Get Off Your Ass and Drive to Staunton, Virginia
Digging into small town America with a big league supercar.
There's a part of your brain that’s broken.
It’s malignant, nagging. It worries about tomorrow’s hangover tonight. It’s excited for Amazon drone delivery and feeds on routine and relishes the sofa. It keeps an inventory of excuses. Stay put, it whispers. If you run off, who's going to feed the dog and do laundry and water the plants? Consider this a lobotomy.
Board your dog. Dirty socks never killed anyone. Fuck the hydrangeas. Get up and drive somewhere, anywhere. There’s an enormous country out there with empty roads and great food and wonderful people and bizarre places. Not sure where to start? Here’s an idea: Staunton, Virginia.
EAT… at The Shack. That’s Ian Boden’s joint, a hidden gem on the outskirts of Historic Downtown. Boden was a culinary prodigy of sorts, cooking at a top-notch French restaurant by 13. After a decade in New York, he moved back home, to Virginia, in 2007 and opened his own restaurant, the Staunton Grocery. It failed. So did his next venture, Glass Haus Kitchen, in nearby Charlottesville. Broke, frustrated and burnt out, Boden leased this 400-sq-ft. brick building (formerly a Caribbean barbeque dive, before that a trap house with alligators living in the basement). He calls it “a middle finger to the food industry.” Twenty-four seats. Local ingredients. Back to basics.
The Shack does burgers on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but that’s just to pay bills. On weekends, the kitchen lets its hair down and gets kinky. Boden changes the menu each night, depending on what’s fresh and on his mind. It’s heady stuff, broad-appeal dishes with flare. (See: smoked pork loin in gooseberry barbeque sauce, Sea Island red peas, collard greens and cornbread; Hamachi crudo with ground cherries, watermelon gherkins and granita, olive oil and sea salt.) Yes, the food is incredible. But the atmosphere, the intimate warmth and mismatched furniture and haphazard layout, that’s the real draw. You must.
DRIVE… SR 252 south, out of town. At Rockbridge Baths, make east for Goshen Pass, where 39 gets tangled up with 42. It’s a snake's’ nest of blacktop, well worth dipping a toe into West Virginia to have a run at. North on 92 for a breather, then dig into Route 66. That’s where the going gets good. The road climbs east, into the Allegheny and Cheat Mountains, peaking out at 4,800-plus-feet. Fog. Snow. Thin air. It’s treacherous. And fantastic.
Hit Snowshoe Ski Lodge, then rip back down 66, because it’s an entirely different animal on descent. Keep on till Barstow, bear onto SR 250 and follow signs for Monterey. It’s a treasure, all heavily banked sweepers and hairpins, a scenic Appalachian bastard child of Talladega and The Dragon. By the time it straightens out, you’re back in Staunton, ideally in one piece.
SEE… a play, you heathen. Staunton is home to Blackfriars Playhouse, the “world's only recreation” of Blackfriars Theatre in London, which was demolished in 1655. It's a neat little building, timber framed in Virginia oak with a hammerbeam roof and hanging chandeliers inside. The ushers sell gummy bears in sandwich bags. A bluegrass band plays during intermission.
The regional Shakespearean troupe performs four shows there per season. I saw The Winter’s Tale. Midway through the second act, the cast broke into a Jacobean rendition of John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” I have seen Shakespeare performed at The Globe Theater and in Stratford-upon-Avon. This is much, much better.
TAKE… a motorcycle, or something mid-engine. I parachuted into town with an Audi R8 V10 Plus, a red one with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It was pretty great. You already knew that, though, because the R8 is old. It starts with a key. There is a CD player, but no wireless connectivity. Cylinder deactivation? Try a plug wrench. The chassis is long in the tooth, a simple thing that doesn’t know its own strength. The new 911 Turbo and McLaren 650S are faster, better. But it’s nice to go for a drive alone and be the smartest one there.
So I drove the pants off that old R8. Tore through the mountains, making all the V-10 noises, powersliding damp hairpins and trying to break the gearbox. Maybe it’s magazine fatigue, or maybe Audi just sold too many, but I think we’ve forgotten how special this car feels. Years from now, we’ll be aghast that a naturally-aspirated, ten-cylinder, mid-engine supercar, with a manual and hydraulic steering and defeatable traction control, sold into this decade’s latter half. Depending on your point of view, the R8 is either the most polished old-school supercar or first modern one. I think it's the former. And that's an important distinction.
There’s a new Audi R8 out this year, and The Drive’s own A.J. Baime will be sampling it soon. Hopefully it’s as good at ripping into this enormous country, the empty roads and great food and wonderful people and bizarre places, as the last one was.
The Shack: 105 S Coalter St., Staunton, VA. (Reservations at www.theshackva.com)
Blackfriars Playhouse: 10 S Market St., Staunton, VA. (Tickets at www.americanshakespearecenter.com)
Snowshoe Mountain Resort: 10 Snowshoe Dr., Snowshoe, WV. (Information at www.snowshoemtn.com)