The last time chef Patrick O’Connell took a casual approach to dining in Virginia wine country, the year was 1978 and he’d just opened The Inn at Little Washington—then a 50-seat restaurant with no alcohol—in a former car garage. Fast forward 43 years, three Michelin stars, and countless celebrity visitors later, and The Inn’s 24-acre “campus” is welcoming a dressed-down dining option once again. Patty O’s Cafe & Bakery, located in a former gas station off the village square, is now open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Of course, there’s nothing truly casual about O’Connell—at least in the everyday sense of the word. The same chef who trained his staff in ballet, installed theatric mannequins in the dining room, and let his Dalmatian taste-test croissants isn’t going to skimp on whimsy just because service is a la carte. The menu, which draws from local farms and the Inn’s own pastures and gardens, is inspired by the French cafes and nostalgic comforts of O’Connell’s youth, plus some past favorites from the formal Inn menu (remember the “fire and ice” seared and peppered tuna with cucumber sorbet? It’s back).
Chef Devin Bozkaya, who worked at the Inn for five years before stints at Westend Bistro and the Altamarea Group, returns to Washington. He combines talents with head baker Christian Capo, an alum of Fiola and New York’s Dominique Ansel Bakery & Kitchen. Guests can drop by in the morning for single-origin coffees, European-style pastries, and fresh baked goods. Lunch and dinner are served in the adjoining cafe and bar, decked out in rustic woods, greens, and a wood-burning fireplace. An umbrella-covered patio is a pretty place to perch in warm weather.
An afternoon fall getaway might start with calvados-spiked French onion soup or a crock of pimento cheese. Salads, burgers, and sandwiches make up lunch—think Champagne-brined ham with shaved comté or an elegant Louie-style salad of chilled Maine lobster and shrimp with Russian dressing. Dinner brings bistro fare like roast chicken, wild mushroom bolognese, lamb chops over curried lentils with tzatziki, or charcoal grilled mustard-crusted salmon. All can be matched with seasonal cocktails, beers, and a wine list curated by the Inn’s sommelier, Lindsey Fern.
Sadly you’ll have to book a $288 tasting menu at the Inn to experience a visit from Faira the roving “cheese cow” cart at the end of the meal. But Patty O’s dishes up the second best thing: scoops of the Inn’s famous butter-pecan ice cream.
Patty O’s Cafe & Bakery. 389 Main St., Washington. Open Monday, Tuesday, and Friday through Sunday.