Heat from the donut radiated through the to-go container and warmed my hands as I watched vanilla ice cream, strawberries and whipped topping melt together to create a divine sundae. How did it taste? Oh, boy. Sinfully delightful. I mean, a sundae anchored with a freshly-made donut? How could it not be delicious?
Earlier this spring I was on a quest to discover Old School Virginia and that tasty memory of a heavenly donut and strawberry sundae from Wright’s Dairy Rite is still vivid. Located in Staunton, a city with a population just shy of 24,000, Wright’s Dairy Rite is an original 1950s drive-in restaurant popular for their malts, shakes and “Superburger.”
They’ve been serving the Shenandoah Valley, including famous residents as country legends The Statler Brothers, for more than 60 delicious years. Although the look and flavors are a retro-fab step back, they have complimentary Wi-Fi for those with an itch for staying connected in the 21st century, especially when you have the need to
brag share on Instagram and Facebook.
If ever a city fits the description of “cute as a button,” it’s Staunton. This Virginia city had me at my first step into the Red Brick District which has been recognized as one of the “Best Main Streets in America.” Spring was in full bloom with redubds and dogwood in whites, pinks and purples, adding more to the city’s charm.
Have I mentioned how to pronounce Staunton? Say it like “STAN-ton” although if you mispronounce it, locals are forgiving.
There are more than 100 independently-owned art galleries, shops and restaurants in Staunton’s downtown district. Storefronts were a throwback to yesteryear and while walking the red-brick sidewalks, I could peer into the over-sized windows. They housed independently-owned stores ranging from books to clothing to sweet little cafes to vintage treasures. What caught my eye was an over-sized umbrella protruding from a corner shop.
Adjacent to downtown are neighborhoods with grand homes. Were they Victorian? I’m not sure, but they sure were lovely to admire while walking the rolling hills. Also nearby is the beautiful Mary Baldwin College campus, home of the Fighting Squirrels. I pictured myself rolling down the campus hill in the perfectly manicured lawn but then decided, a proper Southern woman would not engage in such silliness. Then again, I’m a Yankee, so did I? Hmm, you’ll never know.
Pockets of art surprised me, including Sunspots Studios which offers glassblowing demonstrations and opportunities to try glassblowing. With much assistance from a professional glassblower, I created an ornament forever sealed with my breath. How cool is that?
Delightfully entertaining was a performance in the Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Center. It’s the world’s only recreation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre and includes some onstage seating for truly fun audience participation. Talk about bragging rights!
Now, don’t think I lived solely on an ice cream-smothered donut during my brief visit. Oh no. As I’ve blogged before, this part of Virginia is full of farm-to-fork dining.
Where to Eat in Staunton
At The Depot Grille, an adorable café in an old freight depot at Staunton Station (still in operation), I enjoyed something I haven’t in a while. A big, juicy cheeseburger topped with fried onions. Making it even better, it was locally-raised beef from a nearby farm called Polyface Farm owned by America’s most famous farmer, Joel Salatin. To “healthify” and justify to myself, I ordered it with the veggie of the day. It balances out nutritionally, right?
Dinner was deliciously chic at Zynodoa, located in the heart of downtown, another farm-to-fork restaurant, where they serve “inspired Southern cuisine.” I chilled with a Northern Nectar, a cocktail featuring the zip of ginger and savored one of my favorite Southern dishes, shrimp and grits. The grits came from another local farm, Wade’s Mill.
Where to Stay in Staunton: Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center
My visit was brief but I sure did appreciate the comfortable bed at the historic, yet modern Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center. Walking into the lobby, I had the feeling I’d been there before but for the life of me, couldn’t remember if I had.
The property is conveniently located in the hub of downtown Staunton, including a stone’s throw from the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, and next door to the American Shakespeare Center. The Stonewall Jackson Hotel is one of those classic hotels where you quickly feel at home yet appreciate the historic elegance. My room was spacious although oddly shaped in an “L.” That’s okay, it’s the bed that counts and I certainly enjoyed a good night’s sleep. The hotel staff was friendly and attentive which always makes a hotel stay more memorable.
The hotel’s restaurant serves a breakfast buffet which was the perfect way to fuel up for the day. In addition to an omelet station, there were the usual morning suspects of scrambled eggs, potatoes, cured meats, and the Southern staple of biscuits and gravy.
An overnight visit was enough to whet my appetite and convince me to return someday. Following breakfast, it was off to discover other destinations in Old School Virginia. Up next? Lexington, Va.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. They have not reviewed this post and opinions are my own.