First published in Valley Homes and Style.
The sandwich board on Main Street in Berryville lists the day’s specials, but that is only a hint of the underlying passion for food.
From the time she was a child, Heidi Grubb-McClemens loved food, but it took until she was 30 years old before she chose to follow her passion.
Heidi says she attended culinary school in San Francisco, spending a couple years absorbing herself in everything related to food. She recalls her time in school not only as “grueling,” but also “the most rewarding two years.”
She tried working in fine dining, then spent 11 years as a corporate chef, eventually moving to Berryville. The long commute wore her down, but helped drive her decision to try her hand at owning and operating a restaurant.
Thus, the Berryville Grille was born six years ago, part of Heidi’s commitment to casual family-friendly food.
The specials – published on that sandwich board out front of the restaurant –are a creative outlet for Heidi. The day we visited, the special was pepper-crusted ahi tuna with a puttanesca sauce on grilled polenta. Her enthusiasm was infectious, describing the multiple kinds of tomatoes, the way the cherry tomatoes are added at the end and cooked only by the heat of the other ingredients. For this particular Italian dish, Heidi made up the recipe as she went – nothing written down, no way to exactly recreate the dish.
While cooking may be one of Heidi’s passions, sourcing the ingredients that comprise those dishes is another love. The puttanesca sauce with its blend of tomatoes, Kalamata olives, capers, fresh basil, onion, relies heavily on what local farmers can provide.
“I live for the heirloom tomatoes every year,” she says gesturing to the sauce. “These came off the vine this afternoon. Nothing sets off a piece of fish like that.”
She says she’s a frequent visitor at the Berryville Saturday Farmer’s Market, but says sources run deeper than that. Chilly Hollow Farm, Shallowbrooke Farm, Mackintosh Fruit Farm, Briars Farmstead and Audley Farm have been among her local suppliers. The freshest ingredients drive the specials menu.
“You take what nature gives you and go with it,” she says. While a puttanesca sauce is Italian, Heidi’s description of her style is more general.
“Everyone asks me what cuisine I make, and I say ‘mood’ cuisine,” she says.
I also pick food based on my mood, and the menu at the Grille a variety of entrees, salads, and sandwiches. Salads are a staple of my meals there, and can suit whatever feeling I have on a particular day.
For comfort food, I get the Buffalo Chicken Salad – not the healthiest alternative, but it is so good. The fried chicken tenders are slathered in spicy Buffalo wing sauce, with the perfect hint of spice. The tenders still crunch, however. Served over mixed greens, they are the focal point of the meal. The blue cheese crumbles on top, along with the chunky blue cheese salad dressing, are the perfect complement. It’s a traditional pairing, but one that works.
For a healthy alternative, I get the spinach salad. The grilled eggplant is subtle and never bitter. The feta, tomato and chickpeas blend beautifully with the lemon vinaigrette. The chickpeas give me that full feeling, so it serves well as a vegetarian entrée salad.
For a nacho fix, I get the Pulled Pork Salad. I feel virtuous when I see the plate of greens, then I feel happy when I snag a bit of pulled pork. The salad has so many of the ingredients associated with Mexican food that it brings back those nacho memories.
The salads and entrée specials are only a small part of the menu. Every day, the Grille serves up a homemade soup as well. Chicken tortilla, creamy onion, black bean and broccoli cheese are a few of the contenders. When we visited, cream of mushroom soup was on the menu.
The soup was thick and creamy with a smattering of mushroom chunks. As a mushroom lover, I wanted more, but overall the soup was flavorful and a nice warm way to start the meal. Entrees come with either a house salad or soup.
Having standard items, along with a smattering of ever-changing specials adds excitement to the menu. On some visits, I have just ordered a series of appetizers. The range of flavors and ingredients make them a rewarding meal.
For the appetizers, my runaway favorites are the Tempura Tuna Skewers and Asian Sliders. The tuna skewers are six-inch long rectangles on a stick, lightly battered and fried – but available rare enough to keep that delicious Ahi taste. The accompanying seaweed salad and dipping sauce round out the appetizer.
The Asian sliders are cute mini-hamburgers, but the combination of the seasonings and the spicy mayo is reminiscent of countries on the other side of the world, with strong hints of Thai spicing. Since the sliders come as a trio, they are well suited for easy sharing.
Another of my favorites comes off the sandwich menu – and there are similarities here with my salad favorites. The buffalo chicken wrap puts all of the salad components into a flour tortilla, a “hands-on” and more filling alternative to the salad. The bright flavors still shine through.
The vegetarian option, the Portobello Panini, marries eggplant with Portobello mushrooms and roasted red peppers. Hummus gives the sandwich a little moisture holding everything together. Both are accompanied by potato chips.
The restaurant itself is a soft and soothing palette from which to serve food. The mustard-colored walls have a warm feeling, accentuated by the subtle lighting. Tables in the front windows are perfect for lovers of natural light. Overlooking the sidewalk in downtown Berryville, the view from the tables is pleasant and makes them a prime location. The trio of lights hanging over the table glow a pleasant yellow highlighting the modern pattern on the shades.
The building itself was built in the 1800s. Historic photos line the walls
The Berryville Grille serves breakfast every day, but Sundays are the busiest, going through 12 dozen eggs in three hours. Running a restaurant that’s open seven days a week isn’t easy, Heidi says, but she has found a sweet spot.
“When you do what you love, your passion takes over,” she says.
The Berryville Grille
9 East Main Street,
Berryville, VA 22611