Tazza Kitchen (Arlington Ridge)

Hey ya’ll.

We’ve been enjoying having a new perspective on Alexandria since we moved in October. We didn’t move far, but having a whole new home base has completely changed our patterns. We’ve also been going out less and cooking more. But, when we do go out, the focus has mostly been on what’s closest to home and what’s cheap. Rather than trying to stay on the front of the wave of what’s new and hot, we’ve been trying places that we hope can become our regular go-to spots. I’ll admit, it has been nice to not feel like I HAVE to go somewhere new every weekend just to keep up. That’s not going to stop us from trying new things that we discover, but it has been much more comfortable at a slower pace.

That being said, last weekend we decided to try a new spot super close to home in Arlington Ridge, Tazza Kitchen. It’s right off of 395, just around the corner from Crystal City, and north of Del Ray. The shopping center that it’s in has our vet’s office, my new gym, a grocery store, froyo, and a liquor store. What more could you possibly need? We had been meaning to try the restaurant that was in the building before Tazza, but never got around to it. So, we jumped on the new spot as soon as we knew it was open.

The exterior of the restaurant is decked out in wood paneling and is quite inviting. There is an outdoor patio that I’m stoked to enjoy come spring.  The warmth of the wood on the outside continues onto the inside. It has a sort of modern lodgey kind of feel? All I know is that it was a cold miserable rainy night and I forgot the foul weather as soon as I sat down.

We were greeted by an extremely friendly server. Maybe a little too chatty, but I never mind a little bit of extra service. We also noticed that the happy hour specials were NOT limited to the bar. How awesome is that? The lady started with the $5 Sazerac. And since I’m currently in an epic battle to have my pants continue to fit, I went with a glass of the house red wine. I know how many calories are in that and it’s something I drink slowly. 

We decided to start with the brick oven brussel sprouts. They were served with bacon jam, a smoky tomato puree, and pickled mustard seeds. And they were delicious. I love a good savory jam, smokiness, tomatoes, and anything pickled and I’m having a love affair with brussel sprouts at the moment so this appetizer was like it was created for me. It was a perfect size for two people to split without filling up before our entrees.

 

For entrees, the lady went with the Prosciutto and arugula pizza and I had the crispy polenta and shrimp.

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The crust of the pizza was really tasty and the arugula was dressed nicely. I ended up actually having a few bites of hers because it was brought out several minutes before my entree. The server seemed to be aware of this issue, so I was a little surprised that they didn’t hold her pizza back until mine was ready. We can just chalk it up to new restaurant hiccups.

 

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The shrimp was a tad rubbery and overcooked, but the polenta was perfect. Crispy on the outside, but creamy on the inside. The portion was a little bit small, but since I’m watching what I eat, I was grateful. There were two polenta cakes and they were pretty filling. I liked the cooked cherry tomatoes in the shrimp broth. Overall, pretty tasty.

As we were leaving, one of the investors followed us out the door and introduced himself to us. He asked how we enjoyed our meal and told us he was glad that we gave them a try. We were glad too! We’ll be back.

  • Favorite thing I had: It’s a 3-way tie between the toppings on the brussel sprouts, the pizza crust, and the polenta cake.
  • Favorite thing she had: She liked the brussel sprouts.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: The salads look really interesting. And we saw one come out of the kitchen, it was towering. Of course I’ll have to try the pizza: the spicy sausage and black pepper honey one sounds really great. And brunch of course. We’ll definitely be trying their brunch.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): Next week. Maybe not literally, because of Christmas, but this was a very affordable and solidly good meal. Close to home and entrees a dollar or 2 cheaper than comparable restaurants, it’s definitely somewhere I will frequent.

Evening Star Cafe (Del Ray)

The lady and I seem to have an unintentional way of celebrating moving to a new apartment: we make a trip to brunch at Evening Star Cafe. When my parents were in town 4.5 years ago when we moved to Old Town, we took them there as a thank you for helping us move. This time, we fit the trip in before the move over to Del Ray. The lady and I took a break from all the clearing out and packing and changing our address to enjoy a nice quiet morning at brunch.

As we are wont to do, we arrived at around 11. Since they don’t seem to take reservations for brunch, I’m always afraid they’ll be packed. However, there were only a couple of other tables and we were seated immediately.

In order to keep the bill on the more affordable side, we skipped out on drinks and just ordered food. Actually, if you’re looking for a way to try Evening Star without going big, the brunch is actually very affordable.

I decided on the the chicken and waffles (no surprise there) and the lady had the bacon, egg, and cheese.

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The chicken and waffles were served with a pat of hot sauce butter in the middle, as well at some crispy bacon on top. I thought the hot sauce butter was an excellent idea, as I usually ask for hot sauce for my chicken anyway. I’m going to have to steal that idea. The waffle was that perfect balance of crispy but still soft. The bacon was a nice touch.

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The bacon, egg, and cheese was simple but good. I could definitely whip that up at home, but was pleased to not to have to. The crispy potatoes tasted like they were coated in something. Something delicious. I definitely helped myself to those from the lady’s plate.

As always, a delicious meal from an old favorite. I think our next trip there will be WALKING from our new apartment. Well, if it’s warm enough to do so.

  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: The Midnight (ciabatta, tasso ham, roast pork, fried egg, swiss,
    whole mustard, pickled green tomato) sounds amazing. Like a cuban, but breakfasty. I might have to make a special trip back for that.
  • What makes this place stand out: It’s Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s first restaurant.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): Brunch is surprisingly affordable. I have a feeling we’ll be back soon, now that we live in the neighborhood!
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): You could walk up to St Elmo’s Coffee Pub, if you’re in need of some more coffee. Or Dairy Godmother, for a sweet treat. Or next door to Planet Wine for all your beer and wine needs.

Vermilion (Old Town)

It seems fitting that my 100th post is both a Restaurant Week review and also a Neighborhood Restaurant Group spot. I can’t believe I’ve written that many posts! Hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Annnd, on to the post.

In an effort to get the best bang for our buck for Restaurant Week (RW), we decided that our parameter was that it had to be a place that we wouldn’t usually go because it was so expensive otherwise. After combing through participating restaurants, we landed on Vermilion in Old Town. The Obamas have been there, it’s a Neighborhood Restaurant Group spot, and the RW menu looked like a good value. Sold!

Our first impression of the space was that it was pretty excellent. We were early (because of course we were) but they seated us anyway. We were seated upstairs. I appreciated that so we got a little tour of both floors.

We started with beverages. The lady had the Final Ward (rye, chartreuse, maraschino & lemon) and I had the Plum Fizz (green hat gin, aperol, roasted plum & rosemary).

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Both drinks were excellent. I’m starting to finally develop a taste for whiskey, so I very much enjoyed her drink. I mean, I liked mine too! You can’t go wrong with Green Hat or stone fruit. Those are two of my favorite things.

 

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As an added, very nice touch- they brought out canapés with tomato, bacon, and micro greens. The tomato was perfectly ripe and it was a delightful couple of bites. That’s how you know you’re at a fancy place…

I started with the Chilled Corn Soup and she had the Sweet Gem Salad. My soup was presented beautifully. The bowl came empty with the corn and lime crema, and they poured the soup into the bowl at the table. Also a nice touch.

 

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The soup was great! I really enjoyed the lime crema a lot. I think I need to try my hand at making some chilled soups before the summer is over.

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Her salad was absolutely incredible for how simple it was. I mean I guess you can’t go wrong with goat cheese and avocado. I want to go back and order that again.

My salmon was cooked perfectly and I really loved the sauce on the side. I think it was a tomato/butter sauce. Um, brilliant. The roasted veggies/potatoes under the fish were tasty little morsels. The skin on the fish was nice and crispy, but I peeled it off and enjoyed without. It wasn’t really my jam.

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Her sirloin was great. She ordered it medium well, and it probably would have been better just medium/med rare, but it was still good. The kale was excellent and I enjoyed the barrel-aged soy sauce on the side.

 

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For dessert, the lady and I just split the two options and I went with the Fritters and she had the PBJ Terrine.

My fritters could have stood to be hotter. They tasted like maybe they sat for about 30 mins before they made it onto my plate. I suppose that’s to be expected during restaurant week. They still tasted great! I just wish they had been hot and ultra fresh. The selling point on this dessert was the key lime curd anyway. The cream cheese ice cream also tasty. I couldn’t really tell it was cream-cheese-flavored though.

 

The PBJ Terrine was REALLY rich and creamy and very yummy. The sorbet cut the sweetness perfectly. And the brittle on top was fantastic. I loved it.

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Overall, I’m extremely pleased that we chose Vermilion as our Restaurant Week spot. It’s definitely somewhere I’d go back and pay full price for a special occasion. NRG, you haven’t let me down yet!

  • Favorite thing I had: I think my very favorite thing was the sauce on on my plate for my fish.
  • Favorite thing she had: The gem salad. I can agree, it was fantastic!
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: I want to go back for brunch. And the prices on lunch look pretty affordable too.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): Well, it’s expensive. There’s no two ways about that. It’s definitely a special occasion spot. However, the bar was pretty crowded during happy hour, so we might have to check those specials out and see what all the buzz was about.
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): Killer ESP is just a block or two away.  You can get after dinner coffee. Or sorbetto or pie if you didn’t already have dessert.

Mad Fox Brewpub (Falls Church)

We finally had the chance to catch up with the SIL and her new husband for the first time since their wedding, this past weekend. They just recently moved into a place just around the corner from East Falls Church metro and I’m pretty pleased to have a new  neighborhood to explore with them. I’m also pleased to have the SIL so close! She has lived in Raleigh for the past several years.

When they said they were free on Sunday, the lady immediately suggested we go to Mad Fox. We’ve been before, but only for snacks and beer (Lots of beer. They’re not messing around with those flights!), not a whole meal. Last time we were there we started with the pretzel twist and split a burger. It was fantastic. We knew that it would be a place worth returning to. And the lady knew it would be perfect for the SIL and husband.

We started with a round of beers. I had the Lindy’s Weiss, a wheat beer. The lady had a saison and the BIL had the English summer ale. My beer was a little more flat in flavor than I had hoped, but the lady’s was a little more complex. They just didn’t compare to all the sweeter barleywine  and wee heavys we had last time. I didn’t try the BIL’s, but he seemed to enjoy it.

For food, I decided on the arugula salad with chicken. Turns out when you take on eating and drinking as a serious hobby, your clothes will eventually start to get a little tight. I’m trying to lighten up a little, so you may start seeing a different pattern from my menu selections. ANYWAY!

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I expected the dressing to have a bit more acidity than it did, but the salad was excellent. It was a nice light option for a hot day.

The lady had the Fig and Balsamic Blues pizza. I was pretty jealous of her, but at least I got to sneak a couple of bites. It was really good! I love the combination of sweet and savory things on pizza.

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Both the SIL and husband ordered burgers. 

I can tell from experience, those burgers are damn good. And they definitely enjoyed them as well. I suppose it behooves a brewery to have good burgers. And pizza! Classic combinations.

I have a feeling since we now have family in the neighborhood, we’ll be making a few more trips to Mad Fox. It would be nice to keep a finger on their rotating seasonal beers since I was surprisingly impressed with their winter selection. Yeah beer!

  • Favorite thing I had: My salad was pretty good. But that pretzel on our last visit was fantastic.
  • Favorite thing she had: The pizza. It was pretty great, I kept stealing bites of it.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: The grilled veg sandwich sounded really good. I’d also like to give the pizza a try myself. Other beers!
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): We actually have some vague plans to head back with some of the lady’s high school friends sometime in the next month. Last time we were there was in the spring. So, seasonally!
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): I honestly don’t really know yet! There are a lot of things along that strip of street, and I’ve been to Dogwood Tavern before, but haven’t learned enough to direct others.

Rustico (North Old Town)

I should have written about Rustico on Slaters Lane a long, long time ago. It’s only 4 blocks from our apartment, so we often default to there on our lazy days. We walk there when we need to get out of the house on snow days, and it’s usually where we end up when we want to go out, but we’re too hungover to travel too far. It’s also somewhere that we often end up right after we get back from being out of town. It feels a little bit like home.

We didn’t have real concrete plans for a midday meal last Sunday, so the idea wheel started turning. I offered the lady Nando’s, but she was not enthused. I thought maybe the new We, The Pizza in Crystal City would be great, but it’s not open on Sunday. She mentioned that she wanted Mac N Cheese, but I wasn’t in the mood for Noodles and Co. That did spark an idea though! Sometimes Rustico has mac n cheese-like things on the menu. They did not, but the lady took one look at the brunch menu and was sold by their many hangover-busting options. We changed out of our jammies and were on our way to a second NRG spot in one weekend.

We normally sit in the bar area, so we took a spot at one of the long, skinny tables. I contemplated ordering a mimosa for a minute, but they don’t emphasize brunch cocktails on their menu, so I refrained. We were pretty hungry, so we started with a couple of “snacks.” We ordered one Buttermilk Biscuit Slider and one Sweet Potato Skin.

 

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The biscuit was a wee bit dry, but it was really nice to get a little bite of biscuit. The sausage was very dense but also very flavorful. The sweet potato skin was a whole other level. The goat cheese fondue was a perfect balance to the potato. We both wished we had just ordered a whole bunch of those and called it a meal. Luckily, our entrees were just as good.

I landed on the French Toast and she went with the most hangover-busting thing she could find on the menu, the Breakfast Panini.

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The french toast was amazing. The lemon curd and macerated strawberries, whipped cream, and walnuts were all a perfect combination. When they brought it out, I was afraid it was burned, but it was cooked just perfectly. It was crispy enough to stand up to all its toppings. I’m not sure where the brown color came from, but damn was that delicious.

 

 

She felt the exact same way about her breakfast panini. The crust was soft (it was made out of pizza dough, how awesome is that?!) and it was all the breakfast foods you could want, combined. It wasn’t too many eggs, which is important to her. She and eggs are acquaintances but not bffles.

Out of the dozens of times we’ve eaten there in the past 4 years, this was definitely the best meal we’ve ever had there. Sometimes things are not always as perfect as we could hope but that’s ok, because it’s still always good. This meal definitely stood out to us. It was the perfect Sunday brunch before groceries and afternoon nap. We’ll definitely try to get back before they transition into the fall brunch menu. IF even just for some of those potato skins…

  • Favorite thing I had: The sweet potato skin was SO GOOD. My french toast was also pretty perfect. The lemon curd was awesome and it was just crispy enough.  
  • Favorite thing she had:  The breakfast panini was excellent. She was a little bit hungover, and it hit the spot. She also really enjoyed the sweet potato skin. I’m going to try to replicate those at home.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: The shrimp and grits or the Cubano. I’ve already had a lot of the other things.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): It’s so close to home, we rarely go more than a month without a visit.
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): Buzz, another NRG gem, is just across the street. We often go there to grab dessert to take home. Or just to hang out and read/blog.

Columbia Firehouse (Old Town)

When my college BFF, J, told me she was coming to town, I knew I wanted to take her to brunch. My first choice was honestly Evening Star Cafe, but I couldn’t get a reservation for the 3 of us. We could have gone without reservations, but I don’t like taking chances when I don’t have to. So, I explored other NRG options in Old Town. My next thought was Rustico, but one look over their menu revealed that they did not have the Eggs Benedict that J had already told me she wanted. My next thought was Columbia Firehouse. They had 3 different options for Eggs Benny, so I made the reservation.

We got up on Saturday and walked into Old Town from my apartment so I could show J this adorable tiny city that I live in. Like I wrote about in Monday’s post, we hit the Old Town farmer’s market and Waterfront Market to kill time before our reservations.

We walked into a mostly empty restaurant a few minutes to 11, but I’d much always rather be safe than sorry with reservations. Especially when hosting an out-of-town guest. You can’t look like you didn’t plan well!

They seated us in the dining room to the left of the barroom. This was the first time I had been there during the day, so this was the first time I noticed that this dining room was mostly windows on the ceiling! It was nice and bright. I’m glad I wasn’t hungover or anything, I may have needed sunglasses during my meal!

For drinks, J and I started with a bloody marys and, the lady had a mimosa. Both were equally delightful.

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We had worked up quite the appetite after all the walking, so we started with the Rosemary Garlic Fries with 3 dipping sauces: Smoked garlic mayo, buttermilk goat cheese, and ketchup.

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Holy cats were these some delicious damn french fries. We shoveled them in. I think everyone decided that the buttermilk goat cheese dip was the best. Yum.

For entrees, J decided on the Southern Eggs Benny. Fried green tomatoes, poached eggs, hollandaise, on a muffin. It said it came with jalapeños, but J requested it without. It was also served with fried potatoes. She said it was really tasty. I will need to go back and try it for myself. I love some fried green tomatoes!

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The lady had the Croque Monsieur.

 

She said it was pretty good, but about 4x the size it needed to be and was a wee bit dry. After eating the fries, she was only able to eat about half of it.

After much deliberation, I decided on the chicken and waffles.

 

It wasn’t much to look at, but it sure was delicious. It did come with a bird jus drizzled over the waffle, and that made it a little soggy. I don’t think it was totally necessary with the side honey served as a drizzle for the chicken, and butter and syrup for the waffle. All’s well that ends well, it was still delicious. I liked the honey for the chicken.

J and I also decided to go for a second round of drinks. I was sold on the Pineapple Mint Mojito, which had sparkling wine instead of club soda and chunks of pineapple.

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I was expecting it to be more pineappley than it was, but it’s just a good excuse for me to replicate it at home, but maybe with spiced rum and a splash of actual pineapple juice. Sort of a Mai Tai/Mojito hybrid.

J went with the Cucumber Fix Martini. Gin, Cucumber, Jalapeño, St. Germain. It was good, you could definitely taste the cucumber, with a little kick from the jalapeño, and lots of gin taste. It was definitely a slow-sipping drink, and despite being a martini lady, I don’t think she finished it.

 

Overall, I was really happy with my decision for introducing J to all that is Neighborhood Restaurant Group and having a really great brunch. We left feeling satisfied and a little bit tipsy. Now I just have to convince her to come back before the moves to Finland so I can show her a few more of my faves!

  • Favorite thing I had: The fries were really, really damn good for french fries. The buttermilk goat cheese dipping sauce was yummy. The chicken and waffle was also really good, minus the bird jus that soggified the waffle a bit.
  • Favorite thing she had:  She liked her mimosa and the fries as well.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: The mussels, the oyster po’boy, the whole dinner cocktail menu
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): We’ll probably try to get down there for drinks sometime soon. We’ve been there for drinks, for dinner, and brunch over the period of about 3 years. Time to start the rotation again!
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): Old Town is your oyster here. You can go shopping or go down to the water and hang out. We did the Farmer’s Market and Waterfront Market before brunch.

Catoctin Creek Distillery (Purcellville, VA)

We knew that we would have some free time out in wine country during the SIL’s wedding weekend, so I  thought it would be a good idea to crowd-source some wineries to visit just to see if anyone had any must-try favorites. My co-worker replied and reminded me that Catoctin Creek Distillery was there, and informed me that if I didn’t visit while I was out there, that I was dead to her. That’s reason enough for me! Then, once I was doing my plotting and planning, I figured out that the distillery was just 10 minutes from the wedding venue. It was a done deal, and done very easily.

On Friday, we  headed from the farmhouse to the venue to help with a little bit of setup for the wedding. Once it got to be lunch time and I started getting hangry, we headed out to find lunch and to taste some whiskey! We rolled into adorable downtown Purcellville, checked out our lunch options, and decided that burgers were the perfect lunch before booze tasting. We grabbed a delicious lunch at Market Burger Fries and Shakes, just across the street from the distillery.

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I ordered a burger but topped like their black bean burger. It had pepper jack cheese, avocado, chipotle mayo, lettuce, tomato, and grilled onions. It was SO GOOD. The lady just had a burger with the standard toppings. We also split a GIANT order of fries. The coolest part was that everything was locally sourced. It was a surprising find in such a small town. Oh god, it was delicious, and it handled my hanger just perfectly.

After we finished lunch, it was just about time for the distillery to open, so we wandered back across the street.

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They let us in just a few minutes before opening time and we took a seat at the horseshoe shaped bar. The space was very warm and inviting. Wooden stools, concrete bar, wooden tables, metal chairs, exposed wooden rafters. It was a fantastic space and I felt very comfortable and happy just to be there.

I had a hard time deciding between the flight options, be it the original (The Mosby ‘s Spirit, The Watershed Gin, and The Roundstone Rye), the whiskey (Mosby’s Spirit, Roundstone Rye, and Roundstone Rye 92 proof) , cocktail, or the brandy flight (peach, pear, and grape). I decided on the brandy  because of the fruity flavors and she decided on the whiskey.

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I’m not the biggest fan of the taste of straight liquor, so I should have gone for the cocktail flight (you can choose 3 of about 8 cocktails made with their different liquors). But it was still a fun adventure to try brandy. Definitely outside my comfort zone.

The lady looooves whiskey, so the whiskey flight was right down her alley. The white spirit was a little harsh for her, it was basically moonshine. She liked the middle, lower proof whiskey the best. IMG_0231

I will definitely be getting the original flight or the cocktail flight the next time. I’m just itchin’ to try that gin.

I was a little concerned about time and having to get back to the hotel, get ready for the rehearsal dinner, etc, so we weren’t planning on doing the tour. We found out the the owner, Scott, who also runs their Twitter and who I had been Tweeting back and forth with for a few days, was the one giving the tour. The tasting also didn’t take very long, so we sprung for the tour. I’m really glad we did, because it was a lot of fun.

Scott walked us through some of the history of the distillery and all of the steps of the process. He made sure to stop at every step to see and smell the sights and smells of the process. The hands-on aspect was really great. He also talked about how the leftover rye is sent out as feed and that the way their production plays out that they are basically in the feed business, with whiskey on the side. One of the most fun facts of the day was that the cows that made up our lunch were fed that rye.

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He said that they are at the point where they are distilling and bottling every day. They don’t want to be in every store in every state, they like staying fairly small, but that they are growing like crazy. I think my most favorite fact was that of the 19 (?) or so states that they’re currently in- Washington DC accounts for a majority of their production and sales. How awesome is that? Also, I’m not the slightest bit surprised. This city sure loves its craft alcohol!

  • Favorite flavor I had: I think I probably liked the Mosby’s Spirit or the Roundstone Rye the best.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: Definitely the original or the cocktail flight!
  • What makes this place stand out: The space is incredible and the owners were awesome! I’m so excited I got to meet them and am excited to see what comes of the future.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions)The lady wants to make another trip out for more wine tastings, and the Brother-in-Law’s family farmhouse is out there, I hope to find some time in the next month or so, but definitely by the fall.
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): Downtown Purcellville is super cute. There were some little antique shops and such there, and tons of food options. There are also a zillion wineries in the surrounding area. You could totally make a day of it.