Dining with Three Blacksmiths

By Posted on Dec 25 2018 | By

European-style cuisine. American execution. Yesteryear ambiance.

It’s always exciting to be the first to discover something. Isaac Newton and gravity. Christopher Columbus and America. Alexander Fleming and Penicillin. James Watkins and DNA.

Oh, and you and the Three Blacksmiths. Yes, the Sperryville dining establishment is gaining that level of traction. If you haven’t broken bread there yet, consider becoming an epicurean discoverer.

The village is tucked a few miles below Skyline Drive where it crosses Thornton Gap.

Over 100 years ago, it was a sleepy little hamlet of 300 souls. Back then it supported five general stores, six mills, an apple packing plant, saloon, barbershop, pharmacy and…three blacksmiths. Not a lot has changed over the ensuing decades, including the population.

This suits the locals just fine. Growth is not embraced in Rappahannock County as it is elsewhere. The county has some 2,500 fewer residents today than in 1850. Seriously.

But what it does have is eight wineries, two breweries, two distilleries, many inns, restaurants, quaint shops and the internationally known Inn at Little Washington. All nestled in one of loveliest regions in Virginia.

The population is small but the delights are multitudinous.

The most recent illustration of this bucolic gem is the appearance of the Three Blacksmiths restaurant at 20 Main Street, its namesake originating from the important shops of a century ago.

Created and executed by John and Diane MacPherson, the creative duo are not interlopers from distant parts. Rather, they are an established team with a reputation for hospitality and food earned while operating the Foster Harris House bed and breakfast for 13 years in little Washington.

Their sous chef Ethan Taylor rounds out the Three Blacksmiths team.

Conceived in Europe
After selling their popular inn in 2017, the MacPhersons undertook an extended tour of Europe staying and dining in small inns to embrace their magical ambiance.

Our building and the space we created came from a lot of inspiration and travel in Europe. We wanted something that would fit the village and also have a timeless European sense to the exterior and interior,” said John MacPherson.

The result is a simple yet classic two-story building with European style windows creating an understated but elegant look. “It looks good here but would also look good in a little village in Austria or France.”

The building they had purchased was a blank palette ready for a total make over. McNeill Baker Design Associates designed the exterior and Jolly Construction Inc. completed the work.

The interior of the establishment was completed by the owners, family and friends. The dining room was not designed with a specific concept in mind. Rather, it evolved slowly as the build-out unfolded and turned out better than the coupled had anticipated.

“It has the feel of those wonderful restaurants in the French Alps or Austria. There is a lot of wood and no modern touches of glass or chrome. It feels like it’s been here for a while. It’s warm, inviting and not crowded,” said John MacPherson.

In fact, a crowded venue will never be encountered at the Three Blacksmiths. And not because of a lack of business. The dining room has been mostly sold out since opening on June 9, 2018. But consider it seats only 16 guests and there is just a single sitting each evening.

Diners experience a relaxed and evenly paced dinner that bears a close resemblance to enjoying a repast at a friend’s home. Service begins at 7 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and satisfied guests often drop their napkins on the table around 10 p.m.

Local Focus
In creating a typical dinner the MacPhersons seek local and regional ingredients to the extent possible. Given where the restaurant is located, sourcing menu items typically means a drive of less than five miles from Sperryville.

If you are what you eat, dining at the restaurant conveys honorary residency in Rappahannock County.

The establishment has 15 “partners” who supply much of what appears on your table. The purveyors include local wineries, breweries, a distillery, farms and gardens.

A typical menu in late summer included a tomato salad, Maryland crab cakes with watermelon gazpacho, sweet corn tortellini with Burgundy truffles, duck fat braised lamb loin, Applewood ice cream and grilled nectarine Napoleon.

Focusing on the last menu item John MacPherson said, “I went to the orchard last week to get nectarines for dinners that week. The owners understood my needs and hand-selected the fruit by the condition of its ripeness. Three trays were provided according to the days it was predicted they would ripen.

“You can’t get that level of service unless you actually know the farmers and they know you,” said John MacPherson.

Each course is paired with either a Virginia, domestic or international wine. “Our distributors are set forth to find unique wines that are often difficult to locate.”

Time to dine
The responsibilities for each meal is segmented by kitchen and dining room assignments with the owners involved when each course reaches the table.

Upon arriving, guests are seated in leather captain’s chairs or a sofa surrounded by a palette of rich brown flooring and walls with an exposed wood ceiling. The immediate impression is one of relaxation.

Diane MacPherson has responsibilities for the dining room and John MacPherson and Ethan Taylor craft dinners behind an open-viewed kitchen at the back of the room.

Once seated, you are served an introductory flute of sparkling wine, often from Barboursville Vineyards.  “It’s a beautiful expression of a sparkling wine and guests are always surprised it’s not a champagne and that it comes from Charlottesville,” said Diane MacPherson.

Throughout the evening wines are individually paired with each course. While some of Virginia’s best wines are served, quality selections from all points worldwide will grace a typical meal.

“It’s wines we have enjoyed in the past but often very hard to find. We want to introduce people to some very interesting things they may not have tasted before. That’s the impression we’re trying to create during dinner,” said Diane MacPherson.

And there is a specific goal to the dinners. “The best way to describe our food is we try to assemble an entire menu instead of simply a number of dishes one after another. Without question our ingredients make a flavorful difference.

“The dinner has a kind of arc to it. It feels like it’s moving in a certain direction. We accomplish that with a minimum number of ingredients and without too much fuss. Most of our dinners don’t have 20 components to them. We find something we really like and use it,” said John MacPherson.

Reaction to the restaurant has been positive and gratifying to the MacPhersons. “Working the dining room, I probably hear more because of my interactions with the guests. Recently several guests said it was the best dinner they’ve ever tasted. That’s really nice to hear,” said Diane MacPherson.

Payment for the dinners is unique. The multi-course tasting menu costs $99 per person plus a $70 alcohol charge; gratuity and tax not included. Both reservations and payment are made online.

A $50 deposit per person is levied when reservations are made. On the morning of the dinner the remaining bill is charged to the guest’s credit card. “When guests arrive they just sit down, enjoy their meal and leave when they’re finished. There’s no business transactions during dinner,” said John MacPherson.

With just a few months of experience under their aprons, the owners are enjoying the newest chapter of their hospitality dreams. “We’re having a lot of fun. It’s hard work but we come in every day and there’s no feeling of stress. The only stress we have is getting ready for the dinners and that’s really nice.

“It’s very satisfying to get to do this with the people you want to work with and a place you want to do it in,” said Diane MacPherson.

For information on the current menu, photo gallery, reservations and more swing by the region’s latest fine dining venue at:

Published in the 2018-19 Winter Issue of Dine, Wine & Stein magazine.       

Categories : HAGARTY TALES