Near the nexus of Interstates 81 and 64 in the Shenandoah foothills lies the hamlet of Staunton. Like many small towns bypassed by the Interstate highway system, Staunton is making a resurgence as an arts and cultural center.
Staunton became a diversion on a crisp fall day returning to the metro D.C. area from Paris, Tenn. If you’ve ever driven the busy I-81 route that roughly parallels Virginia’s westernmost border, then you know this is a great place to have a diversion!
Earlier, we had picked up one of those cards at a rest stop advertising “Glass Blowing, watch art happen daily” at Sunspots Studios. It was getting to be lunch time, so we figured we could check out the studio and hopefully find a nice place to eat lunch. We followed the excellent directions on the back of the card right to the studio parking light, where there was ample space. The studio takes up the bottom floor of what used to be the Klotz Building, originally constructed in 1899. The glass blowing demonstrations by artist Daniel Scogna were fascinating and informative.
Because of the time of year, he was making glass pumpkins, which were available for sale in the studio (along with everything from one-of-a-kind ornaments to glass sculptures). We were on a budget, so we bought a glass art refrigerator magnet ($12) to go along with our growing collection of magnets from all the places we’ve been! While we didn’t do it on this trip, Sunspots offers an opportunity to blow your own glass ornament. It’s $40 and reservations are recommended. www.Sunspots.com.
Our stomachs howling with hunger, we asked the Sunspots sales representative if she could recommend any restaurants close by. She immediately recommended the (name of) Bistro on Byers Street, which the locals simply call The Bistro, and the Depot Grille, located in what is the old Staunton Wharf. Don’t get your hopes up … there’s not much water here … the Wharf is where freight was unloaded on and off the railroad cars that pass through town (BTW, there’s an Amtrak stop here, making it an interesting rail excursion from D.C.’s Union Station. It’s on the Cardinal Route to Indianapolis and Chicago).
We chose the Depot Grille and boy were we happy with our choice! For starters, they had our favorite wine, a nice Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. The interior of the restaurant carried the flavor of the old wharf, with lots of historical touches. Even the booth in which we were seated had what seemed like an old rail station bench (although it was probably an old church pew). Judy got the fish and chips that were on special, and she commented that the breading was just right – authentic, light and crispy. Greg got the prime rib sandwich au jus. The meat was perfectly done, the roll was nice and soft, and the au jus was flavorful without too much salt (a common problem with au jus).
Our server, Danni (short for Dania Serafina … what an awesome name!), was pleasant and bubbly, and gladly spoke with us at length (it was the end of the lunch rush, so the place wasn’t too crowded). As with any diversion, part of the fun is getting to know the people with whom you interact. Danni was no different. She’s not a local per se. She grew up in San Francisco and is getting a master’s degree in Renaissance Literature at Mary Baldwin College. She’s an actress (go figure) at Staunton’s Blackfriars Playhouse, where plays are presented in their original Shakespearean form. We didn’t get a chance to go, but if you want to “brush up your Shakespeare,” check it out. www.americanshakespearecenter.com.
There’s a lot more to see in historic Staunton, so we’ll be back. Watch this space for more!