The Red Hen Brings Bold, Local Flavors To Downtown
by Chef M
Nestled in downtown Lexington, you can find a quaint little eatery known as the Red Hen. Upon first glance, you may not know that the small red brick building could hold a restaurant that features wonderful creations by an innovative chef that is proud to bring customers the freshest of foods grown locally in the Shenandoah Valley. Farm-to-table cuisine is fast growing in the restaurant trade and the Red Hen has finally brought the concept to Lexington, so I had to see what they had accomplished.
When I entered the quaint one-room restaurant, my eyes were immediately drawn to the ornately carved wood rafters and the open kitchen with two chefs. The menu was simple and the wine list, like its food, featured many local products. I was already growing in excitement for the upcoming meal. Afer I had finally decided on the Virginia made Foggy Ridge Sweet Staymen Cider, the server poured the crisp bubbly cider that had notes of vanilla with a hint of sweetness.
To begin my meal, the chefs prepared their Country Style Local Duck and Pork Belly Pate. I am always a sucker for good pate and this was a delight to have in our historic town. The pate was a beautiful combination of the rich duck and fatty pork belly complimented with Zinfandel poached cranberries, grain mustard and grilled ciabatta. It was a perfect way to begin the evening as I continued to sip on my cider. Next, I was delighted with a plate of Sweet Potato Gnocchi. The perfect balance of the sweet potato in the gnocchi was highlighted by their bacon-onion jam. It was a tribute to the many ways pork can be manipulated to elevate a dish. Rounding off the appetizers, a plate of Seared Sea Scallops with celery root risotto was set in front of me. Well, let’s just say, it didn’t sit there long. The fresh scallops were perfectly cooked, keeping the rich creamy flesh tender and juicy. The celery root added a harmonious bit of crunch while the lemon emulsion enhanced the flavor of the scallop.
After such appetizing starters, my mouth was watering for more. Typical to my love of pork and duck, I had the Oven Roasted Maple Leaf Farm Duck Confit and the Rockbridge County Herb Roasted Pork Loin. The duck was a beautiful creation that was not overly salty and perfectly combined with stone ground grits and braised red cabbage, finished off with a cranberry-pomegranate coulis that completely elevated the dish. The pork, perfectly cooked and tender, had glistening juice dripping from every slice combined with sweet potato cream, causing an explosion of flavor across the palate. The chef had paired the pork loin with my vegetable of the moment, the Brussels sprout. There are many misconceptions about Brussels sprouts, but cooked properly, such as the Red Hen’s version with pork belly and local chestnuts, they can be a titillating accompaniment to any dish.
My final dish may scare many, but I implore you to expand your horizons. The Red Wine Braised Buffalo Creek Ox Tongue Stew was out of this world. Tongue is delicacy that I enjoy whenever it is offered on the menu and the Red Hen’s stew is a beautiful combination of the tender meat with local vegetables. You won’t regret trying it!
The Red Hen is definitely a restaurant worthy of those featured in Food & Wine magazine and we are lucky that they are in our wonderful little town. I urge you to stop in and let the chefs amaze your taste buds.
This is part of the February 2, 2011 online edition of The News-Gazette.