If you are really into food, the names John and Karen Shields should conjure up some kind of emotional response. This culinary power couple have a long history together: They both worked at some of the best restaurants in the country, fell in love while working at the famous Charlie Trotters restaurant in Chicago, then in 2008 they turned down the chance to open a Charlie Trotter restaurant in Las Vegas in order to takeover a grill advertised on Craigslist in a small town in Chilohowie Virginia.
This gamble turned out to be the best decision that the couple could have made. Townhouse was the restaurant that all food obsessed folks were talking about. In fact, a vast majority of our knowledgeable friends who made it down to Chilohowie said that Townhouse was one of the best/memorable meals that they had. These stories speak volumes about the Shields’ immense skill as chefs and hosts.
Sadly, Jose and I never had the chance to dine at Townhouse but we have had the opportunity to try some of the Sheilds’ food, and every dish, no matter if it was a simple preparation of an impromptu meal, or something more fancy at Aubergine’s coastal dinner in Carmel, was incredibly memorable and left us wanting more. When we saw the news that blasted across the internet about the opening of Riverstead without a moment of hesitation we made a donation to the Kickstarter, checked out our calendar and started planning our trip.
Riverstead is not your standard restaurant operation open 6 days a week. The 12-course, $200 menu is served one weekend a month to no more than 16 diners at a renovated farmhouse. The sporadic nature of the dinners only add weight and excitement to the date carved into the calendar and the planning of getting there.
Speaking of getting there…Riverstead is the true definition of a destination restaurant and it just so happens to be located on the East Coast of the United States, hallelujah!!!! Riverstead gives ALL of the amazing destination restaurants out there a serious run for their money on all possible levels. Like any great destination restaurants, the drive there through the mountains and farm land gives tremendous context to the experience and the food you eat when you arrive. Fire lanterns mark the path leading up to the beautifully quaint white-shingled house — something that conjured up memories of Faviken and Kadeau. Upon arrival, you are greeted by Chef Shields and handed a beautiful glass of champagne. We luxuriated on the porch sipping our champagne, watched the sun slowly set and enjoyed in a few snacks before being seated.
The interior of the historic farmhouse is an elegant combination of midcentury modern and colonial style – a combination that plays nicely with the all of the beautiful table details and artisan made ceramics. The vibe of room is warm and inviting. Favorite songs from my youth played in the background as diners effortlessly extended their conversation beyond the confines of their table. By the end of the night the room felt less like a restaurant experience and more like a dinner party. (Truly a sign of a good night)
You are in good hands with John & Karen Shields. Not only are they two talented chefs but they also are some of the nicer human beings we have met. A testament to the Shields’ character is the team that supports them. Many of them, like sommelier Neal Wavra met the Shields way back during the Charlie Trotter days and then joined the expedition to open Townhouse in 2008. Not all Chefs in the biz have such loyal friends and partners that stick through all the rough patches but It is clear that John and Karen are great collaborators and are people that talented chefs believe in and want to work for.
John Sheids: What we love about John’s food is that it has a unique and clear point of view that seems to be distinctively his own. The plates seem effortlessly created and never go into the realm of trying to hard, something which we see a lot these days. His style seems to be the perfect blend between flavor focused and cerebral, giving even the pickiest critique something to think about. As you can see above, John has quite the Resume In addition to working at the top restaurants in the country he also was awarded One of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2010, alongside great chefs like Matt Lightner, Jasson Stratton, Roy Choi.
Karen Shields is one damn good pastry chef. According to our friends who went to Townhouse her desserts there were outstanding! At the moment Karen is taking a much deserved break from Riverstead in order to take care of her beautiful newborn (John and Karen’s second daughter) Congratulations you two!
Neal Wavra the sommelier is one of the leading experts on the burgeoning Virginia wine industry. As we mentioned before he is a longtime friend of the Shiedsds and got to know them when he was the Dining Room Manager for Charlie Trotter in Chicago. Neal also was the Dining Room and Farmstead Manager at Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN. His wine selections were incredible. I made sure that jose took notes in order to track down a few of those bottles for later.
All the snacks were fantastic and acted as a wonderful entry point into what was to come. Our favorite of the three was the Beef Tongue with golden beets, a bite jammed packed with flavor and texture!
This dish not only was easy on the eyes but the variety of roe like textures had a fantastic playful quality in the mouth. The flavors were clean and did a great job of waking up your palate.
The duck hearts were tender and quite frankly out of this world. The combination play with the grilled roses provided that sweet earth flavor that was the perfect compliment
One of our Favorite dishes of the night! The lamb was perfectly tender and the milk skin and richness of the black walnut miso brought out more of the complex flavors of the lamb.
I loved every singe dessert! They all had flavors that I have not tried before (ex. the paw paw) and each one of them, while being fairly conceptual in composition and structure tasted incredible! What a way to end the night!!
The above 3 pictures were taken by friend and uber talented photographer, Bonnie Burke! She was recently in the area and I had to get my hands on her unbelievable images.
ROADTRIP FROM ASHVILLE, NC
There are many ways to get to Riverstead but after much diliberation we decided that we had to fly into Ashville. I highly recommend this route. There is something very special about this city, not only does it have a vibe is unlike many other cities you will visit but the food options are out of this world!
If you do decide to go to Ashville, NC you must visit the following places
NightBell – The second Restaurant by Chef Katie Button and her husband/ Partner Felix. We did not get a chance to eat here but we have heard fantastic things about the food and cocktails here. Definitely worth checking out
The Bull & the Beggar – Deliciously rich food served in uber cool interior. Have a few small plates then explore the River Arts District which includes a variety of art shops and a fun brewery.
Twelve Bones Smokehouse – Great BBQ
Farm & Sparrow – Dave Bauer’s Bakery (best baker in town)
All Soul’s Pizza – An awesome pizza joint by Dave Bauer
French Broad Chocolates – Chocolates to satisfy your sweet tooth
To sum it all up — Riverstead is a very special place that you will not find anywhere else around the globe. It is the most sincere exemplification of a culinary passion project that we have encountered. While Riverstead is John’s vision, the passion does not come from a singular source, instead it exudes from the Riverstead team as well as the hungry diners that fill the seats — the true definition of a collaboration. If you are an adventurous person on the lookout for the most unique and soulful of flavors, Riverstead is calling.
454 Loves Mill Rd., Chilhowie, Va.
Website & Reservations
$200 per person (includes tax and 20% Service charge)
Snacks start 5:45pm and dinner begins at 6:30pm
Accommodations & Dinner for 2 – $800 (includes breakfast)
General Frances Marion Hotel
107 E Main St, Marion, VA 24354
The Matha Washington Hotel & Spa
150 West Main Street Abingdon, VA 24210
Reservations: (888) 999-8078
1420 N Main St, Marion, VA 24354
This is where we stayed. Nothing special here, but $50 bucks is hard to beat.