day trip: Virginia ‘villes and ‘burgs

Since we figured too many people would be heading towards the beach this past weekend, Randy and I took a day trip in the opposite direction into Virginia. We didn’t really have a plan in mind, though stopping off for some retail therapy at the Leesburg Outlets was definitely on the agenda. It was a gorgeous day, so just driving through the “country” was a nice change of pace. I guess it may have gotten up to the 80s, but there was a constant breeze in the air and the rain stayed away until much later that night.

IHOP Restaurant

It was tax-free weekend in VA, so the outlets were PACKED, we could tell that much just from the traffic trying to get into the parking lot. We called for petrol first and did something extremely suburban for lunch… IHOP! :mrgreen: After stuffing ourselves full, a walk around the shops was just what we needed. After a good 20 minutes or so of looking for a parking spot, that’s just what we did. Even though the crowds were out and the discounts were posted, there still wasn’t a lot that interested me. A pair of shoes was my biggest indulgence. And some of the stores really need better customer traffic flow. In many of them, the check-out line was wrapped around and to the back of the store, crossing over where people were still shopping. I love me some tax-free discounted shopping, but not that much!

After the shopping we got on the road, he knew where he was going and I had no idea. The city boy in me was way too far from his cars and buildings. After some driving around through various historic these and stately those, we ended up in Middleburg. They’ve got a cute little “Main Street” with some nice shops and eateries, though it was nearing 5 or so and many were shutting down. This was a surprise to me since summer daylight lasts til near 8pm. We were able to do a lot of window shopping, but nothing more.

One highlight was The Home Farm Store, a shop resembling a mini Dean & Deluca with fresh food from Ayrshire Farm. We’d just stopped in to buy something to drink, but their butcher and cheese counters tend to draw one in. While she rung us up, Randy asked if they had a sister restaurant, which they do, Hunter’s Head Tavern. The cashier and butcher were both very enthusiastic that we should give it a try as it was only 8 miles west.

Another cute spot was The Tasting Room, Boxwood Winery’s off-site wine bar and shop. We only had one glass each as it was nearing their closing time too, but the wines were good. None of the selections were more than 5 years old, the shop was a bit austere, much more modern than you’d expect considering that it’s Boxwood’s only spot for open tastings–one must make a reservation for a tour & tasting at the actual winery.

Hunters Head Tavern, exterior

We did head out to Hunter’s Head Tavern in Upperville, but unfortunately I can’t report a single thing about the place. They were booked up, so far as we could tell, but our experience definitely counts as one of the most extreme I’ve ever had.

We headed to the “please wait” sign and… waited. After a moment the hostess came over with a smile and a welcome and asked how many were in our party and then whether we had a reservation. We told her we didn’t and she said “Oh, you should have rung us up,” her accent getting decidedly more British than it had been a second ago. She would repeat the phrase “You should have rung up” and similar over the next few minutes. A couple behind us said that they did call and were told they wouldn’t need reservations. The hostess scoffed and replied “Well you obviously didn’t speak to me.”

I’ve been out on a Friday or Saturday evening, so I understand eateries being busy and there being wait times, so we tried to ask how long we might have to wait for a table. She got flabbergasted and didn’t exactly yell, but it came close, and said “I don’t even have cutlery or flatware to give you!” Both we and the couple behind us were trying to reason with her, but her attitude seemed well beyond that point. Randy and I gave up and headed back to the car, and that’s when the hostess hurried after him with their card and said “Just ring us back!” We said we were fine, but that was definitely the weirdest moment about the whole thing. Did she expect us to call the restaurant from the parking lot?

My friend Betsy assures me that we didn’t miss anything, recounting her experiences at Hunters Head Tavern to be of fairly average food and rude service. (No kidding!) But really, if your restaurant is full, just say so–politely, please. Don’t make it seem as though it’s the customer’s fault for not calling ahead.

As Upperville is about 50 miles from DC, I doubt I’ll be heading out there anytime soon for a second try. It’s too bad, since I love trying out new places, but if the hostess experience was any indication of how our meal might have gone, maybe we were better off leaving. πŸ™„

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4 Responses

  1. Shaw Girl says:

    Hmmmm, I’ve never heard of the Home Farm Store, so thanks for the introduction. I may have to make a trip out there in the near future.

    latest entry: Asian Inspired Barbecue Spareribs

  2. Neal says:

    Utter nonsense. Let me get this straight. You walk into a very busy restaurant that is booked to the hilt, buttonhole a very busy hostess and try to pin her down on how long you will have to wait for a table and when you don’t get immediate gratification you cop an attitude and leave? Then you go home and write a scathing account of the restaurant and hostess trying to make your lack of planning someone elses fault?
    Hunter’s Head is a delightful restaurant and the hostess is one of the most genuine people you would care to meet. Perhaps a little less attitue would have served you better, perhaps a little less wine.

  3. brian says:

    @Neal: You are, of course, entitled to your own opinion regarding an experience that I–not you–had. But I feel it necessary to point out that your comment’s perspective feels a little heavily stacked against me. Still, I’ll provide clarification for some of your points. Since you don’t know me, and from my observation made this page your initial visit–likely led here by someone of similar perspective–you don’t realize that I’m a foodie and I know how to conduct myself in restaurants, even when only making inquiries.

    The restaurant had no signs of being very busy; there was no one waiting at the door, there were empty tables and lingering parties that had finished their meals. Had the place looked busy/crowded, we very likely wouldn’t have bothered to try.

    If the hostess was very busy then I credit her initial hospitality as she showed no signs of such until we said that we didn’t have a reservation. At that point all she had to do was relate to us that they were fully booked and the chances of us getting a table were highly unlikely. Two things that I consider any host/ess capable of carrying out.

    If it makes you feel better, I’ll cop to inadequate planning. Perhaps it was our own fault for falling prey to the enthusiastic high both the Home Farm Store’s employees gave us when they talked up the restaurant, insisting that we should check it out. If either one of them had said, “You might want to call ahead,” we would have snapped out of our reverie and picked up a phone. I had never been to Middleburg or Upperville before and neither of us had heard of the restaurant, so we had no prior knowledge of its popularity. Still, it isn’t out of the ordinary to expect that if a restaurant is busy– even if you can’t see that they’re busy–they would just tell you.

    We were not seeking immediate gratification as evidenced by the fact we were more than willing to wait, if we could have gotten any information on whether the wait time was reasonable. We didn’t cop an attitude, quite the opposite, we said “thank you” and went back to our car.

    I haven’t written a scathing account of the restaurant, merely one of disappointment that we were unable to dine there. As for the hostess, again I don’t believe you’ve read much of this blog–or perhaps any others. The experience I wrote about is the experience I had. Being the restaurant industry, people have good and bad nights. It may simply be our misfortune that we caught her on a bad night. But often when it comes to the hospitality industry, one time is all you get to impress a customer. Clearly you know the hostess in a vastly different context than we do, but our experience is quite limited.

    I have to wonder if you actually read this entry because for us to have had less wine would have meant–if my math is correct here–that we would have needed to go to The Tasting Room and order zero glasses each. I’m not sure they would have considered such an order very conducive to running a business. As for my attitude, I assure you that–while I am occasionally fierce to a degree that would strike Christian Siriano blind, deaf and dumb–this was during a lovely weekend and I was at my most genial and polite as I usually am when looking forward to trying out a new place to eat.

    Clearly you have made assumptions not only about my experience, but also about me and while I applaud you for expressing yourself here, I can’t say that you’ve written anything that causes me to rethink visiting the restaurant. I have since heard from the general manager, however, who apologized and has invited me back to give them another try.

    So if you’d like to make another comment recounting some of the wonderful experiences you’ve had there, to provide a point/counterpoint as it were, I would welcome that as would a few of my foodie friends. But if all you’re capable of is immediately discounting someone else’s experience as “utter nonsense” you need say no more.