By Kaitlin Hill
Just 20 minutes west of Middleburg, you will find historic Paris, Virginia. This quaint town with its distinctly French name was an important crossroads during the Civil War but more recently is a popular destination for those in search of bucolic scenery and refined dining. You’ll find both in the heart of town at the Ashby Inn & Restaurant, where new team members offer excellent service and upscale cuisine in a tranquil atmosphere.
Paris may seem out of place in a state where name origin is more often than not British. But don’t be fooled. Much of the town’s history, like most places in and around Middleburg, is the work of George Washington and his friends. The land was chartered in 1810 and renamed “Paris” in 1819 to commemorate a visit from Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat who provided invaluable aid to Washington during the Revolutionary War.
The Ashby Inn & Restaurant’s history is nearly as long as that of the town it’s nestled in. The original building was erected in 1829 and was visited by General Stonewall Jackson and Joseph E. Johnston in 1861. Additional structures were added during the Civil War, and over the next 100 years the space would serve as a rectory, a school and, finally, a private residence circa the 1940s. The property’s function shifted from private home to inn and restaurant in 1984.
These days, the historic spot offers creatively composed cuisine and sublime hospitality guided by recently promoted executive chef Andrew Eppley and newly recruited general manager Lindsay Watts.
Eppley uses seasonal ingredients to create gorgeous plates with classic flavor profiles, highlighting the best of Virginia’s ingredients. He joined the team just over a year ago as sous chef, but he answered the call to replace his friend and former executive chef Tom Whitaker, who moved to Florida.
Eppley, who has only been at his post for a matter of weeks, has kept some of Whitaker’s dishes but added his own as well. He classifies his approach to cooking as, “keeping it simple.”
For flavor, he focuses on fresh and simple. “A touch of acid, touch of salt, some sugar, getting that overall balance,” he says. He likes to do traditional but, “put a spin on it.”
He has certainly added his own touch to plating, which can only be described as edible works of art. He credits his eye-popping dishes to seasonally available materials. “The summer makes it easy,” he says. “When it’s summer, you don’t really have to do much. Tomatoes are bright, melons are bright. Having those colors makes my job a lot easier.”
He sticks to what’s in season, selecting organic produce grown at the inn and scouring farmers’ markets for the rest. At breakfast, everyday oatmeal isn’t so everyday with the addition of vividly colored, locally grown peaches and vibrant micro greens. For dinner, confit sockeye salmon with cucumber and dill could have easily been inspired by Claude Monet’s palette for The House Among the Roses with pops of pure pink and leafy green.
Eppley has developed a keen eye for presentation from years on the job. “It’s a lot of exposure,” he says. “You work in some five-star places, some Michelin-star places, and long-term exposure gives you a different eye for it. You start to look at how colors pop and how things work.”
Precision helps too. Peek into the kitchen to see Eppley using a delicate set of tweezers to carefully arrange garnishes on each plate before sending it to be devoured. With this in mind, you may hesitate to disrupt his picture perfect platters, but you should. His dishes not only look like masterpieces but taste like them as well.
Meals at The Ashby Inn & Restaurant are certainly refined but by no means fussy. Eppley describes the experience as, “kind of a ‘wow.’ Not as in, over the top but it’s tranquil. It’s a night out to enjoy and feel peaceful, full, but peaceful.”
Tranquil is a word Watts, uses too. The Charlottesville-native, self-described “Virginia girl” took the post in April after a decade working with the InterContinental Hotels Group. She hopes to implement her vision of country calm at the picturesque inn.
She says, “We really pride ourselves on providing the Virginia country experience. It’s quiet, it’s tranquil. I find that when people arrive here, out in the country, it really is all about just being quiet and relaxing, having a local glass of wine in the garden. Things move a little bit slower out here, and we like it that way.”
Guests have plenty of space to kick back and no shortage of captivating views. The property sits on three acres of manicured lawns, overflowing flowerbeds and a seasonable vegetable garden, with views of Paris Mountain, Ashby Gap and Sky Meadows State Park.
The inn’s interior is also captivating. Rooms are fitted with 19th century pieces, including hand-painted wardrobes, oriental rugs and inviting fireplaces.
Between Eppley’s delicious and artfully embellished plates and Watts’ vision for country charm, time spent at The Ashby Inn is certainly life lived beautifully. But more than visual effects, it’s the people behind the inn that make the experience so special.
Perhaps Eppley puts it best: “You can’t do anything without the people around you. That’s what I would credit the experience to most, the welcoming people.” ML