The Red Hen

Written by on February 18, 2012 in I Eat America, I Eat...Out with 0 Comments

( – Lexington, Virginia

How I heard of this place: When making our birthday weekend reservations, I came across reviews for the Red Hen and knew it was the winner of our Saturday night, birthday dinner. The fresh, local, seasonal and organic fare, reminiscent of our Seattle days could not be beat.

Type of cuisine: Inspired Shenandoah Cuisine“, where the owners stand for “fresh. local. handmade.” in everything they create and provide their patrons. “The Red Hen is Lexington’s first farm-to-table restaurant, featuring the bounty of the Shendandoah region’s most talented farmers. Each day we create a new menu based on the freshest and tastiest produce and meat, whether it is a ribeye steak from cattle raised by the Potter family, who have been farming in nearby Collierstown for seven generations, or a beet risotto using vegetables handpicked by Brendan Perry of Stonehouse Farm. This dedication to local food means each dish preserves the intricate flavors of the land. (It’s also good for the environment and our local economy.)

The wine list at The Red Hen has been carefully selected to reflect the restaurant’s philosophy as well as to accentuate Chef Donnelly’s menu. The list focuses on wines that come from vineyards using organic and biodynamic methods, hand-harvesting, with a minimum of additives or manipulation in the fermenting process, allowing each wine to express the natural complexity of its place of origin. These “natural wines” represent a new and exciting trend in wine that we’re thrilled to share with our patrons. Distinctive beers, as well as a full bar, are also available.

The Red Hen commitment to the environment was also “founded on the notion that a small business can be a force for good in the world. It is our hope that we demonstrate our values in the way we do business. Our goals:

*Develop and support our local foods network

*Support and encourage responsible farming practices

*Radically decrease the number of miles our food travels from farm to table

*Fair Trade Food. To treat and compensate everyone, both inside and outside our business, fairly and honestly.

*Be a good corporate citizen, working with others to promote the economic vitality of our historic downtown

Ambiance: Perched between a proud historic past and an unknown future, one thing is for certain: Today, this “cool, small town” boasts a very cool little restaurant with a big, green heart.” – Virginia Living

Bars on the white-framed windows peek into the space known as the Red Hen, looking over the booths and onto the loft above the kitchen inside. The green awning over the white door and the metal hen hung off the side of the building make it known that you have found your fine dining eatery. A wooden paneled wall boasts a lone framed Founders Award from the Historic Lexington Foundation, presented to The Red Hen in 2009. On either side, two hooks for coats await our winter jackets. To the right, as we enter, we notice immediately that each space is fully utilized as storage and display, with bottles of wine, both refrigerated and not, in shelving units reaching up to the ceiling. Inside, seating for 26 creates an intimate and cozy setting for our romantic birthday dinner. At the windows, a wooden bench makes it way around the edge of the establishment, complete with cushion and a trio of pillows at each corner (red with white polka dots on a rectangular cushion). Christmas lighting around the wooden panels reaching up the sides of the walls create the warmth of a booth, while still finding ourselves seated in the midst of a happy, bustling setting. Etta James playing in the background, the voices of our neighbors dining at the table to my left and laughter raining from the large ten-person party ahead. The kitchen, open to our view is set in a cabin-like space at the back, chalkboards with colorful hand-written in chalk specialty cocktails and alcoholic beverages promoted, set against the wall making up the front of the loft upstairs. The steep, slim stairwell leads up to the two paintings of snow-capped moutainscapes, highlighted with the mini track lighting pointing directly at their snowy peaks. No space unused, the shelves against the right wall hold cookbooks, a pig trinket, glasses, mugs, bowls, cups, plates and eating utensils. Bottles are kept in similar shelves in the kitchen, and plates stack up high at the counter between the kitchen space and the dining area. Dim lighting creates ambiance like none other, as we gaze into each others eyes in mouth-watering anticipation for the food to come…

What I ordered: To begin, Chris and I shared a tall glass of tart cranberry juice ($3) and two starters: the Parsnip, Nelson County Apple & Onion Soup ($8) topped with baby chives and granola (a sprinkle of toasted, sweetened oats),

Soup with Granola & Baby Chives

and the Frisee & Belgian Endive Salad ($11 for the smaller plate) with thinly sliced red pear, two hardboiled, halved, local quail eggs, pecans, warm RH guanciale (bacon) with a sweet oyster mushroom vinaigrette.


For our main entrees, both of us were most interested in the Grilled ‘Buffalo Creek Beef’ Chuck Eye Steak ($25) served with roasted yukon gold potatoes, sage, garlic confit, sauteed Brussels sprout leaves, and crispy onion rings.


Not wanting to order only one of their delicious-looking mains, we decided that Chris would get the steak and I would order the Homemade Chive Spaetzle & Appalachian Cheese “Rosti” ($19), a crispy cheese-crusted spaetzle with quartered scarlet turnips, carrots leeks, kale and a dusting of curry.


For our free dessert (a la 502 S. Main B&B), we chose the Begian Chocolate Bete Noire ($8), a flourless chocolate torte, resembling a slice of decadent fudge, topped with homemade whipped cream and presented on a rectangular plate with toasted walnuts, halved red grapes and caramel drizzle.


What I loved: Each course, better than the one before, it is difficult to choose a favorite. I thoroughly enjoyed the tender, juicy, flavorful beef, the perfectly smooth, roasted garlic, the fresh, large leaves of kale combined with the scarlet parsnips, the crispy cheese and cheesy flavor of the spaetzle, and the list goes on. I loved that each seemingly small plate kept us satiated without feeling stuffed or bloated, and the flavors continued to intensify and and surprise with each bite. The freshness of the vegetables was immediately obvious, the preparation maintaining the integrity of each individual piece, combining the flavors onto one, delicious plate of goodness, happiness, harmony of degustation.

Why I loved it: I loved everything about the Red Hen! From the moment we walked up to the small establishment, to the cozy interior. From the friendly staff, to the warm setting and the pillows at our corner bench table. From the tall Austria meets Portland ceilings and loft area in the wooeden space, to the small kitchen where we could see our chef prepare our amazing dishes. From the first bite to the last, we were in love with and enamored by the Red Hen.

Cost: Average ($16-$25 per main entree)

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