Local Zen

Staunton’s Zynodoa showcases Shenandoah farmers.


Courtesy of Zynodoa

Stepping inside Zynodoa restaurant takes you right into the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. Not just because the cozy dining room is tucked into the middle of Beverley Street, Staunton’s charming shopping district. It’s the food—one inspired dish after another, created to pay homage to the small farmers and producers across the fertile area once known as the Breadbasket of the Confederacy.

The menu is seasonal, and nearly every dish references a local provider: An Autumn Olive Farm twice-cooked pork belly adorns a crisp cabbage slaw surrounded by tangy red pepper coulis. Red and white beets from Van Dessel Farm mingle with tender pea shoots, dotted with chevre from Caromont Farm. And grilled swordfish gets a bright accompaniment from a blend of sautéed mushrooms from Afton’s a.m. FOG family farm and peppery radish greens from Malcolm’s Market Garden.

What’s surprising is that this popular destination eatery was created by two people with no restaurant experience.

Courtesy of Zynodoa

Jeff and Susan Goode opened Zynodoa in the spring of 2007—terrific timing because the “farm-to-table” movement was just about to explode in the Shenandoah Valley. Ian Boden had elevated Staunton’s dining options two months earlier when he opened Staunton Grocery. Barbara Kingsolver was about to publish Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a memoir about moving her family to the Shenandoah Valley and eating only local food for a year. And the Valley was bursting with an enthusiastic new generation of small farmers and producers.

Jeff, a carpenter, and Susan, a designer with a jewelry firm, had decided to buy and refurbish the building at 115 East Beverley Street as an investment. A local restaurateur offered to partner on the concept.

“I wanted the real estate, he wanted the restaurant,” Jeff says. “It seemed like a good opportunity, and we felt like we could build something here.” Zynodoa was successful from the beginning, thanks largely to out-of-town diners visiting nearby Blackfriars Playhouse. And when the partnership dissolved, Jeff and Susan took over.

“We have been farm-to-table from the beginning,” Jeff says. “We were trying to impart some of our responsibility to fossil fuels, and wanted to find farmers where we could get clean food.”

For example, Zynodoa was the first restaurant to serve Autumn Olive Farms (AOF) meats from farmers Linda and Clay Trainum—but not their famous heritage pork. “Linda and Clay were raising goats at first,” Jeff remembers. Zynodoa put local goat dishes on the menu and put the Trainums in business. In fact, Linda still has that first check framed in her office.

Sera Petras Photography

The goat meat is long gone. Now, chef Matt Hull serves juicy AOF pork chops and pork belly from Waynesboro, massive tomahawk ribeye steaks from Seven Hills in Lynchburg, savory roasted chicken from Polyface Farm in Swoope, and briny fresh oysters from Rappahannock Oyster Company on the shore. 

Diners can snack on local cow and goat’s milk cheeses ranging from tangy blue to creamy camembert. Or dig into a Polyface chicken liver paté, Seven Hills beef tartare, or a tête-de-cochon pork paté—all served with Newtown Baking and Kitchen baguettes.

Chef Hull’s dishes change seasonally, and they’re visually stunning. A spring menu sparkles with local asparagus, scallions, turnips, watercress, mushrooms, sunchokes, radishes, peas, garlic scapes, and bitter greens. Plates are dotted with feathery-fresh herbs and bright edible flowers, like pansies and rose petals.

Sera Petras Photography

Chef Hull

Today, the Goodes’ daughter, Jessica, manages the restaurant, where she greets regulars by name and offers everyone a friendly smile. The dining room has a warm amber glow from the backlit bar, with walls lined by intimate highbacked booths.

As farm-to-table eating grew in popularity over the years, more restaurants joined in, but sometimes superficially. A 2016 exposé in the Tampa Bay Times called out many for menu-tagging local suppliers they’d never visited or purchased from.

Not only do Jeff and Susan visit their suppliers, they take employees along. “With the field trips we get a deeper connection throughout the entire staff,” Jeff says. This means a server, for example, can explain to a diner that autumn olive is an invasive shrub with bright red berries that goats and pigs love.

Granted, a menu this varied must source some ingredients beyond the Valley. Crispy shrimp fritters rely on a North Carolina fishery and pair perfectly with a zesty aioli. Chef Hull sprinkles young vegetables across a bowl of nutty, unctuous farro from heirloom grain producer Anson Mills in South Carolina. But even those dishes incorporate local ingredients.

“The Shenandoah Valley just has so much to offer,” Susan says. “Shenandoah” is derived from the native word, “Zynodoa.” It was either the name of a skilled indigenous hunter, an alignment of the stars, or a mythical low-lying pass into the Valley through the Appalachian mountain range—depending on who you ask. Zynodoa restaurant embodies all three, and its local bounty promises to draw diners into the Valley for decades to come.

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue.

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