News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Restaurant review: Thornton River Grille
Sperryville is a gateway to Shenandoah National Park, so October’s government shutdown, and the resultant trickle of tourist dollars, reportedly took a heavy toll on that town’s merchants.
However, when my wife and I visited Thornton River Grille there recently, the restaurant didn’t seem to have gotten the news about a business slowdown. That could be because they do a brisk trade with the locals—and with good reason. They’ve got great food in a picturesque setting for a moderate price.
Before being seated, we first took a stroll past a corner grocery and a pizza carryout to another place that didn’t appear to be hurting, a fine art gallery. We’d been lured by a large banner—a hyper-realistic still life of white eggplants—trumpeting the current exhibit. Though it wasn’t even as large as a bread board, the painting that inspired the banner was tagged at nearly $5,000. For that price, they’d better have been organic eggplants!
That gallery, with the obvious quality of the work on display and the tasteful way it was hung, would likely have prospered in any city in the country.
And the same could be said of Thornton River Grille: You could transplant it anywhere, and I suspect it would more than hold its own. With its open kitchen, unobtrusive service, understated rustic décor and additional outdoor, heated upstairs seating, not to mention its seasonal Contemporary American menu and lovely platings, I could imagine it doing turn-away business regardless of location.
The first sign we were in for something special occurred as we entered the restaurant. That’s when we noticed one of the cooks harvesting fresh herbs from the Grille’s outdoor garden. Not only would the mint, sage and basil find their way into the dishes, but each table had, as its lone table decoration, a single fresh sprig of rosemary suspended in a tiny vase.
Our server, David, not only offered suggestions but proved quite knowledgeable about the menu. For instance, when I commented on the bacon lardons in my entrée, he let me know it was Spanish sausage I had tasted.
For starters, we enjoyed a cup of hearty mushroom soup that had been perfectly puréed, strained, thickened and seasoned, as well as an order of fried goat cheese. When you deep-fry something that awesome—and serve it with three different chutneys from The Virginia Chutney Co.—well, it just doesn’t get any better than that! (Note to self: Need to make this dish at home! ASAP!)
For my main, I chose the grilled shrimp with Cuban black beans, pico de gallo and veg du jour, green beans. The plate looked absolutely stunning, until I realized it held but four shrimp. However, the chorizo in the black beans and the chipotle butter that sauced the shrimp conspired to fool my palate into thinking there was a plateful. My partner was over the moon with her roasted garlic risotto cakes layered with spinach, tomato and goat cheese in a red pepper coulis.
For dessert we shared a pair of confections, chocolate pot de crème and crème brûlée, that made us want to shout our love—of all things sweet—from the nearby mountaintops.
A minor grumble: Though David mentioned a rockfish special, the restaurant’s meat-centric menu seemed somewhat limited; of the nine choices listed, four featured beef.
One last thing needs mentioning: It turns out the Grille’s owners also operate—in addition to nearby Rudy’s Pizza, a New York-style pizza place—The Corner Store, the adjacent, old-fashioned country market that features fresh, seasonal produce, Virginia wines and craft beers.
Those folks from Thornton River have cornered the market on good taste!
What: Thornton River Grille
Address: 3710 Sperryville Pike, Sperryville
Info: 540/987-8790; thorntonrivergrille.com
Hours: Dinner: 5 p.m–9 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday; 5 p.m.–8 p.m. Sunday (See website for breakfast and lunch hours.)
Prices: Soup: $3–$4; Appetizers: $6–$12; Entrées: $12–$31
The Scoop: Fine food and service in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Kurt Rabin: 540/374-5000 | krabin@freelances tar.com