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Rivah Visitor's Guide



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Rivah Fare: Warsaw’s little Tuscany

by Joanna Hatch

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Northern Neck Gourmet (NNG)
On a bright, cloudless weekday, I grabbed a friend and made the drive to Warsaw to try one of the area’s best kept secrets, Northern Neck Gourmet (NNG). The relaxing, scenic drive down Historyland Highway presented the perfect opportunity to roll the windows down, turn the radio up, and enjoy 29 miles of hardly a stoplight and very few other cars in sight.

Located along Warsaw’s Main Street, NNG’s cheerful window display of oversized wine glasses, created by local artist Sally Clements, provides a welcoming atmosphere from the exterior. Once inside the cafe, the exposed brick walls painted a sunny yellow, the woven baskets hanging from the ceiling, and the overflowing shelves of wine transport one into a relaxing, Tuscan-like setting. The wooden tables and dark rattan chairs yield a warm and casual setting.

Unique Eats: Shrimp Cheeseball
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It’s all good at J&W Seafood on Route 33 in Deltaville, especially the luscious and lovely homemade Shrimp Cheeseball. Owners Susan and Kevin Wade say this is one of their most popular items and a taste will tell you why. The combination of shrimp, cream cheese, pineapple, onions, peppers, sugar and spices creates a cool and creamy concoction just perfect for an appetizer, hors d’oeuvre, hostess gift or snack for the boat or picnic. Can’t get to Deltaville but dreaming of this or other fresh seafood products? J&W’s goods can be ordered online at http://www.jandwseafoodonline.com or by phone at 800-219-0976 or 776-6400, and shipped for overnight delivery anywhere in the U.S. The company also carries an array of party and giftware plus bait and tackle supplies. Shrimp Cheeseball—16 oz., $6.95; 8 oz., $3.75.
(by Deborah Haynes and Maeghaen Goss)
We arrived precisely at lunchtime and found very few tables available at this popular local haunt. Quite impressively, one server seemed to be expertly handling the entire dining area, with minimal assistance from a food runner/busser. I say impressively, because I’m not sure that I’ve ever, in any dining experience—including fast food—received my meal as quickly as I did at NNG!

Chef and owner James Fallon and his wife, Natalie, purchased NNG in April 2007 from the previous owners. While keeping the name, and a few of the signature menu items, they moved away from the gourmet retail displays and focused their attention toward the dining aspect of the cafe. In place of the specialty cooking items it once displayed, the cafe now features a fantastically diverse wine selection as well as an array of ready-to-purchase specialty cheeses. The wine section includes such specials as a three bottles for $21 selection containing an impressive variety of wines.

Fallon, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, met his wife while employed as the sous chef at Kinsale’s well-known dining hotspot, Good Eats Cafe. Fallon says his culinary style has a great deal of French influence with respect to local and regional cuisine.

Once seated, we perused the menu offerings, which include categories such as signature sandwiches, daily wraps, deli sandwiches and gourmet salads. Each sandwich is accompanied by one of the following side items: pasta salad, curried couscous, potato salad or chips. A garden salad or cup of soup can be substituted for a small additional charge.

The extensive assortment of appetizing menu items warranted some serious thought, as I struggled between the salad versus sandwich dilemma. I was eyeing the Chef’s Salad, which is made up of julienned strips of black forest ham, smoked turkey and swiss on greens with carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, scallion and a homemade country dijon dressing, but ended up choosing what I later learned was the extremely popular Wednesday Southwestern special wrap, which is comprised of smoked turkey, bacon, cheddar, and spicy corn salsa, all wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. The tortilla is made by a company in Northern Virginia. (NNG uses local products whenever possible and many of the seasonal specials feature the area’s crops, such as fall butternut squash soup, and the abundant corn and tomato items on the summer menu.) This wrap is HUGE! The sauce on the wrap was the best part as it incorporated black beans, tomatoes, cilantro and sour cream for a zesty and flavorful addition.

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The extremely popular Southwestern Wrap.
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“Our Beloved” Chicken Salad.
In addition to the Daily Wrap, NNG also offers a Quiche of the Day. Other noteworthy menu items include the roasted chicken and artichoke salad with rosemary croutons and a tarragon-caper dressing, and the Market Sandwich, which is cucumber, feta, hummus, tomato with lemon-dill dressing on toasted wheat.

For my side item, I had a cup of the crab and corn chowder. The chowder is the signature soup of the cafe and a carryover from the first owners, its popularity so great that while it started out as an occasional special it is now a permanent part of the menu.

Served in a dark blue coffee mug, this Chesapeake flavored concoction is made up of crab, corn, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, cream, a hint of sherry, and the special ingredient- bacon. Chef Fallon calls the chowder “an homage to the flavors of the area.” NNG also offers a separate soup of the day during the winter season.

My friend decided to go with the “Our Beloved” Chicken Salad. This chicken salad is another recipe from the original NNG and was kept on the menu by popular demand from the community, hence the “Our Beloved” moniker. A special pepper spice mix and the addition of sunflower seeds give this dish a unique twist, and served on wheat bread with romaine, tomato and mayo—we understood why it has remained a longtime favorite! Her side of pasta salad was composed of bowtie pasta with sundried tomatoes, white balsamic vinaigrette, scallions and Provençal herbs. 

We decided to splurge on a shared dessert and examined our decadent homemade options such as mango sorbet and creme brulee cheesecake with raspberry coulis, before deciding on a lemon cheesecake bar. This zesty treat might have been my favorite part of the meal. The sweet and tangy flavors of this interesting combination made it the perfect light finish to our dining experience.

Our favorite NNG touch: each meal comes with a tasty homemade cookie! The cookies are freshly baked each morning and NNG rotates at least 20 flavors of cookies to have a different kind each day! We were treated to chocolate chip. This is another carryover touch from the original cafe, one Fallon continues because he says he understands that most lunchers aren’t looking to do a big dessert, they just want a sweet finish to their meal. (And YES! We ate our lemon cheesecake bar AND our cookies!)

NNG offers tapas and wine tastings every Friday night, and on Saturday evenings as well during July and August. The tapas menu features selections ranging from tomato mozzarella salad to smoked sockeye salmon, to seared tuna with couscous, tarragon-caper dressing, as well as seasonal specials. The wine menu offers reasonably priced selections by the glass, as well as by the bottle. NNG also offers catering services and creates seasonal gift baskets filled with regional specialties.

The menu changes seasonally. Chef Fallon says his goal for the cafe is delicious fresh food done very well. The patrons include both locals as well as weekenders visiting their river homes.

posted 07.30.2009

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