After cooking for over a decade for various DC restaurants, as well as under a James Beard award-winning chef in New Orleans, Kari Rushing is now getting back to her roots with a place of her own—Vault & Cellar in Middletown.
“I grew up here in Front Royal, and after moving back and starting a family, have just developed this appreciation for the countryside,” says Rushing.
After finding the location for the restaurant, everything just felt right.
“There is just a lot of opportunity here. We’re right at the intersection of Route 66 and Interstate 81 in the valley of the rolling mountains,” says Rushing. “It’s just a beautiful countryside location.”
Vault & Cellar opened its doors in September 2021 inside a historic brick building complete with an original 2,500-pound vault from the previous owners—hence the name.
“Our building used to be a bank and was actually one of the few banks in Virginia that operated during the Great Depression,” says Rushing. “And then the cellar is referencing the basement bar, as well as giving a nod to root cellars.”
Vault & Cellar specializes in Appalachian Cuisine, which is simple at heart but packs some great flavor, often rooted in pickling and preserving. Rushing says that has been their ethos from the beginning.
“People typically don’t think of this type of cuisine as ‘fancy’ food. It’s what our grandmother’s made,” explains Rushing. “But I want to take all of those concepts and things that you grew up with and make them fun and elegant. The heart of the food is there.”
Their Appalachian egg rolls reflect that approach. They’re made with pickled collard greens and served with a bourbon-dill honey mustard sauce. They’ve been a big hit.
“It was something we did on a lark, and it just kind of stuck,” says Rushing.
A rabbit dish is also on the menu—another nod to those Appalachian roots.
“We were batting ideas around and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we paired the rabbit with things rabbits eat?’ So we serve it with roasted carrots, braised greens, and Carolina gold rice, with a thyme and white-wine sauce,” says Rushing. “It’s definitely an underutilized protein. We usually get comments—‘I’ve never had rabbit before,’ or ‘Wow, I haven’t had rabbit since I was a kid.’”
Other standouts from the menu are the fried catfish and their shareable grilled cabbage steak.
“The cabbage steak takes one of the less exciting vegetables and elevates it to make it fun and interesting while giving it variety and texture,” says Rushing.
While there are some core items on the menu, they also have seasonal options as well. For instance, their burger.
“We had a burger on our menu when we first opened that had peach jam, pork rinds, coleslaw, and pepper jack cheese that got rave reviews,” says Rushing.
Now that peaches are out of season, Rushing says they have switched to a burger with apple butter and smoked cheddar.
“That’s kind of an example of how we switch the menu up with the seasons, but we have had a few people saying they can’t wait until we bring the peach jam back,” says Rushing.
And for bourbon-lovers, the food isn’t the only big draw.
Vault & Cellar currently has over 115 bourbons to try at their downstairs bar.
Patrons can make their own flights or choose from special curated ones from certain distilleries, ones that have been aged in wine barrels or Virginia-specific barrels.
“We spend a lot of time curating these and going out and doing what we like to call ‘bourbon hunting,’” says Rushing. “It’s a really exciting collection.”
Megan Herr is an editor and writer residing in the Shenandoah Valley. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Penn State University.
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