Three’s Company

Diners share an intimate, open-kitchen setting with the chefs at Three Blacksmiths.

Fire-roasted heirloom beets with daylily, lemon ricotta, black sesame praline, beet and bread miso, and charred cucumber relish.

Photos by Greg Powers

Everyone knows all the best parties end in the kitchen, so at the popular new Sperryville restaurant Three Blacksmiths, the kitchen is front and center with diners.

Chef John MacPherson, with wife and general manager Diane, previously owned the Foster Harris House B&B in Rappahannock County, and their culinary efforts there culminated in guests squeezing around the kitchen’s chef’s table after dinner, according to John. That reality informed the layout of their new restaurant, which eliminates all barriers between the chefs and the guests.

Chef MacPherson prepares mushrooms.

Sperryville is a remote location, about 30 miles west of Warrenton on Route 211, at Thornton Gap, where the road cuts into the mountain. The village sits at the intersection of Routes 231 and 211, and at the turn of the last century it was home to five general stores, six mills, an apple packing house, a saloon, a barber shop, a pharmacy, and the three blacksmiths who lend the restaurant its name. Today, it also has a plethora of pubs, a pottery shop, yoga studio, yarn shop, and, instead of those original three blacksmiths, it has Three Blacksmiths. It is a worthwhile exchange, as long as your horse hasn’t thrown a shoe.

Converting the restaurant from its unremarkable, if garishly painted, former life as a whimsical sandwich shop into a space with a stately presence that suggests nonexistent centuries of permanence was an exhausting hands-on task. Opulent wood floors, walls, support posts, and roof beams lend an old-world atmosphere to a building that was anything but. Though a completely wooden décor could potentially seem like a stuffy old country club’s smoking room or a rustic hunting cabin, neither is the case. Instead, the MacPhersons and sous chef Ethan Taylor have successfully created an intimate setting of six tables for 20 diners, where the experience is simultaneously personal and private.

That hands-on involvement continues with each seating at Three Blacksmiths, where the MacPhersons and Taylor not only prepare the food right in front diners, but also serve the food themselves, describing the food, the thought behind the selection of the various local ingredients, and the purpose of the optional selected wine pairing. The combination of few guests, abundant personal space, and direct interaction with the hosts lends the friendly atmosphere of a gathering at a friend’s house. The MacPhersons say they experienced a similar dynamic at some small restaurants in the French Alps while traveling. 

“It was really fine dining on a rustic, comfortable level,” John recalls. “The hospitality was very personal. I was so well cared for. The food was fantastic. There was plenty of space around our table. It wasn’t loud, so we could talk.” This perfectly describes the experience today at Three Blacksmiths, saving us the time and cost of traveling to France for the experience. 

In addition to the continental inspiration, the cuisine is focused on fresh, unique foods. For example, John used ramp, the wild leek native to Appalachia, in the asparagus lasagna and Whippoorwill Farm baby turnips and beets for a locally sourced salad. To pair with those beets, John explained that he chose a Domaine Bott Geyl Pinot Gris, from Alsace, France, because beets are hard to match with a suitable wine the French pinot gris meets the challenge. But Three Blacksmiths isn’t constrained to local cuisine alone, so we savored Maine lobster in cream with flying fish roe and summer truffle paired with the local Linden Vineyards’ Hardscrabble Chardonnay.

It is the combination of the local and imported, familiar and exotic that makes the experience of dining at Three Blacksmiths so memorably unique. Dinner courses concluded with Crescent Farm duck with a smoked potato purée paired with a Californian Tribute to Grace Granache wine. Dessert was a strawberry hyssop sundae featuring cassis, sunflower butter, feuilletine, and anise hyssop whip and a La Fleur Blanche cocktail. Though, surely, the little packaged parting gift of charcoal meringue was the most fun and memorable item.

Enjoying the wonderful food, drink, and atmosphere at Three Blacksmiths requires some sacrifice. First, the restaurant’s incredible popularity and miniscule service of a single 7 p.m. seating on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights means that you have to make a Hamilton-on-Broadway level of planning and effort to get seats. Reservations open online 203 days in advance, precisely at one second past midnight, and they sell out for the day within five minutes.

Dinner for two with the wine pairing totals $493.16, with a $100 deposit at the time of reservation and the rest charged the day of your meal. But by the end of the night it will seem worth the effort and cost.

John sets each weekend’s menu on Tuesday, so you won’t be certain exactly which combination of locally sourced and exotic far-flung ingredients you’ll be enjoying when you book the reservation.

Prepare for a true trip to the country when visiting Three Blacksmiths. If it is a bit of a drive, there are plenty of local bed and breakfasts to provide an overnight stay after dinner. But a remote destination can provide a welcome break from the digital world and enforced appreciation for the MacPhersons’ European fantasy. 

This article originally appeared in our October 2019 issue.

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