DOWNSIZING PUTS CHEF IAN BODEN (AND MIDDLE-OF-NOWHERE VIRGINIA) ON THE DESTINATION DINING MAP
Approaching the shack, a brick hut in a shanty parking lot in Staunton, Virginia, one might wonder how the 400-square-foot space with communal seating for twenty-six could turn out the kind of food that’s garnered a litany of accolades that read like hyperbole. One might also wonder how the chef who, two weeks in, scored a review in Esquire titled “The Incredible Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere that Nobody Knows About,” would be able to fit his ego in the closet-sized kitchen.
But ego is precisely what Chef Ian Boden checked at the door of this former barbecue joint that he bought and renovated for a song last January with burgers in mind. These were no standard-issue patties, of course, but rather the locally sourced, hand-ground, brilliantly anointed ones that devotees of his farm-to-table mecca the Staunton Grocery mourned when it closed in December 2011.
Apprenticing at age thirteen, then working under New York greats, before running his own kitchen in the city as a mere babe at twenty-four, Boden is no burger flipper. To complement the weekday fare, he began offering implausibly underpriced three- and four-course tasting menus ($45 and $55 respectively) on Friday and Saturday nights that married his steadfast use of local product with his boundless creativity and deft execution.
And while those familiar with Boden from his Staunton Grocery, or even Glass Haus Kitchen days (another acclaimed—albeit brief—sensation in Charlottesville that earned him a Beard nomination), might recognize a flavor or two, the thirty-six-year-old’s style is all grown up. “You don’t even know who you are at twenty-six,” Boden says about the age he was when he moved home, still wearing big-city britches. “I’m much more mature in my food and my voice now. It takes confidence to come across as comfortable.”
And Boden’s food speaks unequivocally and deliciously of both. Tempering the personalities of an impassioned artist, a mad scientist, and a roguish rocker with that of an earnest line cook, Boden changes his menu nightly, riffing extemporaneously in a way that makes eating truly exciting—not only within the context of the meal, but also within the context of each dish.
The chicken in his “chicken” Caesar salad might be proverbial by appearing as schmaltz dressing and cracklins, but its flavor crows. Pork belly trades in its futures to go pastrami-style atop pumpernickel bread pudding with dill-pickled beets and yellow mustard in a gentrified version of the deli linchpin. Playing off taste memories, desserts—like a sweet potato hand pie with lemon curd and marshmallow fluff—are reminiscent of their (far less tasty) cellophaned counterparts.
A sister spot opening this spring will take over The Shack’s burgers, allowing Boden to devote four nights to his tasting menus, though with New York native Charlie Brassard in charge, the NYC diner-meets-Southern meat-and-three is no consolation table. Teaming up to make “the kind of food that you can and want to eat everyday” was a dream of the duo when they worked together, and it only took a decade for Boden to lure Brassard from Brooklyn to the Staunton sticks to realize it.
Best not to wait that long to make your own pilgrimage to these pint-sized powerhouses.
Chef Ian Boden’s Recipes
“Chicken” Caesar Salad with Schmaltz Dressing, Poached Egg, and Crispy Chicken Skin
Pastrami Pork Belly over Pumpernickel Bread Pudding, Yellow Mustard, and Dill-Pickled Beets
Miso Fried Quail with Concord Grape Hot Sauce and Dirty Oats
Chili Braised Lamb Ribs with Field Peas, Turnips and Greens, and Chili Vinegar
Virginia Peanut Blancmange with Tart Cherry and Peanut Crumble
The Shack’s Oatmeal Cream Pie à la Little Debbie
Join The Local Palate team as we welcome Chef Ian Boden and friends to bring the flavors of Virginia to Charleston, Thursday, March 5th.
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