Eiffel Tower Café offers excellent fare such as
Have an appetite for interesting history and good food? Leesburg serves up both.
An easy day trip, the town is 250 years old this year. The historic district is a pleasant place to stroll: Besides Colonial and Federal-style homes—some dating back to the mid-1700s—there are shops, galleries, and fine restaurants.
Originally called George Town, after the British king, Leesburg was renamed to honor Virginia’s own royalty, the Lee family. After the Revolutionary War—the town, then home to many religious dissenters, joined the American side and had the largest militia in Virginia—Leesburg became a center for shipping produce to cities on the East Coast. Stone, brick, and wooden houses replaced log cabins as the town prospered.
During the War of 1812, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were brought to Leesburg for safekeeping. While the area didn’t escape devastation from the Civil War, the historic district remained relatively intact. Courthouses, schools, and libraries accompanied Leesburg’s transformation into a more sophisticated town at the turn of the 19th century.
To make the most of a visit, pick up the excellent 158-page “Exploring Leesburg” guide, available for $5 at the visitors center (222 Catoctin Cir., SE, Suite 100; 703-752-2170 or 800-752-6118; visitleesburg.org). One building of note: The former home of General George C. Marshall sits in town, at 217 Edwards Ferry Road.
Even the most dedicated sightseer gets hungry.
The town’s two most upscale restaurants are also the best. Eiffel Tower Café (107 W. Loudoun St.; 703-777-5142; eiffeltowercafe.com) is cozy, welcoming, and, as the name suggests, emphatically French. Tuscarora Mill (203 Harrison St., SE; 703-771-9300; tuskies.com) is an attractive American restaurant in a converted flour mill.
Set in a frame house, Eiffel Tower Café offers a variety of traditional French food. On three recent visits, only one dish was disappointing—a delicate trout that was overcooked. Otherwise, the appetizers, seafood, meats, and house-made desserts excelled. I can vouch for the goat cheese in puff pastry, salmon with risotto, pan-roasted duck breast, and walnut dacquoise.
At Tuscarora Mill, the bar area and middle room are housed in an old mill; a rear dining area is brighter and more traditional in decor. Very good American food, both modern and familiar, flows from a chef who doesn’t try to do too much. Simple preparations such as roast chicken are especially pleasing, and the wine list is exceptional. Service was generally good, except on a busy Saturday night I visited, when it was too quick. The food at Sunday brunch was only satisfactory.
An unexpected treat can be found in Green Tree(15 S. King St.; 703-777-7246; leesburgcolonialinn.com/greentree.html), a restaurant that specializes in food—including rabbit fricassee and green-herb soup—from the time of Thomas Jefferson. It’s housed in a building from his era, and diners can choose to sit either in the front room, with its dark wood and brick, or in the lighter, wallpapered rear dining room, which is decidedly Colonial.
Among the town’s several good cafes, my favorite is Lightfoot (11 N. King St.; 703-771-2233; lightfootrestaurant.com), in part because of its elegant setting in a converted 19th-century bank with high ceilings and lots of stone. As befits a bank-house establishment, its oysters Rockefeller were rich and good.
For German and Turkish dishes—and good German beer—try Hamburg Döner at the Mighty Midget Kitchen (202 Harrison St., SE; 703-779-7880), while for breakfast or a light lunch you might pop into Puccio’s New York Deli (15 Loudoun St., SE; 703-779-7676).
Fanciers of Italian should enjoy the full-service restaurant Bella Luna (19 S. King St.; 703-777-5001; leesburgcolonialinn.com /bellaluna.html) or Fireworks Pizza (201 Harrison St., SE; 703-779-8400), whose wood-burning oven turns out pizzas sized for one or two along with other dishes. There’s both indoor dining and a large, off-street deck.
This town of 32,000 has its share of ethnic cooking. For Chinese, visit Jasmine Restaurant (110 South St., SE; 703-737-2288; jasminecuisine.com), which presents elegant dishes from Shanghai as well as more typical fare. Good Thai, from spring rolls to steamed, fresh whole fish, is what you get at tiny Thai Royal (2 Harrison St., SE; 703-777-9487). The location isn’t much; it’s in a gas station. But the fish is first-rate—fresh, reasonably priced, and nicely presented.
South-of-the-border aficionados might check out La Chocita Grill (210 Loudoun St., SE; 703-443-2319; mexicanrestaurantleesburg.com), a Mexican/Salvadoran/Peruvian amalgam that serves Tex-Mex dishes, elaborate recipes from Mexico and El Salvador, and crisp rotisserie chicken—the specialty of Peru. A small patio is in back.
If time permits, you can make your way home past the wineries located just outside Leesburg—Tarara, Willowcraft, and Hidden Brook. Or stop at a 21st-century draw: Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets.
This article first appeared in the September 2008 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here.
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