Cool country stores. They are welcome hold-outs in a cookie cutter, chain store retail world. Writer PETE PAZMINO continues his road trip among some of the Piedmont’s unique markets, which began in the PV’s autumn issue. Next stop: Near the base of Old Rag Mountain, a place that offers yummy BBQ…and wishes Thelma and Randolph a happy birthday.
ETLAN LITTLE COUNTRY STORE
5338 South F.T. Valley Road, Etlan
Tucked beneath the shadow of Old Rag Mountain in the village of Etlan, the Little Country Store, with its gray walls and red tin roof, feels from the moment you pull into its cracked parking lot like the sort of country market you’d expect to find on a winding country byway. The big sign out front promises pizza on Friday and Saturday nights. The flip side promises blueberries and wishes Thelma and Randolph a happy birthday. There’s the welcome sight of a well-used bbq smoker parked by the side of the building. At the front door, a sign in the window informs you that you’re at a black bear check station, if such is your need. Inside you’ll find a respectable beer selection, a well-stocked ice cream freezer, a small selection of local wines (including offerings from Stone Mountain and Rapidan Wineries), as well as all the normal dry goods you’d want to see in any country store. There’s a small dining area in the back for those locals and tourists who want something from their on-site kitchen, a full deli that serves quick staples like hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as delicious pork bbq sandwiches, smoked chicken, and ribs on cookout days, which they hold somewhat regularly and announce on their website (tlcs-bbq.com). If you’re looking for fresh, oven-baked pizza, they make that on the premises, too – every Friday and Saturday night, in fact, just like the sign outside promises. Breakfast is also an option, including their “Old Rag Scrambler,” three eggs with your choice of shredded cheese, bacon, onion, green peppers, and mushrooms. The owner of the Etlan Little Country Store, Dan Weakly, took the business over from his parents in 1999 after working for years with the Virginia Department of Transportation. The store itself, was opened by Dan’s father, Shirley Weakly, and his uncle Matt back in the 1950s. Dan’s father bought out his uncle in the ‘60s. Today, Dan runs the store himself with the help of a four-person staff, including his daughter, Melony Meyers. “Everything all together makes the store,” he explains, adding that “barbecues are what the locals come back for.” He figures his business is about 60 percent local but is quick to point out that’s no reason the passing tourist shouldn’t stop by. “Everybody’s welcome to come in and say hi,” he says, grinning. “If you get lost out here, we’ll try to straighten you out.”
The drive: From Sperryville, turn right onto 522 and drive a little more than half a mile. Turn right onto Route 231, which you’ll follow for almost 10 miles before arriving in the town of Etlan. The Etlan Little Country Store is on the left, across the highway from an antique shop.
To Do on the Drive
Old Rag Mountain is an easy drive from the store. But be forewarned: It’s a quite popular destination, and if you’re there on a nice weekend, expect lots of people and long waits at the many rock scrambles on the way up to the top. Another nearby hiking option is White Oak Canyon, which is a less rugged hike than Old Rag but features the added benefit of a waterfall. If it’s wine you’re looking for, Sharp Rock Vineyards (www.sharprockvineyards.com) is a short drive back up 231 (and right at the base of Old Rag); it’s also a long-established B&B that offers quiet, comfortable cabins for those looking to stay the night. Another nearby winery is DuCard Vineyards (www.ducardvineyards.com), which regularly features live music on weekends.
YODER’S FARM MARKET (UPDATE 2/25/16: THEY HAVE MOVED!)
927 Orange Road, Pratts
One of the first things you’ll notice about Yoder’s Farm Market are the animals. There’s a small petting zoo on the premises, and you’ll likely hear the gobbling of turkeys and crowing of roosters from the parking lot. There’s even a goat walk, a raised series of interconnected ramps that the goats use to climb to a platform high overhead where visitors can use a simple pulley system to raise them a small cup of feed (available from a nearby dispenser for 25 cents a cup). And there always seems to be a goat up there, waiting. Inside, the first thing you’ll notice is the smell. It’s delicious, a head-clearing fragrance that seems to be equal parts spice and mint. It smells alive in a very good way, completely distinct from your typical, antiseptic grocery store. A big part of the reason why is that Yoder’s purchases many items – spice, for example, as well as flours, sugar, sweets, and more – in enormous bulk, and then repackages them into small, plastic-wrapped bundles. This means that you never need to buy more than you need, and you also pay significantly less for what you buy. They similarly package various speciality items, such as six different kinds of hand-made granola with names like “Adam’s Vitality (maple) and “Love Your Heart” (vanilla). The store itself is a Menonite operation. Its earliest roots go back to 1984, when Owen and Erma Yoder turned a small utility room in their home about four miles away into a small store. Four years later, their business had grown enough for them to move to their current location, which at the time was a cow pasture. They were successful, and over the next decade they continued to expand. In 2007, their son Michael, the youngest of three siblings, bought the business. “Ever since I graduated from high school, I’ve been right here,” he explains. “We grow step by step. We’re looking to fill a niche that is a need here. I’m seeing a number of second generation customers.” The niche that Yoder’s fills includes offering a wide selection of local meats, including beef, sausage, and chicken, as well as other area delicacies such as honey, maple syrup from nearby Highland County, and a variety of cheeses. There are hand-made soups available by the jar, unbelievably thick blocks of real Amish country butter (over 2 pounds for $8.07!), and fresh, made-from-scratch coleslaw and potato salad. If you’re looking for a sandwich, there’s also a deli that serves everything on enormous, home-made hamburger buns. And, of course, there are the pies. Lots of pies — rows of them — all made by church members who have converted their basements into commercial kitchens. There’s peach, custard, coconut custard, chocolate, pecan, more. “We have a huge checklist,” Michael explains. “We take inventory each evening and they bring in what we need.” He takes a brief pause, then adds, “Custard is our number one seller.”
The drive: From Etlan’s, turn left onto 231 and drive about 11 miles before you reach the small town of Madison, Virginia. You’ll get a good look at the town as you pass down Main Street (if you’re looking for a quick bite, the Mountaineer Cafe is a great place to stop for a friendly, country diner atmosphere). Merge onto Route 29 heading toward Charlottesville, and in about a mile you’ll see a blue sign for Yoder’s. Turn left onto 230; the market is about a mile down the road on the left.
To Do on the Drive
The Bavarian Chef Restaurant (thebavarianchef.com) has offered up fine dining a short way outside of Madison since 1974. Consider a stop there if you’re looking for a nice dinner destination, but you might want to call ahead for reservations. If it’s wine you’re looking to sample, consider a stop by Early Mountain Vineyards (earlymountain.com) or, a little further south down Route 29, the iconic Barboursville Vineyards (www.barboursvillewine.net/winery/), whose infamous Octagon wine has achieved recognition far and wide. Barboursville’s on-site Palladio Restaurant is another fine dining destination if you’re looking for a high-end meal, and the vineyard also offers historic ruins, cottages, and an inn. If beer is more your fancy, consider a visit to area newcomer Beer Hound Brewery (beerhoundbrewery.blogspot.com), a great destination to sample local craft beers and even purchase a growler or two to take home.
About the Author:
Pete Pazmino is a writer based in Rappahannock County. To contact Pazmino, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website, www.petepazmino.com