A Taste of the Mediterranean
Though Fry’s Spring Station now serves up delicious Italian fare—Margherita pizza, ricotta calzones, manciatta, and mezze plates—as recently as 2008, the building was a fully functional gas station and mechanic’s garage, with much of the floorplan unchanged today. Light pours in through tall glass doors, bathing the heart-pine tables and floors upcycled from old barns in a pool of sunlight. On warm days the doors are raised, treating guests to an al fresco experience, while during the winter months a hearth oven heats the dining area. A beautiful stone patio outside provides extra seating for diners and, with Scott Stadium just around the corner, turns into a popular hangout for football fans on game days. Pictures adorn the walls and tell the building’s history, including two rowdy brothers who filled the gas pumps with moonshine. A side door, dating back to 1931, its teal paint all but chipped off, provides diners with a tangible sense of history.
In the exposed kitchen are Ben Thompson and Tommy Lasley, classmates at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and alumni of some of New York City’s finest, Michelin-starred restaurants. Despite their backgrounds in haute cuisine, the menu and decor at Fry’s Spring Station is deliberately understated, sophisticated without pomp. For Lasley, the ideal dinner begins with the ingredients: “Buy something that tastes great and don’t over-manipulate it,” sage advice (culinary pun not intended) from a master of Mediterranean cuisine.
These recipes for fried oysters and pizza are not complex: any kitchen novice could tackle these with aplomb. That’s because, for this issue of the Piedmont Virginian, we wanted to offer you recipes for comfort foods. How do we define “comfort foods”? They’re those dishes that allow you converse with friends and family rather than focus on a lot of slicing and dicing, dishes that you share with each other in front of the fireplace.
Fried Oysters with Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette
Rumor has it that oysters are best in “r-months” (e.g. February, March). Call it an old wives’ tale. Call it a rule of thumb. Call it whatever you want, because to us at the Piedmont Virginian, it’s a great reason to eat tons of oysters over the next four months. With this recipe, we’re more than happy to indulge in a little superstition. The smokiness of the paprika, the brininess of oysters, and the kick of heat from Sriracha set this dish apart from other share plates. One thing to keep in mind: have the smoked paprika vinaigrette ready so that once the fried oysters have cooled enough to eat, you can dip them in this delicious sauce and pop ‘em in your mouth.
For the Oysters:
Jar of oyster selects, shucked in their own liquor
- Heat 3” of canola oil to 375° in a tall pot.
- Toss oysters in flour to coat them. Their liquor—the liquid naturally found inside the oyster’s shell—adds flavor and helps the flour stick. (Feel free to relish in the confusion on your friends’ faces when you tell them how delicious oyster liquor is, too.)
- Cook for one minute in the heated canola oil, using a strainer to remove the oysters.
For the Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette:
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
3 Tbsps. Sriracha
4 Tbsps. mayonnaise
3 Tbsps. water
2 Tbsps. sugar
3 Tbsps. red miso paste
4 Tbsps. + 1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsps. + 1 tsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. salt
1 cup canola oil
- Combine all ingredients sans oil in a blender. Blend until smooth, then blend a little more for good measure.
- Slowly add canola oil to mixture, continuing to blend.
Finocchio—another word for Florence fennel—is a gastronomical staple of Italian cuisine. The leaf bases act as a vegetable instead of a seasoning, as fennel is often used. The taste is akin to a mild licorice, perhaps not what one would expect on their pizza, but delicious nonetheless, especially when paired with the puckering citrus of the lemon slices. This recipe makes two medium-large pizzas, so if you’d like to experiment a little with one of the pies, go right ahead!
1 lb. pizza dough (store bought or homemade)
1 bulb Florence fennel
1 lb. Italian sausage (mild or hot)
1 can (28 oz.) Alta Cucina peeled tomatoes (in a pinch, San Marzano will do)
Extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper as needed
- Preheat oven to 500°.
- Thinly slice Florence fennel bulb, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper; spread onto sheet pan and cook in hot oven for 10 minutes.
- While the fennel bakes, cook the Italian sausage, gently crush the tomatoes, and thinly slice the lemon.
- Evenly spread the crushed tomatoes over the pizza pies. Add roasted fennel, ricotta, lemon slices, and Italian sausage. Follow baking instructions for pizza pi
Recipes in our January/February 2017 issue, on newsstands January 1, or by print or digital subscription