Story and Photos by Kaitlin Hill

In Leesburg, Cowbell Kitchen, part sit-in café, part production kitchen, is entirely charming with its penny round tile counter, Mason jar floral arrangements, and the ever-present perfume of butter and sugar.

Though more than the inviting setting, Cowbell Kitchen is an example of the farm-to-table ideology done right. Between the dedication to near-exclusive use of local ingredients, an everything-made-from-scratch mindset, and their unintentionally but proudly all-female staff, Cowbell Kitchen is an absolute gem and must-visit dining destination.

Initially a food truck, Cowbell Kitchen is the brainchild of veteran pastry chef, Cheryl Strasser. In 2012, she parked her five by eight-foot café-on-wheels outside of The Old Lucketts Store and started selling coffee, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches. Expansion for the popular pastry peddler led her to the farmers market scene in D.C., where she and her team participate in six FRESHFARM locations, and later her Leesburg brick-and-mortar which opened in 2017.

The bakery serves as Cowbell’s production facility for their continued market participation, and as a full-service eatery where locally-sourced ingredients are the backbone of thoughtfully prepared, mostly plant-based favorites. Here, everything is homemade, from cakes to ketchup.
“The business is built on local, farm-to-table ingredients. We both share that passion,” says Bre Grant, Cheryl’s partner, who came on a year ago to help develop the savory menu.

She continues, “Produce we get at the farmers markets, the girls pick it up when they are there. Milk and dairy, we get from South Mountain Creamery. And eggs, we just picked up a new source, Shannon from Teague Farms. It’s her and her husband. They’re super small. We are getting 60 dozen eggs from them and trying to help their business grow.”

The locally procured ingredients shine in Cowbell’s long list of drool-inducing offerings. The seasonal smoothie bowls certainly deliver on Instagram-able appeal, but Cowbell Kitchen’s rendition is so much more than just a pretty plate. The watermelon version smartly balances flavors and textures for a snack worth the self-inflicted brain freeze. The frozen watermelon is blended to order with a touch of banana, allowing the watermelon to take center stage but giving the smoothie base a velvety consistency. On top, a generous helping of crunchy, homemade granola is a nest for chia seeds, hemp seeds, and coconut flakes for added bite and nuttiness. Finally, dried rose petals give each spoonful a hint of subtle floral flavor, which is a true stroke of genius.

Though Cowbell Kitchen is almost entirely vegetarian, they do make an exception for their breakfast sandwich. Grant explains, “People just love bacon…So, it is a big part of our business. Our bacon comes from Tudor Hall, which is one of Cheryl’s neighbors.” She continues, “Our breakfast sandwiches are 95% local. The biscuits are made from scratch here. We get the eggs from Teague Farms and make them frittata-style with local organic herbs.” The stack of fluffy eggs and thick-cut bacon is blanketed in melted cheese for a breakfast sandwich that is as filling as it is tasty. They even make their own curry ketchup, served alongside for dunking.

Cowbell Kitchen has lunch covered too, and Grant recommends the veggie burger. “We have a good following for the Veggie Burger because it is hard to find one that isn’t a frozen patty.” She continues, “We make our patties from scratch. All the produce is local and organic. It is vegan and gluten-free.” The burger is topped with house-made pickles and a generous ooze of cheese, all encased in buns from Lyon Bakery in D.C.

The bakery’s expertly executed dishes and array of tempting treats, in-shop and at the six market outposts, not only highlight the best of local producers, but also the talent and dedication of Cowbell’s all-female staff. Grant says, “It’s hard work. It’s a lot of physical labor, and it’s all girls doing it. It’s awesome, and it makes us really proud.”

Strasser and Grant’s sense of pride is well deserved. Excellent pastries and seductive smoothie bowls are just the start of what Cowbell Kitchen has to offer. A trip to the bakery or market stands is time spent helping young women build their careers in the food industry and supporting small business and the local farming community. It is feel good food in so many ways and is an experience not to be missed. ML

This article first appeared in the September 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.