Virginia

What To Eat in Virginia

Unique Old Dominion dishes that make eating through the state such a pleasure include peanut soup, ham with red eye gravy, and peanut pie. In and around Charlottesville, outstanding fried chicken is a staple, the best of it cooked and served in gas station convenience stores. Seafood from the ocean and from the Chesapeake Bay is at its finest all along the Eastern Shore, which also happens to boast a crop of ne plus ultra sweet potatoes – the basis of sweet potato pie, sweet potato French fries, and sweet potato biscuits.

  • The sweet potato biscuit, warm and painfully tender, its soft orange earthiness a perfect foil for chewy pink ham, is a specialty of Virginia's Eastern Shore, where at least a half-dozen varieties of heirloom sweet potato thrive.

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  • If Virginia had an official state legume, it certainly would be the peanut. Virginia peanuts (actually grown beyond the Old Dominion, too) are bigger and fuller-flavored than any others. Eating peanuts is said to have been the reason the state's hogs earned a reputation for their delicious hams. In no other state will you find so many different variations of the old African favorite, peanut soup. Known colloquially as "Tuskegee Soup" after the uni­versity where George Washington Carver conducted his famous experiments that turned peanuts into everything from tile flooring to peanut butter, it is a dish that can seem sophisticated or plain, and that serves well as the companion for a sandwich at lunch, or as the first course of an elaborate dinner. Versions of it are shockingly diverse, from an elegant broth just barely tinged with peanut flavor to cloddish brews that taste like watery peanut butter. Our gold standard has always been that served by The Southern Kitchen, a modest town lunch room in New Market not far from I-81, where it is creamy but not too thick, just-right nutty-flavored, and laced with fetching onion sweetness.

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  • As different from canned ham as espresso is from Sanka, country ham is the aristocrat of pig meat, exquisite and complex. Like veined cheese, sourdough bread, and vintage wine, it tickles taste buds by teetering towards the refined side of rot. It usually is sliced wafer-thin. To connoisseurs, the older the ham, the better, and Virginia's traditional producers age them a minimum of six months. Sandwiched inside a fluffy buttermilk biscuit, country ham sings. In concert with a serving of sweet stewed apples or tomatoes, it's symphonic.

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