Southern Virginia is well-known for its lakes, racing and history, but you may not be aware of the region’s growing reputation as an award-winning foodie destination.
Food tourism is defined by the World Food Travel Association as “the pursuit and enjoyment of unique and memorable food and drink experiences, both far and near.” Culinary and food tourism is a growing trend and foodies across the nation are enjoying the new experiences and sights as they sip, taste and dine their way across the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Known around the world for NASCAR racing at Martinsville Speedway, the Martinsville area is visited by many racing champions each year. When talking about the area’s local champion, attention is often directed from the track to the grill. Checkered Pig BBQ, also known around the region as Pigs R Us, is locally owned by Tommy and Lisa Houston. The Martinsville restaurant, established in 1997, offers casual family dining and a great selection of grilled chicken, BBQ, and ribs. As seen on the Food Network and Destination America’s BBQ Pitmasters, their award winning BBQ is a highlight for many foodies. Don’t leave the area without picking up a bottle of their famous grilling sauce or dry rub spices to take home! Recent claims to fame for the business include:
4th Place Team of the Year – 2014 Kansas City Barbeque Society
1st Place Best BBQ Restaurant in Southwestern Virginia - 2012, 2013 & 2014 Virginia Living Magazine “Best of Virginia” Awards
1st Place Overall - 2014 Covington Cork & Pork - Covington, VA
1st Place Ribs - 2014 Smoke n Thunder BBQ Classic - Rome, GA
1st Place Overall and 1st Place Chicken & Ribs - 2014 Tilley Harley Davidson Biker Blues BBQ rally Salisbury, NC
Rising Sun Breadsin Martinsville is an organic bakery specializing in artisan breads and bagels; baked locally with no preservatives. Owner Darla Main-Schneider sources top-quality, all natural ingredients and bakes breads daily using an old world technique. Step into the bakery and you’ll be greeted by irresistible aromas, scrumptious organic ingredients and warm indulgent textures to please the mouth. Breads, cookies, sweet rolls and granola bars are just some of the delightful treats that you’ll find at Rising Sun. Daily lunch specials are also offered. Rising Sun won 2nd Place Best Bakery in Southwestern Virginia – 2014 Virginia Living Magazine “Best of Virginia” Awards
Foodies can explore the countryside of Henry County, Virginia and the scenic Smith River as they travel to enjoy a wine tasting nearby at Hamlet Vineyards in Bassett. Located at historic Eltham Manor on 300 acres of rolling hills in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, owners Virginia and Butch Hamlet have created a warm and friendly environment for guests to come enjoy Virginia-made wines. Outside a large barn, the Tasting Terrace is open seasonally and a new interior Tasting Room will open in spring 2015. Guests can enjoy sipping Pinot Gris, Viognier, Old Virginia Red, Reserve Merlot and Petit Verdot in a casual setting while overlooking the vineyard. While in Bassett, be sure to also visit the scenic overlook at Philpott Lake for a magnificent view of the Blue Ridge.
For an afternoon treat, Dippers Ice Creamof Ridgeway is the place to be. Owner Tracy Cox creates handmade ice cream in small batches using fresh sweet cream and the finest of locally sourced ingredients. Dippers Ice Cream is a true Virginia treat and their Peanut Butter Bang Sundae won the 2014 Virginia is for Lovers Culinary Madness Challenge. They also won 1st Place Best Ice Cream in Southwestern Virginia in the 2014 Virginia Living Magazine “Best of Virginia” Awards. Customer favorites include Southern Pecan Pie and Brownies Overboard and unique seasonal flavors like Harvest Pumpkin, Campfire Treats and Summertime Peach. Foodies will also delight in some of the more unique flavors that Dippers offers, including Tiramisu, Key Lime Pie and Banana Pudding. While on-site at the cheerful yellow walk-up window, guests can sit under a covered patio to socialize and also enjoy playing corn hole and other family games on the adjacent lawn.
For lunch or dinner, consider visiting Third Bay Caféin Martinsville. As featured on FoodAroundTheTrack.com by celebrity foodie Steve Post, Martinsville’s Third Bay Café is located in a restored 1960’s service station where the dining room is divided up among the bays of the station. Owned by Yvonne Givens, Third Bay is known for a variety of dishes including fresh salads featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables, juicy 8-ounce burgers, blackened sea bass and homemade chocolate chess pie. The atmosphere is cozy and casual with local artwork displayed throughout. Outside, the semi-enclosed patio is a popular spot for diners. Bicyclists from the nearby Dick & Willie Passage Rail Trail often stop there to dine al fresco after rides. Third Bay Café won 1st Place Best Place for Lunch in Southwestern Virginia in the 2014 Virginia Living Magazine “Best of Virginia” Awards.
Discover more about these and other sites in the Martinsville-Henry County Area at VisitMartinsville.com.
DANVILLE AND PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY
The City of Danville and surrounding Pittsylvania County are rich in history and known for their legacy of tobacco. Millionaire’s Row, a section of Main Street, near downtown Danville, is considered to have some of the best examples of Victorian and Edwardian domestic architecture in Virginia and North Carolina. While exploring this area and the nearby Tobacco Warehouse District, along the banks of the Dan River, there are several restaurants that food travelers can enjoy.
Jake’s on Main in Danville, owned by Jake and Connie Eckman, is an upscale casual bar and restaurant. Located in the historic district next to Danville’s new fountain, Jake’s offers a menu of American cuisine along with an expansive selection of high-end microbrews, bourbons and wines. Jake places an emphasis on fresh and healthy ingredients and procures local foods when possible, assuring the freshest ingredients.
Golden Leaf Bistro, located in Danville’s historic Tobacco Warehouse District, offers elegant dining in a unique atmosphere. Serving brunch, lunch, dinner and tapas, guests to the Golden Leaf and choose to dine in or outdoors on the enclosed deck that offers a relaxing spa-like feel. Glazed duck, creamy risotto, Atlantic salmon and ribeye are just some of the dishes served there.
Centrally located in the heart Southern Virginia, Halifax County is known for racing at South Boston Speedway and Virginia International Speedway (VIR) and is home to NASCAR drivers and brothers Ward and Jeff Burton. Visitors to the area can enjoy history and culture at Berry Hill Plantation and The Prizery. Foodies also have a variety of interesting sites to explore.
Located on Main Street in South Boston,Bistro 1888is a casual, upscale restaurant & bar offering Infused New American Cuisine in a cozy, cosmopolitan atmosphere. Chef Margaret Moorefield has owned Bistro 1888 for more than a decade now and in 2014 she was named one of the top chefs in the country by the publication Best Chefs America. With a long list of accolades and awards in her 30 years of culinary experience, Moorefield’s menu offers a variety of entrees including fish & shellfish, steaks, chicken, handcrafted pasta and vegetarian options. The Baltimore Sun describes Bistro 1888 as “Great fresh food served with panache.” The business won 3rd Place Best Place for Cocktails in Central Virginia in the 2012 Virginia Living “Best of Virginia” Awards and is also 3 Diamond Rated by AAA.
Molasses Grill in the town of Halifax offers fine dining with a warm, inviting, and fun atmosphere. Owned and operated by Chef Steven Schopen and his wife Karen, the Schopens pay close attention to quality and detail, ensuring that all ice creams, desserts, dressings, marinades, and sauces are made from scratch in house. Seafood and meats are sourced within Virginia and North Carolina whenever possible and vegetables, fruit, herbs, eggs, and other ingredients are seasonally sourced from local and Virginia farmers. Guests can enjoy dining with views of downtown Halifax or overlooking the open kitchen to observe Chef Steve and his team. Molasses Grill received the 2010 Virginia Wine Master’s Program, Crystal 5 Stem Award.
For those wanting to fully immerse themselves in the farm-to-table foodie experience, Hudson Heritage Farmsin South Boston is an option. The farm, owned by Denise and David Ray Hudson, offers farm-stay B&B accommodations where guests can stay and take classes on cheese making, food preservation, cooking, herbs, animal husbandry, milking, butchery, and other farm related topic. Natural pasture raised goat, lamb, pork and beef, along with eggs and honey are available for purchase at the farm.
In the small town of Alton, the action is high at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). The road course attracts guests from all over the world that come to race and watch the events. Guests to the VIR resort can also learn to race through various driving courses. One of the highlights of the sprawling 1,300-acre property is the Oak Tree Tavern. Located in a beautifully restored 1800s plantation house, the Tavern serves steak, seafood and pasta dish in the dining room. Seasonal outdoor seating is available with stunning views of the rolling countryside.
Discover more about these and other sites in Halifax County at GoHalifaxVA.com.
Known as Virginia’s Lake Country and home to the 50,000+ acre Kerr Reservoir (a.k.a. Buggs Island Lake) as well as 35,000 acre Lake Gaston, Mecklenburg County is a boating paradise for fishermen, skiers and pleasure boaters, as well as a growing number of paddlers and outdoor adventurers. After enjoying a day on the water, guests have a variety of dining options to enjoy that range from traditional comfort food to fresh, exciting farm-to-fork creations.
Cooper’s Landing Inn & Travelers Tavern in Clarksville was originally built in 1830. Owned by young Innkeepers Nichol and Les Cooper, the restaurant offers a variety of dining options ranging from romantic meals in their beautifully restored historic dining rooms to outdoor dining on the trellised patio. The menu at Cooper's Landing changes seasonally and includes blackboard specials that highlight certified Black Angus meats, fresh fish, and local seasonal vegetables and fruit. Chef Les' nightly specials are also offered which can be paired with interesting and unique wines. The Inn offers on-site Cooking School Classes for those passionate about food and wine. The classes blend relaxation, fine dining, and hands-on instruction all in a romantic and inviting setting. The Tavern received a Wine spectator award of excellence and the New York Observer named them "One of the 7 Most Romantic inns in Virginia"
The Horseshoe Restaurant in South Hill got its namesake (and unique design) from the original purpose of the building over 80 years ago, which was a blacksmith shop for farmers bringing in their tobacco crops to the local warehouses. Owner Scott Rogers, who took over operations in 2010, greets nearly every customer who comes through the doors of this cozy South Hill diner with a warm southern welcome. The experience is matched by the quality of the food – outstanding hand-made burgers, famous pimento cheese, and a fresh and rotating specials menu featuring many locally sourced ingredients such as Berkshire pork from the Animal Welfare Approved Taylor-Wright Farm and greens from the Cricket’s Cove Organic permaculture farm warrant many return visits. Their fried green tomato BLT was a quarter finalist in the 2014 Virginia Tourism Culinary Madness competition.
One of the newest eateries in the area, the Bare Bones BBQ food truck is shaking up things over in Clarksville. Regularly set up for lunch (and sometimes dinner) just blocks from Kerr Lake, young owner Robert Obst turned his college dreams into reality in 2014 when he opened the only food truck in town, and broke the mold by having a scratch kitchen in his mobile eatery and a smoker hanging out the back. Using almost entirely locally sourced ingredients from around Virginia and North Carolina, he spins out specials such as citrus soy ginger mahi mahi tacos, hand crafted Polish sausages with spicy Sam Adams beer mustard, and Taylor-Wright Farms fried bologna sandwiches in addition to his excellent homemade BBQ & brisket.
Discover more about these and other sites in Mecklenburg County at VisitMeckVA.com.
Located on the eastern end of Southern Virginia, Brunswick County has a foodie claim to fame. Brunswick County is the home to Brunswick Stew. Throughout the year visitors can enjoy watching various civic groups make old fashioned Brunswick Stew. It is cooked in a huge black, iron pot over an open flame for about 12 hours using hand-cut chicken and vegetables.
In Alberta, the Alberta General Store is a popular place for travelers seeking out the special dish. "Unkol" Chuck's Brunswick stew is a delicious combination of chicken, potatoes, lima beans, corn, tomatoes, spices that is "a little bit of sweet with a little bit of heat!" In addition to the food and southern hospitality that comes along with it, the store also carries an assortment of gifts made by local artisans.
Discover more about these and other sites in Brunswick County at AlbertaVA.com.
Thanks to Article Contributors: Justin Kerns, Linda Sheppard, Tracy Cox, Denise Hudson, Nichol Cooper and Heather Hoffman.