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Eats: Piedmont In Culpeper
BY KURT RABIN
Let me make this clear up front: I’m not a steak guy. I’ve heard the industry sales pitch—that there’s nothing like a restaurant steak. The pros have got the right purveyors, the best cuts of meat, the culinary know-how and the 900-degree heat to do the job right. But take me to a steakhouse, and I’m liable to order ribs, fish, even chicken.
I’ll admit, that first bite of steak can be a many-splendored thing. But it’s like that first sip of Coke: It’s hard to imagine there could be anything better. But then flavor fatigue sets in, and finishing it feels like a chore. A little history here: My so-called steak-eating life has consisted exclusively of the fare from buffets, banquets and barbecues. So what am I doing reviewing Culpeper’s new Piedmont: A Virginia Steakhouse?
I felt there was story that needed to be told, a narrative with something for everyone. The tale would begin in the town of Culpeper, in a brick building of pleasing proportions from the 1890s.
Originally home to Central Hardware, the structure would go on to house such businesses as a coffee shop, an Irish bar and most recently, a popular Italian restaurant operated by a husband–wife team from New England. The story would include a bit of history, a natural disaster, dashed dreams, survival and renewal.
But someone else is going to have to tell that tale, because I got sidetracked by another story—a kind of bromance, if you will. Suffice it to say that when the August 2011 Virginia quake came rumbling through Culpeper, it left that old hardware annex, not to mention that Boston couple’s finances, a shambles.
But four months later at the turn of the new year, there rising from the rubble was the Piedmont steakhouse, brainchild of owner David Hackett, 54, of Washington. Hackett, who washed his first dish professionally at 14, spent the bulk of his 40-year restaurant career working at a pair of D.C.’s finest steakhouses, Morton’s and The Palm. And, if pressed, he’s got the photographic evidence to back it up: There he is, back in the 1990s in his waiter garb, looking like a young Dan Aykroyd, with his arm draped around first President Bill Clinton, then Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio and finally, Vladimir Putin (who it turns out is quite a good tipper).
When my wife and I visited Piedmont on a quiet Tuesday evening, Hackett looked as comfortable waiting tables, pouring drinks and telling stories in his well-appointed steakhouse as Bogey did in Rick’s Café Américain. And he made us feel right at home, too, especially when he started us out with complimentary crispy “strings and chips,” a platter of fried onions and house-made potato chips.
At Hackett’s suggestion (“I’m a rib-eye guy,” were his exact words) I ordered that well-marbled cut of meat ($29), while my partner got the stuffed pork chop ($20). Both entrees came with a starch—potato or risotto—as well as fresh broccoli sautéed with mushrooms. The sides were understated and ably complemented the protein.
The breaded chop, filled with bacon, prosciutto and parmesan and flash-fried before being finished in the oven, was, in a word, delectable. But the rib-eye, all 16 or 18 ounces of it, char-grilled to perfection, was a revelation. I finally “got it,” I understood what steak lovers have always known, that each and every bite of a good steak has got its own distinct flavor, its own unique charm.
It would seem that Hackett is also a tiramisu ($7.50, with coffee) guy, and the Piedmont’s version of the Italian confection proved a fitting end to a fine meal.
I like what Hackett has done with the old hardware store. And I hope the Piedmont finds its niche, because I like a story with a happy ending. Plus, we rib-eye guys really need to stick together.
What: Piedmont: A Virginia Steakhouse
Address: 110 E. Cameron St., Culpeper
Info: 540/825-4444; piedmontsteakhouse.com
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner: 5–9 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers: $9–$11, Salads: $6, Entrees: $17–$29, Beer and wine and mixed drinks are available.
The Scoop: Great food, good value, great ambience, parking. Note: This is primarily a restaurant for grownups, ones with big appetites.
Payment: Major credit cards are accepted.
Kurt Rabin: 540/374-5000