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Eight road-trip-worthy restaurants in Maryland and Virginia

Owner-chef John MacPherson prepares food at the Three Blacksmiths restaurant in Sperryville, Va. (Greg Powers)
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You deserve to treat yourself — big time. Take some time away from wherever you have been holed up during the pandemic and get out of town for a night. These eight exemplary, road-trip-worthy restaurants within a three-hour drive will provide a welcome respite from home-cooked meals, takeout and failed sourdough experiments.

Safety regulations and guidance for restaurants is constantly shifting, as are the additional safety precautions a business may choose to implement. Before heading out to eat, call ahead to find out the protocols to ensure you will be compliant and feel comfortable.

Three Blacksmiths

20 Main St., Sperryville, Va.; 540-987-5105;

John and Diane MacPherson didn’t intend to create a pandemic-proof restaurant, but the couple managed to anyway. Though they have clearance for more than 50 diners, there are only 20 seats in their neocolonial-styled tasting-menu restaurant, which offers only one round of seating a night, so they weren’t as affected by capacity restrictions as other establishments.

As chef, John uses Old World techniques to transform Old Dominion ingredients from a bounty of local farms. His artfully crafted hyper-seasonal fare earned the restaurant the Formal Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year RAMMY Award last year from the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. Wine pairings are available — including a short-pour version for those driving home after dinner — and include plenty of Virginian varietals from RdV Vineyards, Early Mountain Vineyards and beyond.

The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm

42461 Lovettsville Rd., Lovettsville, Va.; 540-822-9017;

Over the past year, there were a lot of shake-ups at the renowned “earth-to-table” restaurant. The 24-year-old fine dining favorite was shuttered in spring 2020 because of pandemic restrictions, then closed down again for most of the end of the year and January while owner Beverly Morton Billand oversaw a revitalization of the property. During that time, the kitchen gained a new executive chef, Vincent Badiee, a veteran of Gravitas, Fiola, and Zaytinya.

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After the closure, it emerged shining brighter than ever. There is now outdoor seating under an open-air tent and a table for eight in the gazebo perched on the hillside overlooking the snaking blue line of the Potomac River. Badiee’s refined, creative dishes reflect what is fresh from the on-site farm and in season, like strawberry gazpacho and an ever-changing “foragers’ bounty” that highlighted ramps and morel mushrooms in the spring. Billand is also in the midst of obtaining permission from the county to build tepee-style tents on the property, so, for the first time ever, guests can spend the night.

The Blue Door Kitchen and Inn

675 Zachary Taylor Hwy., Flint Hill, Va.; 540-675-1700;

Chef Andrea Pace and his partner Reem Arbid flourished in Fairfax with their beloved Italian redoubt, Villa Mozart. In 2018, they gave up city life to open this bucolic gem, which continues to highlight Pace’s northern Italian roots. The pandemic first shut them down, then upended their business model as they pivoted to carryout.

Now they are once again focusing on in-restaurant experiences, though they nixed lunch service. Guests have the option of dining indoors or on the big patio overlooking the garden, which provides the kitchen with greens, herbs and tomatoes. The menu changes weekly, powered by whatever comes in from local farmers and purveyors. Give the restaurant at least three days’ advance notice and you can request a pair of luxurious classics from Villa Mozart: lobster penne and truffled duck foie gras ravioli in sage sauce.

Goodstone Inn

36205 Snake Hill Rd., Middleburg, Va.; 540-687-3333;

Executive chef Jan Van Haute doesn’t mince words when he talks about his aspirations. “My goal is to achieve a Michelin star,” he says.

Since taking over the kitchen at the country inn three years ago, the classically trained Belgian chef has been pushing for the accolade by putting out exquisitely elegant, modern-minded French-Belgian tasting menus that revel in the ingredients of the moment. Some come from the inn’s 265-acre estate, home to a large garden and 11 beehives; lamb, squab, and beef are raised on nearby farms in the Shenandoah Valley; and cheeses are sourced from Locksley Farmstead Cheese Co. on the southern edge of Loudoun County. Meals can be accompanied by selections from the epic wine cellar overseen by sommelier Stephen Elhafdi and fresh artisan breads from baker Jean Baptiste Lawson. It all adds up to an indulgent dining experience that aims to transport diners to heavenly heights — and, perhaps, the chef, too.

L'Auberge Provencale

13630 Lord Fairfax Hwy., Boyce, Va.; 540-837-1375;

The pandemic pushed owner Celeste Borel to rethink her business on multiple fronts. She temporarily added a takeout component. The four dining rooms in her well-appointed country inn each lost some tables to allow social distancing, but she added others out on the porch and terrace overlooking the surrounding pastures and Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance (outdoor seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis). And now there’s a greenhouse serving as an incubator for the garden — a vibrant riot of greens, aromatic herbs, a rainbow of radishes and more.

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Despite these changes, Le Bernardin veteran Richard Wright is still applying modern techniques, classic French culinary artistry and the occasional Asian influence to his lavish Euro-New American tasting menus. As always, expect to find lots of local elements: Baker’s Farm pork, dry-aged beef courtesy of Martin’s Angus Beef, and a colorful cornucopia via Mackintosh Fruit Farm. In a world that is always shifting beneath our feet, this delicious consistency provides welcome respite.

Chesapeake at the Tides Inn

480 King Carter Dr., Irvington, Va.; 804-438-5000;

Missed blue crab season in 2020 because of the lockdown? Head to this luxe waterfront property on a private peninsula just off the Chesapeake Bay, where you will get to enjoy the cerulean crustaceans in myriad ways: she crab soup, crab cakes and fried soft shells.

The inn’s centerpiece restaurant focuses on “coastal cuisine that’s a reflection of our location,” says Truman Jones, executive chef and director of food and beverage. That means honoring the best products brought in from the sea and over land, so there is an ever-rotating menu of local oysters, burrata dressed up with Virginia prosciutto, straight-from-the-garden salad and Virginia-raised filet mignon lavished with Copper Fox Distillery rye whiskey sauce.

About a three-hour drive from D.C., the pet-friendly inn has over 60 rooms and four suites, so diners can spend the night (or more) before heading home. Bonus: breakfast back at the restaurant. Its monumental crab cake benedict is a good way to get one last crab fix.

Inn at Perry Cabin

308 Watkins Lane, St. Michaels, Md.; 410-745-2200;

Eastern Shore elegance is executive chef Gregory James’s specialty. His three-course tasting menu, which changes every night, highlights nostalgic flavors in modern presentations. “You might have one of the best crab cakes you’ve ever had, but it might come out under a dome full of smoke and served on a china plate,” says James, who likes to bookend his meals with little luxuries — perhaps an Old Bay Macaron stuffed with smoked bluefish and coronated with edible gold leaf to start and a flurry of pâté de fruits as a finisher.

Meals feature lots of hyperlocal elements sourced on the property, which boasts a substantial garden, a verdant orchard, four beehives, a litany of berry brambles and a few crab traps in the Miles River that runs by it. For an ethereal waterfront experience under the stars, parties of two to four can reserve one of the flower-festooned, candlelit greenhouses on it banks.

The Inn at Little Washington

309 Middle St., Washington, Va.; 540-675-3800;

The D.C. area’s premier destination restaurant boasts three Michelin stars and more accolades than could fit in an article many times longer than this one. With more than good reason. Chef-proprietor Patrick O’Connell’s high-minded cooking is the epitome of indulgence, while the staff actively works to take guests to a 10 out of 10 on their happiness scale by the time they leave.

There are two tasting menu experiences — the Gastronaut, blending iconic dishes from the inn’s expansive library alongside the chef’s newest creations, and a thoughtful vegetarian experience that will be tempting even to passionate omnivores (think a crab cake forged from heart of palm, and savory black pepper cheesecake). To have the ultimate summertime experience, request to enjoy dinner in the new glass conservatory in the courtyard garden.

Martell is a writer based in Silver Spring, Md. Find him on Instagram: @nevinmartell.

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