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May 31, 2014

"Found: The Incredible Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere that Nobody Knows About"

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Up top, the headline from a February 14 article in Esquire magazine about The ShackIan Boden's tiny dive in Staunton, Virginia.

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Below, excerpts from C. Simon Davidson's March 27, 2014 article in C-Ville about how the restaurant came to be.

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The Shack is all the rage. In the short time since its late-January opening, chef Ian Boden's tiny Staunton dive has already won raves from Esquire magazine and The Washington Post, among others. The Esquire article was titled: "Found: The Incredible Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere that Nobody Knows About."

Staunton residents might be surprised to learn they live in the middle of nowhere, and longtime fans of Boden's cooking might likewise scratch their heads at the timing of the latest media buzz. After all, Boden is the same talented chef who for five years ran The Staunton Grocery, and who also ran the well-known Glass Haus Kitchen in Charlottesville before it closed last October.

To be fair, in his previous ventures Boden believes he never quite succeeded in shedding fine dining trappings to the extent he has now. At The Shack, he said, it really is all about the food. Boden and his wife renovated the site of a former Carribbean barbecue joint cheaply in a matter of weeks. While I was fully prepared for a nondescript location, I admit that I drove right past the tiny brick building before having to circle back to find it.

Around a handful of tables in a room not much larger than a jail cell were mismatched used benches and chairs salvaged from auctions. The freshly painted walls were barren but for a few framed faded family photos. In shorts and sneakers, I sat down to dig into the work of a chef who last year was a James Beard semi-finalist for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, The Shack offers burgers, with a few a la carte specials as well. The burgers Boden serves by popular demand to ensure his bills do not go unpaid. At The Grocery, Boden's burgers became the stuff of legend, with locally sourced meat, and Boden's own grind technique and cut ratios.

But, to fully appreciate Boden's talent, you need to go on a Friday or Saturday for the prix-fixe menu of his latest inspirations. The Shack's limited hours mean that Boden orders ingredients for the day, not the week, depending on what’s available.

"Get what you can when you can," he said.

A soothing bisque of sunchokes came with the tiniest tease of a garnish of beech mushrooms and pistachios. Also stellar was a salad of roasted maitake mushrooms and frisee, lightly dressed in mustard vinaigrette, and topped with an egg that had been soft cooked in a circulator. That's just one of several cooking toys that Boden has crammed into his kitchen, smaller than many closets.

Quarters are so tight that if you order a beer your server will simply turn to the fridge and grab you one, as if you had asked your college roommate to snag you a brew.

So, who is right about The Shack? The locals or the fawning media? Maybe both. Yes, the historic city of Staunton is in fact in the middle of somewhere, and Boden is the same great chef he has always been. But, yes also, The Shack is special.

May 31, 2014 at 08:01 PM | Permalink


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