Joe Haynes, the Godfather of Virginia Barbecue and author of Virginia Barbecue: A History, has been a big help in my efforts to identify places that cook craft barbecue exclusively with wood and charcoal, rather than with gas or electric gadgets. Among other places, Joe pointed me to Shaffer’s BBQ and Market, and I owe him.
Nancy and I drove the 90 minutes from our home in the poor section of Chevy Chase out to Middletown, a small town in the Shenandoah Valley. Middletown is worth the trip. It’s a pretty town founded in 1796, and home to the Wayside Inn (1797), the first motor court in the United States, and right by the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove Plantations National Historic Park. Cedar Creek is the site of Sheridan’s Ride. Union troops had been routed by Early’s Confederates, but Sheridan, having ordered Capt. Bill McKinley (who later inadvertently made Leon Czolgosz famous) to form a last ditch defensive line, rode forward and personally rallied his fleeing troops. They turned and routed Early’s troops. Belle Grove Plantation is a big Palladian stone house that served as Sheridan’s headquarters.
Shaffer’s is just south of Middletown on US 11. It’s a combination restaurant and market. The market part alone is worth the trip.
Shaffer’s sells local meats, sausages (country, Cajun, bratwurst), scrapple, beef tallow for fans of McDonald’s french fries during their days of glory, country ham, oysters, line-caught fish, really good looking pies, local chicken salad, slaw, some pimiento cheese that looks almost as good as my recipe (here), an assortment of wines, and lots of craft beers.
You could live a rich, full life at Shaffer’s. And you would be surrounded by friendly people, eager to help you.
Nancy and I came to to try their barbecue. Nancy characteristically ordered a Caesar salad with grilled chicken.
I characteristically ordered a barbecued pork sandwich.
I also ordered as sides some Brunswick stew and some red beans and rice. and I added a Redneck Egg Roll, despite its name. (I avoid terms people use as slurs, but I remembered Alfred Korzybski’s apothegm, “Words don’t mean, people mean”, and took it in good part). Being on a diet, I ordered small sides.
Nancy really, really liked her salad. You could tell we were outside the Washington metro area because it only cost $7.99. The lettuce was fresh and the chicken was tender, moist(!). and flavorful.
I thought the pork sandwich (only $6!) was good, but I’d forgotten to ask for the sauce on the side, so I couldn’t really test the undressed pork. I enjoyed the sandwich. The sauce was good. They have three sauces: the one served on the pork, Big Julie’s Tangy VA sauce, and her Bold and Sassy sauce. Both of the latter sauces listed ketchup as the first ingredient, and vinegar as the second. Only then did sugar rear its ugly head as an ingredient.
The sides were great. I mean great. The red beans and rice dish was chock full of some good sausage, and it was seasoned just right. Like the red beans and rice, the Brunswick stew was just packed with a good, assertive flavor. Now, I know something about Brunswick Stew (recipe) and red beans and rice (recipe), and Shaffer’s does a great job. Next I took a bite of the Redneck Egg Roll, and woooo! It was good! Pork, cheese, and jalapeño wrapped and fried. Get one. Or two.
Nancy and I sat in one of the two nicely distanced dining areas that flank the Market. You saw the larger by the beer cooler. Ours, just beyond the right of the counter photo, was small, and we were able to dine alone there. There’s another covered dining area outdoors with a great view, that we didn’t notice until we were leaving.
Sit there in decent weather.
I had a chance to talk to Matt Shaffer. He came to the barbecue business honestly, having grown up helping his grandfather and then his father grill chicken over charcoal. You’ve been to volunteer fire department fundraisers with that sort of chicken. It’s good. After flying helicopters in the Navy, Matt and his wife, Julie, started a food truck in Arlington and in 2016, moved back to Middletown and opened their barbecue place. He takes pride in maintaining Virginia’s barbecue traditions, and urged me to try his brisket, which he made clear is not like Texas brisket, and ribs. I’m intrigued, so next trip.
I really want to get back to Shaffer’s. It’s a great place. I think I’ll take a cooler along so that I can bring back a lot of the local meats and a quart or so of their Brunswick stew (I have trouble getting a key ingredient for the family recipe). And some pork without sauce so I can give it the true test. I may stay at the Wayside Inn so I can be there for what looks like a great breakfast.
I’m looking forward to trying the other places Joe Haynes recommended.
Shaffer’s BBQ and Market is just the sort of place that really deserves your support. And it’s a delightful trip from the Washington area, a reasonable scenic drive to a great and refreshing place. There’s a huge variety of places to eat in Washington, but way deep down, there’s a vein of sameness among almost all of them. For something different and for some great food, make it a point to go to Shaffer’s. You’ll thank me when you get back — unless you see me and thank me while you’re there.
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