Where I come from in the Lombardy region of Italy, fall is gray, cold, and sad, but the produce brightens up the season, turning it into a time for eating at the family table. Now that I’m settled beneath the Blue Ridge, where the deep reds and golds transform the landscape every year, the local food reminds me of the basic dishes with simple, earthy ingredients from home—like the potato stew or classic Milanese minestrone my mom prepared on especially dreary nights.
Have you walked around the farmer’s market since the leaves started changing? The excitement of fall produce is not in its variety or exoticism, but rather in its traditional presence and, in a way, its strength and simplicity of flavor. Squash, kale, turnips, apples. You have to pair these vegetables with food that can stand up to them.
Brian Helleberg, chef and owner of Fleurie on the Downtown Mall, grows much of what he cooks with. His ingredients of choice nowadays are beets, but turnips, different varieties of squash, beans and spinach are close behind. Fleurie’s local tasting menu features a range of locally available seasonal dishes, like crab meat sautéed with a puree of butternut squash, a pork cheek braised in white wine with a celery root puree, and steak served with a red wine risotto, leeks, and a side of seasonal vegetables.
Dessert gets a more traditional treatment with a customer favorite and cousin to the classic fall-time pie: apple tart. He described it as a “super, super simple dish that needs to be done right.” And that means fluffy puff pastry, a puree of apples and thinly sliced apples on top.
Brookville owner and chef Harrison Keevil is in transition, seeing out the last of the green vegetables like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, and eagerly looking forward to the next batch of autumnal ingredients
“I am really excited about cabbages to come in, and of course apples and potatoes,” he said. “These are the ingredients that get me through the winter.”
Keevil braises and purees the crunchy, leafy cabbage and pairs it with the restaurant’s revered pork dishes. He’s also experimenting by making his own sauerkraut for the first time this year.
A fall seasonal menu would be incomplete without apples. Keevil’s favorite variety is Granny Smith, for its tartness. To make the restaurant’s signature apple sauce, the fruits find themselves nestled in a pan with onions, butter, salt, pepper, and vinegar to “boost up the acid.”
“It’s got a nice acid and we pair it with pork belly so that the acid cuts through the rich fat of the pork,” Keevil said.
Down the street at Horse & Hound Gastropub, butternut squash is mashed with potatoes and served with a seared scallop wrapped in bacon.
Co-owner and pastry chef Brooke Fedora says the key to fall cooking is simple ingredients, just “good, earthy food.”
Nearly every year since the restaurant opened, Horse & Hound has offered a Thanksgiving pick-up menu for classic food-lovers who would rather spend the day watching football than slaving over a hot stove. Customers can choose from either a package or a la carte menu and place their order by the Tuesday before turkey day. The meal—smoked or herb-rubbed turkeys, and enticing sides like sausage or sage stuffing, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens—is then prepared from scratch and ready for pick up the day before Thanksgiving.
“Luther’s collared greens are insanely crazy good,” said Fedora of her husband Luther, who’s also co-owner and chef.
Angelo Vangelopoulos, owner and chef of the Ivy Inn, is serving grilled quail, with sweet potato gnocchi, collard greens, and spicy peanuts. The sweet potato puree holds the dish together, collecting the juices and enhancing the flavor profile.
Horse & Hound chef Luther Fedora mashes butternut squash and potatoes to complement a seared sea scallop wrapped in bacon.