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Tom wrote a first bite about this in the Post in early March. Esquire featured an article entitled, "Found:  the incredible restaurant in the middle of nowhere that nobody knows about."  Despite the distance this is a serious restaurant that Washingtonians should be considering for a destination.  Simply, it is Rose's Luxury with seven tables and a total of one person in the kitchen: the gifted Ian Boden.  I would actually suggest in the weeks to come this will be the most difficult table in America to find a seat at.  An excellent video:  
 

My little essay about it:

The early 19th century insane asylum, Western State Hospital, in downtown Staunton, is now a condo called the Villages.  For its last 15 or so years it was a penitentiary.  The small one hundred + year old graveyard with individual crosses on the graves of inmates is outside a building's window.  Condos.  The  guard towers still stand.
 
Across the street is Wright's Dairy Maid, a small town '50's hamburger and frozen custard stand that is still popular with families and teenagers camped out by their cars and sitting at picnic tables.  A hundred or so yards from the guard towers which no longer need to be staffed.
 
Whatever contrast the image of an American Graffitiish drive in across the street from a former institution for the criminally insane conjures actually doesn't approach the reality of sitting in the primitive, spartan Shack that James Beard semi finalist Ian Boden now holds forth in a few blocks away.  He opened this three or four months ago after moving back to Staunton from his stay at Charlottesville's Glass Haus Kitchen which was built for him.
 
This is, literally a shack.  An outpost in a small town of character presenting itself as an affordable Charlottesville.  But with a dinner destination that would be worthy of Barracks Row or anywhere in D. C. Or New York-where Chef Boden was trained.  Open four nights week, wednesday through saturday,  with a $55 four course prix fixe menu on weekend nights this is as extraordinary of a dining experience as I've had in America considering the setting.  
 
Rose's Luxury in a small, literal wood framed hundred year old shack. A total of three staff including the chef who stands alone in the closet sized kitchen. You are literally having dinner in his "house" even if it is a shack.
 
And no reservations.  First come first serve.  They open at five.
 
This is an individual expression of a man's passion who happens to be a world class chef.  I would write about what we had but the menu changes every night and there is no telling what you'll find on it if you visit.  I will say this:  one of my wife's dishes included the hamburger mentioned in the above linked video.  I took several bites.  Perhaps the best explosively juicy first bite of a  hamburger I have ever had.  But that was only the start of an extraordinary small town adventure:  flavorful textured ramen noodles with razor clams, rabbit gnocchi and three or four other dishes that I never expected to find in Staunton.  If I had had them in D. C. I would still react the same:  they were creative and delicious.
 
Depending on traffic Staunton may not be any longer of a drive from Reston than downtown Washington.  Even if it is, the Shack is certainly worth the effort.  It may take a few years for panelists to make the pilgramage but he'll win a Beard award, holding court in his shack in Staunton.
 
Chef Boden's twitter site: His tweets can build an appetite.
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Joe, this was a wonderful essay, and because of it, I've confidently initialized coverage of The Shack in Italic in The Dining Guide.

I hope Chef Boden will one day consider taking reservations for people driving down from the DC area on Saturdays (with a credit card to secure the reservation), but it sounds like his plate is pretty full right now. Saturdays are the only day it would make much sense to do this since traffic is so capricious on Wed-Fri. For culinary tourists, this sounds like a perfect place to stop for the night on a trip to or from Riverstead. Maybe it's worth exploring other restaurants on the way to/from Chillhowie (don't forget The Little Grill Worker-Owned Collective in Harrisonburg for a great road breakfast).

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Joe, this was a wonderful essay, and because of it, I've confidently initialized coverage of The Shack in Italic in The Dining Guide.

I hope Chef Boden will one day consider taking reservations for people driving down from the DC area on Saturdays (with a credit card to secure the reservation), but it sounds like his plate is pretty full right now. Saturdays are the only day it would make much sense to do this since traffic is so capricious on Wed-Fri. For culinary tourists, this sounds like a perfect place to stop for the night on a trip to or from Riverstead. Maybe it's worth exploring other restaurants on the way to/from Chillhowie (don't forget The Little Grill Worker-Owned Collective in Harrisonburg for a great road breakfast).

Thank you, Don.  It would be a perfect stop off with Staunton on a Friday night-get there at 4:30, 30 minutes ahead of the opening and Saturday morning the additional 190 miles to Chilhowie.  On the Sunday back I would suggest stops at either Grace Estates (Virginia's most beautiful winery setting with an excellent $28 tannat), King Family (Meritage), Pollak ('09 Reserve Cab) or Veritas (Excellent Paul Schaffer petit verdot), all in the Afton/Crozet area which is halfway between I 81 and Charlottesville.  If the weather cooperates this is one of the most beautiful areas anywhere.  Grace Estates tasting room has been open less than a year.  In a mansion on top of a mountain with a 30+ mile view it is breathtaking and otherworldly.

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I'm a proud alum of Mary Baldwin College, class of 1997, (the college is also located in the heart of Staunton), and I look forward to trying The Shack next time I make the trip from DC to Staunton. My husband, four year old daughter and I are both huge fans of Rose's Luxury on Barrack's Row, and look forward to trying something as delicious when visiting my alma mater.

Congrats, Ian, Staunton is lucky to have you!

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Joe, I really enjoyed reading your post on The Shack -- thanks so much for taking the time.  You make a very compelling case for driving down to Staunton -- we had always hoped to get to the Glass Haus but it didn't happen.  Can you (or anyone) recommend a place to stay in Staunton?  Seeing as how it's a 2.5 hour drive or more from DC, might as well make a mini-trip of it and enjoy the area.  

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Can you (or anyone) recommend a place to stay in Staunton?  Seeing as how it's a 2.5 hour drive or more from DC, might as well make a mini-trip of it and enjoy the area.  

The Stonewall Jackson is decent enough.  The other places we have stayed have been unmemorable to the point of I forgot where we stayed.  There must be a good B&B around there somewhere.

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Don mentioned Riverstead above which is the current home of John Shields and Karen Urie formerly of Chilhowie's Town House Grill.  In their own way this is as unique of a world class dining adventure.   Their pedigree is Alinea and Charlie Trotter yet they settled, for awhile, in far southwestern Virginia and built a cult destination that much of North America couldn't believe existed.

Now Staunton and Ian Boden are in the mix.  And Neil Wavra who drove the Ashby Inn and has briefly settled in Chilhowie with the Shields.

I don't know where else on earth there could be two dining destinations like this, three hours apart.  But they are there.  Riverstead and the Shields are only open a few days a month with 14 seats in a literal farmhouse kitchen.  Ian Boden's The Shack with seven tables (most of which are twos)  is open four nights a week but only two feature his prix fixe signature.

For the moment it's not about living in New York or Paris or San Sebastian.  The argument can be made that the single place on earth to live-for those who live to eat-is halfway between Chilhowie and Staunton, Virginia.

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Can you (or anyone) recommend a place to stay in Staunton?  Seeing as how it's a 2.5 hour drive or more from DC, might as well make a mini-trip of it and enjoy the area.  

I haven't got a great recommendation for a place to stay.  I've stayed at a Holiday Inn there a few times, near a golf course.  Wherever you're staying, make reservations before you go.  One summer I was down there doing research and realized I was going to need to stay overnight, and it was a bear trying to find a place with rooms available.  Staunton is a popular destination, more than I would have realized before I was there and unable to find a place to stay.  (I think that's originally how I ended at that Holiday Inn.)

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Joe, I really enjoyed reading your post on The Shack -- thanks so much for taking the time.  You make a very compelling case for driving down to Staunton -- we had always hoped to get to the Glass Haus but it didn't happen.  Can you (or anyone) recommend a place to stay in Staunton?  Seeing as how it's a 2.5 hour drive or more from DC, might as well make a mini-trip of it and enjoy the area.  

Twenty or so minutes east of Staunton (twenty miles @ 60mph) is the Farmhouse at Veritas Vineyards.  This is Afton/Crozet which is an extraordinarily beautiful setting.  http://www.veritasfarmhouse.com/about/  I have not stayed at the Stonewall Jackson hotel in downtown Staunton but it is probably the best choice for the city: http://www.stonewalljacksonhotel.com/

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Just a heads up for all of you that might be traveling our way.  We recently add a deck to our building to capture our over flow.  Currently we can not serve food outside but we do serve beer & wine.  So if your making the trip and you do have to wait we'd love for you to enjoy a bottle of wine while you do so!

We are hopping in the near future to add a small snack menu, and eventually offer the entire menu.

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We had a wonderful dinner here last week.  arrived just before 4:30 on a Friday night and were first in line. The place was completely full within half an hour of opening.  

I had the three course menu for $45.  (The other option is four courses for $55.) Sweetbreads are not on my list of favorite foods, and normally the idea of them makes me squeamish. The Shack's lamb sweetbreads with sichuan peppercorn, ground cherries, and cucumber kimchi intrigued me enough to give them a try and I am grateful that I did. I am still thinking about my entree- Berkshire Pork with fingerling potatoes, eggplant puree, grilled nectarines, and benne.  It's a radiant summer dish.    Chef Boden is focusing on dishes featuring the best local ingredients- creative but not too fussy.  It's a no frills kind of place where the food really shines. Well worth the ride.

My full blog post is here.

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The Shack strongly reminds me of the original K-Paul's on Chartres street in New Orleans when it opened in 1980.  Mimi Sheraton raved about it in the New York Times and lines formed an hour before they opened for dinner-they did not accept reservations.  There were about 40-50 seats and almost every one was used.  A four top could be taken by two couples or a couple and two singles or a single and a group of three.  It was communal style throughout the room.  Paul Prudhomme was in the kitchen every night and literally oversaw everty single dish that came out.

Over time K-Paul's eventually enlarged and the lines gave way to reservations with Chef Paul spreading his Magic Seasonings around the U. S. with roadshows.

Still, some of the best food I ever had was in its original plain, simple dining room shared with strangers.  On one trip to NOLA I ate there three nights in a row spending a total of almost five hours over those nights waiting on Chartres street to be let in the door.

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(Damn you, Lori! I thought I was going to be the first!)

A friend and I rolled into Staunton about 7:30 the night after Lori and --perhaps because of the rain -- found an almost deserted restaurant on an almost deserted street -- a real noir night just off a scruffy intersection near the four-lane.  From the outside the Shack looks like the sort of spot that would serve grit-centered breakfast specials and dubious fried chicken (undiscovered genius or poisoning risk?) at lunchtime to construction workers, less-Epicurean locals  and the guys at a nearby auto body shop. Inside -- well, it doesn't look much different  until the details start to come into focus.  The distinctive percussion of a restaurant kitchen at work (unlike the staccato clang of a diner's spatula on the griddle); the subdued lighting and the small staff  it illuminates; the shoulder-high stripe of old photos of the chef's in-laws that circle the restaurant (its chief decor), depicting a local family that apparently weathered the joys, sorrows and various challenges of pre-digital photography and 70s styles with enough panache to pull a talented chef from the canyons of New York back to the Shenandoah Valley.

Service was relaxed, direct and candid ("if you're already into heirloom tomatoes, the salad may not be that special"), and our waiter carried himself with such relaxed authority you felt that he could make anything he needed to happen (not that we had any odd requests) and when he announced that the glass of wine I'd mistakenly ordered would go great with the lamb (the next course), I believed him.

Our menu was vastly different from Lori's -- impressive, given  what I assume is the challenge of scoring so many ingredients when you're only accepting deliveries large enough for a 29-seat joint -- and offered five apps,four entrees and a pair of desserts.  We eventually settled on two variations of the menu: my friend ordered three savory courses for a fin over the $45 standard three-course cost and I went for the four course, $55 menu.

The snapper with cherries, fennel and soy sauce lees served as a fresh twist to the now-common raw fish starter.  Speaking of the commonplace, we had mussels and eggplant which were rendered somehow uncommon by the Vietnamese coriander (a quick Googling confirms my suspicion this is at best a very distant cousin -- different orders, phylum, etc --  to cilantro/coriander) that seemed to add more complexity than you'd expect -- not just when you took the time to brochette one between the eggplant and a mussel, but also when you just dipped the toasted ciabatta in the broth.

I said to Laura that the squid ink  fettuccine with pureed parsley would be a bit bland without the uni and she tartly replied that it did have the uni and that perfectly cooked pasta that light was far more rare than maybe I remembered (particularly in my own kitchen) so maybe I should just shut up about that.

The entrees were like the kind of stuff that French Grandmas made legendary before they mediocre cooks made them cliches: imagine being there at the birth of Boeuf Bourguignon or pot-au-feu.  All that patient, painstaking technique and those extraordinary ingredients hidden super-hero-like behind the mask of a simple stew, comprising something that elevates the palate and sticks to the ribs.  Anyway, that's what the beef cheeks reminded me of, but I may be getting carried away in penance for disrespecting the pasta.  And sticks of butter and heads of roasted garlic are no longer sufficiently OTT for my mashed potatoes: I must have marrow.  And throw some chanterelles and gremolata into the mix, while you're at it

I was quite keen on the lamb sausage 'n' shank, as well. Sausages that brought a bit of heat to the game, a square of crisp shank sufficiently tender inside you sort of expected it to ooze onto the plate like a ripe Pont l'Eveque whose rind has been pierced and an eggplant puree whose -- now that I think about it -- (relative) austerity sat well with the (relatively) rich meat, plus two buds of okra that I shoved to the side because I've always hated okra, and pickled cherry tomatoes for fun.

Sweet corn pudding with moussed bittersweet choco, cubed nectarine and lime was another understated treat -- a touch off-beat and more memorable for it.

When it was over, Laura declared it -- with perhaps a touch of hyperbole -- "the best restaurant you've ever taken me to," which is no small praise, given dinners at Alinea, CityZen and (perhaps more relevant) Rose's Luxury in the last six months.

When it was over, we also had a brief chat with Ian, who is struggling to balance the fact that people now drive hundreds of miles just to eat at his shack with no guarantee that they'll get a table with the fact that he'd like to make sure the neighbors can still wedge their way into a restaurant so tiny that even one reservation no-show can really fuck the books for the night.  Even I sympathized, despite my dislike of no reservations policies -- perhaps because we didn't have to wait (I'm self-centered like that), and perhaps because he seemed like just about the nicest guy I've ever stumbled across in a restaurant kitchen.

All told, the damage came to a scant $177 -- though we drank far less wine than we would have in the old days -- and that included the T-shirt I can wear to the farmers market to show how goddam cool I am, and two rolls of Smarties, which are available (along with Mary Janes and couple other small sweets) at the register in lieu of mignardise.

Maybe next week I'll do a test whereby at 5PM I head south to Staunton and a friend hops the Metro to Barracks Row at the same time.  Be curious to see who eats first -- and who eats best.

ETA:  We didn't pay a ton of attention to the wine list which struck me as brief, well-chosen and reasonably priced. Also, when I called beforehand to discuss timing strategy, the friendly lady on the phone suggested arriving before 5PM or after 7:30, and said that they'd never turned a table away (though I wouldn't want to push it)  and that they now have space to sip wine outside while you wait.

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(Damn you, Lori! I thought I was going to be the first!)

oops- sorry I beat you to it!  I am so surprised and impressed that the menu was completely different than the one we enjoyed a night earlier.  that's quite a feat!

When it was over, Laura declared it "the best restaurant you've ever take me to," which is no small praise, given dinners at Alinea, CityZen and (perhaps more relevant) Rose's Luxury in the last six months. 

I've also dined at all three of these restaurants, and find it really hard to compare them with The Shack.  But I will say that each of these spots are on my short list of favorite restaurants.

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Heard about this from the Facebook page and immediately sent a request for later this month. Ian Boden himself sent the confirmation to me!

We have a reservation also for a month from now.  Sincere appreciation to Chef Ian Boden for accepting several reservations on Friday and Saturday when he has his prix fixe menu.  He only has seven or eight tables total and his willingness to set aside a few is deeply appreciated.

Thank you, Chef.  We look forward to returning.

Addendum for anyone going from the D. C. area, especially over the next three or four weeks: this is a beautiful town with a great deal of character.  The drive down this time of the year with Fall colors will be memorable.  Backroads, Virginia wineries, wandering and getting lost-one of the most spectacular parts of America to explore with a real destination for dinner that is "worth the trip."

I posted this above but it is well worth reprinting:  the link for Ian Boden's twitter site.  Almost nightly he takes photos of many of the dishes he makes and posts them.

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I definitely second Joe's opinions about the town of Staunton.  It's a delightful and lively downtown area, very safe, and quite walkable.  There are a number of high quality cultural attractions as well, so there is more than enough to fill up any weekend visit.

My favorite would be the Frontier Culture Museum right outside of Staunton.  Think Colonial Williamsburg except more rustic, intimate, and you get to actually touch stuff.  The volunteer/re-enactors there are top notch.

The American Shakespeare Company was a really fun experience too.  The actors are enthusiastic and talented, the intermission programing is great fun, and the theater space is delightful.

Sunspot Studio lets you watch glassblowers anytime that they're working.  Their store has some really lovely pieces.

The Saturday Farmer's Market is very good.  A very diverse variety of vendors, some of them selling some very well grown heirloom vegetables that I've rarely seen elsewhere.

In addition to The Shack, Zynodoa's kitchen also turned out a very fine meal for us.

Crab Tree Fall and Woodrow Wilson Museum were rather disappointing, however.

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Last Saturday, October 25th, we drove on back roads from DC out to Staunton, VA in order to have dinner at The Shack.  We had a reservation for 5:00 pm (when they open) and we arrived just a few minutes before that time.  It was a lovely evening and we sat on the patio with 2 other parties until we were invited in.  At that time, and at no time while we were there, was there a line (we left sometime between 6:30 and 7:00).  We were very surprised by this, given the reports and the press that this place has received.  The dining room did fill up during the time we were there, but there still was no line.

As many have reported, the dining room is a spare space with just 7 tables. We were very fortunate to be seated at the lone 2-top that is near the kitchen. As we observed during our time there, couples sitting at a 4-top will be joined by another couple. This could be a fun experience, if the other people are like-minded and happy to engage in conversation with strangers. What we observed was the opposite.  A table with 2 older diners was joined by a younger couple and I don't think they once made eye contact, let alone exchanged a word of conversation. So, it could be awkward.

Diners have a choice of a 3-course ($45) or 4-course ($55) menu.  We went with the 4-course.  If you order that, you have a choice of 2 starters, 1 entrée and dessert for $55, OR, 3 starters and 1 entrée for $60.  MrB chose the former, while I had the latter. 

The menu for that night.  Of the dishes on this menu we chose the following:

Starters: Oysters; Rabbit Tortellini; and Butternut Squash Bisque

Entrees: Wagyu Beef Cheeks; Roasted Shrimp and Pork Fried Rice

Dessert: Cornmeal and Olive Oil Cake

The Rabbit Tortellini was the dish of the night "“ one of the best pasta dishes we've had in recent memory.  The rest of the meal was good, but simply not that memorable.  The beef cheeks were meltingly tender and could be cut with a spoon, but the flavorings were not particularly evident; the oyster preparation (they were served in a bowl without their shells with the other ingredients) was not nearly as good as what we've experienced at the Rappahannock Oyster Bar.  If we had had this meal under other circumstances I think we would have been more impressed.  The extremely high expectations we had going in from all of the hype left us underwhelmed by most of the food. Still, given the very reasonable cost and the delightful venue, it was overall,a good value.

It was a lovely experience and our server, Susan, was absolutely delightful.  We fully enjoyed the time we spent at The Shack and, if we're ever in or near Staunton again, we'd go back.

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I had been reluctant to post, but now that Laura has . . . we, too, had a fine but unremarkable meal at the Shack back in August.  I hadn't posted earlier because it's obvious that everyone there, especially Ian, is working so hard, to create something different, even special.  And since the menu changes every night, I imagine that some are special.  But ours was rather ordinary.  Nothing even close to, say, Red Hen or Rose's Luxury, or even the late and lamented Ruppert's, which this reminded me of.  And not nearly as great as our meal on that same road trip at Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine, NC, which is another story . . . with some similarities to what Ian Boden is trying to do in Staunton.

I decided to write because I'm not worried that posts such as this will possibly prevent them from filling the tables every evening -- nor should they.  It's a terrific little place, almost surely the best within miles.  If I lived nearby, I'd try to go as often as I could afford.  And I'll bet that on some nights, the food is fantastic -- that Lori's and Waitman's accounts are dead-on accurate.  Just trying to temper some of the outsized expectations here on the board, which aren't really fair to the Shack -- as the name suggests, its ambitions (like its kitchen!) are modest: it's not trying to be a world-class destination restaurant like Town House was.  It's a bit hit-or-miss, I suspect . . . and I wouldn't be surprised if there are far more hits than misses.  But better to think of it as a welcome and convivial oasis, rather than as the next coming of K-Paul's or Alinea.

Last Saturday, October 25th, we drove on back roads from DC out to Staunton, VA in order to have dinner at The Shack.  We had a reservation for 5:00 pm (when they open) and we arrived just a few minutes before that time.  It was a lovely evening and we sat on the patio with 2 other parties until we were invited in.  At that time, and at no time while we were there, was there a line (we left sometime between 6:30 and 7:00).  We were very surprised by this, given the reports and the press that this place has received.  The dining room did fill up during the time we were there, but there still was no line.

As many have reported, the dining room is a spare space with just 7 tables. We were very fortunate to be seated at the lone 2-top that is near the kitchen. As we observed during our time there, couples sitting at a 4-top will be joined by another couple. This could be a fun experience, if the other people are like-minded and happy to engage in conversation with strangers. What we observed was the opposite.  A table with 2 older diners was joined by a younger couple and I don't think they once made eye contact, let alone exchanged a word of conversation. So, it could be awkward.

Diners have a choice of a 3-course ($45) or 4-course ($55) menu.  We went with the 4-course.  If you order that, you have a choice of 2 starters, 1 entrée and dessert for $55, OR, 3 starters and 1 entrée for $60.  MrB chose the former, while I had the latter. 

The menu for that night.  Of the dishes on this menu we chose the following:

Starters: Oysters; Rabbit Tortellini; and Butternut Squash Bisque

Entrees: Wagyu Beef Cheeks; Roasted Shrimp and Pork Fried Rice

Dessert: Cornmeal and Olive Oil Cake

The Rabbit Tortellini was the dish of the night "“ one of the best pasta dishes we've had in recent memory.  The rest of the meal was good, but simply not that memorable.  The beef cheeks were meltingly tender and could be cut with a spoon, but the flavorings were not particularly evident; the oyster preparation (they were served in a bowl without their shells with the other ingredients) was not nearly as good as what we've experienced at the Rappahannock Oyster Bar.  If we had had this meal under other circumstances I think we would have been more impressed.  The extremely high expectations we had going in from all of the hype left us underwhelmed by most of the food. Still, given the very reasonable cost and the delightful venue, it was overall,a good value.

It was a lovely experience and our server, Susan, was absolutely delightful.  We fully enjoyed the time we spent at The Shack and, if we're ever in or near Staunton again, we'd go back.

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I had been reluctant to post, but now that Laura has . . . we, too, had a fine but unremarkable meal at the Shack back in August.  I hadn't posted earlier because it's obvious that everyone there, especially Ian, is working so hard, to create something different, even special.  And since the menu changes every night, I imagine that some are special.  But ours was rather ordinary.  Nothing even close to, say, Red Hen or Rose's Luxury, or even the late and lamented Ruppert's, which this reminded me of.  And not nearly as great as our meal on that same road trip at Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine, NC, which is another story . . . with some similarities to what Ian Boden is trying to do in Staunton.

I decided to write because I'm not worried that posts such as this will possibly prevent them from filling the tables every evening -- nor should they.  It's a terrific little place, almost surely the best within miles.  If I lived nearby, I'd try to go as often as I could afford.  And I'll bet that on some nights, the food is fantastic -- that Lori's and Waitman's accounts are dead-on accurate.  Just trying to temper some of the outsized expectations here on the board, which aren't really fair to the Shack -- as the name suggests, its ambitions (like its kitchen!) are modest: it's not trying to be a world-class destination restaurant like Town House was.  It's a bit hit-or-miss, I suspect . . . and I wouldn't be surprised if there are far more hits than misses.  But better to think of it as a welcome and convivial oasis, rather than as the next coming of K-Paul's or Alinea.

I am ashamed to say that like Marty L., I did not post about my June dinner at the Shack because I was not as enamored of our meal as many of the other DR posters were. It was delicious, but the heat in the room (one small window air conditioner) and the almost 30 minute wait for each of our 3 courses took something away from our enjoyment of the experience.

I'll happily go again, but with a different set of expectations.

TSchaad

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I am ashamed to say that like Marty L., I did not post about my June dinner at the Shack because I was not as enamored of our meal as many of the other DR posters were. I

I think that the only redeeming feature of a disappointing meal at a well-regarded restaurant is the chance to whack the hornets nest by posting a negative review here! ;)

Of course, you're probably a better person than I am.

To clarify my earlier report somewhat, while my co-conspirator enjoyed eating at The Shack more than Alinea, neither she nor I assert, imply, suggest or otherwise allege that the cooking is better in Staunton than in Chicago.  We just had a great time and take particular delight in discovering serious cooking in an informal and inexpensive atmosphere, way out in the sticks.

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I think that the only redeeming feature of a disappointing meal at a well-regarded restaurant is the chance to whack the hornets nest by posting a negative review here! ;)

That's not how I see it and here's why:

I was reluctant to post and waited a week to do so out of fear of starting a controversy. I finally decided to because I think the enormous expectations that derive from all of the hype set people up to be disappointed if the meal doesn't attain the level of the greatest restaurants in the country. The Shack is much better off if people go there with realistic expectations and are pleasantly surprised rather than greatly disappointed. I tried to balance my post by mentioning all of the positive aspects about our experience, of which there were many -- the friendliness of the staff and the low cost/high value of the meal being among them. I also wanted to get across the point that we do not regret at all having gone there and would go again -- we just wouldn't make it the main goal of our trip.

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This thread is an example of why I love this community.

Not just the last few posts; not just the first few posts; but the thread in its entirety including having Ian chime in.

There's nothing I've read that would stop me from driving to Staunton to have dinner at The Shack - I merely wouldn't be expecting a Riverstead experience, and that's not so bad. In fact, if I was driving anywhere near Staunton, I'd almost certainly call to see if I could get a table.

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It's why I like this a million times better than yelp. And trust it far more. I'm going to take a trip really soon.

Just saw a restaurant I love get whacked with a 1 star review. The customer didn't even eat there. What happened was that the restaurant is tiny and has to halt carryout business when busy. The customer did that and lowered the star rating by a half star. Without tasting the food. The owner responded in a heartfelt way, explaining why they couldn't manage the business, that he'd be more than happy to serve them and take their money, but not at the risk of ruining the dining experience for the people eating there that night. He welcomed them back. No response from the customer.

I hate yelp. And I don't particularly like that sound either. Either bark or shut the F up.

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This is the instagram you posted on your blog from Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe who provides an absolute rave about what you are doing:  "your commitment to providing locally sourced, delicious and creative meals is to be applauded.   Your superior talents have helped to put Virginia on the culinary map as a primiere culinary  destination that consistently provides the best products and dishes."

The Governor goes on but this is in recognition for the Shack leading the charge for which Virginia has been by awarded by Esquire the title of the top food region in the U. S. in 2014.  This is an enormous, affirming national level recognition of the committment of Chef Ian Boden and his family who have posted regularly and loyally on here since just after the first day he opened.

As he has been loyal to us; we should applaud and investigate the judgment of Esquire and others and visit Staunton and sample what he is doing that causes others to travel hundreds of literal miles to experience.

Bravo, Chef Ian!!  Really happy for you.

Joe

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Went this weekend to Staunton. Cute town. Before going to eat, we stopped at Redbeard Brewery. Awesome place, deserves it's own review. Then we walked to The Shack. This is a neat restaurant. As above, tiny space, communal. The decorating is odd, in the dining area there are 3 different lighting fixtures, and it's kind of distracting (that has a negative connotation, but actually I don't mind being distracted!) how mismatched they are, certainly a quirk of the space or of the owner, I guess. The lighting itself is uneven, and our table in the back by the kitchen to the left didn't really have good lighting, but the darkness suited the evening.

We got the peanut soup and the lamb bolognese as our starters. The soup was good, creamy, subtly seasoned. I've never had VA peanut soup, so no real reference. It's a small portion. I love lamb pasta sauces, and this was great, a touch salty, but I tend to under salt when I eat/cook. We got another appetizer to share, the pea and popcorn dish - peas, hominy, country ham, and pop corn on top. It was neat to look at, good textures, tasty.

For our appetizers, we got the salmon and the pork loin. Pork loin was tender and tasty. Salmon was salmon, not my thing, but tasted pretty good.

We got a chocolate mousse for dessert. Decadent. Kind of interesting - everything came at a good pace, but there was a several minute gap before the dessert came out. All the servers were sort of looking at us when we made eye contact, like "what are you guys waiting for?" but it eventually came out.

$150 with tax and tip, 2 glasses of wine (a pinot noir and a syrah), 1 beer (Bell's Double Cream Stout).

It's a nicely paced meal, a neat space, everything is plated really beautifully. Visually, the food is fantastic. Would have been nice to talk to the chef/owner, he stopped by at one table for several minutes, but we didn't get to chat with him. The server was fine, he was able to tell us his favorites with some enthusiasm, but seemed sort of shy and reserved.

What can I say? Good contemporary American/wine country cuisine, probably farm to table, but they didn't discuss the origins of the meat/produce. I think it's comparable to Ripple's food/beautiful plating, but a much smaller menu. The wine options are all in the 30s per bottle, I'm not a wine guy, but I presume they are pretty good. They have about 7-8 beers by the bottle. It's probably very good for the area (I don't know Staunton, perhaps this is something new and unusual for them, I haven't tried any of the other places) but it happens to be a really good place in a region with very few nice restaurants. It's not a knock. It's like a mini-Ripple, and that's one of my favorite restaurants.  In general, there should be more places like this everywhere - rural areas, suburbs, urban areas. The style is to my liking - I love the casualness of the space and communal dining and waiters in t-shirts hustling.  The chef is clearly talented and this restaurant would also do well in DC or Northern Virginia, but I think a lot of the hype is that it is in a cute rural town and there aren't very many options. But ...

As for the comparison to Rose's ... No, I don't think so. Different type of meal altogether. Rose's is almost like American tapas style, it's a really fun experience, the waiters were so excited about their restaurant, and there is a buzz in the air, they do little tastes and freebies. Also, the pricing is different. For 3 courses, it's $45 at The Shack. At Rose's, just for example, if you got the popcorn soup, the beef crudo, pork sausage salad, the cacio e pepe, and a dessert, you are still coming in at less than $45. And that's just for one person. If you spent $90, you could also get two more small plates or one of the bigs, another dessert, and still be under $90. Granted, at RL, none of those are a "main" and more like tapas style, but at The Shack the pork loin I got was around 6 oz.

Another small thing that I liked was how you pay. I hate waiting for the bill, and waiters are busy and I'm sure it slows them down, the whole pomp and circumstance of it. They use Square, and you just go up to the counter and they ring you up on the iPad and you go on your way.

Finally, there is something amiss with the Yelp reservation system. 2 people on Yelp gave 1 start reviews because of this, and it's bringing the average down (huge pet peeve of mine when these a-holes do that). I also had trouble with it, one time it was my mistake, the other time it was theirs', but Ian got back to me and resolved everything. So, be careful with that.

I'd come back likely if I was in Staunton, but there are a couple of other places that I'd want to check out, too, like Zynodoa, southern cuisine utilizing the nearby Polyface farms meat and poultry.
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Had a killer brunch at The Shack on Sunday as I was returning home from Richmond - biscuits with rabbit gravy and a softshell crab po'boy that made me swoon. The po'boy had green tomato and pickled chiles to provide the perfect acidic foil to the briny, sweet crabbie.

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Winding down my recent trip to the Midwest, I drove from Louisville to Staunton for my third consecutive evening of trying James Beard Award semi-finalists and finalists, in three different categories (Great Lakes, Southeast, and now Mid-Atlantic). First, let me recommend the Stonewall Jackson Hotel for anyone staying over in Staunton who can find a decent price - I spent too much time deciding on a hotel, and it was a mistake trying to save twenty bucks - if it's between this place, and an interstate Best Western, stay here (trust me).

After a power nap, I strolled over to The Shack, a mere 1 1/2 blocks away from the hotel, arriving right when they opened to make sure I got a table - and I'm glad I did, because although I had the table to myself the entire time, the restaurant was beginning to get busy when I left.

I took a seat facing the kitchen, and began my meal with a bottle of 2013 Domaine de Triquet Sauvignon Blanc ($24), yes, that's right, $24 for a bottle of good-quality, French Sauvignon Blanc - I knew I'd take half the bottle back to my room, but you can also order this by the glass for a mere $6 (sounds crazy, doesn't it?)

The only thing my server urged me to get was the Blistered Shishito Peppers ($3, I think), served like you'd see edamame presented in a Japanese restaurant. These were probably still in the field 24 hours before, and there wasn't a single hot one in the bunch. Sipping my first glass of Sauvignon Blanc, the shishitos were a great way to wind down and begin my meal in a relaxed, unhurried fashion, and thanks to my server for recommending them.

Since this was my first time here, I wanted to concentrate on fresh produce, and order as many things as possible, so I made it a mostly vegetarian meal of small plates, and took my dessert back to my hotel room to be enjoyed later that evening (and enjoy it I did). I ordered several items, and told my server it was fine to bring everything as it was ready - I was there to nibble and nosh.

Tomato and Peach Panzanella ($8) with charred pickled shallots, esmontonain, and basil was an excuse to show off superb tomatoes and peaches, although the tiny pieces of bread were perfectly textured as well (crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, perhaps pan-fried in olive oil). Ian, if you're reading this, and *if* I'm remembering correctly, I think it was a mistake to use grated Parmesan (or whatever it was) on this dish.

Cucumber and Wax Bean Salad ($6) is something I surprised myself by ordering, and despite having possibly been harvested within the past 24 hours, the salad itself just didn't thrill me, and was perhaps the one weak point of the meal - this needed to be gussied up a little bit - something, anything to add some flavor to these relatively neutral-tasting ingredients. If you like naked cucumbers and wax beans, go for it, but you have to really like them in order to like this.

Field Peas with Cornbread ($6) was an awesome display of excess by this diner - despite how healthy this food was, I didn't need this dish because it was somewhat redundant to the wax beans. That said, it was a great show of ingredients, and I found myself filling up almost exclusively on vegetables, and merely nibbling on the fine cornbread.

At this point, I was stuffed, and I took my Buttermilk Custard, Nectarine, and Cornbread Crumbs ($7) back to the hotel - a mere five-minute stroll on flat terrain - and enjoyed it later that evening, right after I'd drained the final drop of wine, and then I tucked into the best night's sleep I'd had in quite awhile. It was a great evening, and Ian Boden is a chef to remember.

This was my first visit to The Shack, and I can summarize it like this: farmer's market-quality ingredients, cooked simply and with a master's touch. This is a restaurant that lets the ingredients take center stage and take the bow; not one with an ego-driven chef who feels the need to neutralize nature's bounty. Don't expect Michelin 3-star technique here because the chef chooses not to use it - this is simple food of the highest quality, done just the way you want it. Italic all the way in the Dining Guide, and if I had to name one area restaurant it reminded me of more than any other, I would name Grandale Farm, with the caveat that I didn't test The Shack's kitchen in the slightest, and I suspect that Ian can cook rings around most any chef in the exurbs.

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Have to say -- the Shack sounds much more promising as a mix-and-match small-plates joint than as the prix fixe restaurant that it was when we dined in August 2014.  (See my review above.)

Winding down my recent trip to the Midwest, I drove from Louisville to Staunton for my third consecutive evening of trying James Beard Award semi-finalists and finalists, in three different categories (Great Lakes, Southeast, and now Mid-Atlantic). First, let me recommend the Stonewall Jackson Hotel for anyone staying over in Staunton who can find a decent price - I spent too much time deciding on a hotel, and it was a mistake trying to save twenty bucks - if it's between this place, and an interstate Best Western, stay here (trust me).

After a power nap, I strolled over to The Shack, a mere 1 1/2 blocks away from the hotel, arriving right when they opened to make sure I got a table - and I'm glad I did, because although I had the table to myself the entire time, the restaurant was beginning to get busy when I left.

I took a seat facing the kitchen, and began my meal with a bottle of 2013 Domaine de Triquet Sauvignon Blanc ($24), yes, that's right, $24 for a bottle of good-quality, French Sauvignon Blanc - I knew I'd take half the bottle back to my room, but you can also order this by the glass for a mere $6 (sounds crazy, doesn't it?)

The only thing my server urged me to get was the Blistered Shishito Peppers ($3, I think), served like you'd see edamame presented in a Japanese restaurant. These were probably still in the field 24 hours before, and there wasn't a single hot one in the bunch. Sipping my first glass of Sauvignon Blanc, the shishitos were a great way to wind down and begin my meal in a relaxed, unhurried fashion, and thanks to my server for recommending them.

Since this was my first time here, I wanted to concentrate on fresh produce, and order as many things as possible, so I made it a mostly vegetarian meal of small plates, and took my dessert back to my hotel room to be enjoyed later that evening (and enjoy it I did). I ordered several items, and told my server it was fine to bring everything as it was ready - I was there to nibble and nosh.

Tomato and Peach Panzanella ($8) with charred pickled shallots, esmontonain, and basil was an excuse to show off superb tomatoes and peaches, although the tiny pieces of bread were perfectly textured as well (crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, perhaps pan-fried in olive oil). Ian, if you're reading this, and *if* I'm remembering correctly, I think it was a mistake to use grated Parmesan (or whatever it was) on this dish.

Cucumber and Wax Bean Salad ($6) is something I surprised myself by ordering, and despite having possibly been harvested within the past 24 hours, the salad itself just didn't thrill me, and was perhaps the one weak point of the meal - this needed to be gussied up a little bit - something, anything to add some flavor to these relatively neutral-tasting ingredients. If you like naked cucumbers and wax beans, go for it, but you have to really like them in order to like this.

Field Peas with Cornbread ($6) was an awesome display of excess by this diner - despite how healthy this food was, I didn't need this dish because it was somewhat redundant to the wax beans. That said, it was a great show of ingredients, and I found myself filling up almost exclusively on vegetables, and merely nibbling on the fine cornbread.

At this point, I was stuffed, and I took my Buttermilk Custard, Nectarine, and Cornbread Crumbs ($7) back to the hotel - a mere five-minute stroll on flat terrain - and enjoyed it later that evening, right after I'd drained the final drop of wine, and then I tucked into the best night's sleep I'd had in quite awhile. It was a great evening, and Ian Boden is a chef to remember.

This was my first visit to The Shack, and I can summarize it like this: farmer's market-quality ingredients, cooked simply and with a master's touch. This is a restaurant that lets the ingredients take center stage and take the bow; not one with an ego-driven chef who feels the need to neutralize nature's bounty. Don't expect Michelin 3-star technique here because the chef chooses not to use it - this is simple food of the highest quality, done just the way you want it. Italic all the way in the Dining Guide, and if I had to name one area restaurant it reminded me of more than any other, I would name Grandale Farm, with the caveat that I didn't test The Shack's kitchen in the slightest, and I suspect that Ian can cook rings around most any chef in the exurbs.

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Has anyone here been to The Shack recently?  My wife and I are hoping to get away for what I will call our first real date since our daughter was born almost 7 years ago.  We have tickets for the American Shakespeare Center and are planning to make an evening of it.  Any insights are appreciated!

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29 minutes ago, donk79 said:

Has anyone here been to The Shack recently?  My wife and I are hoping to get away for what I will call our first real date since our daughter was born almost 7 years ago.  We have tickets for the American Shakespeare Center and are planning to make an evening of it.  Any insights are appreciated!

Not since late Aug, 2015, but assuming things haven't changed, I *urge* you to reserve a room at Stonewall Jackson Hotel - read my review of it, check in early, and enjoy the tranquil beauty of downtown Staunton (that might sound sarcastic, but I'm completely serious).

There will be plenty of fresh produce on the menu as small plates (I distinctly remember the Blistered Shishito Peppers, not a single one of which was hot), and produce is what you want to build your meal around. I advise going as soon as they open, and people will trickle in as you're enjoying your meal, most likely joining you at your communal table as The Shack begins to fill. It's a wonderful little restaurant, and I emphasize the word "little."

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Staunton is local for us, so we will not need to worry about the room.  Thank you for the recommendation, though!  I wonder about the "shack" atmosphere though, with the communal dining.  My wife is not, shall we say, culinarily oriented.  So if the place is really rustic, and just has damned good food, I would probably be better off doing something else on this particular evening and hitting The Shack on my own another night.

 

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1 hour ago, donk79 said:

Staunton is local for us, so we will not need to worry about the room.  Thank you for the recommendation, though!  I wonder about the "shack" atmosphere though, with the communal dining.  My wife is not, shall we say, culinarily oriented.  So if the place is really rustic, and just has damned good food, I would probably be better off doing something else on this particular evening and hitting The Shack on my own another night.

The food is ingredient-oriented - simple preparations that highlight the ingredients (the blistered shishito peppers, for example, were served by themselves with some sea salt, if I recall.) As for atmosphere, judge for yourself:

Shack1.jpg Shack2.jpg Shack3.jpg

Here's my review, btw.

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Thank you, Don!  And as a matter of coincidence, I am sitting just a few blocks away from The Shack right now.  I had an appointment in downtown Staunton that was delayed, and am now killing time.  In the process, I looked up The Shack on a map and discovered it was just around the corner.  I have driven past it at least 3 or 4 times this summer and never noticed it.  It  does look to be a spot for another time.

 

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I had a delightful dinner at The Shack last week. I started with the roasted shishito peppers, followed by the chicken fried sweetbreads with watermelon rind slaw and maple syrup hot sauce. My main course was a perfectly cooked piece of rockfish, served with roasted carrots and cauliflower, topped with a smoked tomato and sweet corn sauce with chanterelle mushrooms. This dish was nicely balanced, lovely looking and delicious. I was too full for dessert, but I managed to find a little room for some decadent elderflower long pepper peaches with buttermilk custard and buttermilk granita. Yum! Staunton is a charming town, and I can't wait to go back to The Shack.

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Finally stopped in tonight.  Reservations appear to be the norm now, but there was no hesitation when I walked in at 5 and asked if they had room for a party of one.  ordered a pasta dish and old fashioned a la carte. Both are fantastic, as has been the service.

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Post dinner follow-up!  I had hesitated to come here earlier because of price and time commitment for a prix-fixe meal.  Now, having been, I can say that the service was friendly and efficient and I would not be concerned about time in the future.

  Regarding price... That was a silly concern.  My meal, which I ended up concluding with a desert, came in at $45 pre-tip.  More than a casual dinner for me, but I usually don't have a drink or dessert.  The entree was $21, which would not give me pause for a nice evening out.  

Conclusion?  In the future I need to order the full prix-fixe meal and enjoy it.  Because it was wonderful all the way around.  There was no element of the meal that I can criticize.  It is not the fanciest place, but that suits me just fine.

Lastly, I cannot do justice to describing my entree.  So I will do what I have never done.  I will post a picture.  This may be the first picture I have ever taken of a plate of food.  But it was worth it!

 

IMG_20190808_171337545.jpg

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In the past (pandemic)year, I have become a bit of a regular at Ian Biden's projects, with first, curbside pickup at "The Shack," then shopping at "The Staunton Grocery.". If you are in the area and have not been, then go.  Ian is a great guy and a terrific chef.  He is putting his beliefs on the line, trying to create community in the midst of hard times, supporting local, responsible producers.  Ian is consistently looking out for his neighbors, and producing better food than he has to at the same time. 

This past week, I stopped in to pick up his Ban Mi-ish sandwich.  As I was eating it, I paused in surprise at the amount of cilantro on the sandwich.  Conceptually, it seemed way to much!  But as I ate it, it was perfect! To me, this is the perfect example of what Ian has stated that he aspires to.  He is making great local food for a community he truly cares for.

 

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