In 2009, the food-loving fans of Bravo’s hit cooking competition, Top Chef, were given a gift. For the first time in Top Chef history, the cast of 17 chefs included two brothers, Maryland natives Bryan and Michael Voltaggio. It made for riveting television—two brothers blessed with visionary talent, outperforming their competitors until they were the last two men standing before the judges’ table.
Although it was Michael who edged out his older brother for the grand prize, Bryan Voltaggio hasn’t exactly retreated into the shadows. The two-time James Beard Award nominee has definitively placed himself—and his hometown of Frederick, Maryland—on the culinary map, thanks to a burgeoning restaurant empire in this small city at the foot of Catoctin Mountain.
Thus, we find ourselves in Frederick, hungry to explore this historic crossroads that now brings together some of the region’s best cuisine, scenery, shopping, and history. And at less than 50 miles from Washington, D.C., Frederick lends itself as a perfect day or overnight trip—a destination to keep in your pocket for those weekends when an extra day off just isn’t possible.
Two Girls Walk Into A Barn…
Eleven years ago, Virginia Crum moved with her family to her grandparents’ farm on Buckeystown Pike, just minutes away from downtown Frederick. Her new home gave her the inspiration to launch Chartreuse & Company, a business that began as occasional tag sales at one of the farm’s cottages. But in the last few years, Chartreuse & Company has grown into a monthly barn sale attracting vintage dealers and antique enthusiasts from Frederick County and beyond.
Showcasing dozens of vendors each week, Chartreuse & Company’s five buildings are a treasure trove of home décor, from reclaimed industrial pieces to intricate antique furniture. Arrive early for the best selection and the shortest lines—prices this good are bound to draw a crowd (4007 Buckeystown Pike).
History Of The World Part One
A short drive along Market Street will bring you into the heart of Frederick, a quaint city of 65,000 residents with a rich Civil War history. It was at nearby Prospect Hall where a messenger from President Abraham Lincoln arrived in the early hours of June 28, 1863, informing General George Meade that he would take over command of the Army of the Potomac. Days later, Meade and his army would defeat General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Today, Frederick’s streets are lined with charming homes, churches, and specialty shops. But let’s not lose sight of our mission. You’re in downtown Frederick to eat.
Commanding the downtown vista is the 19th century Houck Mansion, which today is home to VOLT, chef-owner Bryan Voltaggio’s flagship restaurant. The ever-changing menu is a tribute to seasonal, sustainable cuisine, highlighting classic flavor combinations prepared with innovative techniques. And while there may be white tablecloths and impeccable service, VOLT is special without being stuffy—just take a look at the Chuck Taylors your server is wearing.
For an exciting, outstanding meal without breaking the bank, make a reservation for brunch, where you’ll be treated to three extraordinary courses for only $35. With so many wonderful offerings—think blue crab with cucumber and mango, omelets with lobster and broccoli rabe, and maple-glazed bacon doughnuts—your only challenge will be choosing just three (228 North Market Street).
It’s Funny How Falling Feels Like Flying
The origins of the Flying Dog Brewery date back to 1983, when its name was somehow derived from a quest to climb K2, a night of drinking in Rawalpindi, and a strange oil painting of a dog in flight. But no matter how the name came about, Flying Dog is today producing some of the region’s most interesting beers—and entertaining beer lovers with one of the best brewery tours in the United States. For only $5, you’ll taste your way through the entire process, but it’s the team of funny, conscientious guides that really make the afternoon special (reservations in advance are required, 4607 Wedgewood Boulevard).
A few beer samples in, there’s no better time for dinner at Family Meal, Bryan Voltaggio’s most recent contribution to the Frederick food scene. A 1960s car dealership-turned-upscale diner, Family Meal is a celebration of classic comfort dishes, updated with fresh, seasonal, local ingredients. Whether you opt for the wedge salad with bacon and gorgonzola or the crispy fried chicken with buttermilk biscuits, Family Meal will both awaken memories of your most formative dining experiences, and create entirely new ones (880 North East Street).
Brownie, You’re Doing A Heckuva Job
Spend the morning 21 miles west of Frederick in Harpers Ferry, the national historical park located at the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. This stunning peninsula at the tip of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia was the site of abolitionist John Brown’s raid in October 1859, an attack on the U.S. Armory and Arsenal intended to spark an uprising against slavery. It was Robert E. Lee—then a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army—who led the counterassault on the raiders, leading to Brown’s eventual execution. Mere months later, following the secession of Virginia in April 1861, Lee would resign his army commission and take up command of his home state’s forces against the Union.
In addition to its rich history, Harpers Ferry—the midpoint of the 2,178-mile Appalachian Trail—is an unforgettable hiking destination. Whether you opt for the towering views of the Maryland Heights Trail or the more moderate Bolivar Heights/School House Ridge North Trail, you’ll see why Thomas Jefferson called this place “one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”
TITLE: The road to Harpers Ferry | SATURDAY: The big barn at Chartreuse & Company; the Madison & Mabel antique stall; the wedge salad at Family Meal; fried chicken at Family Meal | SUNDAY: The Shenandoah River at Harpers Ferry.