Esquire Magazine Names Virginia 'Best Food Region In America' For 2014

From his sprawling estate at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's journal entries about life on the farm were love letters to the seasons, the miracle of growing fruits and vegetables, the art of the table, and the necessity for good drink.

He was our nation's most articulate and esteemed gourmand at the time, and our entertainer-in-chief. An invitation to dine with Mr. Jefferson was highly coveted and brought with it the promise of stimulating conversation, fascinating men and women, a well-composed guest list, and fine cuisine prepared with foodstuffs gathered from around Virginia. The wine and drink were always superior — and free-flowing.

The bounty of the land and sea that Thomas Jefferson cherished exists today, and modern chefs are creating exciting cuisines that deliciously blend traditional recipes with modern techniques, but always with a respect for the land and its edible gifts. This synergy has put Virginia, and especially Richmond, on the culinary heat map, and had Mr. Jefferson attended last Monday's "Celebrate Virginia" reception and dinner in Richmond, he would have beamed with pride at the quality of the local fare served that night.

Celebrate Virginia Reception
The evening's hosts were cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton, owners and founders of famed Rappahannock restaurant, and the event came on the heels of Esquire food editor Josh Ozersky's recent article naming Virginia "the food region of the year" in his list of Best New Restaurants 2014. The chefs and artisans that prepared the food and drink for the evening was a "who's who" of Virginia cider makers, brewers, winemakers, bakers, chefs, restaurateurs, and purveyors — and all, like Rappahannock, were included in Ozersky's list for 2014.

The reception kicked off with passed hors d'oeuvres and several stations offering a range local food and drink. There were James River oysters on the half-shell; thinly shaved, melt-in-your-mouth Surryano ham from  S. Wallace Edwards & Sons'; spicy Border Spring's lamb ham prepared by Edwards & Sons;  succulent, cider-glazed lamb ribs with peanuts; and little neck clams with fresh tomato coulis. A standout was the tiny leg of crispy fried quail with Concord grape sauce, prepared by Ian Boden, owner of The Shack, one of the runners-up in the Best New Restaurants list. Local gentleman gadabout and Esquire contributor Jason Tesauro was on hand to pour red and white wines from Barboursville Vineyards, and the sparkling cider cuvée, Handmade, was poured by Foggy Ridge Cider owner and maker Diane Flynt.

The restaurant quickly filled with the din of happy conversation, clink of glasses, and flash of camera bulbs. About half an hour into the reception, there was a scuffle at the front entrance as a convoy of big, black SUVs pulled in front of the restaurant, and then within a few minutes Governor Terry McAuliffe, escorted by his security detail, entered the restaurant. The governor was accompanied by First Lady of Virginia, Dorothy McAuliffe, and Todd Haymore, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture, and after he greeted guests and took pictures, he thanked the host and spoke about the incredible culinary scene and legacy of Virginia.

The Governor of Virginia Toasts Virginia's Beverage Trade
After his speech, Governor McAuliffe raised his glass of Barboursville wine, toasted the hosts, the local Virginia producers, and applauded the creation of the state's largest hops yard and the region's first commercial-scale hops production and processing plant at Black Hops Farm. He closed by acknowledging the impact of the Stone Brewing Co. deal, and stating how its forthcoming location in Richmond will bring much needed jobs, tourism, and revenue to the city.

The Dinner
Once the governor addressed the guests, the feasting began. For the first course, Rappahannock chef Dylan Fultineer prepared a crisp, delicately flaky sea bass served with fregola and thin slices of Castelvetrano olives, all paired with Barboursville Vineyards' exquisite citrus-laced Vermentino Reserve 2013. Border Spring's lamb's neck and oyster stew was deeply flavored with rich, meaty lamb essence. Just when we thought it couldn't get better, Musickland Farm's owner, Adam Musick served a roasted tender Berkshire pork loin with sautéed spinach, billowy rye knoephla dumplings, and honey crisp apple butter; paired with Foggy Ridge Cider, it was, a Germanic fugue of porcine heaven. Throughout the meal, Sub Rosa Bakery's miller's wheat bread was served and the owners, genius brother and sister team, Evrim and Evin Dogu, also prepared dessert of lightly sweet maple ice cream and rye muesli garnished with aromatic Black Creek Farm honey, and it was paired with Champion Brewing Company's Black Me Stout.

Summer Whitford is the D.C. City Guide Editor at The Daily Meal and the DC Wine Examiner. You can follow her on Twitter @FoodandWineDiva.