Cowbell Kitchen: Farm Fresh Grilled Cheese and Baked Goods
The Cowbell Kitchen cowbell, when it’s rung, must resonate with less classic clang and more chill chime if it’s to match the warmth and deliciousness that is the heart of this lovely spot just a short walk from the courthouse corner in downtown Leesburg. One sunny morning, Owner and Chef Cheryl warmly greeted us from behind her large natural pine worktable just a pirouette from her kitchen equipment and the tools of her trade. On this particular day those tools included a large bucket of market fresh cantaloupe for smoothie bowls and for…well, for whatever Cheryl pulls from her colorful, edible imagination. She sports a no nonsense bib style apron, a knot of blonde hair at the nape of her neck is decorated 40’s style with a top tied bandana and she wears oversized dark horn rimmed glasses. Cheryl happily multi-tasks amidst her bowls, batters and conversation. We knew we had entered the kitchen of a woman who loves her work, her creations, her staff, her shop and her customers.
Cheryl lived and worked in numerous cities including Chicago, New Orleans, New Jersey and more before deciding at age 40 that she wanted to pursue a culinary career. She attended The Cordon Bleu School and enjoyed apprenticing to veteran cake artist Colette Peters whose dynamic career includes window displays for Tiffany, Cartier and Barneys in NYC. Cheryl recalls making 9,000 sugar grapes for Tiffany’s window that Peters used to emulate a blizzard. All those grapes and twenty-four years later, Cheryl opened Cowbell Kitchen.
Cowbell currently operates a food tent each week at six different market venues around the metro area. On the day we visited, her crew was working a Cowbell tent at a USDA Festival. The restaurant has nurtured relationships with like-minded passionate food producers from beekeepers to greens growers. Cheryl draws healthy inspiration for the Cowbell Menu from 300 farms’ seasonally available fresh ingredients. You can choose from a menu of uniquely compiled grilled sandwiches, fresh fruit smoothie bowls (which we heard someone say is like soft serve) or special soups like this week’s Ratatouille. The Cowbell team works hard to deliver colorful, new and delicious choices to entice you back. During the off season, Cheryl gathers with her focus group to work out the next season’s menu items by pooling their ideas from books and magazines while always working from a toolbox of the freshest local offerings.
Cowbell’s well-known grilled cheese sandwich concoctions are updated weekly and we asked Cheryl to make the latest for us. Between two large slices of homemade sourdough, Cheryl crafted a grilled cheese like no other. First, Duke’s mayo goes on the outside – “It’s a southern thing – we do a lot of southern things”, says Cheryl. We’re inspired “by all those ladies… they all use Dukes”. From a small ceramic cup, Cheryl adds a smear of her homemade four-herb (including mint) chimichurri. The cheese, a lavish hunk of aged white cheddar from Coulter Farms is next. “The more aged, the crumblier”, Cheryl adds as she slices then layers the resultant chunks of cheese. Atop the cheese she lays local, thick cut, juicy deep red and summer pungent heirloom tomatoes. She adds bacon from her neighbor’s farm. More cheese chunks and Cheryl tops off our grilled cheese with a second sourdough slice. On the side she adds two homemade sauces (a green chili sauce and a tangy bloody mary flavor tomato sauce). Our sandwich is served on a small pewter platter brought to our side porch table. Our thoughts? The crisp tasty sourdough soaks up the melted cheese, the chimichurri adds an uptown herbal zing, the bacon a smoky crunch and those sweet ripe tomatoes just drip down your chin. YOWZA!
On Cowbell’s wall hangs a framed cross-stitch that reads “No matter where I serve my guests, it seems they like my kitchen best”. Given the colorful décor, the friendly banter, the aromatics and optics of Nutella Banana Cake and Blueberry Bars warm and still in their baking tins, Iced Vanilla Bean Pound Cake and a new loaf of Sourdough, colorful fresh fruits and vegetables, bagged brownies, granola and cookies, sandwich and cheese concoctions and the freshly baked Lemon Olive Oil Cake under glass, this kitchen overflows with Cheryl’s art of the edible. Oh! And there’s the pure white three-tiered mini cake laced with tiny hand crafted sugar flowers that watches over the comings and goings of Kitchen fans from atop the Cowbell fridge.
Mark calendars for upcoming events including October 12th for a Cowbell first year celebration with new espresso drinks, cake, and champagne. Beginning on November 2nd, Cheryl offers four once a month cooking classes on bread making, cocktails and cookies, fermented foods and a cooking class with a quiche demo. Check the Cowbell Kitchen website for details.
Cowbell Kitchen is located at 116 E Market St, Leesburg, VA 20176; 304-433-7665; cowbellkitchen.com