Snacking Through Staunton

by artfuldiner on December 13, 2019

in Uncategorized

Yelping Dog - Exterior SignIt’s been fifteen years since I paid a visit to Staunton (pronounced “Stanton”), Virginia. At that time, following an extended stay in Richmond and subsequent stopover at Monticello, my wife and I had planned to dine and spend the night in Charlottesville… But the prospect of enduring a tumultuous UV football weekend and slew of other local festivities sounded more raucous than relaxing, so we opted instead for a scenic forty-mile jaunt and the quiet homespun charms of Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace.

 I must confess, however, that it was the Belle Grae Inn rather than Wilson’s Presidential Library and Museum that attracted us. Seventeen rooms and suites set in a beautiful 1873 Victorian structure and other 19th-century buildings. Lauded as one of the top ten inns in Virginia, it was listed in the Select Registry as one of the “Distinguished Inns of North America” and simply gushed all over in Frommer’s Virginia. And the food… “Dining is a must at Belle Grae,” proclaimed the Select Registry enthusiastically… Three big stars bestowed by Frommer. The praise appeared to be unceasing. With these impeccable credentials, it seemed the perfect spot to settle in for a sumptuous meal and a romantic overnight stay.

Alas… this was not to be the case. Our stay proved to be an unmitigated disaster, as a glance at my review will quickly bear out. Fortunately, for all concerned, the Belle Grae Inn is no more. The buildings now house Ubon Thai Victorian Restaurant Inn… a culinary oxymoron if ever there was one.

Our most recent sojourn to Staunton, thankfully, was infinitely more pleasant, as well as being gastronomically more productive. We attended the installation service for my significant other’s son-in-law as Head of School at Stuart Hall Preparatory School. Following the festivities, a group of us set out to sample Staunton’s surprisingly sophisticated dining scene.

Our first stop was the Yelping Dog Wine and Cheese Shop (8 Beverley Street, 540-885-2275, for preprandial libations. This is my kind of place. There are no TVs here… just great wines by the glass and an excellent selection of craft beers (plus 1,200 wines available for purchase by the bottle from over 200 vineyards).

 Yelping Dog - Interior 2The carefully selected limited menu is big on cheese, tempting imbibers with a variety of Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Cheese Plates. The former includes such interesting possibilities as Double Cheddar and Tomato Jam, cheddar piled high with locally made tomato jam on sourdough bread… the Wisconsinite, cheddar and blue cheeses, with Dijon mustard and cranberry sauce on rye bread… and the Godfather, marinated mozzarella & tomatoes, chopped olives, and mild Colby on sourdough bread.

Yelping Dog - Moody BlueThe Cheese Plates are equally intriguing. The Italian, for example, is composed of Taleggio, Reggianito, marinated mozzarella & tomatoes, and olives with crackers & baguette slices… The Local pairs Virginia Grayson & Appalachian with fig preserves and dried fruit. Our group, however, thoroughly enjoyed The Moody Blue (pictured), a delicious combo of Roth Kase Buttermilk Blue with honey, apples, pears, and walnuts with crackers & baguette slices.

Locally made mild or spicy charcuterie salami may be added to any cheese plate or sandwich or simply served by itself. The kitchen also puts out one homemade soup – White Chicken Chili – the evening of our visit, and several scrumptious desserts. All are worthy of consideration. Unfortunately, we were on our way to dinner elsewhere, so we had to be content with wine and the above-mentioned cheese plate.


Zynodoa - ExteriorOur choice for dinner was only a few doors away. Zynodoa (115 East Beverley Street, 540-885-7775, offers up innovative southern cuisine in a stylish, metropolitan setting. Although tucked away in a historic building in downtown Staunton, this is an eatery that would easily be at home in Manhattan or Center City Philadelphia.

Zynodoa is a farm-to-table restaurant that is extremely proud of its support of Virginia’s independent farmers and producers. The restaurant’s produce and livestock are primarily sourced from the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont regions. Their seafood comes from the Chesapeake Bay. As the restaurant utilizes only the freshest seasonally available ingredients, the menu changes daily.

Among the appetizers, salads are always a popular choice… The evening of our visit, my dining partner and I shared the Baby Arugula & Strawberry Salad spruced up with salt-roasted beets, Caromont Chèvre, spiced macadamia nuts, and a splash of enticing Virginia Vinegar Works vinaigrette. Also high on everyone’s popularity list was the smooth-as-silk Polyface Farm Chicken Liver Pâté served up whole grain mustard, apple slices, and Newtown Baking Company Baguette.

Zynodoa - CornbreadOther starter possibilities include Rappahannock River Fried Oysters with a host of varying accompaniments – on one evening, an apple & fennel slaw and citrus aioli; on another, spring greens, radish, and a ramp remoulade – and a tempting array of Artisan Cheeses with appropriate accoutrements. But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the gastronomic sine qua non of any visit to Zynodoa is the kitchen’s outrageously irresistible Brûléed Cast Iron Cornbread (pictured). It comes with a ramekin of Main Street Farmstead Butter for enthusiastic slathering and a variety of rotating jams. Trust me… one bite will make you a believer.

Zynodoa - New York StripEntrées are equally appealing and the compact menu runs the gamut of options from seafood to pasta, to chicken, pork, and beef. On one occasion, for example, fowl may be presented as Polyface Farm Chicken and Dumplings with roasted carrots, turnips & onions in a rich chicken cream sauce; on another, as Herb Marinated Picnic Chicken aided and abetted by cabbage, radish & dill slaw, and Anson Mills sea island peas. Beef is also treated to various incarnations, including Seven Hills Braised Beef Short Ribs… although, steak appears to be a particularly popular menu mainstay; and during our visit, put in a guest appearance as Buffalo Creek Farm Grilled New York Strip (pictured) companioned by perfectly roasted fingerling potatoes.

Zynodoa - ScallopsThe kitchen is especially adept at seafood, so expect to find such locally and seasonally driven items like Chesapeake Bay Crispy Soft-Shell Crabs and Virginia Stuffed Flounder with Benton’s country ham, Swiss chard, glazed carrots, Geechie Boy Carolina gold rice, and candy onion soubise. And I recently sampled a first-rate Cornmeal-Crusted Wild Blue Catfish, which was set on a seabed of cauliflower purée and garnished with collard greens… Even better, though, was my dining partner’s beautifully Seared Scallops (pictured) served with sautéed zucchini squash, orange segments, and finished with an enticing orange beurre blanc.

The restaurant also boasts a rotating array of desserts, including such sweets as Red Velvet Cake with cream cheese frosting and Creamsicle frozen yogurt and New York-Style Cheesecake served with bada bing cherry compote… And be sure to check out the interesting wine list that features well-chosen wines from around the world as well as several excellent selections from local Virginia vineyards.

Whether visiting for dinner or Sunday brunch, Zynodoa will not disappoint.

 Bon Appétit!


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