My family and I recently spent the weekend in Rocktown, otherwise known as Harrisonburg, Virginia. Harrisonburg is known to many as the home to James Madison University but it is also the home of some restaurants with great vegan options!
We were looking for an easy get away weekend and this easy two hour drive from downtown Washington, DC through the Shenandoah Valley to this mid-sized university town proved to be just what we needed.
Visit a Lavender Farm
Harriosonburg features lots of popular chain hotels and restaurants. We picked a hotel close to the university as our home base but then decided to explore from there. On day one, we decided to visit the family owned, White Oak Lavender Farm, located in the rolling hills just 15 minutes outside the city. We took some time strolling through the beautiful lavender field and visiting with some of the horses on property. The farm features tours and an on-site store so you can leave with some beautiful smelling lavender treats to remember your visit. One of the more interesting items which I decided to purchase was Lavender Pepper, a combination of black peppercorns and lavender flowers which I’ve been using on salads since my trip. If this short trip is too far for you, or you are looking for a unique gift, the White Oak Lavender online store is an option to consider.
After working up an appetite we decided on dinner at the Blue Nile restaurant, a cafe and traditional Ethiopian restaurant located in the historic downtown district. Every Ethiopian I meet seems to be more compassionate than the last and our server was no exception. She recommended the traditional Ethiopian vegetarian platter which included Tofu Keye Wat, tofu stewed with tomatoes, onions, ginger and Berebere, along with several other vegetarian options served on top of the famous Injera bread. We started off however with the Hummus Platter which was served with crisp-baked Injera. I had never had the traditional spongey bread toasted in this fashion but it was delicious and really brought out the sour dough starter in every crunchy bite. The prices were reasonable and if you are there on a day with nice weather see if you can sit out on the back patio to add to this deliciously relaxing experience.
Living Fresh and Local
The next day, Saturday, we started out by spending several hours at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market which is open Tuesdays and Saturdays from April through Thanksgiving from 7:00 AM – 1:00 PM. This is not your average farmers market. You can actually spend several hours here as the market sprawls through an covered marketplace out into the adjacent parking lot and park. We were greeted by the sounds of a local four piece band as we wandered through the large stalls of fresh produce, local honey, fresh baked bread, pies and more! The Farmers Market features many local artisans, including blacksmiths, metal craftsmen, wood carvers and others selling antique and home made items. You can nosh your way through the market, or dine on the prepared foods under the shade of the large oak tree in the park. Bring a cooler if you are planning a day trip because you are sure to find something you want to bring home and you’ll be glad you did.
Route 11 Potato Chips
About a half hour outside Harrisonburg in Mount Jackson, VA you’ll find Route 11 Chips. We decided to visit the chip factory as a short drive from Harrisonburg but you may want to visit it on the way to Rocktown, or on your way home if you are coming from DC. Either way, you’ll be glad you visited this American phenomenon. Route 11 Chips has a connection to DC. The owner is the owner of the Hotel Tabard Inn and Restaurant in downtown DC, according to one of the chippers at the factory. While you might be disappointed that you can’t actually tour the inside of the factory, you can see every aspect of the chip making process through the large glass windows. More importantly, you can sample just about every flavor of the fresh baked kettle chips to choose your favorite. You’ll want to take some home, and you’ll probably want to bring some home for friends. Everyone will have their favorite and mine is the Mama Zuma’s Revenge, not just because of the taste, but because of the story behind this spicy flavor. Rather than spoil that for you here, I’ll just encourage you to ask one of the employees to tell you the story of how this popular chip got her name.
Local Chop & Grill
After some time exploring the valley and the local Civil War trails, we decided on dinner at the Local Chop & Grill House. We were lucky to be able to get in as we didn’t have reservations – something they highly recommend! I rarely recommend steak houses but this one has some unique vegetarian options. Appetizers include the Arancini de Riso, fog mushroom risotto balls and they feature two vegetarian entrees, the Wheatberry & Couscous Cakes and the Twin Oaks Tofu “Steak”. We split one of each and we were delighted. Diners choose a preparation rub, a sauce (sweet & tart, savory or hot & spicy) and a choice of sides. This was perhaps our best meal in Harrisonburg and a great place to celebrate a special occasion.
A Bowl of Good
Another other great restaurant is the Bowl of Good Cafe is just off the campus of JMU. This cafe features affordable salads, soups and sandwiches. which features great vegetarian options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you have a student at the university this is a great place to buy some carryout food and stock their fridge with fresh soup or other easy to eat ingredients.