THE QUAINT TOWN of Leesburg, Virginia has been home to generals, ghosts and gentry who once occupied the 18th century brick, stone and log buildings that still stand today.
A trip through this historic town would not be complete without grabbing lunch or dinner at The Lightfoot Restaurant and imbibing in Executive Chef Ingrid Gustavson’s modern American seasonal dishes wrought with international flare. Whether you are gussied up in your Louboutins for a girls’ night out, comfortable and casually dressed in your jeans or struttin’ your tux, you’ll feel right at home in her award winning establishment.
With creative culinary experiences dating back to her childhood, Gustavson eventually became star of her Annandale high school culinary program after winning awards for Best Culinary Student and Most Likely to Succeed. After high school, Ingrid attended CIA, Culinary Institute of America, the training ground for some of America’s leading chefs, and graduated in 1990. After a stint at Ridgewell’s Caterers in Bethesda, Maryland, Ingrid began her own catering business from her house.
In 1992, Ingrid (with sister, Carrie Gustavson Whitmer) opened the Lightfoot Cafe and word spread quickly of Ingrid’s creative concoctions. Eventually busting at the seams and drenched in success, the sisters began renovation of the People’s Bank Building, a historical structure built in 1888. With its dramatic original architecture inside and out − which included an original vault door weighing a ton and a half − they set out to keep it as true to its history as possible, without masking any of the stunning historic architectural details. They integrated recycled vault accessories and vintage memorabilia to the sprawling, two-story restaurant and swung their doors open in 1999, naming the restaurant in honor of Loudon County hero and American Statesman Francis Lightfoot Lee, who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the Virginia family for which the town was named.
With her farm to table creations, Gustavson is famous for her signature dishes. My mouth waters just thinking about her fried green tomatoes topped with jalapeno cheddar cheese and sauteed shrimp set with a Szechwan chili cream. Gustavson once walked away with a first place award at “An Evening on the Riviera,” an event in Frederick, Maryland, for her savory scallop appetizer.
Seafood fans will delight in Gustavson’s selections with names like Atomic Crab Cake, Seafood Carnival and Wild Fresh Flounder with Shitake-Crab-Corn Artichokes. Not a seafood lover? Satisfy the carnivore in you with her Slow Braised Pork Shank or a sizzling Filet Mignon with Horseradish-Chive Butter & Crispy Onions. Not everything is so exotic, of course, and one can opt for a simple bowl of her Roasted Garlic and Sweet Basil Tomato Soup or choose from a delightful assortment of simple, yet satisfying, salads.
If you really want to dine in style, make a reservation to be seated with your guests at the Chef’s Table (actually located in the kitchen), where you will be served a four-course dinner created by the chef with personal service extraordinaire. Other rooms can be reserved, of course, for any function, whether it is a small, intimate party, cocktail reception, baby shower or birthday extravaganza. Your guests can enjoy the Greene Room, which seats 6-12, the Marshall Room, for 12 to 30 people, or the larger Sheridan Room, which is perfect for wedding receptions or corporate events.
Live music often plays on the outdoor patio and inside the restaurant from the Piano Bar. The fireplace and circular freestanding staircase winding up to the piano bar mezzanine are only some of the details that make for a breathtaking visual experience, not to mention the colorful Moulin Rouge posters lining the walls and the tavern-style bar built around the security vault. You can relax and enjoy the low lights and ambiance at their happy hour which features drink specials and small plates at very reasonable prices. You definitely don’t need to “break the bank” (excuse the pun) to enjoy a delightful, cozy afternoon or evening at The Lightfoot, and walk-ins are always welcome.
Just window shopping around the town on a quiet summer evening? Stop in for some dessert. Gustavson’s creations range from a Frozen Key Lime Torte to a Peanut Butter Mousse Torte or a Mocha Ya-Ya Bittersweet Chocolate Flourless Torte. Sound a little too rich? Go for the World’s Smallest Sundae. Go ahead, enjoy the cherry on top.
Their website (www.lightfootrestaurant.com) provides additional perks, including their antique looking Gold Coins which double as gift certificates that can be ordered online. A reservation is as easy as a click of your mouse, and you can subscribe to their newsletter or see an interactive map for directions. A private event package with pricing and forms is also available for downloading. And their Twitter and Facebook pages will keep you in the loop with their lunch and dinner specials.
And when you go, be sure to say hello to Alfred, the butler, the lifelike wax figure who will greet you as you wander into the restaurant. You don’t have to be a ghost or a general to make this one of your favorite haunts.
11 North King Street
Leesburg Virginia 20176