Story by Kaitlin Hill
Photos by Callie Broaddus
A visit to The Red Fox Inn & Tavern is much like stepping back in time. Fieldstone walls peppered with sporting artwork, exposed hand-hewn beams and inviting stone fireplaces set the scene for extraordinary hospitality and exquisite dining in Middleburg’s oldest tavern.
Even before there was Middleburg, there was The Red Fox. The inn’s story starts with Joseph Chinn in 1728, nearly 60 years before Middleburg was officially chartered. Chinn built the tavern, at the time named Chinn’s Ordinary, as a rest stop for travelers making their way on the popular path from Alexandria to Winchester. Over the next 209 years, Chinn’s Ordinary would evolve into The Red Fox Inn & Tavern after various owners and a series of name changes. In 1812, it was renamed the Beveridge House, and was expanded to 35 rooms. At the height of the Civil War, the Beveridge House served as headquarters for Confederate officers and a hospital for southern soldiers.
Twenty-two years after the South surrendered, their hub was rechristened the Middleburg Inn, and it returned to its previous purpose of offering fine food and quality lodging. In 1937 a group of investors including George A. Garrett purchased the inn and renamed it The Red Fox Inn & Tavern.
Through its long history, The Red Fox became a sentimental favorite of both travelers and locals, like Nancy B. Reuter, who purchased the property in 1976. The tavern is now run by Nancy’s granddaughter, Matilda, whose affection for this special space is ancestral. Matilda remembers, “my grandmother and my grandfather used to go on all their dates here growing up, so it was really special to her.” Indeed the inn was so important to Nancy that she bought out dozens of shareholders to secure The Red Fox as her own. Since then, the property has been run by three generations of Reuters who strive to, as Matilda puts it, “preserve the historic qualities of a 1728 inn.” The multi-level restaurant is undeniably charming with a warmth that only old-fashioned décor can create.
Though the atmosphere, and perhaps the wine tasting, may have you questioning what year it is, the menu is far from antique. Chef Kurt Baier, who joined The Red Fox in February, offers his updated take on classics like Duck a l’Orange and Strawberry Shortcake in a brand new four-course tasting tour highlighting Virginia’s finest ingredients and wines.
Chef Kurt attributes his ability to create contrasting but complimenting flavors to his background in photography as well as years in the kitchen. He explains, “It’s the same thing with photography and with cooking, you want to counterbalance.”
His Seared Sea Scallop may seem simple, but is an inspired experience of contrasting flavors and textures. The skillfully cooked scallop is nestled in a bed of seductively sweet creamed corn and topped with a crunchy, salty, fried country ham hat. The addition of tomato relish adds acidity to cut through the rich flavors for a winning first course. The scallops are paired with a King Family Roseland Blend from Charlottesville. This mix of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Petit Manseng has a bright, acidic taste and a long finish making it a smart compliment to Kurt’s scallop.
After a refreshing Spinach and Blackberry Salad, guests are tasked with the daunting choice between Chef Kurt’s Pan Seared Salmon with blackberries, balsamic and basil over grits or Seared Duck Breast dressed with orange marmalade mostarda over rye spatzel and Brussels sprouts. Both are exquisite.
The salmon is fresh, tender and expertly seasoned and the Byrd Mill grits are what comfort food dreams are made of. The blackberry and basil add a welcome sweetness against the aged balsamic. Chef Kurt sums up his approach to this dish as, “it’s the two ends of the spectrum. As fresh as you can get with the basil and as old as you can get with the balsamic. Doing contrasts like that is what I really like.” The salmon is served with a Boxwood Estate Rosé from Middleburg. The Rosè is extremely drinkable but holds its own with the boldly flavored fish.
Chef Kurt’s ability to contrast flavors and textures is also apparent in his interpretation of Duck a l’Orange. The duck is beautifully cooked, juicy, tender and perfectly paired with the orange marmalade and wholegrain mustard sauce. The delicately puffed rye spatzel and crunchy Brussels sprouts are delicious on their own, but are put to even better use mopping up any last smear of sauce you won’t want to leave behind. The duck is paired with a well-rounded Pinot Noir from Ankida Vineyards in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its red fruit notes and tannic quality work well with the luscious duck breast and tart orange marmalade.
Dessert is Chef Kurt’s Strawberry Shortcake with rhubarb and ginger syrup. The shortcake is delightfully flakey, brimming with juicy strawberries and a cloud of fresh whipped cream. The rhubarb and ginger syrup adds complexity to this otherwise traditional dish. His plating is simple but elegant and almost too pretty to touch, though you won’t hesitate to dive in anyway. The final libation of the night is a Paxxito from Barboursville Vineyard. This amber colored blend of Moscato and Vidal grapes mirrors the sweetness of the dessert for an unforgettable final bite.
While contrast is threaded through Chef Kurt’s sophisticated tasting menu, it is also at the heart of why time spent at The Red Fox is so uniquely wonderful. Change is embedded in the inn’s history, and the introduction of Chef Kurt’s “A Taste of the Season” menu opens a new culinary chapter in The Red Fox story. The experience of exciting foods, old-fashioned ambiance and unmatched service is succinctly stated in their motto of “historic property, modern hospitality.” But maybe they should add, “and so much more.” ML