Patty O’s Extraordinary Charm

Legendary Virginia-based chef Patrick O’Connell is known to take devilish delight in the smallest of details.

A foodie-centric weekend includes the Bluegrass Brunch at Patrick O’Connell’s latest addition to
the Inn at Little Washington empire and stops at the famed Red Truck Bakery and nearby wineries

By  Leona Baker / Photos by Greg Powers, Leona Baker and courtesy of Patty O’s Cafe & Bakery

They say the devil is in the details. And legendary Virginia-based chef Patrick O’Connell is known to take devilish delight in not letting even the smallest details go under-delivered in the service of a transcendent and unapologetically whimsical dining experience. 

“It’s either art or garbage,” O’Connell says in the 2023 PBS-produced A Delicious Documentary, which chronicles his renowned Inn at Little Washington’s quest for an elusive third Michelin star, a near-Herculean feat he and his team achieved in 2018 after 40 years in business—making it one of just a handful of 3-star Michelin restaurants in the country.

“Anything we do has to be extraordinary,” says O’Connell, whose tireless pursuit of culinary excellence is famously delivered with a side of quirky irreverence. Say, serving world-class, triple-crème cheeses on “Faira,” a rolling cheese cart that looks like a cow (and really moos) or populating the Inn’s dining room with well-dressed mannequins for social distancing during COVID.

I got my first taste of O’Connell’s commitment to extraordinary fun on a recent girls’ getaway, which I affectionately dubbed the “Bougie Brunch, Bubbly, and Bread Weekend.” At the generous invitation of my friend’s sister and her husband, who live nearby the Inn, top billing for our food-fueled adventure was a Sunday morning reservation at Patty O’s Café & Bakery, the long-awaited casual cousin of the Inn at Little Washington. Our trip also included stops at the much-celebrated Red Truck Bakery and some nearby wineries. 

Housed in a restored 1950s-era gas station and situated catty-corner to the Inn, Patty O’s is the latest addition to O’Connell’s microcosmic empire in the small, historic village in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains known as Little Washington, about an hour’s drive from D.C.

While dining at the Inn’s main restaurant or Patty O’s, visitors are free to stroll the 26-acre campus, which includes a hotel with more than 20 guest rooms. There are also shops, cottages, gardens, special event spaces, a small farm, farm animals, beehives, O’Connell’s restored Victorian manor house, and even a stylish chicken coop that may or may not be more architecturally notable than your own home. 

For my traveling companions and me, that walk around the grounds was much needed after indulging in Patty O’s singularly charming Bluegrass Brunch featuring live bluegrass music on the sidewalk café’s open-air patio (weather permitting). O’Connell has quipped that he opened Patty O’s so that he would have a place to eat lunch during the day when the Inn’s restaurant is closed. 

While Patty O’s shares the Inn’s playful spirit, its aesthetic is a little less Old World maximalism and more “Howdy, partner!” jollity. Think ice-cold water served from metal pitchers shaped like cowboy boots and adorned with colorful bandanas or cream for coffee dispensed from little white porcelain cows imported from France, both for sale through the Inn’s Tavern Shops, of course.

Approachability is deliberately baked in here with brunch, lunch, and even dinner prices akin to those at any mid-range to upscale eatery—compared to the Inn’s main restaurant, which only serves dinner and features a luxurious fixed-price, tasting menu starting (and I do mean starting) at around $375 per person.

Appetizers, soups, sandwiches, salads, burgers, Southern comfort food, and brunch faves share menu space at Patty O’s with seasonal main dishes in the evenings like Wild Mushroom Bolognese with artisanal pasta and freshly grated parmesan; Pan Seared Swordfish with white wine, tomatoes, black olives, and toasted couscous; or Momma’s Mammoth Meatball with creamy garlic polenta. Dinner entrée prices range from about $22 to $52.

A delicious assortment of muffins and breads, served with coffee and tea and handcrafted in the adjoining retail bakery, kicked off our brunch experience. We proceeded to sample our way through the menu including an elegant and memorable amuse-bouche—Ribbons of Smoked Salmon and Celery Root Remoulade with dill-mustard sauce and crispy caraway flatbread, served on fish-themed China. 

We also tried the Classic Quiche Lorraine served with a roasted cherry tomato topped with toasted breadcrumbs; the spicy Shrimp and Grits featuring North Carolina Shrimp and stone-ground Virginia grits with Tasso ham; the Classic Eggs Benedict with champagne brined ham and hollandaise; a decadent French Toast with blackberry sauce and mascarpone-whipped honey butter; and the Half Pound Beef Burger from Snake River Farms with crispy onions and comté cheese, cooked to pink-center perfection.

From Patty’s O’s gorgeously appointed bar, with its signature happy hoedown mural, we sipped from a craft cocktail menu including the Venetian Lace with Tito’s, Aperol, Cointreau, and lime. Other tempting libations such as the Cavendish Old Fashioned with raisin-fixed bourbon and rye and the Bloody Mary with dill potato chip–infused vodka are on the wish-list for a second visit.

Our shared dessert was a theatrical triumph when our server presented Patty O’s famous house-made Butter Pecan Ice
Cream in a beautiful silver ice cream coup. When we couldn’t decide on whether we wanted it with the accompanying caramel drizzle on top, he performed a precision 50/50 pour as if choreographed by Balanchine himself. Indeed, all the service felt like a well-rehearsed ballet, attentive but not overbearing—no doubt perfected through decades of experience at the Inn, only in a more laid-back environment.

The “bread” portion of our “bougie” weekend was actually bread, pies, cakes, pastries, coffee, sandwiches, and more at not one but both nearby locations of The Red Truck Bakery, which has been touted by everyone from Oprah to Garden & Gun magazine. Red Truck has become nationally known not only for its baked goods “made with love and butter in the Virginia Piedmont,” but for its cookbooks, including the latest, The Red Truck Bakery Farmhouse Cookbook, released in 2022.

Both the main location in Warrenton, home to the photo-op namesake 1964 Ford truck, and the larger Rural Bakery in Marshall (right across the street from another foodie destination, Field & Main Restaurant) are worth the 20- to 30-minute jaunt from the Inn at Little Washington. We fueled our Saturday with savory breakfast croissants and other pastry-case goodies, their signature java roasted and blended by Counter Culture Coffee, and even a whole apple cake to take home to devour later.

Any road trip to Virginia’s Blue Ridge ought to necessitate a visit to at least a winery or two. We had a fine time sipping and noshing at two of them within easy driving distance, Three Fox Vineyards & Brewery and Barrel Oak Winery and Brewery, both in Delaplane. 

Three Fox’s spacious modern tasting room, complete with foxy artwork, is perched on the top of a small hill and offers tasting flights, brick oven pizza and visiting food trucks along with a covered patio and café tables with umbrellas situated one by one at the ends of some of the vineyard’s grapevine rows (table reservations available).

I happen to be a big fan of sparkling wine, and Three Fox offers two—not very common for Virginia wineries. I enjoyed both on that “bubbly” weekend, the 2022 Sparkling Seyval Blanc and the 2022 Duality Rosé. You’ll find a Cab Franc, a Sangiovese, and a Petite Syrah among their reds and a barrel-fermented Viognier, a Pinot Gris and a Vidal Blanc among their whites.

Over at Barrel Oak, we also ordered tasting flights and took in the lovely scenery from their sloped, grassy picnic area. We were lucky enough to land there on a day when they had live music and an oyster truck called Nomini Bay Oyster Ranch. With our Barrel Oak Tasting Flight of their Vidal Blanc, stainless steel Chardonnay, BOWHaus red and white, Merlot and a Norton, we happily paired plates full of both freshly shucked raw oysters and Oysters Rockefeller and made a sunny afternoon of it.

Both wineries we visited are also breweries, so there is plenty to slake your thirst no matter your taste or mood. There are also many wineries to choose from in that area of the state, of course, including Pearmund, Philip Carter, Naked Mountain, RdV, Slater Run and more. 

While we stayed overnight with friends, there are also some nice B&B and boutique options if you’re not going for the full Inn at Little Washington experience, or it’s booked up. Some of those include The Foster Harris House, The Middleton Inn and Gay Street Inn in addition to your readily searchable Airbnb, Vrbo, and chain hotel reservations.

Patty O’s Café takes reservations with a $35 deposit for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch but also offers a walk-in waitlist (probably not worth the risk if you’ve planned a special trip, so make those reservations).

The bar, lounge, and patio are available on a first-come, first-seated basis. Reservations for the Inn itself and the main restaurant are an absolute must and often book up as far as a year in advance. However, dinner reservations are guaranteed for overnight guests of the inn.  

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