You can’t fake charm. It’s got to come naturally, and it does for Nellysford, the little town nuzzled in the bosom of Wintergreen’s mountains. It’s not trying to be anything that it isn’t, yet manages to enchant everyone who passes through, some so much so that they stay forever.
Few places are more illustrative of this than Basic Necessities, a wine and gourmet food shop located off Route 151 between a hardware store and Blue Ridge Pig. In 1997, Kay Pfaltz, who grew up in Charlottesville, bought the barebones building that had been a bakery (and an apple shed prior to that), transformed it into an Provençal-inspired cottage, and filled it with exactly what someone who’d just returned from 10 years in Paris considered the “basic necessities” of life: bread, cheese, and wine. She originally envisioned the space as a wine bar too, but since Virginia’s ABC laws required more substantial edibles, she added late breakfast (they open at 10am) and lunch Tuesday through Saturday, dinner Friday and Saturday nights, and brunch on Sundays.
And it’s been that way ever since. In fact, little changed even after husband and wife Keith Dix and Beverly Lacey bought the business in 2003—a story that’s befittingly charming. Dix, an organic farmer, stopped into Basic Necessities on a land-seeking trip and fell in love with the shop and the town. He started Blue Heron Farm two miles away, but was still in search of a soul mate. He got in touch with Lacey, an old flame from Ohio, who planned a visit. They had their reunion at Basic Necessities and married soon thereafter. When they heard that Pfaltz had lost her original partner and was selling the shop, Lacey decided to buy it, but only if Pfaltz would stay. And she’s still there, lending her impassioned expertise on French wine (which she says she learned “by picking up a book in one hand and a glass in the other”), while Lacey greets guests, serves when short-staffed, and even bakes the weekends’ dessert offerings. They use produce from the farm and Pfaltz’s mother makes all of the soups. The dinner menu, while limited, is mighty impressive given that the kitchen is the size of a laundry room and has no stove.
Behind the cheese and wine selection is the dining room, warmed by a gas-burning fireplace and the sunny colors of Provence. Six rustic tables dressed with mismatched French country linens and cobalt blue-handled flatware set the stage for where the restaurant’s ethos plays out: a place where simple food and wine bring friends and family together to converse for hours at the table.Diners browse the wine racks (which favor independent and sustainable growers from France, but boast representatives from Virginia to South Africa) for a companion to their meal for the bottle’s retail cost, plus $7 corkage. The wines come with the professional service of Pfaltz, who also writes a monthly wine column for Nelson County Life and leads wine tasting tours around France every year.
An amuse-bouche (like crostini topped with sassoun, a Provençal spread of fennel, almonds, herbs, and anchovies) piques the appetite while digesting the menu. Even for one with so few choices—there’s only one appetizer, one special salad, one vegan or vegetarian entrée, one fish entrée, one pasta entrée, and one meat entrée—decisions are tough. Every entrée ($18-26) includes a tasty mixed greens salad and bread to dip into a bowl of freshly-grated parmigiano doused in grassy olive oil.
A hefty wedge of wild greens pie—earthy greens studded with salty feta, golden raisins, and a hint of spice in a phyllo crust—came with mousse-like whipped sweet potatoes (from Blue Heron Farm) and perfectly cooked green beans. Caramelized onions and raw milk blue cheese topped Timbercreek Organics beef tenderloin and the combination of butternut squash, mushrooms, and béchamel made for a luscious lasagne. All were so delicious (not to mention piping hot) that no diner would guess what little chef Sallie Justice has at her disposal.
Blues and folk musicians perform during dinner and a harpist adds to the delight of Sunday brunch when light streams in through the windows and mimosas and impossibly fluffy pancakes are on the menu. Sally Rose, an up-and-coming folk singer that washed dishes there for six years, performed while we lingered over cheese and a 2000 Pomerol. A generous scoop of Lacey’s chocolate bread pudding with amaretto crème anglaise made an ideal breakfast the next morning, but only because four hours had passed and we’re not lucky enough to live in Nellysford.