Dish, the new restaurant in Charles Town, W.Va., is located right downtown at 213 W. Washington St. It’s easily found by looking for its smart, striped awning in front of the three-story charcoal-gray building.
Inside, there’s a feeling of spaciousness with high ceilings, a bare wooden floor, spare art and room enough to move gracefully from the entrance to the bar to the dining area. The colors of the painted walls are soft — olive and sand. Framed, beveled mirrors on the wall increase the feeling of big spaces.
The rear of the dining room features a large window and a glassed door. This place was once a furniture warehouse.
Doug Vaira, the owner, was the host on my first visit in March. He spoke about his vision for the restaurant at a luncheon for a historical heritage group. He wanted his restaurant to be a catalyst for downtown Charles Town development.
He described his restaurant as casual elegant with local and seasonal foods and a menu that is changed quarterly. He said he was working to create a distribution channel for more local products to his restaurant and others.
During the March meeting, as he spoke to our group, the waitresses served meals. Mine was chicken on a grilled, sesame-seed bun, not a toasted baguette as the menu said. The filling of the sandwich was delicious, if somewhat salty. There was chicken, a mild cheese, sautéed greens for a bitter taste and onion jam for a sweet accent. The sandwich was served with a salad that had slices of blood oranges and nuggets of sugared walnuts hidden among a variety of greens. The dressing was a house vinaigrette.
On a recent visit, the Professor and I came for Sunday brunch. Maybe everybody else was at the beach, as the place was practically empty, but we were glad to be in Charles Town on this monsoon morning. Too wet to sit outside in the patio as we hoped, we sat inside.
The Professor said, “It’s very dark in here.” So I lit the little candle at our table for light on this dark morning. Our coffee came in huge white cups. I took a sip and saw stars. This coffee was very strong, good and rich. The accompanying cow-shaped pitcher of cream made me laugh. Then the Professor pointed to the wall behind me. A long cloth banner depicted nine cows in a grassy field by the Finnish design company, Merimekko.
Having studied the brunch menu online beforehand, we knew what we wanted. I ordered the crab Benedict and he ordered an Italian hoagie.
Soup came first. The special of the day was posole, a New Mexican-Spanish stew made of hominy, pork and chili. I like my food scalding hot so I got first taste. This posole was delicious. It reminded me of Northern New Mexico where strings of chilies draped adobe doorways and the incense of roasting chilies perfumed the autumn air.
“You will not believe this posole,” I said and handed it to the Professor.
As he tasted it, the chef walked by, and the Professor called her over. We told her this was like the posole we ate in New Mexico. The chef, whose name was Sheryl, said she had learned her craft in California and worked in New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and Las Vegas. She said the posole’s flavor came from roasted tomatillos and local pork shoulder.
“But my real love is pastries. I just made an angel food cake,” she said, “and it’s good.” Then she went back to the kitchen.
The wait for our main dishes was long but worth it. Sheryl was back at her post. When the white plates were delivered, we ate our potatoes first. They were excellent, very hot and filling. The professor had fries which were deep fried, herbed, salty and still had their skins. My home fries were equally good but different, pan fried, not salty, skins intact, and flavored with rosemary and hot pepper flakes. We remembered how deeply satisfying real potatoes can be.
How could we have waited to taste the main course? The crab Benedict could have been served in one of the fine eating establishments in steamy New Orleans. This breakfast delight was a marriage between a crab cake and a perfectly poached egg.
Ingredients are of the essence in outstanding cuisine. This egg was fresh, full and deeply yellow, cooked to the moment of perfection when the white is firm and the yolk is still moist. The crab cake was not a Maryland crab cake, but more like a crab cake in New Orleans, with lots of spices and fillers, but still redolent of fresh crab meat.
The crab cake and poached egg sat on an English muffin and were covered with a piquant Hollandaise sauce. A few greens peeked out of the side and two blades of a scallion crossed themselves over the entire dish. Bingo. Back in New Orleans.
The Professor meanwhile was in South Philly. The hoagie was an authentic Philadelphia concoction. We dissected it to discover the finest of meats. Salami, black forest ham, capicola and pepperoni sat on a fresh Italian roll. Shredded romaine lettuce, a dressing, a tomato slice and marinated, sweet, red peppers dressed the sandwich.
The Professor was ecstatic on the subject of hoagies. “It’s like a sub or a grinder. If we were in New Orleans, it would be called a muffuletta and the dressing would be black olives.” Generous, he gave me half to eat.
I have never cared much for subs, finding them salty and processed. This hoagie actually brought tears to my eyes, it was so good. The sandwich was the perfection of authentic food. I think quality ingredients — the bread, the meats, the dressing and the cheeses — contribute to an outstanding sandwich.
Of course, I ordered Sheryl’s angel food cake for dessert and the Professor chose crème brûlée. The angel food cake was made on site — pure and sweet, high and white, with an accent of huge local blackberries from Vernon Hill, Va. And there were small cubes of mangos — not local, of course. The plate was flecked with a rain of confectioners sugar.
The crème brûlée was rich and smooth with a broiled sugar crust. The dish it came it was large and scalloped. Bits of luscious crème brûlée hid in its little alcoves. A piece of angel food cake acted like bread to sop up the remainder which a spoon could not reach. None of this crème brûlée was wasted.
“Oh my, that was a wonderful brunch,” I sighed and sat back, replete. By the time we left Dish, the skies had cleared and the sun shone on a West Virginia Sunday.
“We will be back in the fall,” said the Professor. “When the season changes, so will her menu.”
Omni Vore is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.