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.
History is alive and well at The Tavern, and apparently, it tastes great. Originally serving as an inn during the late 18th and early 19th century, the building that the Tavern occupies has been in place before the town became the town.
“The Daughters of the Revolution came in and did a big research on the area, and according to them, this building was originally a tavern, overnight inn, stagecoach stop,” said Josh Fuller, owner of the business. “There’s been notable figures that stayed here over the years: President Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Pierre Lafond, King Louis Philippe of France are some of the notable figures that the DAR researched about, so it’s nice to be a part of that history.”
While those figures may have enjoyed lives of fame and influence, they may have missed out by visiting the tavern a little too early. These days, the fare is a bit more fit for a king than your typical road food of the day.
Fuller had worked in the Tavern for several years before the opportunity for ownership presented itself in 2019. The previous over, Max Hermann, opened the business in 1994 and chose Fuller as his successor after his retirement.
As a nearly 30-year staple of the town, The Tavern has its share of diehard fans. With new ownership moving in and helping the business grow, Fuller makes sure his customers know that the flavors they love aren’t going anywhere.
“I got to inherit all the recipes, which was definitely nice,” Fuller said. “You know that’s one of the things: we mess with the menu here and people are going to be up in arms, so we’re glad to have that same menu that we’ve been able to offer. We have stuffed filet, and it’s been a best seller for probably 28 years now.”
During my visit, I got to try that stuffed filet. Let me tell you, I had to ask twice if it was medium rare because I could hardly believe a steak at that temp could be so tender. On its own, that cut was a masterpiece in meat, and tacking on a shrimp, bacon, ricotta and cream cheese stuffing while splashing it with a marsala reduction was an emotional experience.
In fact, The Tavern seems to be doing better now than it ever has. Fuller said The Tavern was able to stay quite flexible while facing COVID-19 challenges, considering it’s based in an 18th-century building.
“The community was overwhelmingly supportive. When we had to navigate through all the to-go options that we went through, the support was amazing,” Fuller said. “We definitely wouldn’t be here without the community support that we had through the pandemic, and it’s carried over. We’re very fortunate today to be as busy as we are.”
Workers in the restaurant have a genuine passion for the food they serve. It’s rare anymore that your waiter asks you to trust him on a matter of taste, but if 13-year employee Dwyane Anderson tells you something is good, you better believe it.
“If someone comes and they’re wondering ‘Hey, I’m not really sure what’s great here, I’m not really sure,'” Anderson said. “Sometimes it’s nice to just say ‘Hey, if you’ll follow my lead, I promise I’ll get you there.”
I was in the process of picking up a fork and knife for the lamb chops when Dwyane stopped me. There wasn’t any reason to use either, he told me, because the meat was already falling off the bone. And he was right, the pairing of the cut with a wild mushroom marsala topped with lavender and mint was exquisite.
Anderson prides himself on his ability to connect with his customers and has become as much a part of The Tavern’s experience as the atmosphere and dishes.
“Everyone likes their job, everyone loves what they’re doing and they take pride in what they do,” said Anderson. “Everyone here takes pride in what they do. We want to make sure that this experience at The Tavern is a lifetime experience.”
From the town’s earliest history, the building that houses The Tavern has played a part in bringing the community together.
“This is what I call the gathering, the centerpiece, of the Town of Abingdon,” Anderson said. “If you’re going to bring company or entertain someone in the Town of Abingdon, I think The Tavern’s a great place to start.”
Fuller understands the weight that the building truly holds, not just in the old beams and heavy doors. To spend every day in the building is just as valuable to him as spending every day serving the town it sits in.
“It’s definitely an honor and a privilege to have a restaurant here in this town. We get great support from our community,” Fuller said. “This is definitely one of those areas where we want everybody to be treated like family, and when you come here to visit, you’re part of that family. So, it’s great to be recognized as somebody that’s come to the call of that.”
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.