Hours: Monday and Wednesday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Tuesday.
Atmosphere: Hunt country casual.
Prices: $1.40 to $3.75 for sandwiches; entrees $5.25 to $12.95.
Reservations: Recommended, particularly during leaf-peeping season or when horse shows are being held, from April through September.
Credit cards: Visa; also personal checks.
Special facilities: Booster chairs, one highchair, wheelchair access (two steps down into restaurant, however). On-street parking.
One of the more pleasant surprises in Middleburg, a pretty little town in the heart of Virginia's hunt country, is the Coach Stop, an unpretentious but attractive restaurant that serves good home-style American food at reasonable prices.
White-paned windows and brasswork out front suggest that only gentry eat here, but along with suits and hunting costumes, the restaurant also gets customers who have just fed the horses and still have hay on their shirts.
The horse country atmosphere is echoed in horse country wallpaper and in the dignified homeyness that disguises what is essentially a large lunchroom, with a counter along one wall, booths along another and tables down the middle (the restaurant seats 80). It's the food, though, in that location and at comfortable prices, that brings people back.
Our three 10-year-olds (two daughters and a friend) zeroed in on the sandwich menu, which--with prices ranging from $1.40 for hamburger to $3.75 for hot roast beef or turkey--was fine with us. Sandwiches, served on white bread unless you specify otherwise, were staple fare, which the kids prefer: a perfectly predictable bacon cheeseburger ($1.95), a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich ($1.75), and sliced turkey, lettuce and mayonnaise ($2.10).
With the kids keeping prices down, we felt free to splurge, starting with a thick, peanut-buttery peanut butter soup ($1.40), which a hungry child kept dipping her spoon into, and a cup of excellent broccoli soup (95 cents). The homemade soups are clearly a good way to start the meal.
Homemade crab cakes are $7.50, but my husband made do with a crab cake sandwich ($2.75), which was tasty and generously endowed with crab meat--good enough to convince us that the waitress wasn't talking through her hat when she suggested we return on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday when they have a lot of fresh swordfish, salmon, snapper, oysters, scallops and flounder. She also touted the prime ribs ($11.50) and the honey-dipped deep-fried half chicken ($5.50).
I was surprised and pleased with several thin slices of well-trimmed calf's liver ($8.75), cooked just long enough to eliminate the pinkness but still tender and flavorful. Served with an enormous mound of saute'ed onions, the liver, like other entre'es, came with a choice of two vegetables from a fairly lengthy list of possibilities. While not extraordinary, the vegetables were better prepared than at most restaurants in this price range.
The girls supplemented their sandwich orders with a double order of french fried onion rings ($2.50 each), which, like the soup orders, arrived after the main courses had been served (the sunny day had packed the place and the waitress was on her last legs) and were not hot enough to be at their best, which is probably pretty good.
Hot fudge sundaes ($1.60) were disappointing despite mounds of real whipped cream, because there was too little ice cream in the wrong kind of dish: a soup bowl. Pecan pie ($1.65) tasted too caramelized to me, but pleased my husband. I preferred the cake-like portion of hunt pudding, an interesting bread pudding.
Though we didn't have room for fruit cobblers and couldn't bring ourselves to try specialties like pina colada cake, the homemade desserts are obviously worth exploring.
Dinner for five of us, ordering a fair number of extras, came to $45, with tip, two glasses of wine and six other beverages included.
The quality of the Coach Stop food ranged from fair to excellent. The service was a bit hectic; but whenever our frazzled waitress missed a cue, someone else stepped in to accommodate us.
This is the kind of restaurant people have in mind when they talk about the good old days, when a dollar bought good value, honest cooking, clean surroundings and a polite reception. As a stopping-off place after a pleasant ride along gorgeous country roads, Coach Stop offers real family fare.