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The Culinary Perks of a College Town

May 7, 2011

Well folks, my junior year of college is officially done. It’s scary though.  I can’t believe that three years of college are already gone and in one measly little year, that real life thing is going to happen.  I’m not too sure if I’m ready for that to happen…I guess that’s why I’m still banking on 2 years of culinary school to prolong the inevitable, c’mon financial aid.

But along with finishing this semester, I have finished three long years of dorm life as well.  Apartment life with a ginormous kitchen in three months!  It will hopefully provide for some much more frequent and fun recipe sharing and food writing for you too. But at the very least, my on-campus meal plan this past semester and a new-found confidence in dining alone in restaurants (courtesy of my London trip) led me to try and eat off-campus as much as possible.  And in doing so, I discovered some really great eating in my college town and that The Shenandoah Valley is much more health conscious and local/sustainable-loving than I thought.

I really saw it in the small, yet decent farmer’s market where I got my weekly supply of fresh, whole wheat bread for breakfast toast.  Though I had no kitchen to cook anything, I’ve admired the beautiful greens, radishes, and rhubarb that popped up the last few weeks.  I’ll be sure so buy this produce once I’m cooking on my own.  I’ve enjoyed the local sausage, egg, and cheese, sandwiches that send beautiful smells wafting across the pavilion and leave a delicious stream of grease running down my chin.  I’ve also indulged in a homemade glazed yeast doughnut or two.  (sorry that the only pictures I have are of half-eaten items…a little gross, no?)

I also came to love a little place called The Little Grill Collective, a special little hole-in-the-wall where employees, after 6 months of work, become collective owners of the restaurant.  It is a super-hippie place, specializing in mainly vegetarian and vegan fare, but provide some meat options that are all local and free-range.  All other ingredients are of superior quality too; It’s the sort of place where you eat so much but you don’t really feel sick because it was so fresh and healthy.  It is a mix of Mexican and Mediterranean food (the falafel wraps are out of this world…that’s what is pictured) but every Friday night, they do a down-home southern platter complete with baked chicken, homemade mashed potatoes and mushroom “groovy gravy”, collard greens, and cornbread with honey butter.  It’s amazing.  But perhaps they are most famous for their breakfast, which includes their famous “blue monkeys”, 12-inch diameter buttermilk pancakes totally coated with blueberries and bananas.  They cook up to the thickest, fluffiest, tender, and most delicious pancakes ever.  They are real pancakes, oozing with fruitiness, and a stack of two is enough to put you in a fairly severe food coma for a while.  Little grill is truly a vital part of our town’s community and I am proud to support them with every bite.

However, my most recent discovery, as of two weeks ago, was the Local Chop and Grill House and as you can judge by its name, almost everything is local, especially the delicious meat.  It’s a seed-packing warehouse turned restaurant and it is absolute heaven.  They have a formal dining area, which I hope to try someday when I feel like spending the money, but they also have a cozy bar area where you can get some of their cheaper fare, though the quality is not in the least bit sacrificed.

They have some appetizers and a couple fancier meat dishes, but you have to ignore those.  It’s all about the burgers, gorgeous 6 oz patties from a variety of meats, served on house made brioche buns.  My first visit, I had the bison burger, topped with sea salt, smoked Gouda, smoked bacon, and a mango hoisin sauce.  On my second visit (which was just a week later…that’s how good it was) I tried the lamb burger, cooked medium-rare with onions and chopped mint, and topped with crispy onions and a maple-Dijon sauce.  Though very different, both were amazing; they were superior in juiciness and full in flavor which contrasted beautifully with the crispy, grilled bun and cool lettuce and tomato.  Other selections I hope to try are the pulled duck bbq, the salmon-caper burger, and the curried chickpea burger.

But the most unique aspect is their duck-fat fries, made with Yukon gold potatoes. Now I’ve heard about these fries, seen Bobby Flay and Michael Symon rave about them, but I’ve never found them anywhere.  Where were these elusive duck-fat fries that the whole world seemed to rave about?  Well I suddenly had them within reach and when they arrived hot and steaming in a paper cone, sea salt sprinkled on top, I salivated immediately.  They were nowhere near what I expected.  They were 100 times better.  They were not greasy, not at all, but instead incredibly light and the fluffiest fries I’ve ever had.  They of course had a much meatier flavor than oil fries but it made a world of a difference.  They provided the crispiest of crunches and whether I was eating the mouth-burning hot ones or the cold ones at the bottom of the cone that I scraped up at the end, they never had a trace of sogginess.  They were paired with homemade peach ketchup that was good too, but I almost preferred them plain, letting the full duck fat flavor shine.  I’m certain they will probably make any other future fry incredibly lame in comparison, but at least now I know the perfection in which a fry can exist.  This restaurant is amazing and when I’m 21 in a few months, I can’t wait to pair my burger with a beer and spend a wonderful summer evening at this gem.

I’ve discovered many other wonderful eats as well.  Just to mention a few, A Bowl of Good, specializing in ethnic healthy comfort food, is amazing for rainy day takeaway. Cally’s makes wonderful Polyface egg quiches for brunch, Clementine’s has good sandwiches and salads, and of course Cocolicious Cupcakes is the cure to my sweet tooth.  Though I am excited to cook on my own next semester, I will of course still treat myself to the local eats; they’ve captured my stomach completely.

I’m leaving you with a few links.

I want to have a spring picnic…my friends need to come home now

Want. To. Build. One. Of. These. NOW!!!!!

Liberty was one of my favorite stores is London and their custom fabric prints were beautiful.  Unfortunately, they were waaay expensive.  But now Liberty print is available of some awesome Nikes, or J-crew shirts…so beautiful…yet still so expensive.

A nice little read for foodies

This wedding is absolutely amazing.  Love the bridesmaid dresses.  How do people have this much creativity?

I want to make something like this.  Time to flea market shop.

Must give this bread a try…Sarah and Louise always make the most delicious food.

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