Scrawled on a chalkboard, the rustic and refined Mid-Atlantic menu at Sumac conjures up images of open dining rooms, chef’s counters and starched white coats. But there’s no food court in this bucolic section of Sperryville, Virginia, just a green field and a converted kitchen trailer that sits on cinder blocks.
Over the past year, owners Abbey and Dan Gleason have transformed Sumac (3863 Sperryville Pike) from a pop-up tent on the grounds of the Pen Druid Brewery into a hyper-seasonal operation equipped with two custom wood-burning fireplaces that are located in an open-sided extension attached to the trailer. The land, which lies just east of Shenandoah National Park, is technically zoned for agricultural use, so Sumac was unable to build a full commercial kitchen. This is why the Gleasons are sticking to a mobile platform.
“It’s so interesting to me to see people come to Pen Druid and think there’s a food truck,” Abbey Gleason says, “and when they engage with Sumac, they laugh that it doesn’t. is not really a food truck. ”
From the window of that trailer, the couple serve an eclectic menu that changes weekly based on what they can eat and the farmers around. Rappahannock County – a region that bills itself as the Piedmont of Virginia – have to offer. On a recent visit, Sumac offered rabbit stir-fry over oats with a black nut sauce replacing soy sauce that achieved the dark, umami quality of a shoyu. A dark purple bison tartare was covered with dried egg yolk, small pickled mushrooms and white flowers. Fire-roasted tomatoes give a caramelized complexity to the goat’s cheese gnocchi.
Instead of white wine, Dan deglazes the pan with Pen Druid’s Arkansas black cider, a product he describes as “super bright” and more fruity than white wine. Sumac’s partnership with Pen Druid seems fitting, as the brewery embraces a connection to the local environment as well. Using low-intervention brewing methods, wood fires, barrel aging and spontaneous fermentation with wild yeasts, Pen Druid produces everything from blondes and amber to Lambic-style beers that ferment for years. “We built our design on what Pen Druid does,” Dan says. “Their model inspired us to create a symbiotic cuisine on their land. “
The Gleason’s have worked in and around restaurants and agriculture for almost a decade. Dan has cooked at places like the Inn at Little Washington, the revered tasting menu destination that holds three Michelin stars, and Jackie’s, the now-closed Silver Spring favorite. Abbey has worked in agriculture and nutrition community advocacy groups like 4P Foods in DC. “When we got married, we started to open a place that combined our passions,” Dan says.
Compared to urban restaurants that advertise a similar local sourcing philosophy, the Gleason’s believe they can foster a more intimate and immediate approach, as they’re only steps away from their supplier farms. Sumac takes pride in sourcing every ingredient within 150 miles. The couple buy apples and pears from Jenkins Orchard, get their heirloom Berkshire and Ossabaw pork from Autumn Olive Farm, and head to the Whiffletree farm for poultry.
Firmly holding on to the hyper-local philosophy also forces Dan to think outside the box. “If we give ourselves a little box to paint on the inside – anything that comes under 150 miles and made from scratch – it forces us to think creatively,” he says. For example, this rabbit stir-fry came about when Jesse Straight from the Whiffletree farm was throwing Dan at the rabbit around the same time the chef had collected nuts.
Dan wants Sumac to take a light approach that focuses on Virginia produce, but says he has a creative outlet through the “family practice” of making soft cheeses and vinegars. Now that it’s fall, Dan is delighted to serve whole Magness pears from Jenkins Orchard in the center of a plate with other fruits and cheeses.
“The apple and pear season is approaching and the Magness pear is the best pear I have ever eaten in my life,” says Dan. “I’ve been waiting for this pear all year.”