welcome touch is the quilts displayed on the wall, made by a woman in Lexington.
Except on Sundays, Carosi serves an a la carte menu that gives a shout-out to area farmers. Many chefs claim they use what's local; Carosi sources from really close by. "The squash blossoms are from down the road," says a server as she sets down the appetizer stuffed with house-made ricotta one night. "We have a lot of farmers coming in all the time." Hanger steak is smoky from a marinade that gets its inspiration from South America (think cumin and citrus juices) but slips in a surprise (the base combines ginger ale and Sprite). The sliced meat arrives with a thatch of long, square french fries that are models of their kind. Everyone within reach of the stack feels free to make it smaller.
"We're a pig-based restaurant," says Carosi, who does his own butchering and buys pigs from nearby Madison. Sure enough, there's a slab of pork among the appetizers and a roasted pork loin chop among the entrees. Wearing a thin band of fat, the first course is green in spots with pistachios and smoky, thanks to smoked onions; a pinch of micro greens and a dollop of intense onion jam temper the richness.
Not everything is from a nearby Zip code. Cafe Indigo's mountain trout, for instance, is from a trusted source in North Carolina. The fish, balanced on a bed of chunky mashed sweet potatoes, is the shade of salmon. The combination is appealing, but concentric rings of peppered blueberry syrup and parsley oil tilt the dish toward dessert territory.
Diners who come for Sunday supper settle in with a choice of appetizer but are asked to come to a group decision for their entree, vegetable and starch, everything served family style.
On a Sunday late in June, a friend and I sat down to a $20-per-person supper straight out of a Norman Rockwell tableau. Oh, the brilliant orange soup with a white drizzle of yogurt and purple bachelor's buttons looked like a way to begin dinner in Penn Quarter. But what followed was straight off the farm: a platter of rosy sliced pork edged in sea salt and dried herbs the chef had grown in Maine, accompanied by a heaping bowl of green beans that were crisp from just a dunk in boiling water and glossy with bacon fat. Crowding the table were potatoes smashed in their red jackets and (because we couldn't stop at one entree) chicken that had been dipped in sour cream and egg and rolled in a combination of Japanese bread crumbs and cornflakes. The chicken was moist, the crunch was audible, and the leftovers followed me home.
Cafe Indigo, which is about 90 minutes from Washington, has yet to get its liquor license, which explains the restaurant's abbreviated dinner hours, says the chef. Hydrate yourself in the meantime with a variety of old-fashioned sodas or the house lemonade, sweetened with strawberries on my last visit.
The best ending to any meal is a scoop of velvety ice cream from Homestead Creamery in Burnt Chimney. Flavors including peach, black raspberry and orange make decisions tough. The ice cream is used to fill a split of profiterole that is made showy with curtains of chocolate and caramel sauces and a dusting of powdered sugar on its cap. There are also chocolate chip and ginger cookies; the first are baked a la Toll House, the latter are said to come from a 200-year-old recipe. Go for the old. A cold glass of milk rounds out the pleasure.
Carosi stopped for a nip and stayed for dinner. Lucky locals.