Virginia Dining: A Holiday Meal at the Ivy Inn
Historically, the purpose of an inn was to provide lodging and food for weary travelers. How fitting, then, that I should find myself enjoying my first holiday-meal-away-from-home at an honest-to-goodness inn–the Ivy Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia, to be exact.
Stress-Free Thanksgiving Day
After years of brining and stuffing and basting and carving, I decided I’d had enough. This year, I was not having Thanksgiving dinner at my house. And, more than that, I was also not going to attend someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner, either. No screaming children at a far-too-close kiddie table for me. No sir. So this year, I spent Thanksgiving day doing what I love–traveling.
I woke up in lovely Winchester, Virginia, gazed out over the rooftops of the super-quiet holiday morning, and headed out into the world. Within an hour of waking up, I had bluegrass on the radio and my car pointed in the direction of the mountains. I made my first purchase of the holiday season before 10:00 on Thanksgiving morning–an annual National Parks pass–and entered Shenandoah National Park. I had Thanksgiving ‘lunch’–a pretty crummy sandwich from a Sheetz–at a picnic table along Skyline Drive, and spent the majority of the day driving and hiking.
I can’t think of a better way to spend a holiday.
But the fact still remains that it simply isn’t Thanksgiving without a turkey. Which wasn’t a problem, because as I drove and hiked and pointed my camera at things, the lovely people at the Ivy Inn were preparing my Thanksgiving turkey. And they were doing a far better job than I ever could have.
The last Thanksgiving dinner I spent at a restaurant was sometime in the late 80’s; I was in elementary school and my parents and grandparents took me to this place called The Village Inn. It was not, in fact, an actual inn–it was a terribly tacky banquet hall with no windows and family-sized portions of gluey potato stuffing. My meal at The Ivy Inn was not this sort of dining experience.
Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner
The four-course menu included a salad, and appetizer of choice, a full thanksgiving dinner complete with traditional sides, and a dessert trio–you know, because those first three courses weren’t quite enough food. I selected the pork and country egg dish as my appetizer; not something I’d normally order, but it came with grits and, well, I’m a sucker for grits. I was a bit apprehensive about the egg, but it turned out to be the highlight of the dish. A perfectly cooked poached egg served on creamy grits with a side of crispy, salty, bacon-like pork was a great way to start the meal. In fact, it would be a great way to start any day, as it was very breakfast-esque. The green-tomato ‘chow chow’ was actually a reduction drizzled around the plate, which added just the right amount of acid. I had to force myself to stop eating it in order to take notes (though of course, this could have to do with the fact that I’d been hiking all day and was starving!)
The salad was simple and well dressed, but served with rolls that deserve a mention all on their own. I have little love for raisins, but the raisin bread at The Ivy Inn is almost a form of sweet cake. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, these rolls rival even the cinnamon rolls at my local Amish bakery. It was like dessert for the salad course. Amazing.
When the main course came out, I knew I was in love. This was the Thanksgiving dinner I’d always wanted to make. The Better Homes and Gardens version of Thanksgiving dinner. The Thanksgiving dinner that no one in my family would eat, because it was too ‘fancy’–so the Thanksgiving dinner I’ve never been able to make myself. The sweet potatoes were fluffy, the Brussels sprouts were browned, the cornbread stuffing (I. love. cornbread. stuffing.) was the perfect balance of sweet and savory, and the turkey breast–the breast–was moist and juicy. And this moist, juiciness was not a result of me having to once again heft a 20 lb turkey into a garbage bag and cover it with salt water for a week. I mean, perhaps someone had to do that–but it wasn’t me!
I was far too full to eat dessert–until it arrived. A trio of chocolate nut tart, pumpkin creme brulee, and a warm date cake covered with caramel sauce, this dessert warmed even my heart–and I always prefer savory to sweet. Creme brulee is only improved by the addition of pumpkin, and the Ivy Inn’s version was creamy and silky. The date cake was like a Thanksgiving dessert buffet all crammed into one bite; cinnamon, vanilla, cardamon, and caramel combined to make something as humble as a ‘date cake’ explode with flavor. And for a final bite, a bit of chocolate and nuts to end the meal. Seriously, this was a stand-up-and-applaud holiday dessert.
When I planned this trip, many people commented that they wouldn’t want to miss Thanksgiving dinner at home. Well, having spent my first Thanksgiving dinner away from home, I can tell you some things I did not miss. I did not miss grocery shopping. I did not miss cleaning my house. I did not miss chopping, roasting, sauteeing, baking, or boiling. I did not miss four days of effort for twenty minutes of eating. And I did not miss a week of trying to figure out what to do with all of the leftovers.
I don’t think I’ll ever spend another holiday at home again. After this Christmas, that is.
Happy holidays, everyone. I hope your Christmas dinner is as enjoyable and stress free as was my Thanksgiving Dinner. Feel free to add any holiday-away-from-home stories you’d like to share in the comments section below.
The Ivy Inn is located just outside downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, at 2244 Old Ivy Road. The fixed-price holiday menu was $60 per person (and totally worth it). They have a holiday menu for New Year’s even this year as well, and I’m truly sad I won’t be able to enjoy it.