DROPPING THE TOYOTA into low gear, I made the steep ascent to The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm. High on a hill in northern Loudoun County, Virginia, overlooking the Potomac River and the camelback Point of Rocks Bridge crossing to Maryland, Beverly Morton Billand, left nursing to pursue full-time farming and offers the ideal farm-to-table experience.
In every season, guests come to her 40-acre farm to dine in a glass conservatory and open-sided tent. The occasional train whistles in the distance, eagles soar overhead and modern American cuisine bursts with just-picked flavor and aroma. In season, 90 percent of the heirloom-variety vegetables are grown on site with other foods sourced from regional farmers and top fishmongers. A flock of free-range chickens provide eggs for the pastry kitchen.
She opened the place in 1998, and bit by bit Billand’s vision has grown, from a simple menu of her own home-cooked meals, served by her five daughters, to far-more-refined presentations, composed by innovative executive chef Tarver King, brought tableside by polished servers. King, who came on board in September, worked stints at Napa Valley’s French Laundry and, closer to home, at The Inn at Little Washington and the Ashby Inn. For 2014, Patowmack has been nominated by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington for a RAMMY Award for Formal Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year and King for Chef of the Year.
The short brunch menu is full of enticements. One bite of an airy bacon soufflé, served in a mini cast-iron pot, reveals a soft-cooked egg, gathered that morning. Perfect flaky biscuits arrive in a custom-made wooden box created by a local artist. For dessert, I can order some fresh goat cheese from a nearby creamery. Or, I can go to the source and meet the goat herder.
Some live vicariously through others, dreaming of changing jobs, a Plan B. Others, like Billand and two additional Loudoun women I visited, made it happen. All three embraced the food and beverage industry, each in her own way. I savored the results.
Fifteen minutes away on the outskirts of Lovettsville, inside a well-weathered mid-19th-century timber-frame barn, Molly Kroiz makes exceptional moist and creamy farmstead chevres at Georges Mill Farm. Serene and impressive, the 150-acre property, centered on a massive Civil War-era stone house, now a bed-and- breakfast, has been in her husband’s family for eight generations.
A fish geneticist by training, Kroiz opened the barn doors to the public last June for sales of her handcrafted cheeses and one-on-one visits with her 19 American Alpine dairy goats. I throw the latch at a rocky hillside enclosure and nine adorable baby goats come to greet me, each throwing its head in a hilarious awkward dance. Day and night a pair of fluffy and friendly Great Pyrenees guardian dogs are at the ready if coyotes pay a visit.
Kroiz milks the herd twice a day and makes both fresh and aged artisan cheeses in a state-inspected creamery, tucked into one corner of the barn. The most popular is “Catoctin,” an earthy and pungent semi-soft wheel with a complex flavor. I taste a hint of mushroom.
Nearby in downtown Purcellville, Becky Harris, who began her working career as a chemical engineer, focused on production systems for contact lenses, now produces small-batch rye whiskey, gin and brandy in custom-made “pot column” copper stills. She makes the craft spirits. Her husband, Scott, a former telecommunications specialist, runs the business end of their Catoctin Creek distilling company.
On an average Saturday, more than 200 folks, many in their 20s and 30s, stop by the Harrises’ very cool Prohibition-era-style tasting room, a step back in time. Opening the place in August in a historic 6,000-square-foot former Buick dealership built in 1921, the couple removed all plaster down to the rustic bricks and cleverly repurposed the original embossed-tin ceiling into “floating” light fixtures. With early Louis Armstrong jazz playing in the background, it’s the perfect setting for a reverent nod to America’s hot fascination with craft whiskey and gin.
At the tasting bar, neat samples of the house spirits are sold in flights of three. (By state law, customers are limited to one flight, a total of 1.5-ounces.) Also available is a flight of adorable tiny cocktails made with fresh-squeezed juices and house-made bitters and syrups. Many of the recipes are concocted by noted guest mixologists, whom the Harrises host each month at a popular Second Saturday Guest Bartender Series. Here’s a travel option: Lots of Catoctin Creek fans make the trip to Loudoun by bicycle on the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Trail, which connects Bailey’s Crossroads and Purcellville.
Catoctin Creek spirits are widely available at bars and liquor stores in Washington. And next time I’m out Loudoun way, I’ll ask for it by name, at sunset, under the tent at The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm.
The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, 42461 Lovettsville Rd., Lovettsville, 540-822-9017, patowmackfarm.com
Open: For brunch, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For Dinner, Thursday through Saturday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Reservations are required.
Georges Mill Farm Artisan Cheese, 11861 Georges Mill Rd., Lovettsville, 571-442-7444, georgesmillcheese.com
Open: Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for tours and cheese sampling. Daily, by appointment, for tours and cheese sales.
Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, 120 West Main St., Purcellville, 540-751-8404, catoctincreekdistilling.com
Open: Monday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 7 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m.