English Pub Fare with Hunter’s Head Tavern Southern Flair
Hunter’s Head Tavern is in Upperville, Virginia. The restaurant is housed in an historic log cabin built in 1750 and was later purchased by the grandson of Irishman John Carr, founder of Upperville, Virginia. Today the Tavern is rustic and lovely, unpretentious and welcoming. Though the now stucco exterior belies its preserved secret, Hunter’s Head Tavern’s interior has retained its log cabin heritage as evidenced by old exposed wood beams, wood-framed windows and craftsman style paneled fireplace surrounds. The main dining room lends a full wall to a highly lacquered wooden bar hovered over by a sparkling menagerie of glasses and pewter glass-bottomed mugs. The low, warm lighting draws attention to an impactful winter sun that penetrates tall windows with clarifying natural light. Everything inside the restaurant is antique from the walls to the weathered wide plank flooring to the exposed beams and the colonial furnishings. Walls and surfaces display entertaining tchotchkes from the period, a collection of pewter pieces, hunting gear and references. A variety of framed illustrations, portraits and paintings adorn the walls including whimsical watercolors by Jonathan Walker of imbibing fox and friends decked out in traditional herringbone English hunting jackets.
Hunter’s Head Tavern cuisine retains English tavern style and, according to Chef Lawrence Kocurek, keeps to a theme of “down home” American southern familiarity always rich in flavor and visually tantalizing. The Tavern menu is perfect for indulging around its large wooden tables beside roaring fireplaces and in the company of family and friends. The menu changes monthly based on seasons and events while still staying true to traditional English pub fare like Beer and “Gnosh”, Yorkshire Pudding and Beef Stew.
Chef Lawrence arrived at Hunter’s Head Tavern two years ago from restaurant ownership in Austin, Texas. He greeted us in a Peaky Binders cap, plaid scarf, flannel shirt, apron and duck shoes. The duck shoes, he explains, are a necessary accoutrement when “working alongside” is too shallow a phrase to describe the intimacy between farm and table. “The kitchen is small and lots of people are in and out”, explains Chef Lawrence, so the “prepping is better done at the farm on many days”. Apparently, this Chef’s true farm to table kind of day regularly requires duck shoes.
We were invited by the Chef to sample some of Hunter’s Head Tavern’s delightful menu items including a flavorful, tender short rib plate with mashed potatoes. The beef for this dish was from local Ayrshire Farm’s specific heritage breed called Short Horn Highland Park Cross. Chef Lawrence talks a bit about the peace of mind he has knowing exactly where his food comes from and how it is prepared. Hunter’s Head Tavern takes great pride in this concept. The Ayrshire Farm promotes natural animal behaviors by establishing healthful and stress free environments and procedures as opposed to containment and painful procedures. We also sampled a hearty and delicious plate of artfully grilled bratwurst with sautéed red cabbage and caramelized apples as well as a guest favorite, Hunter’s Head Chicken Pot Pie. All this with a rich and tasty dark stout, my personal favorite. The handmade dessert menu offered some unusual and tempting options like Sticky Toffee Pudding with hot custard, amaranth and coffee nut cake glazed with mascarpone icing and candied walnuts or a Gingerbread Swiss roll with brandy cream and cinnamon custard. How about Hot Buttered Rum with house made honey brown sugar butter or a Pumpkin Libation with Pumpkin Liquor, Kahlua, vodka and a nutmeg rim!
Hunter’s Head Tavern is one of three interrelated businesses established by owner/entrepreneur, Sandy Lerner who is a co-founder of CISCO Systems. Ayrshire Farm, also located in Upperville, Virginia, another of this trio of businesses is a self contained, fully equipped and complete processing farm, the first certified humane and organic farm in the State of Virginia. Ayrshire Farm specializes in rare and endangered breeds and heirloom fruits and vegetables. Ayrshire Farm also composts 100% of pre and post consumer waste from the restaurant. Read more about the farm’s methods and mission at ayrshirefarm.com. The third company is Gentle Harvest in Marshall, Virginia, a gourmet grocery store specializing in humane, pasture-raised, heritage bred meats, and multiple other irresistible prepared dishes.
So now, Hunter’s Head Tavern reservation for a Family Thanksgiving? For a romantic holiday dinner? For an eighteenth century respite with a Hot Buttered Rum on a frosty winter late afternoon? A Pot Roast Sandwich smothered in beef gravy? Fish and Chips? Banger and Mash? The best: Housemade Peppermint Stick Ice Cream with Peppermint Meringues and Hot Fudge Sauce. The Blissful End.
Hunter’s Head Tavern, 9048 John S. Mosby Hwy, Upperville, VA 20184; Phone: 540-592-9020 Reservations accepted and recommended; Open 7 days, Monday-Saturday 11:30-9:30 pm and Sunday 11:00-9:30 pm; huntersheadtavern.com