The Red Fox Tavern: One of Loudoun’s Finest and Most Historic Restaurants

The Red Fox Tavern: One of Loudoun’s Finest and Most Historic Restaurants

Sometimes our hearts just long to go home, and for so many diners in Loudoun County, that means returning to the warmth and comfort of Middleburg’s beloved Red Fox Tavern.

Long before Loudoun gained the reputation as a technology and data center hub, its identity was firmly rooted in the equestrian traditions of Virginia Hunt Country. Nowhere do those roots run deeper than in Middleburg.

Loudoun is changing at a dizzying rate. Once rolling meadows, farmland, and fields are giving way to high-density growth and dazzling town centers, where new restaurants sparkle like glitter and offer cuisines from all corners of the world. The dining choices are endless.

Like all shiny things, the appeal of the new and trendy starts to fade, and that’s when we turn our focus to the familiar places we have long loved. So, pull on your favorite boots and sweater, and follow Route 50 west to The Red Fox Tavern.

Red Fox History

Route 50 is the same trail taken by some of our nation’s first migrants, who in the early 1700s traveled by horseback from the port of Alexandria to the frontier town of Winchester along what was later called Ashby’s Gap Road. The halfway point was at Chinn’s Ordinary (now known as The Red Fox Inn and Tavern), where weary souls could rest and dine before forging ahead on their journey.

Chinn’s Ordinary predated Middleburg, which grew from a hamlet of four buildings known as Chinn’s Crossing to the prosperous village we know today. Steeped in history, the sturdy tavern built of thick local fieldstone persevered through colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War uncertainties.

In the early 1800s, the Ordinary became known as the Beveridge House. During the Civil War, it served as both a hospital and war headquarters (the pine bar in today’s Tap Room was constructed from an operating table used in General Stuart’s cavalry). By 1887, the inn was known as the Middleburg Inn and had become strongly connected to the growing communities of foxhunting, thoroughbred breeding, and racing.

In 1937, the inn was restored and renamed The Red Fox Inn. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places as established in 1728, The Red Fox is the oldest continuously run ordinary/tavern in America.

For the last four decades, it has been owned and operated by three generations of the Reuter family. Nancy B. Reuter purchased the facilities in 1976 and launched what we now know and recognize as The Red Fox Inn and Tavern. By 1979 it was managed by son Turner Reuter, Jr., who renovated and expanded the facilities. Today it is managed by married team Matilda Reuter and Jonathan Engle.

The intimate and handsome Red Fox Tavern has long attracted celebrities, including politicians, athletes, musicians and movie stars.  President John F. Kennedy held a press conference in the JEB Stuart Room upstairs, and Jacqueline Kennedy frequently was a guest at the inn (her hand-written letter to the Reuters is a cherished keepsake). Actress Elizabeth Taylor and husband Senator John Warner were regular patrons, and The Red Fox remains a destination of choice with some of Hollywood’s biggest names.

General manager Matilda Reuter Engle notes that The Red Fox’s continuous operation since 1728 sets it apart from other historic ordinaries.  Having never interrupted its mission of providing rest and nourishment to travelers, the establishment still retains the basic bones of the original structure, most visible in the fieldstone walls, which in some areas are 10 feet thick.

When asked which room in the tavern is the oldest, Engle points to the second floor in what is now the Night Fox Pub and bar area.  The street entrance was used as a basement in the early days but now houses the two main dining rooms.  Every room of the tavern as it stands today still holds remnants of the original design.  Engle’s favorite room in the tavern?  “My personal favorite is the Tap Room, which is the back room on the first floor – specifically, the table at the back row, nearest the fireplace. Some say it’s the coziest and most romantic table reservation in the nation,” she says with all sincerity.

The Red Fox’s reputation draws diners from around the globe, many who place it high on their itinerary when visiting Virginia Hunt Country. The experience begins with a welcome from the brass fox head door knocker on the hallmark red front door. Patrons enter through a traditional windowed portico, behind which are rooms rich in colonial ambiance and history.

Wide plank floors, hand-hewn beams, stone walls, and darkly stained panels provide an authentic tavern environment.  Warm glowing light flickers from hearths, lanterns, and punched tin sconces to illuminate whitewashed walls adorned with some of the nation’s most prominent paintings and artwork of hunt country life.

Red Fox Fine Art

Nineteenth and twentieth-century animal and sporting paintings and bronzes are on display throughout the dining rooms and pub, and the second floor is home to Red Fox Fine Art, a private gallery established by Matilda Reuter’s father, Turner Reuter, Jr., in 1979.

Turner Reuter, a field sports enthusiast and expert on the genre of animal and sporting art. spent a lifetime exploring the relationship between art and country life. His book, Animal and Sporting Artists in America, was first published in 2008 by the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg. The book is the first comprehensive, scholarly reference work devoted solely to animal and sporting painters and sculptors. The gallery is open daily during the week, evenings, and weekends by appointment.

Red Fox Philosophy

A family-run business, Matilda Reuter Engle grew up at The Red Fox.  “From the minute I was able to legally work, I held every position from dishwasher to where I am now as General Manager,” she smiles.  When asked if she wished to highlight anyone on the staff of significant importance, she firmly declares that every person who contributes to The Red Fox operations is equally vital.

“Every farmer, supplier, vendor, cook, waitress, dishwasher – we all work together to put the steak dinner on the table.  I could never give kudos to just one person because we can’t live without any of them.”  She compares the staff to a large family, and indeed, many are family members, with some working there for as many as 30 to 45 years.

What makes The Red Fox so successful?  “Some people enter this business thinking it will be easy,” says Engle.  “Running a restaurant is not easy –it is very hard work,” she admits. “What makes us successful is that we offer great traditional tavern fare and courteous service in a beautiful building, and we are backed with years of experience.  We are the workhorse that never stops working.”

Engle notes that many new restaurants last anywhere from only one to three years before failing.  “It is very expensive to run a restaurant because everything is perishable.  It’s a constant balance of having enough to supply the needs of the patrons and making sure you use what you’ve brought in.  It is not a business for the faint of heart.”

Besides the work ethic, The Red Fox is quite picky when it comes to sources for its hearty Virginia fare.  Great care is taken in the selection of beef, fowl, and fish, as well as to how it is cooked, which, of course, is traditionally smoked, braised, or roasted.

Probably the first restaurant in the region to truly boast “farm to table,” The Red Fox has long held a back-door policy for local farmers.  “We are blessed to be surrounded by so many amazing farmers and sources for local beer, wine, and spirits,” says Engle.  The menu offers more than 60 Virginia wines by the bottle.

Tavern Dining

There are several options when it comes to dining at The Red Fox Tavern, ranging from casual to most formal.  The integrity of the staple menu items never changes, but seasonally they do rotate the sauces and side dishes and offer periodic seasonal specials.

The cozy Night Fox Pub on the second floor offers traditional pub fare, such as Fish and Chips, Franks in a Blanket (mini beef franks wrapped in puff pastry with pimento cheese), Chicken Avocado Melt, and Flat Iron and Fries. Pub diners may also order from the Tavern menu, and can enjoy a wide selection of craft cocktails and Virginia wines and beers.

The two rooms on the Tavern’s first floor, The Washington and the Tap Room, are the perfect setting to experience the hearty offerings of the three Tavern menus:  breakfast, brunch, and dinner.

There’s no rushing through breakfast at The Red Fox, which might begin with a bottomless cup of coffee. Where else but the south could you find Fried Green Tomato Benedict (English muffin, fried green tomato, soft poached eggs, with hollandaise)?  Classic Eggs Benedict (English muffin Canadian bacon, poached eggs, with hollandaise) appears to be the favorite at many tables. Cranberry Raisin French Toast stacks high with maple syrup and choice of bacon or sausage. Hot tea arrives in tiny pots, with full-leaf tea selections ranging from practical English breakfast to honeybush caramel or sweet ginger peach.

The brunch menu, offered only on Saturday and Sunday at midday, is offered at two flat-rate options:  two-course brunch (first course and main course or main course and dessert) or three-course brunch (first course, main course, and dessert). This is a meal to linger over, beginning with spectacular choices from the bar, including a wide range of champagnes and sparkling wines, beer, and ciders (many from local vendors), a Cajun Bloody Mary (vodka, spicy horseradish, jumbo shrimp and pickled okra skewer, with Old Bay rim). Blood Orange Mimosa (champagne, orange juice, blood orange puree), or a traditional Bailey’s and Coffee.

Brunch is where you’ll find The Red Fox’s crown jewel:  Virginia Peanut Soup, a wonderful cup of thick, creamy soup sprinkled with coarsely chopped peanuts, served simply with crackers. This Virginia tradition is a staple at The Red Fox, and a favorite of many patrons.

Main course brunch choices are all wonderful and are hard to narrow down. Besides several items from the breakfast menu, diners can choose from Fried Chicken (three pieces with smashed red jacket potatoes, buttermilk biscuit, and country gravy), Shrimp and Grits (grilled shrimp, goat cheese grits, country ham, sweet and sour barbecue drizzle), Grilled Rainbow Trout (with goat cheese grits, sautéed asparagus, lemon caper cream sauce), and the Signature Crab Cake Platter (lump crab cake and goat cheese grits and asparagus), and House Smoked Pork Barbecue.

Tavern dinner main entrees are serious traditional fare.  Besides  Signature Crab Cakes and Red Fox Fried Chicken, popular choices include Pork Schnitzel and Spätzle (pounded pork cutlets, spätzle with asiago cheese, sautéed asparagus), Braised Beef Short Ribs (boneless beef short ribs, smashed red jacket potatoes, honey roasted carrots, red wine beef reduction), Grilled Duroc Pork Chop (salt and pepper crusted bone-in Duroc pork chop, honey roasted carrots, white cheddar mac and cheese bake, and Dijon cream sauce), and Chicken Cordon Bleu (stuffed with country ham and fontina, smashed red jacket potatoes, shredded brussels sprouts, and country ham sauce mornay).

Other dinner options are Crispy Half Duck, Hickory Bourbon Glazed Salmon, Seared Sea Scallops, Surf and Turf, and grilled meats (Filet Mignon, New York Strip, Rib Eye, and New Zealand Rack of Lamb).

Inn Accommodations and Events

The Red Fox is known not just as a tavern but as a historic inn as well.  Describing the Red Fox Inn’s overnight accommodations would be an article unto itself.  In short, the Inn comprises numerous buildings and cottages that house 18 unique guest rooms.

Hosting an event at The Red Fox Inn and Tavern is a source of pride for many locals. All The Red Fox indoor and outdoor dining spaces can be reserved and configured for special events and group gatherings. It is a favorite location for weddings and receptions, and Red Fox staff are experts at guiding patrons through every stage of planning.  Call or visit The Red Fox Inn and Tavern website for details about reservations, accommodations, or event planning.

Red Fox Inn & Tavern

2 East Washington Street
Middleburg, VA  20117
540-687-6301
http://www.redfox.com

Dining Room Hours:

Monday – Friday:  Breakfast 8 -10 a.m.; Dinner 5-9 p.m.

Saturday:  Brunch 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Dinner 5-9 p.m.

Sunday:  Brunch 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Dinner 5-8 p.m.