Harrisonburg, Va., about a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C., is best known as the home of James Madison University. But travelers shouldn’t write this city off as a college town — it’s home to a surprising number of casual, high-quality restaurants and cafés. If you happen to be in the area, consider heading to some of these notable places for festive dining experiences.
Where to Eat:
Two best friends started Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint, a staple of downtown Harrisonburg. Outdoor seating gives way to a colorful interior — a disco ball that’s draped in donated bras hangs from the ceiling and patrons listen to music pumping over speakers while they sit at the bar — while they wait for this haunt’s highlight, premium Wagyu American-style beef starting at $4.49 for a hamburger. Also, on the menu are cheeseburgers, french fries, and fried Oreos for $1 each. Each day, a different specialty burger is featured, like the Elvis — a beef patty served with peanut butter, mayo, smoked bacon, and cheese. For a small place, the craft beer list is impressive. Customers who try more than 100 beers are even given a shirt to show off their dedication.
Jack Brown’s founders also own Billy Jack’s Wing & Draft Shack, and it's is located on the same block as their other restaurant. And the décor just screams fun. The bar looks like an old shack and comes complete with a rustic-looking counter and stools. Old doors decorate one wall of the joint and beer bottles sit on a shelf above the doors. Large TV screens make it an ideal place to catch the big game and never-frozen, locally sourced wings can make the perfect snack. The wings come with choice of creative house-made sauce like chipotle lime and BBQ with Cheddar and bacon. Other menu options include a country-fried chicken sandwich, chicken nuggets tossed in sauces, fried chicken and waffles, and chili cheese fries. Visitors can wash it all down with a craft beer — they pour 12 drafts that are in constant rotation and offer canned and cask beer, too. A donut menu with tongue-in-cheek names for its offerings completes the experience here. Guests can try the Psycho Girl Scout — a mix of peanut butter, chocolate, and burnt marshmallow — or order the Muddy Pig — made with Nutella and bacon crumbles.
If visitors are craving sweets, head over to the New Leaf Pastry Kitchen in downtown Harrisonburg. This European-style bakery whips up pastries, breads, cakes, and savory items. Highlights include the café’s French macarons and its cream puffs that come in flavors including passion fruit, roasted pineapple vanilla, and mocha.
Grilled Cheese Mania operates out of red food truck on High Street and dishes out creative twists on a classic kid's dish. Customers can ask for the Mama Mania — fresh mozzarella cheese, tomato slices, basil pesto, and Sriracha chile sauce all grilled into a torta roll — or order the Port Ruby — pan-seared portabella mushrooms, Swiss cheese, sautéed sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing grilled on rye. Dipping sauces, soups, chili, mac and cheese, and drinks complete the menu.
Where to Drink:
Just down the road from downtown lies the Three Brothers Brewing Company. A renovated soda-bottling plant provides the setting for this tasting room and brewery. The décor is industrial, but welcoming, with light bulbs surrounded by what looks like cage wiring, a bar that has a metallic sheen to it, and wood paneling on the walls. The taproom also hosts local musicians and every third Friday of the month, Three Brothers donates all the proceeds from the sales of a cask-style beer to a local charity. The brewery keeps a pale ale, two IPAs, Coffee Breath (that tastes like an iced coffee), and a Tri Brathair, a malty caramel concoction, on tap. The brewery also offers outdoor seating.