Second Place

The Wine Kitchen’s new concept is a runner-up.

The Wine Kitchen’s new concept is a runner-up.

Words by Stefanie Gans    Photos by Jonathan Timmes

WK Hearth in Purcellville
Photo by Jonathan Timmes.

During their 40-plus minute car rides to Dulles International Airport’s outpost of Vino Volo, Jason Miller and Michael Mercer talked about what they would want in a restaurant. They admired the use of local ingredients. They delighted in the idea of specializing in wines by the glass. And although this was Miller’s first time waiting tables, Mercer worked in the industry for over twenty years; The two started looking for space.

“It’d either be a big success or a miserable failure,” says Miller, remembering the Leesburg launch of the original The Wine Kitchen, opened in 2008. The two set up a second location in Frederick, Md. in the fall of 2011 and this past August, debuted a slightly new concept: WK Hearth.

a salad fit for the cold: Brussels sprout leaves mix with raisins and lardons. Photo by Jonathan Timmes.

Gutted down to the original studs, but reserving the exterior paneling, Hearth resides in a former farmhouse in the new Purcellville Gateway strip mall, and just minutes from a revitalizing downtown (Catoctin Creek Distillery, LoCo Joe). Executive Chef Justin Garrison oversees the Virginia kitchens and while the Leesburg location nails the small plate, farm-to-table concept, the Purcellville restaurant hasn’t quite caught up with big sister.

The menu at Hearth reads like a seasonal playbook: A winter salad is not of tomato or cucumber, but blanched Brussels sprout leaves. Filled out with arugula, the combination of greens with crispy lardons, white wine-poached raisins and peels of pecorino creates a salad balancing bright and sweet. It’s a testament that not all winter fare endure heavy-handedness. A potato and parsnip soup didn’t rely on starch and cream, making this lunchtime liquid feel light but still flavorful, with bits of bacon penetrating the natural sweetness.

But a cold weather ratatouille presents undercooked winter squashes with dry disks of fried polenta. No better was the cast iron paella. The famed dish of Spain thrives on a browned bottom layer of rice, but this version was instead brothy from fish stock. Garrison explains the rice cooks beforehand and sits in the hearth for five minutes, not enough time to produce that coveted darkened layer, socarrat.

The gluten-free fried chicken (coated in rice flour) produces a crisp salt-and-pepper skin and is even better for the profusely buttery mashed potatoes and still-crunchy green beans.

With neighbors of grocery stores and sports bars, Hearth is still a boon to Virginia’s culinarily growing exurbs.

WK Hearth

Unlike The Wine Kitchen, WK Hearth accepts reservations.

Appetizers: $8 – 13; Entree: $15 – 27

Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner; brunch on the weekend.

130 Purcellville Gateway Drive, Purcellville;

(February 2014)