Hickory - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Hickory

This restaurant is devoted to celebrating Appalachia's cuisine. 

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Chef Travis Milton has spent more than a decade working to restore Appalachia’s historic foodways—longtime traditions he learned from his grandparents’ generation, like canning, raising heritage cattle, and breeding heirloom fruits and vegetables, but that disappeared as coal took over the region’s economy. At Hickory, he presents Appalachian fare as the world-class food culture he knows it to be.

The restaurant, a 130-seat fine-dinery, sits on a 480-acre property that includes a golf club, inn, vineyard, glamping yurts, and winning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains—all owned, ironically, by Kevin Nicewonder, scion of one of the region’s oldest and wealthiest coal families, who has an eye on Virginia’s post-coal future. 

The landscape also holds a sister brew-and-bistro pub serving Milton-engineered small plates cooked on a wood-fired grill. It abuts an ever-expanding garden complex that Milton tends and that contains more than 200 varieties of Appalachia’s rarest and tastiest heirloom fruits and vegetables. 

Milton builds Hickory’s seasonal menus around produce from his prized garden, foraged wild edibles, and heritage meats sourced from neighboring partner farms. Touring the garden is like visiting a botanical history museum: It brims with comestible treasures such as two-foot-long Candy Roaster winter squashes, licorice-colored Black Nebula carrots, and ears of Bloody Butcher corn as red as mountain sunsets. 

Hickory offers an upscale spin on Appalachian folk traditions, along with a hardy dose of stereotype-shattering humor. Made very aware of Appalachia’s white-trash reputation during his years in fine dining, Milton likes to feature Whipped Spam on the menu, albeit dressed up with nori, miso pickles, and yuzu hot sauce, or tasting-menu dishes with drizzles of Dr. Pepper vinegar.

Meals start with heirloom cornbread and locally produced sorghum. Look for appetizers like a chow-chow pancake with soup-bean mayo, house-made BBQ sauce, furikake, scallions, cilantro, and pickled red onions. Or a caramelized vegetable-tart entree, served with parsnip, locally-grown black olives, compressed pickles, and a garnish of edible flowers.

Know Before You Go

Diners can walk various paths of the restaurant garden or arrange tours in advance.

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July 9, 2024

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