ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) — After Abingdon, Virginia earned USA Today’s top spot for Best Small Town Food Scene in 2021, I decided to take a quick tour through some of the unique offerings that have the town punching well above its weight class when it comes to food.
A quick disclaimer before we start: In no way is this list exhaustive, and the order in which businesses appear is not a ranking or reflection of their quality. Abingdon won nationwide for a reason, and if you don’t see one out of this list that calls to you, I still greatly recommend giving the town a shot.
Peppermill has operated in Abingdon for over 17 years, and in that time, owner Mitzie Smith has seen a lot come through the restaurant industry. Originally founded by Jack Barrow, a regional restaurateur, Smith bought the business and kept operating it in the original location, where El Bigotes is now located.
After eight years of operation, Peppermill moved into a much larger and more stately home down the street.
“It was a private residence built in 1909, and it was in the family for several generations,” she said. “They sold it and it sat empty for a while, and then French Moore bought it, and they had Moore’s music house in here for a while. And it’s been a cigar shop, it’s been apartments, it’s had quite a life.”
Smith has put extensive work into maintaining and restoring the home, returning it to as close as she can get it to its first life in the 20th century.
When you walk in, you have the choice of several dining rooms. My personal favorite reminded me of a study, and Smith said you could see the spot on the floor where the former mistress of the house kept a buzzer to summon the help.
Legend even has it that some of the house’s earliest residents may have never left. Smith told me that in all the years of its operation, two Peppermill employees have reported supernatural occurrences: once when a staff member saw what looked like a stable boy, and once when a waitress said she saw a woman in a flowing white dress walking the stairs. Smith said she’s never seen anything herself, but the fright from the crew was quite convincing.
While those tales might be chilling, the reception you’ll find at the restaurant is anything but icy.
“We are just really, genuinely warm and welcome,” Smith said. “And that’s what most people say when they leave or when they fill out one of our comment cards, that they just really felt like that we cared how their time was with us. We just try to make it a really great experience from the time they walk in the door.”
One of Peppermill’s main focuses is repeat experiences and repeat customers, Smith said.
“Consistency, I think, is key to having a successful place because when people come and they love something and they come back,” Smith said. “They want it to be exactly the same, and they’re just really good about doing that in the kitchen; they’re really good.”
Even with a unique venue and quality dishes, Smith said Peppermill hasn’t made it through the pandemic unscathed.
“We basically had to let everybody except a couple people go when it first started, and that was painful; that was so painful,” Smith said. “And then when we were able to start calling people back, some people came back and some people didn’t.”
Smith said that during some of their peak times, Peppermill supported 25 employees. Now, they’re down to nine.
All things considered, however, they are still pushing on. Smith said she is immensely proud of the work her staff does and thankful for the community support.
“It’s a lot in the community; it’s just as much in the community as it is here in the restaurant,” Smith said. “You can tell that when people come in and everybody’s been like, ‘Congratulations!’ and that’s really awesome and it’s just been great for everybody, for the whole town.”
One of Peppermill’s flagship dishes is shrimp Margherita, a pasta dish with sautéed tomatoes, shrimp, garlic, lemon and fresh basil. The balance of fats to acids is delicious, and fresh shrimp is a great light protein choice.
Ravioli Balsamique is another fan favorite, with familiar stuffed pasta alongside an interesting balsamic vinegar-based sauce.
There’s a slim chance that you’ll go wrong with anything on Peppermill’s menu, and based on my experience with the Margherita, you won’t have much trouble grinding out a reason for a return trip.
This is only one part of a larger Abingdon Eats series. Make sure to visit other Abingdon Eats stories throughout the week for more recommendations.