- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Hunter’s Head Tavern, situated in Upperville at the edge of Virginia’s gorgeous Piedmont region, is a perfect restaurant for hikers, romantic weekend-get-awayers and locals alike.

Although, on a recent evening, some locals seemed a little frustrated because the place, which only seats 60, was packed, and it took up to 45 minutes just to get seated, with a reservation.

So, we’d have to agree with the locals — Barbour-jacketed, Gucci-loafered and often in riding pants — the food is very, very good, the setting wonderfully quaint and unique, but the service is weak and frazzled.

The sweet, polite and helpful waiters and pub staff, dressed in white Colonial-style shirts and black pants, tried their best to stay on top of the situation. But they were simply outnumbered by the guests who arrived en masse. Lucille Ball in the “I Love Lucy” episode in which she is trying to keep up with a steady stream of chocolate in the candy factory comes to mind.

Once finally seated, we ordered. Although, at Hunter’s Head, guests don’t order at the table, but have to go to the pub window to submit their choices (another wait and potential bottleneck situation).

For starters, the lightly vinaigrette-dressed mixed greens with goat cheese, apple and walnuts was fantastic. The portion was generous and could easily constitute a main course, and the ingredients were of the highest and freshest quality, which makes sense if you consider that:

• Hunter’s Head Tavern gets most of its meat and some of its produce from Ayshire Farm, which raises 100 percent organic meats and produce.

• Ayshire Farm also tries to the preserve rare domestic livestock breeds, such as the Scottish Highland cattle and the Gloucester Old Spot hogs.which in their beef and pork form are to-die-for.

Another delightful appetizer, which is listed on the bar menu, is the chicken-liver pate, served with mixed greens, Stilton cheese and Melba toast. The pate is a creamy, melt-in-your mouth sensation with wonderful, subtle seasoning. The three, thick slices of Stilton were abundant and scrumptious. The toast and mixed greens compliment the cheese and pate perfectly. Again, this is a generous portion.

Another starter, the seafood and corn chowder is a nice choice too, if a bit light on the salt and seasoning.

The menu also contains several vegetarian starters, including Hunter’s Head strawberry-spinach salad, steamed artichoke, and hummus with toast points.

One of the main course highlights was grilled, organic pork chops, served with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables, which that day was a mix of the most delicious corn and peas, tasty steamed broccoli and cherry tomatoes. The chops, too, were magnificent, very tender and flavorful. The homemade mashed potatoes were good, but like the chowder needed a little splash of salt and pepper.

Another yummy main course was the fried chicken which comes with the same side dishes as the grilled pork chops. The portion is generous, featuring half a chicken, which is lightly battered and fried.

The shepherd’s pie, which is part of the bar menu, was a bit of a disappointment. It, too, was way light on seasoning.

The main-course menu also includes vegetarian alternatives, such as lasagna and seafood dishes, including grilled salmon, grilled tuna steak and crab cakes.

Despite the size of the appetizer and main course at Hunter’s Head, guests should really try the wonderful, huge desserts, which are all made in-house.

There are eight choices of very hearty desserts, all served with ice cream, whipped cream or hot English custard. The sticky toffee pudding with the hot English custard is a great choice on a cold day, as is the apple crisp pie with ice cream. Both are sweet and spicy in that special holiday way. Other seasonal favorites include pumpkin bread pudding and apple cobbler.

Hunter’s Head Tavern is in an 18th-century house, and the tables and chairs look as if they belong to that period too. The walls are adorned with satirical paintings and drawings, including fox hunts, where the foxes, riding on dogs, do the hunting of not-sure-what, and a funny sketch of Queen Elizabeth II strangling Prime Minister Tony Blair by British satirical illustrator John Bradley.

Hunter’s Head Tavern, despite the overwhelmed staff, is well worth a visit, even if it requires an hour’s-plus drive. The food is great, with generous portions of fresh, high-quality meat and vegetables. The decor is delightful and the staff is very pleasant. Just one wish: more sweet balloon-shirted waiters to handle the restaurant’s increasing popularity.

The restaurant is serving a Thanksgiving lunch-dinner at noon, 2 and 4 p.m. today. The menu includes salmon, prime rib of beef, roast turkey and pheasant. The price is $35 for three courses.

RESTAURANT: Hunter’s Head Tavern, 9048 John Mosby Highway, Upperville, Va.; 540/592-9020

HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

PRICES: Starters, $6 to $16.95 (lunch); main courses, $8.95 to $16.95 (lunch); desserts, $5.50 (lunch); starters, $5.95 to $16.95 (dinner); main courses, $12.95 to 23.95 (dinner); desserts, $5.50 (dinner); bar menu items, from $4 to $12, available at lunch and dinner

CREDIT CARDS: All major credit cards

PARKING: Off-street parking is available

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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