The Shack: Destination dining in Staunton

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Ian Boden’s wife’s late grandmother lived in a fish shack. She lived in a shack.


At the Shack in Staunton, Va., pan-roasted fish arrives bedded on Brussels sprouts and garnished with roe and microgreens. (Sera Petras)

The chairs are mismatched, the walls show off little more than yellow paint, the owner doesn’t take reservations. And early on, at least, the Shack, in Staunton, Va., is a dry restaurant that lives up to its name.

Why bother making the nearly three-hour trip to the Shenandoah Valley from Washington just for dinner? Because Ian Boden, late of the very good and much-missed Glass Haus Kitchen in Charlottesville, is at the stove. Since that restaurant went dark last year, Boden has been entertaining his fans with pop-ups in the area; the Shack, which opened in late January, serves beef and lamb hamburgers for $12 and $15, respectively, Wednesdays and Thursdays and a three-course, $40 menu Fridays and Saturdays.

The burgers, made from local meat — Buffalo Creek Beef and Border Springs Lamb — are a way to catch people’s interest, lure them in, says Boden. The weekend menu is a chance for the chef to do the kind of high-end food for which he is known. Given the size of his roost (about 400 square feet, with room for 26), Boden doesn’t have the space to do both humble and haute.

A late-February weekend visit started with (take your choice) tender hats of pasta, fat with sweetbreads and garnished with tiny, buttery beech mushrooms; or grilled octopus electrified by a whip of Meyer lemon aioli. Main courses reinforced Boden’s fondness for lively punctuation. Crisp pork belly arrived with scrolls of pickled butternut squash, for instance, while pan-roasted trout popped with a sprinkling of fish roe and a splash of finger-lime vinaigrette. Nutella whipped into a light mousse and arranged with crushed nuts and bright bites of orange made for a dessert that was by turns decadent and refreshing.

The Shack offers at least two choices per course; Boden is considering adding another course and adjusting the price to $45. Also, the joint should be cleared to serve beer and wine any day now, an update sure to attract more interest in the venture, given that grapefruit-flavored San Pellegrino was the strongest available quaff when I dropped in.

Family history inspired the project: Boden’s wife’s late grandmother lived in a shack in nearby Swoope, Va., according to the chef. The sparseness of his new/old setting, which over the decades has been home to such uses as a rough-and-tumble bar, a doughnut shop and a Caribbean outlet, allows diners to focus on their plates. Adding color to the scene are the amiable servers and a background of country, bluegrass and funk music.

Ultimately, says the chef, “we want to make it feel like someone’s kitchen.”

Done.

105 S. Coalter St., Staunton, Va. 540-490-1961. theshackva.wordpress.
com.
Burgers with a side, $12 to $15; three-course menu, $40.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to where the chef's wife's late grandmother lived. It was in a shack, not a fish shack.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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