Whichever region you are in, Virginia has an impressive culinary scene, with dozens of renowned chefs creating inspired dishes using locally sourced ingredients that bring together the best flavors of the Commonwealth in uniquely delicious ways. To put the spotlight on the best dishes in Virginia, we spoke to some of these chefs, from the award-winning seasoned professionals to the emerging stars who have garnered attention in national and even international publications. Follow our Inside the Kitchen series as we check out everything Eat.Drink.LOVE in Virginia!
With its rich soil and lush landscapes, the Shenandoah Valley has always been an agricultural hub that supported dairy farms, apple orchards, and fresh produce centers. This has resulted in the region adding some excellent farm-to-table restaurants to the catering trade. One of those incredible restaurants is Magpie Diner, a new foodie oasis in Harrisonburg, Virginia. This full-service breakfast and lunch eatery serves a contemporary, diner-inspired menu. However, unlike a real greasy spoon diner, you won’t find any burnt coffee or cheap ingredients in the Magpie Diner. The restaurant opts for local and fresh ones instead; The coffee is sourced from Harrisonburg’s Chestnut Ridge Coffee Roasters. The bread and pastries are made daily in the in-house bakery. The menu always uses the current seasonal offers in Virginia.
Photo credit: Amelia Schmid
Heading the Magpie Diner is chef Rachel FitzGerald, a self-taught cook who worked in restaurants to pay for her way through college and graduate school. After graduating from high school, she shuttled between teaching and cooking for nearly a decade, working in both sectors in the Richmond and Nashville, Tennessee regions. She eventually made her way to the Shenandoah Valley, where she met the current owner of Magpie Diner, Kirsten Moore. The creativity and inspired culinary practices of these two extraordinary women have combined to create one of the most popular local spots in Harrisonburg.
Want to learn more about Magpie Diner and Chef FitzGerald? Read on to learn more of their Chef’s secrets, followed by one of Chef FitzGerald’s favorite recipes!
Do you have a couple of producers, farms, or other suppliers that you prefer your local ingredients from?
We’re big fans of Baker’s Pork up the road in Mt. Jackson, Virginia. We use their subtly flavorful breakfast sausage to make our sausage sauce made from local milk Crawford Creamery. It’s amazing how few high quality ingredients can create such a unique yet nostalgic taste.
What are your favorite Virginia flavors?
Fall is my favorite time of year, and I think it comes mostly from my good childhood food memories. Maple Syrup from Highland County. Gingerbread from colonial Williamsburg. My neighbors’ annual apple butter party cooks cider, apples, and cinnamon over a blazing wood fire for hours.
What do you prefer to cook for yourself?
Unfortunately for me, cooking doesn’t happen too much these days. If so, I’ll make pasta. Especially rotten lemon noodles that take 10 minutes to lay flat. I drain cooked pasta, make a sauce with pasta water, lemon peel and juice, ricotta, parmesan and paprika flakes. Throw the pasta back in, add a handful of arugula and eat.
Which Virginia wine, craft beer, cider or cocktail would you go with?
I usually like to have a glass of dry white wine when I’m cooking at home, but recently I’ve been enjoying our new neighbors’ hard ciders. Sage bird. I love their hip hop – dry, crispy, not overly sweet … perfect for wine or beer folks who didn’t know they liked cider.
What is your favorite Virginia vacation spot?
I’m spoiled because I set up my home base in the ultimate Virginia vacation spot: the Shenandoah Valley. Whenever I have a few days off, I like to go to my old hometown of Richmond. I’ve lived in a couple of big cities that pride themselves on being “foodie” destinations, but I think good old Richmond has one of the best food scenes in the country without being overly precious or overbearing.
Chef Recipe Spotlight: Apple Bacon Cheddar Sandwich
Photo credit: Amelia Schmid
“We knew we had to find a replacement for our classic BLT after the tomato season was over. This sandwich was a surprising best seller on our lunch menu. The meat and greens can be swapped out with whatever you have on hand. What makes the taste of this sandwich unique is the interplay of the sour-sweet apples with the herbal taste of the onion-thyme jam. “
2 slices of white bread, milk bread, brioche or challah
3 slices of bacon, cooked
1 Honeycrisp or Fuji Apple, thinly sliced
Onion and thyme jam * see recipe
Dijonnaise * see recipe
Onion thyme jam ingredients
2 tablespoons of olive oil
12 onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of mustard seeds
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves
Salt and ground black pepper
- Put onions, mustard seeds, brown sugar, vinegar and thyme in a saucepan. Cover and cook at low temperature for 15 or 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid, stir, and partially cover the pot. Cook until almost all of the liquid is used and the onions cook for 60 to 70 minutes. Let it boil and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
1/4 cup of grainy Dijon mustard
1/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably Duke’s)
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- Mix the ingredients and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Toasted bread and 1 slice with a tablespoon of dijonnaise and the other slice with a tablespoon of onion jam.
- Place 3 slices of bacon on top of the onion and jam bread, a slice of hot cheddar cheese, and melt under a grill.
- Stack the rocket on the dijonnaise bread and apple slices. Bring the 2 toasts together to complete the sandwich.
Want more incredibly delicious recipes from Virginia’s top chefs? Hold on for more In the kitchen Articles and read these other articles in the Cooking Series:
- Chef Dale Ford of the Devils Backbone Brewing Company – Braised short ribs with white Cheddar Byrd Mill truffle seeds, crispy Brussels and simple sauce
Inside the Kitchen, with chef Rachel FitzGerald from Magpie Diner, first appeared on Virginia’s travel blog.