Middleburg bistro reimagined in its new home of Leesburg
By Morgan Hensley, photography by Jaclyn Dyrholm
French Hound Brasserie in Leesburg is both a departure from and offspring of its forebear, the intimate, creaky-floored bistro that overlooked Middleburg’s side street for a decade. The change was not simply a relocation, but rather a reimagining, a refining. “The main difference between a bistro and a brasserie is that now we need to have some good beers to pour,” says owner Marny Birkitt. “I tend to think of a brasserie as a larger space with a more gregarious vibe.” Brasseries were the original gastropubs, places where rustic, gourmet food intersected with a sudsy lager and a convivial atmosphere. At this particular brasserie, a gorgeous zinc bar is arrayed with Bloody Mary fixings. A waiter saunters through the tiled room balancing escargot and espresso on a tray. The overheard chatter of diners could just as easily be French or English, and, closing your eyes, the aromas and sounds stitch together a scene of a bustling open-air eatery on Paris’s Left Bank.
Perhaps the original restaurant’s ambiance is preserved through the family-owned nature of both restaurants. While Marny oversees operations, her husband, Chef John-Gusitin, manages the kitchen and curates the exquisite menu. Chef Birkitt is a Leesburg native, graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, and alumnus of such esteemed restaurants as Thomas Keller’s Michelin-starred Bouchon in Napa Valley. As a young adult, Chef Birkitt found himself at a crossroads: “I had an opportunity to apprentice in the South of France,” he says. “I felt I’d regret it if I didn’t go.” He embarked on a crash course in Provençal cuisine. Whereas French food is commonly associated with starched tablecloths, haute cuisine, and comically small portions, this tutelage was delightfully homespun. This ethos is a major influence on French Hound Brasserie’s menu, which Marny describes as “rustic, unpretentious, and delicious.”
The menu is diverse in both its flavor palette and the size of plates. “Not everything on the menu is for everyone,” says Chef Birkitt, “but there’s something for everyone.” Petite starter plates such as radishes with sea salt, house-marinated olives, and pâté with figs, pistachio, and celery root highlight Chef’s provincial background. Traditionally French dishes are infused with global flavors, such as the Thai-inspired mussels steamed in a green curry and coconut-lime broth with basil and cilantro. A menu as varied and delicious as French Hound Brasserie’s affords guests myriad dining experiences. “Cup of French onion soup? Got it! A relaxed beer and one of our small pizzas? Easy and affordable. Dressed-up fine dining with a filet mignon and memorable bottle of wine? Absolutely!” Marny says.
With such an appetizing, expansive menu, a great starting place is the bouillabaisse. The traditional seafood stew is a cornucopia of intriguing flavors—fish, clams, shrimp, mussels, aioli, microgreens—all steeped in a rich broth. The delectable, heavy brininess of the dish is complemented perfectly and offset by the pucker of the lemon tart.
What else is there to say other than bon appétit?!
FRENCH HOUND BRASSERIE’S BOUILLABAISSE
This is a dish for special occasions. There’s some labor involved, some culinary finesse, and a rich reward when you see the smiles on your guests’ faces. Be sure to read through the recipe a couple times while the oven heats up. And most importantly, enjoy! Serves: 4
For the broth:
2-3 lbs. flat fish bones (such as halibut and or flounder)
3 Tbsps canola oil
1 large yellow onion chopped roughly
3 ribs of celery chopped roughly
1 bulb of fennel chopped roughly
6–8 cloves of fresh garlic chopped roughly
6 sprigs of thyme (approx. more or less depending on size)
1 Tbsp. peppercorns
1 Tbsp. fennel seed
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 pinch saffron (approximately ¼ tsp)
1 lemon, halved
4 oz. tomato paste
3 cups dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
1 oz. Pernod or other anise-flavored liquor
6 quarts water
For the dish:
2 Tbsps olive oil
1 red onion large dice or julienne
3 ribs of celery sliced on bias
1 bulb of fennel large dice or julienne
12 small red potatoes halved or quartered depending on size
1 cup grape tomatoes halved
for the fish:
4 pieces cod portioned to about 3 oz. pcs
12 shrimp peeled and deveined
8 sea scallops
12 little neck clams soaked and de sanded
12–16 P.E.I. mussels
for the croutons:
8 slices of rustic French loaf or baguette
2+ Tbsps. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
For the Rouille:
1 egg yolk
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsps. kosher salt
1 cup canola oil
2 tsps. paprika
½ tsp. white pepper
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. curry powder
¼ tsp. toasted ground saffron
3 Tbsps. roasted red pepper pieces
2 Tbsps. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. Sriracha (optional)
- Pre-heat oven to 400º.
- On a small, lightly oiled sheet pan or cookie sheet, place fish bones/body pieces.
- Roast in oven for about 15 minutes until slightly brown.
- Meanwhile in large stock pot put in 3 Tbsps. canola oil and begin sweating onions, celery, fennel, and garlic.
- Next add the thyme, peppercorns, fennel seed, bay leaves, salt and saffron. Then squeeze in both lemon halves and place in stock pot. Stir in tomato paste and add the wine and Pernod. Reduce liquid by about half and then add roasted fish pieces. Finally top off with water and bring to a light boil. Let simmer for a minimum of 45 minutes and up to 2 hours. Strain off through fine mesh sieve and reserve broth.
- For the croutons: brush both sides generously with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on very hot grill to get toasty burn grill marks (about 30 seconds a side) alternatively; place oiled seasoned slices on sheet pan and toast in oven at 400º for about 6 min or until golden and crunchy
- For the rouille: In food processor place the yolk, minced garlic, and salt. Then with the machine running very slowly, drizzle in about ¼ cup of oil until you start to see it thicken. Add two tablespoons of water. Continue to drizzle in next ¼ cup of oil slowly as the aioli continues to thicken.
- Stop the machine and add in paprika, white pepper, cumin, curry powder, saffron, roasted red pepper, tomato paste, lemon juice, and sriracha. Turn machine back on and continue drizzling in remaining oil adding a tablespoon of water at a time if too thick. When finally combined place in bowl and keep refrigerated.
- Potatoes: Place potatoes in a small sauce pot covered by one inch of lightly salted cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 5 minutes or until you can retrieve a piece using a paring knife or fork check to see if it is mostly cooked with still some firmness left. Remove from heat, strain and rinse under cold water.
- For the vegetables, fish and completing the dish: In a large wide pot or large sauté pan pour in some olive oil. On medium heat gently sweat the red onion, celery, and fennel. When cooked halfway (approximately 4–6 min) remove from pan and reserve to the side.
- Wipe pan clean and add canola oil and bring flame to high. Pat fish dry with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper. When oil is hot, add cod for one minute then shrimp, scallops, and then the mussels and clams. If you can turn any of the pieces of fish, scallops and shrimp, great, but if they are sticking do not worry, the pan should be very hot and they will release later. Now add the broth. Careful; it will steam and splatter. You will want to add about 4 cups. Add in the reserved vegetables and potatoes. Cover with lid and reduce to a simmer for about 6 minutes. When you lift the lid it should be steaming with the mussels and clams popped open. If not, give gentle stir, nothing should be sticking, and return lid until mussels and clams pop open. Lastly throw in tomatoes. Turn off heat but keep covered until you are ready to serve.
- Portion out equally into four bowls. Top with two slices of croutons and generous spoonful of rouille.