Market Salamander

Sheila Johnson's elegant horse country carryout.

From May 2004

A classy carryout market on the main street of Middleburg was always part of the plans for Sheila Johnson's Salamander Inn–a spa and hotel soon to be built at the edge of town. Todd Gray, owner of DC's Equinox restaurant, was hired to run the culinary side of both inn and market, and he assigned Brendan Cox, his sous chef at Equinox, to oversee the day-to-day operations.

The Salamander Inn probably will not open before fall 2005, but Market Salamander opened in February. There are sandwiches at lunchtime–fried-oyster and pulled-pork barbecue. In the afternoons, the offerings are more ambitious. Always available from the kitchen at the back are crabcakes, flavored with Gray's own "New Bay" seasoning; rotisserie-cooked meats, maybe spit-roasted ducks, game birds, or Tuscan porchetta; the market's signature buttermilk-roasted chicken; and Thomas Jefferson-style macaroni and cheese, made with béchamel and cheddar sauce. Combine these with the salads and vegetables available and you have dinner. "We had people who came in 25 or 30 times in the first month," Gray says. "It's been hard to keep up with the demand for cheese and bread."

Gray says putting together a retail market has been a challenge. "We've had to learn to look at food a little differently–not getting it onto the plate but into the box. People need instructions about things like reheating that, as restaurateurs, we are not accustomed to giving."

But Market Salamander is doing so well that remodeling is planned to handle the weekend crowds that want to eat at the market rather than take food home. The tables in the Italian-themed courtyard are more popular than Gray anticipated, and he is counting on warm weather to allow more seating on the deck outside.