Look for a drink paired with local food in Arlington, and chances are you’ll settle on a taste of Wooden Nickel Bar Company. Owner Reese Gardner’s mini empire includes The Pinemoor, Copperwood Tavern, Dudley’s Sport & Ale, and Brass Rabbit Public House. Since October, there’s been a taste of the city available in sleepy Haymarket. That’s when Gardner debuted Olde Dominion Tavern.
According to Victoria Johnson, marketing director for the brand, Gardner became familiar with the tiny Prince William County town and saw a need for a more robust dining experience.
“There was no sit-down restaurant where you could have a cocktail, a steak, and salad. Everything was kind of like quick food,” Johnson says. That isn’t true anymore. For example, chef Joel Valente, an Inn at Little Washington alum, started serving house-made charcuterie and homemade pasta at Red House Tavern last year. And now, Olde Dominion Tavern has added its own spin on locavore cuisine that includes an emphasis on game meats.
Corporate executive chef Allan Javery and corporate sous-chef Nelson Gonzalez oversee the entire WNB brand, but Johnson says that both have a strong presence in the kitchen in Haymarket. It shows. Among relaxed family restaurants in the area, the cuisine at Olde Dominion Tavern is a standout. From wings and burgers to the aforementioned game, it’s hard to hit a false note on the menu.
That said, there’s a level of dissonance with the surroundings. It’s clear that the goal is to be something for everyone, but when I first entered the restaurant, it was a bummer to be met with a bar surrounded by errant straw papers and lost kernels of the addictive spiced popcorn that comes to every table before a meal. The environment, including a line of plants above the booths which still have their price tags attached to the pots, simply doesn’t match the care and ambition of the kitchen. That made it difficult to ascribe stars to Olde Dominion Tavern.
The culinary team is producing four-star eats, but the experience, compounded on one of my visits by a very young, inexperienced server, is far from upscale.
Ultimately, though, the food wins out. A pile of chicken wings is carefully plated with drumettes balanced atop flats. Utilizing the same sweet and earthy spice mix that coats the popcorn, the beer-brined, dry-rubbed wings are now easily among my favorites in NoVA. The side of Sriracha blue cheese is nice, but not really necessary when confronted with the juicy, crispy fowl.
The menu, like the restaurant itself, seeks to serve a diverse clientele. That means both pub grub and fare that could be considered more upscale. Either way, there’s definitely no need to put on your Sunday best, even if you’re dropping $86 on a Shenandoah-raised tomahawk steak. I didn’t do that, but I did try the $41 1855 Black Angus ribeye, which was seared precisely to my requested temperature. It’s served in a pool of bordelaise sauce, with a couple of Sweety Drop peppers and a haystack of microgreens with a cute miniature pan of beer mushrooms on the side.
As at a steakhouse, the beef is à la carte, but there’s an appealing menu of sides from which to choose. My favorite is the Brussels sprouts, crisped up with bacon and shallots and doused in a sweet-and-sour maple-mustard vinaigrette. Though a bit gluey in texture, it’s hard to overlook the appeal of the smoked Gouda mashed potatoes. The house cut parsley fries could be a bit more crisp, but when I tried the excellent Tavern Burger with its aged sharp cheddar, they made a flavorful pairing.
Ultimately, though, the reason I will return to Olde Dominion Tavern is for the game and game-adjacent meats. My favorite bites at the restaurant were part of the elegantly plated duck two ways. Even at fine-dining restaurants, it’s a challenge to find a well-rendered duck breast.
I can’t tell you how many times my teeth have gotten stuck in a gooey layer of fat while working my way through contenders for Northern Virginia Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants. Indeed, it’s been the reason a place or two hasn’t made the list. At Olde Dominion Tavern, it’s hard to detect that there was ever a layer of fat beneath the crisp skin. Nonetheless, the meat remains a rosy pink. It’s a textbook duck breast, presented next to a chubby line of cherries cooked down in a disarmingly savory port wine sauce.
That would be enough to send me home happy (especially if there were a few more Brussels sprouts on the plate), but then there is the confit, a fatty, salty leg with skin that shatters as you cut in. At $38, it’s not cheap at first glance, but leftovers are all but guaranteed, so it’s actually a pretty stellar deal.
I also found myself taking home half of the $27 braised rabbit. The fork-tender chunks of lean white meat are served in a tangle of hand-cut wheat noodles for a pasta dish that could become a habit for me. I always get a little frisson of joy when a chef pairs rabbit with carrots — it could be interpreted as a sad irony or a great example of “what grows together, goes together.” Either way, I’m here for it. The rich, saucy stew that coats the noodles is punctuated by sweet pearl onions and meaty mushrooms. A layer of Parmesan on top ties it all together with funky salinity.
All desserts are served in Mason jars and cost $9 each. I say skip the disappointing apple crisp, which was both cold and sour when I tried it, in favor of a jar of chocolate brownie mousse. Big chunks of chocolate-studded brownies are mixed with an airy, intensely chocolaty mousse. It’s all blanketed in a tall layer of homemade whipped cream.
Personally, I still crave a little bit of pomp tied to a meal of the quality that I enjoyed at Olde Dominion Tavern. Call me old fashioned, but I love to get dressed up for a special night out. But maybe that’s démodé. If you want to wear your jeans for a celebratory meal, I know a place in Haymarket. 5351 Merchants View Sq., Haymarket
Olde Dominion Tavern
See This: A long bar satisfies local drinkers, but hunting lodge–style touches dress up the space for diners. Don’t miss the corridor of dog photos.
Eat This: Beer-brined chicken wings, duck two ways, braised rabbit
Open for dinner daily. Lunch is served Monday through Friday, with brunch on the weekends.
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