Nostalgia Rides Again! Tuskie’s is as good as ever!
By George Humphries
Visiting Tuscarora Mill restaurant for us is a trip down a very pleasant memory lane: an enjoyable recherche du temps perdu. Vagrant memory holds a visit on opening night – maybe wishful recall, but surely a visit in the restaurant in the first week after it opened in 1985, a year or so after we moved to Loudoun County. It soon became our favorite restaurant of that era and we visited it often in our forays into reviewing local eateries.
Tuskie’s was the start of a now prosperous chain consisting of five eateries of various sizes, styles, and locations. Calling Tuskie’s a restaurant is a little deceiving, since the Leesburg complex also comprises a spacious bar and café area almost separate from the main dining room, plus a lower-level South Street Under café and bakery. All of these operate in the historic old mill that anchors the cluster of shops and eating establishments at Leesburg’s Market Station. Over the years, owner Kevin Malone and his crew also have expanded their horizons to create Magnolia’s at the Mill in Purcellville and two Fire Works Pizza establishments – one in the old train station at Market Station and a second in Arlington.
The entrance to the restaurant proper is off Harrison Street. The front door opens on the enormously popular café and bar that in the evening presents a veritable obstacle course to the dining room. Fortunately, there is a passageway to the right and around the enthusiastic crowd in the bar/café. Once circumnavigating the hilarity of the nearly always crowded bar, one comes to the host station at the entrance to the restaurant itself. There, serenity rules, though the boisterous scene remains partially visible if blessedly not audible.
The restaurant consists of a main room under relics of the old mill machinery in the cavernous ceiling. Adding to this space are tables in narrow closed porch-like spaces along two walls ideally suitable for discreet tete-a-tetes. At the rear is a large additional dining space beyond the wall of the old mill – airier and less cloistered than the main room of the mill – where we have attended a wedding reception and other events.
Aside from the architectural interest, the menu, food, and service have been excellent at our every visit over these past 25+ years, thanks to Malone’s inspired and steady leadership and longtime chef Patrick Dinh.
The current menu contains so many items that it’s a wonder that the kitchen can contain them all. The bar/café has a separate menu with “Small Things” suitable for accompanying a drink, or “Bigger Things” that can serve as a casual meal. South Street Down Under has a wonderful selection of soups, salads, and sandwiches prepared on fresh-baked bread.
“Dinner First Courses” in the main dining room feature fresh oysters prepared several ways, beef fondue, spring rolls, Maine lobster, mussels, the always excellent house salad, and a Caesar which we highly recommend.
The Entrée menu is varied and extensive, with something for everyone. Grilled duck breast, pork chop saltimbocca, Mexican chicken, trout, salmon, and three cuts of steak. The rack of lamb had four ribs, lightly seasoned, tender, and cooked rare to my order. My wife pronounced the salmon to be delicious, and our guests said the steaks were tender and excellent. All of these include appropriate accompaniments, but there are special sides that can be added. Mouth-watering desserts prepared by sous chef Sue Porter and a trio of artisan cheeses round out an impressive menu.
Malone pioneered in building a fine restaurant using local purveyors wherever possible. While other establishments have followed suit over the years, Tuskie’s record of finding fresh local ingredients and supporting the local economy is unexcelled. He extended this practice to build a formidable wine collection that features Loudoun County wines alongside the best from other states and countries. Ask for a copy of the Tuskie’s Wine Trail map, which features all of the wineries and tasting rooms in the County along with some of the best from northern Fauquier and western Prince William counties.The atmosphere and service add to the food itself to make a visit to Tuscarora Mill a memorable experience. We have more than 25 years of good memories to prove.
George Humphries is a retired Navy aviator who began cooking at the age of 10 and has managed several large restaurants. He has lived in Loudoun Country since 1984.