WASHINGTON — For Patrick O’Connell, a weekend drive out to the country is the perfect fix for frazzled nerves from a long and taxing workweek.
“I think it’s a charming way to get out of the stress of the city, but you need something at the end of the journey,” said O’Connell, the chef and proprietor of The Inn at Little Washington.
Set your Sunday drive destination to the town of Little Washington, Virginia, and barbecue sandwiches and bluegrass music await your arrival — along with fresh produce, warm breads and artisan cheeses.
The Village Market, a weekly farmers market that runs all summer and through Oct. 30, is the latest project at The Inn from its James Beard Award-winning chef.
“I travel to Europe a lot and I love the idea that every little town has its own kind of community living room, and a market is a great way to bring people together, to bring a community together,” said O’Connell, who bought The Inn 38 years ago and transformed it from an auto garage into a five-star retreat.
“And by offering a showcase to the farmers and the craftsmen, it’s a great way to introduce people — both living here and to the outside — to how rich our county is in its agricultural heritage.”
The new market is an extension-of-sorts to The Inn’s homegrown food philosophy and practice. The grounds are already populated with multiple vegetable gardens, a cherry tree orchard and a 125-square-foot greenhouse — all of which yield about 8,000 pounds of produce each year for the kitchen. O’Connell also takes pride in his long-established relationships with area farmers, many of whom supply goods to the 30-seat restaurant.
“Everything is evolving, always here,” O’Connell said about the utopian-like village he’s built over the years.
Joneve Murphy, The Inn’s former resident farmer, returned to the tiny town just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains to spearhead the weekly market. Each Sunday, the restaurant’s chefs turn out pastries, preserves and pulled pork to sell at the exchange. Everything else — from organic breads to fresh eggs — comes from a rotating list of local farmers, butchers and artisans.
“It’s a big opportunity for the whole community to actually have a market to go to every week and get all their produce needs met,” Murphy said.
It’s also an idyllic attraction for out-of-towners in search of an accessible and leisurely day trip. O’Connell recommends coming into town, making a lunch out of provisions sold at the market, visiting the village’s shops and checking out some nearby attractions, such as Luray Caverns or a local winery.
“It’s a large county with a small population, and so I think we really needed something like The Inn behind it to really make it actually take off and attract some of the traffic from outside of the county as well,” Murphy said.
Unlike most farmers markets, which are set up in paved parking lots among a series of aluminum-frame tents, The Village Market is staged in the Parsonage Garden under a pergola.
A water fountain sits in the center and musicians rove around the tables of curated food. If more vendors join, O’Connell has plans to extend the weekly event down an ally he’s currently converting into a tree-lined avenue.
“You feel more like you’ve gone to a little village in Italy,” O’Connell said.
On its opening day, the market attracted more than 450 people, and O’Connell sold out of baked goods in the first half-hour. However, his measure of success was a patron’s praise. She told him, “I know exactly what I’m going to be doing on every Sunday morning until fall.”
“Who cares, at that point, if we make any money off it,” said O’Connell, pleased with the feedback.
In fact, O’Connell says he’ll be satisfied if he just breaks even by next year.
“We’re giving an opportunity for the community to get together … and there’s something to eat at the same time.”
WTOP’s Brennan Haselton contributed to this report.
Take a virtual walk through The Village Market:
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