Quintessentially Virginia: A Taste of the Commonwealth

By Amie Knowles

December 28, 2021

When you think of Virginia foods, what’s on your mind’s menu?

If you’re looking for a traditional taste of Virginia, look no farther than…Mexico? 

That’s exactly what couple True Hairston and Jonathan Carter did when they started looking for the perfect food truck last year. The owners of Dianna’s Taste of Soul found the purple mobile unit online and drove all the way to the southern border where they met the seller in Texas. 

Hairston and Carter drove the unit halfway across the United States back to a small Southwestern Virginia town called Ridgeway, located right outside of Martinsville. That’s where they make the magic happen, one heirloom recipe at a time.

“Everything that we make is homemade,” Hairston said. “Nothing is store-bought.”

You can get a little bit of everything from the food truck — macaroni and cheese, baked beans, green beans, coleslaw, fries, and Carter’s famous homemade lemonade — but there are two dishes that people request over and over. 

“It’s our hot dogs. Our hot dogs and our fish,” Hairston said. “They’ve never had fish or hot dogs that taste like ours.” 

While the couple wouldn’t divulge their culinary secrets beyond using beef instead of pork, they did give credit to the people that passed down the recipes. They include Carter’s father and Hairston’s grandparents, the latter of which are in their 90s. 

“These recipes are old,” Hairston said. 

As for where to try one of these delicious dishes? The best answer’s around town! Dianna’s Taste of Soul gets around. From breweries to events, there’s a fair chance you’ll find a bright purple truck. Hairston and Carter also post where they’re going next on the food truck’s Facebook page. 

Join the Club

When we think about Virginia foods, a warm dish for cool weather comes to mind. Thinking of Brunswick stew? So are we.

In 1828, a Virginian by the name of Jimmy Matthews served as the chef to a Brunswick County man, Dr. Creed Haskins. Matthews accompanied Haskins on hunting trips and and always had dinner ready by the time the party returned. One evening, Matthews put together a fresh pot of squirrel meat, bacon, onion, bread, seasonings and butter—and a nearly 200-year-old tradition was born. 

Local legend has it that Matthews made his stews for community picnics and public gatherings until his passing. However, generation after generation passed down his famous Brunswick Stew recipe. In 1988, the General Assembly of Virginia publicly recognized Brunswick County as “the place of origin of this astonishing gastronomic miracle.”

Clyde Eacho, owner of The Club House Grill in Lawrenceville keeps the tradition alive one bowl at a time. Like many stewmasters nowadays, Eacho uses chicken and vegetables in place of squirrel meat. 

“I’ve been [making Brunswick stew] since I was about six years old,” Eacho said. “I’d make it with my dad, so about 53 years.” 

The stewmaster started entering his Brunswick stew in competitions a little more than a decade ago. Ironically, while he’s won somewhere between 16 and 18 competitions, he still has yet to bring home a Taste of Brunswick prize from the local yearly competition. 

“That’s the only one I never placed in,” Eacho said, laughing. “But I’ve won everywhere else I’ve ever cooked.” 

While Eacho keeps the award-winning recipe close, he did divulge a couple of secrets about the key to making a great pot of Brunswick stew. First, settle in because you’ll be there for a while. To make a 25-gallon pot of stew, it takes Eacho approximately 5 1/2 hours. The 75-gallon pot takes approximately 12 hours. Second, use quality ingredients that don’t get lost in the mix. 

“You can see my vegetables. I don’t cook mine down to where it looks like mush,” Eacho said. “Mine’s got a lot of color to it, a lot of flavor. I don’t overpower it with just one thing. I use a lot of seasonings and it complements the stew a whole lot.”

If this cold weather’s got you down, a tasty bowl of Virginia-made Brunswick stew could be the ultimate solution. And you can find a nice warm bowl at The Club House Grill. 

Anybody Want a Peanut? 

Chances are you won’t run into a Fezzik impersonator from The Princess Bride. But if you do, he might wander into the Virginia Diner. Operating since 1929, the Wakefield restaurant has many delicious dishes, but one in particular takes the cake…or should we say, the pie?

“I think the peanut pie is the most ‘Virginia’ item, as it is the state’s own unique twist to the classic pecan pie that is so known and popular in other states,” said Andrew Whisler, president and COO of the Virginia Diner. “And it plays on our state’s heritage of being the first state to grow peanuts commercially—and peanuts have been and continue to be a large part of our state’s agricultural revenue.”

Whisler said that the first question he normally gets from guests who aren’t from the area goes something like this: “What is peanut pie?” 

“We hear that the combination of the flakey, buttery crust paired with the sweetness of the filling and the salt and crunch of the peanut is a perfect flavor and texture combination that they weren’t expecting,” Whisler said. “Served warm with a scoop of ice cream and a touch of whipped cream, and it makes for the perfect dessert.”

But really, it’s one of those things that you’ve just got to sample for yourself. 

“We have so many tourists coming through that it makes it fun to introduce them to a new product they’ve never heard of or experienced before,” Whisler said. “And thankfully as a sweet treat, it pretty much always brings a smile and approving nod when they taste it.”

Oftentimes beating out the beloved pecan pie, Whisler said many diners opt to give the special Virginia dessert a go for their next family gathering. Curious to try it? Head on over to the Virginia Diner!

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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