Charlottesville, Virginia’s Old Mill Room restaurant [classic article]

If you’re headed from Baltimore down to Charlottesville to see the Fall foliage, taste some regional wines, catch a UVa game or wander Monticello, sooner or later you’re going to get hungry. This part of the world is known for its history, vineyards, other renowned produce, the horsey set and the University of Virginia. Time to get with the Good Life and experience the gentility of the Boar’s Head Inn.

Boar’s Head Inn has several restaurants, including The Old Mill Room, built from the timbers of an abandoned gristmill dating back to 1834. The inn is affiliated with the University of Virginia, and as such, has a modern perspective as to dining, including sustainability, local sourcing, and elevated cuisine. I was glad to be able to try it! Their menus change seasonally.

Start things off traditionally with afternoon tea in the parlor. The room has comfy, colonial country décor and it’s a self service choice of coffee, fine teas, and sweets including house-made chocolates.

Dinner in the Old Mill Room is graceful without being intimidating or stuffy. Dress is country lodge “dressy”-preppy. Classical music plays in the background, but not the tried and true background pieces, but real concerti, symphonies, etc.  They’re making a strong commitment to promote Virginia’s broad range of wines. The restaurant is rated AAA Four Diamond, which you can read more about here.  Part of the standard includes “menus reflect a high degree of creativity and complexity, using imaginative presentations to enhance high quality, market-fresh ingredients.”

Dinner started out with an amuse bouche, which is the chef’s time to use mouthful’s worth of flavorful ingredients to give your taste buds a jump start. This amuse bouche was a cucumber round topped with smoked salmon relish.

I started out with an appetizer that would probably have all of California jealous soon: seared Hudson Valley fois gras with toasted brioche, local apples, thyme compote and caramel sauce. It was a study in contrasts: contrast of textures between soft and crisp, contrast of temperatures between cool and warm, contrast of flavor between sweet and savory. The contrasts aroused interest in a classic dish and showed a lot of thought from the chef. The luscious elements all worked together.

Another imaginative starter was the Heirloom Tomato Terrine with blue cheese ice cream, candied bacon and Mizuna. The heirloom tomato slab was thick, dense, powerfully flavorful, and deeply red. It could stand up and win a pageant, it was so alluring. In this area of Founding Fathers, it’s good to note that one of their wives – Dolly Madison – loved oyster ice cream. The blue cheese was a cool, interesting textural note and was sweetened.

Next came Chesapeake Crab and Corn Chowder with a garnish of roasted corn and crab flan, along with Old Bay poached potatoes. It’s a crab intensive chowder and the garnishes add a modern flair to the soup.

Another delicious soup – don’t you think Fall is the perfect time for soup? – was the chilled white asparagus veloute’. Veloute’ is a milky, silky soup. The veloute’ was fresh, vegetal and herbaceous. I think I detected a hint of lemongrass.

For an entrée’, I tried  the grilled veal rib eye chop with Maine Lobster risotto, green and white asparagus, and Sauce Foyot. Sauce Foyot is a sauce in the Hollandaise family: Bearnaise (with a touch of tarragon) with meat glaze. The veal was very beautifully cooked and well-marbled. The risotto was chock full of lobster and really, one would be quite content to have it stocked in one’s refrigerator at all times of day or night.

Another fine entrée was the cinnamon dusted Smithfield pork tenderloin, served with local Wade’s Mill cheddar grits, rhubarb compote and braised broccoli rabe. The pork’s seasoning was a lovely Fall note, without having a predictable flavor. It was tender and served in a generous portion. The grits were seasoned with a nice peppery note. The dish was well-composed, with the bright contrast in colors, textures and sweet/savory flavors.

When at restaurants, I really do try to sample the eponymous creations. I figure, if the establishment is willing to stake their name on the creation, it’s worth investigating. The Boar’s Head Chocolate Mousse  Cake is three layers of almond biscuit, flaky praline and bittersweet chocolate saffron ice cream. The ice cream had an exotic Silk Road flavor and the dessert was also garnished with a house-made marshmallow.

The Calvados crème brulee’ was a great Fall take – with its hint of apples – on the classic dessert.  It had a crispy, candy-like top, not the carbon-ashy burn that seems to be so trendy at restaurants now.

For breakfast the next morning, you have a wide variety of choices.  You can go with a Continental  buffet, a more substantial buffet with Southern favorites and Piney Rivers organic eggs, or try something off the menu. Hardware River Hash & Eggs is country corned beef hash and poached Piney Rivers Organic Eggs with Hollandaise. This is a decadent way to start the morning!  They make their own rich corned beef – you’d be surprised at the restaurants that don’t bother – and top it with a perfectly poached egg as well as a rich, very lemony Hollandaise for freshness to contrast with the rich meat.  Another luxurious way to start the day is with the Eggs Chesapeake: two lump crab cakes topped with spinach, seared sliced tomato, poached organic eggs and Hollandaise breakfast potatoes.

Are you hungry for lunch? You might be, with all the sports activities available at Boar’s Head Inn. There are two things you can count on to always appear on the buffet: a seasonal old fashioned bread pudding and spicy Virginia peanut soup.


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