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Published: October 21st 2010
Occoquan, Virginia is a nice balance of historic southern charm with international accents.
Sitting on the patio at Cock and Bowl in Occoquan, Virginia under the romantic influence of jazz music playing in the background, I was transported to another world by the restaurants whimsical bohemian nature and European fashion. A world where dessert is for dinner and there is meat so tender you can cut it with a fork. It was unexpected this morning that today would be when I am schooled on Belgian beer and culture at noon on a Saturday in a po-dunk town in Virginia accompanied by un amant, Jon. A Belgian waffle under ice cream and chocolate ganache between us as a sweet finish to our meal, I vowed to never again underestimate the potential of displaced culture armed with local ingredients.
Only a place that grows produce and raises beef locally knows the importance of holding on to your roots and would yield such fantastic, authentic cuisine. That is the lure of a country town, the community feel, the smells and taste of home cooking, the nostalgia in the oddities of the antique shops. Even with new routes filtering traffic away from the
town and Washington D.C. not too far away, Occoquan has managed to preserve this rustic quality of life inspiring the town to rebuild after a hurricane destructed it in 1972 and maintain its historic character.
We came upon Cock and Bowl after wandering around Occoquan ducking in and out of the tiny boutiques and antique shops that give this town its homespun charm. Today, we had come to spend the afternoon feeling the firmness of fruit and sampling sweet pies at the weekly farmers market held in a lot at the east end of Mill St. To our surprise, the event showcased all quality products but did not require our whole day for which we had reserved. So, after exploring the six stands of tables piled high with produce and airy, crusted breads, we dropped our sweet potato pie and a most massive butternut squash at the car and took to the sunny streets.
We headed up Commerce Street, the main drag of Occoquan lined with specialty shops and eateries. There were quilting stores with hundreds of different fabrics hanging on display, puppy boutiques and spas whatever that means, fudge shoppes with little old women behind the counter
Small flags adorn most of this historic little town's buildings and houses.
laying out colorful squares, a little lemonade stand with a quirky, tattooed red head with Cleopatra winged eyeliner and a frilly apron pressing juice. Neighbors visiting each other, coffee houses set in a restored historic home, it is the quintessential image of a Northern Virginia community. A small, self sustainable town set against a mountain backdrop.
When our stomachs growled, baited by extensive menu shopping, we ventured between buildings down Poplar Alley where we had seen a Belgian bistro boasting authentic cuisine. Autumn being my favorite time of year, I nerd out on anything season related once the leaves start turning. When we approached it was no decision, Cock and Bowl had me at apple spiced caramel waffles which they advertised on their specials chalk board. Reviewing the menu descriptions, I was in disbelief over the mouth watering descriptions of simmering, brothy bowls of Mussels Provencal, crispy shrimp croquettes, Poulet Dijon and over 40 tasty Begian beers. This was Virginia comfort food meets European home cooking, a match made in heaven. We sat down and immediately dove into reviewing the drinks list. A natural born wine drinker my eyes veered toward the short selection of Spanish reds. However, flipping
Cock and Bowl had me at Caramel Apple Spice Waffles.
through the four pages of beer from light to dark, mine eyes caught glimpses of passionfruit, chocolate, orange, and cinnamin. Suddenly my timeless plan of wine and a salad just seemed so silly compared to my hearts yearning for Chimay braised short ribs and a dark, malty stout. Accustomed to the slim pickings at most restaurants void of high end imports or more than perhaps two craft beers, how could I refuse?
In traditional Belgian style, each beverage arrived in its own unique glass as a shout out to the brewer and homage to beer culture. Served cold, more flavors unlock as they warm in the sun morphing to a completely different taste than the first sip. Jon and I decided like the two healthy, twenty somethings we are, to split a plate of ribs with two beers to share. The first was Duchess de Bourgogne from Vichte (Belgium), beginning almost hoppy but as it came to room temperature became a smooth, rich ale flittering between the tangy, jamminess of passion fruit and the bittery, buttery hints of chocolate. The other De Dolle Extra Export Stout hailing a little farther north from a brewery in Diksmuide, West Flanders. Carrying
Enjoying our delicious Belgian beer!
a malty, almost dull taste to start, De Dolle quickly became the golden ticket to huge chocolate flavor with smokey coffee undertones to cut the sweetness. (Ironically, this could be a direct metaphor to my view of Belgium before this scrumptulescent education inspired me to put it on my bucket list.) Such a wide spectrum of flavors left my tastebuds tingling and I almost forgot about lunch!
Occoquan has managed to retain its identity as small trade town on the Potomac River and outside the aim of urban sprawl because of its historic background. It is not unusual to see the European influence still prominant and the town made up of craftsman and artists. Occoquan at one time was a bustling, thriving trade center in the early days of the settlement of Virginia. However, once the railroad was built and goods could be transported via train, Occoquan's business declined as the rail road continued to build lines around the town. Now, it has become a top weekend destination for Virginians to spend a pleasant day in relaxation shopping and eating.
This quaint, comfortable little town is perfect for an autumn day of home goods, antiques, local artists, and
The sweet life!
Belgian waffle with chocolate ganache, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream!
great food! Hang out by the water on the deck of venues such as Madigan's Waterfront serving up tasty, fresh seafood and fine steaks. Head to The Electric Palm Restaurant for a more casual, beachy experience. If your just in the mood for some good southern cookin' check out Waters Edge that serves all the traditional dishes we love such as bbq pulled pork sandwiches and oyster po' boys. Heading up Commerce Street you can find a wealth of shops for every simple pleasure whether it be ducking in and out of galleries like that of photographer Lisa Julia or sorting through for a new vintage cloche cap and some jewelry at Country Morning or Glory Be. Before you leave, don't forget to treat yourself to any of Royal Confections rows of truffles. The pumpkin fudge is my kind of pumpkin carving.
Save the date: Cock and Bowl is holding a Halloween Beer Dinner. $85/person on Oct. 31st. Find out more about it here;
or plan your trip with the help of Occoquan's official town site:
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