27 June 2012
Elmwood at Sparks calls itself a café but I think it is more like an upscale deli or an American bistro. Located on Rt. 20 in the historic Sparks building in Orange, it is a small, narrow storefront restaurant that feels open in every sense of the word. Light streams in from the front windows, there are tall ceilings with fans, and an open kitchen where you can watch your food being prepared. It is important to note that lunches and dinners are prepared by the Johnson and Wales University culinary chef, Randy Cooper, who was trained in classical French and new American cuisine.
Chef Cooper has lived in Orange for twelve years and has served as a chef for many local restaurants in the Charlottesville area, including the Boars Head Inn, Ivy Inn, and Prince Michel Vineyards. Six years ago he opened Elmwood at Sparks and continues to offer local residents as well as out of town travelers an opportunity to eat his version of Virginia country cuisine. Chef Cooper commutes seven miles to his restaurant and will often pick the herbs he needs right from his own garden. He uses local produce as much as possible and makes his own mayonnaise in-house.
The lunch menu offers soup (cup for $2.75), and a wide selection of salads ($6.75 - $9.25), croissants sandwiches ($7.50), open sandwiches on focaccia or crisp puff pastry $7.75), hot entrees ($9.95 - $12.95) and dessert ($5 - $5.50). All sandwiches and croissants come with a choice of sides including house salad, potato salad, pasta salad, fresh fruit or Sunchips. There are two or three specials listed on the large blackboard that takes up much of one wall. During cold months there will be two soups to choose from, but only one during the warmer months.
Linda ordered the soup of the day, spicy chicken and vegetable soup with rice and an asparagus, shallots, garlic and red pepper quiche. Although the soup was listed as spicy, Linda felt it was midway between spicy and mild. I tasted it and thought it was spicy (but as regular readers know, I try to stay away from anything hot). The soup tasted freshly made with melt in your mouth chicken and a wide variety of vegetables and the quiche was good. Patsy really liked her chicken salad on a fresh croissant with a side of potato salad. She thought the mayonnaise, celery, red table grapes, and candied nuts created a nice blend. The croissant rested on seasonal greens.
Doris enjoyed her salmon entrée that had a generous portion of salmon and sautéed vegetables. The salmon was moist and delectable, but she found the vegetable were on the plain side. Connie ordered the herbal shrimp and penne but returned it because she thought it was too salty. The server handled this situation graciously and Connie did not have to wait long for her garlic grilled chicken breast open sandwich, which is what I had. The sandwich consisted of three garlic grilled chicken tenders served on toasted focaccio bread, and topped with apple wood bacon, melted havarti cheese with a drizzle of wasabi mayonnaise. The whole thing sat atop some seasonal greens. I just loved it! I had potato salad as a side and it tasted almost identical to my homemade version.
Now to the desserts. We ordered two to share. The home-made apple crisp was filled with apples enveloped in a flaky crust. It was served warm in a small bowl with vanilla ice cream. The chocolate peanut butter trifle was served like a slice of cake and was smooth, chocolaty and rich. We all felt that the desserts were fantastic. A berry trifle was also available. And kudos to a well trained staff that was pleasant, helpful and efficient.
Elmwood at Sparks
124 West Main Street
Orange, VA 22960
Open for Lunch
Monday - Saturday 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Dinner - Thursday - Saturday 6 - 9 p.m.