If there’s one major drawback to the distillery tours, it’s that they are not allowed to offer tastings. Here are a few restaurants nearby where you can get a bite to eat along with a sip of local whiskey:
The Purcellville favorite Magnolias at the Mill (198 N. 21st St., Purcellville, 540-338-9800) not only makes an excellent Sazerac using Catoctin Creek’s Roundstone Rye, but it also has a wonderful beer list and a menu of hearty American classics.
When asked for nearby restaurant tips, the gentlemen at Copper Fox didn’t even pause before recommending Thornton River Grille (3710 Sperryville Pike, Sperryville, 540-987-8790). And why not? In addition to serving the distilleries’ spirits, it also offers great steaks and burgers.
The new restaurant Cafe Indigo (3 River Lane, Sperryville, 540-987-8770 ), which is practically within sight of the distillery, doesn’t have its liquor license yet, but it is the subject of Tom Sietsema’s dining column this week. Sietsema lauds its farm-to-table focus, which includes pigs brought in from nearby Madison and butchered in-house. With such a local outlook, one expects Copper Fox to make its way to the menu once the paperwork goes through.
Not far from Sperryville are two wineries with quirky appeal: Narmada Winery (43 Narmada Lane, Amissville, 540-937-8215) is owned by an Indian American couple who also offer a menu of Indian food (think butter chicken and spicy aloo tikki potato patties) to pair with the light-bodied wines. Gray Ghost Vineyards (14706 Lee Hwy., Amissville, 540-937-4869), which takes its name from the area’s Civil War past, offers a slew of tasty whites that make it worth a stop.
You’d be remiss if you didn’t make a stop at nearby Luray Caverns (101 Cave Hill Rd., Luray. 540-743-6551. $11-$23, free, younger than 5), the underground wonder that’s perfect for little ones.
Don’t leave without filling the trunk with locally produced foods. A quick ride from Afton at the funky Main Street Market in Charlottesville, Feast! (416 W. Main St., 434-244-7800) sells local produce, honey, olives and cheeses (the excellent cheesemonger guided us to a stellar local raw-milk Manchego). A visit to the Feast! sandwich counter is a must, thanks to the heavenly bread from local Albemarle Baking Co.
If you’re planning to picnic, make sure to visit Chiles Peach Orchard (1351 Greenwood Rd., Crozet, 434-823-1583), which offers row upon row of pick-your-own peach trees and a roadside stand with pre-picked nectarines, peaches and apples. There’s also a small dairy window with amazing peach milkshakes.
The historic town of Staunton makes a great base for exploring Nelson County, and its burgeoning restaurant scene has a distinctly locavore focus. Chef Ian Boden — a veteran of New York restaurants Judson Grill and Home — crafts a menu using hyperlocal products and housemade pastas at the comfortable Staunton Grocery (105 W. Beverly St., Staunton, 540-886-6880). Down the street, the hip Zynodoa (115 E. Beverly St., 540-885-7775) has a similar theme in an art-filled setting. As a bonus, its “local producers” list extends to wine as does the all-Virginia draft beer lineup.
Work off some of those calories with a hike to Crabtree Falls (11581 Crabtree Falls Hwy., Montebello), whose 1,200-foot drop is the tallest east of the Mississippi, or to the peak of Humpback Rocks (mile marker 5.8 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Waynesboro). Then cool off at the famous Blue Hole (along Moorman’s River, north of the Sugar Hollow Reservoir on Sugar Hollow Road, west of the town of Whitehall), an old-school swimming hole.
From Afton, you can zip right up to Skyline Drive (Rockfish Gap entrance, U.S. Route 250 and I-64; $15 per car) and climb to mountain views at nearly 2,500 feet. Go during the wineries’ busy season in September, and you’ll also catch the beginning of the fall colors.
— Fritz Hahn, Lavanya Ramanathan and Justin Rude