No rest at the resort

Chef Chris Edwards juggles 10 menus in Middleburg.

Chef Chris Edwards juggles 10 menus in Middleburg.

Harriman's Virginia Piedmont Grill.
Roasted Venison is paired with a celery root puree, granny smith apple, salsify, baby kale and juniper spice pesto. Photo by Jonathan Timmes.

Words by Stefanie Gans    Photos by Jonathan Timmes

When Chris Bukowski, known for his role in the “Bachelor” franchise, opened the self-described female-friendly sports bar Bracket Room in Arlington, he made sure to install plenty of purse hooks. Somewhere to put a handbag, he says, was what women want. Harriman’s Virginia Piedmont Grill, the fine dining restaurant in the Salamander Resort, did one better. What looks like a padded tan leather footstool, but with two braided handles on either end, is placed next to my chair as I sit down. “For your purse,” says the host.

The purse stool looks a little like a saddle, and fits in with the high-horse aesthetic of this grand resort in Middleburg. This is Sheila Johnson‘s project, complete with stables, spas, a garden and a gift shop with Johnson-designed scarves. To get to Harriman’s we walk through the much livelier Gold Cup Wine Bar and down a hall (note the Virginia-shaped corkboard, made out of actual wine bottle corks) into a large round room with high ceilings. It feels dimly lit, even though large windows form the exterior walls, showing acres of land and a mini-fire pit. 

The staff is sweet, even aggressively so: During a slow weekday, the host offered me a book on the history of Middleburg, “because you’re dining alone.”

The cooking is less an exaggerated force. Puttancesca over housemade fusili should have been a welcome briny attack of olives and tomatoes; instead: a muted sauce.

Chris Edwards, the chef de cuisine at Salamander Resort overseeing 10 menus, from the spa to in-room dining, likes to play with smoke. For almost five years Edwards ran the kitchen at The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville and there he cooked according to micro-seasons, changing the tasting menu almost daily.

“I have more flexibility here,” says Edwards, which means he can keep his signature hay-smoked sweet potatoes on the menu year-round, although the root vegetable is out of place in warmer weather.

Charred swordfish mimics the smokey potatoes and the usually bacony collards instead gain character from a jalapeno vinegar. From the grill, venison is another well-assembled dish with a jammy juniper pesto and a celery root puree with the texture of a silky pudding.

Harriman's Virginia Piedmont Grill
Photo by Jonathan Timmes.

A mustard-chantrelle sauce is both pungent and creamy, though this Kobe hanger steak can stand on its own. While there’s nothing surprising on this plate (sides are a la cart), it’s a treat for Edwards who had been consumed with intricate mini-dishes at his previous job. “I missed being able to just cook a piece of meat and put it with a nice sauce,” he says. And with this steak, he does.

Edwards plans on swapping out most of the menu for a spring cleaning, though the swordfish and hanger will probably stay. Opened at the end of August, Edwards admits that his team is still finding its way. Some dishes do taste like a rehearsal, such as a special of crab tortellini. Overpowered by mint, the pasta pillows were hard to eat bobbing in a garlic broth with mussels. A bland crab cake, a menu staple, didn’t work any better.

Thanks to Johnson’s vegan lifestyle, Edwards plays with the tripe-like chakay, a spongy, potato-based protein. But this Andalusian-flavored stew won’t convince meat eaters to stray to the earth-grown.

Away from the precious pre-fixe of Patomack, Edwards has the luxury of learning a dish. Menu turnover is quarterly and by serving the same dishes every night he’ll finally be able to work through issues. At Patowmack, says Edwards, “I’d have this great idea, and if I didn’t like it on the plate, I’d move on to the next dish.”

At Salamander, he can invest time in Harriman’s more than two dozen plates. But because this is a resort, he has mouths to feed at the pool and at the spa and at the bar. Can Edwards handle 10 menus? “That’s a good question,” he says. 

Harriman’s Virginia Piedmont Grill

An Atlanta-based firm designed the VA corkboard especially for the resort.

Appetizers: $8–$15; Entrees: $22–$38

Breakfast and  dinner daily

500 N. Pendleton St., Middleburg,

(April 2014)