Pulling up to the expansive, 165-acre Calleva Farm, you are greeted with warm smiles, fresh popcorn, beaming red barns, friendly livestock, overwhelming rustic charm and a sense that, at least for the evening, you’re family. The summer series of Dirty Dinners at Calleva Farm provides locals and urbanites alike the opportunity to escape for an evening of homegrown good times.
A great first impression is made when a plaid-clad tractor driver pulls up to offer hayrides of the property during the welcoming social hour. Equipped with a crisp “mocktails” and skewers of fresh fruit, you’re whisked away to learn about all the moving parts of life on a farm. There’s something to be said for seeing where your food comes from, only hours before you eat it. It helps us DC folk who are accustomed to convenience and perfection understand how much work truly goes into a meal.
After the social hour, which also allowed us to get up close and personal with livestock, Dirty Dinner guests were ushered via dinner bell into what can only be described as a glass dining terrarium, open yet protected from the rain. It was like the best possible outdoor wedding: simple, natural, rustic, authentic and overflowing with heart. As an added bonus, we were serenaded throughout dinner by local band Smoke N Mangos.
The guests varied in age as well as in their connection to the property. Young city dwellers that luckily made reservations before the summer sold out rubbed elbows with older couples whose kids went to camp at Calleva. We straddled the median line between these two groups at Table #4 allowing us to hear the din of new DC parents enjoying a night out without kids (they rented a party bus so they could enjoy the local West Virginia wine) and at the same time, the chatter of seasoned couples providing insight on what makes Calleva so special, spirited and innovative.
The Best Thing on the Menu wasn’t any one dish, but rather the ingredients as a whole. Most of what was served at the Dirty Dinner came from the farm and the few exceptions came from within a 50-mile radius. It was like mounting the summit of the local food movement. It goes without saying then, that the word that most perfectly encapsulated the dinner was fresh. Sauces, spices and perfect plating stepped aside to let ingredients take center stage. We devoured three kinds of hummus with just-picked veggies, “cucumber noodles” with pesto sauce, Moroccan chicken thighs, homemade pizza and so much more.
The dish that really got guests talking was the snakehead fish, which was served with purple potatoes and a salad of fresh herbs including dill and Thai basil. Snakehead fish is actually an invasive species wreaking havoc in the Potomac, so we diners happily did our part controlling the population. Top DC restaurant Little Serow occasionally has snakehead fish on the menu, accompanied by similar herbs. Kudos to the culinary team of Eric “Flash” Hill and Ben Ritter on a great six-course meal that was a celebration of local flavors.
There are about 20 spots left for the September 14 Dirty Dinner. Click here to book. Also keep an eye out in January, when dates are released for 2014. Best Thing on the Menu will be sure to inform you when they begin taking reservations.
Calleva is a family operated farm that hosts kids year-round for educational experiences. Three brothers, Nick, Alex and Matt Markoff have joined forces and combined their respective backgrounds to bring outdoor experiences to our area. Learn more about Calleva programs here.
Click here for more pictures from the Dirty Dinner.