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Renewing American Classics

by Missy Sheehan & photos by Turner Photography


Using fresh local ingredients, Domestic serves up iconic dishes with a twist.

Nestled along German Street in the heart of historic downtown Shepherdstown, W.Va., is a hip, locally- and seasonally-inspired restaurant called Domestic that offers a creative take on classic American fare. The upscale, yet cozy atmosphere of the modest-sized eatery features local art on the walls and a swanky marble bar running the length of the dining area, but owner Doug Vaira says he doesn’t consider Domestic to be fine dining. “The idea for the restaurant was simple: iconic American food with a little bit of a twist,” he says. “We don’t do fancy. You don’t get a plate where all you get is a little poof of something in the middle of it for $50. We have things like bacon mac and cheese, shrimp and grits, burgers, and fried chicken. And we try to keep prices pretty fair, too, so it’s a place where two people can have a nice dinner for $40-45.” The warm and welcoming ambience and an ever-evolving menu that changes based on seasonal availability of local ingredients, makes for a truly unique and enjoyable dining experience.

Finding a Niche

Doug was no stranger to the restaurant industry when he opened Domestic in March of 2013. He worked as a dishwasher, busboy and server before becoming a journalist and working for magazines and newspapers for 15 years. Doug and his wife moved from Denver, Colo., to Charles Town, W.Va., nearly two decades ago, leaving behind the job where he worked on the sports section at The Denver Post . Seeing potential in his new hometown, Doug opened Dish in 2008 — a bistro-style restaurant that is also focused on using local, seasonal ingredients. Four successful years later, while Doug was looking for just the right space to open a second restaurant, he came across the space at 117 E. German St. in Shepherdstown, which he developed into Domestic. The dining options ranged from casual pizza, burrito, and smoothie shops to several high-end fine dining establishments in Shepherdstown, but didn’t have many options in the middle, Doug says. “We were looking to fill that niche as a nice casual, comfortable space with a good beer and wine list, good cocktails and good food, but not overpriced — and not pretentious,” he states.

Living up to the Name

The name Domestic comes from the restaurant’s focus on classic American cuisine and using locally sourced products, Doug says. The restaurant sells only domestically produced wines and craft beers, many of which come from West Virginia breweries like the Mountain State Brewing Company based in Thomas, as well as others nearby like Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick. Domestic also offers a specialty cocktail menu that changes every few months and features concoctions like the Mountain Mama High, made using Old Scout bourbon from Smooth Ambler Spirits in Greenbrier County, W.Va.

Domestic sources much of its other ingredients locally as well. The restaurant purchases meats from local farms and the Pennsylvania Dutch Market in Hagerstown, eggs from Moon on the Mountain Farm in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va, and coffee from Hypnocoffee Roastery in Shepherdstown.

While the seasonally focused menu changes frequently, a few customer favorites, like the grilled Caesar salad, never leave the menu, assures Doug.

Dining at Domestic

Executive Chef Desiree Garcia prepared three dishes for me to sample during my visit. First, I try the roasted beets salad — a colorful plate of arugula topped with roasted beets, clementine supremes, sliced radishes and Maytag blue cheese, drizzled with an apricot-shallot reduction. The peppery taste of the arugula and the savoriness of the roasted beets pair nicely with the sharpness of the bleu cheese and the bit of sweetness from the clementine and reduction. Next I try the popular shrimp and grits, a southern-inspired dish featuring creamy cheddar grits topped with spicy Cajun grilled shrimp and Andouille sausage, garnished with an Old Bay beurre blanc sauce and served with a side of wilted spinach. It’s warm, rich and comforting, exactly what you expect from a Southern-style dish, but with a sophisticated and spicy kick from the beurre blanc sauce, which Chef Garcia tells me is made using Old Bay seasoning, white wine, cream, and cold butter. I round off my sampling with a hearty burger on a house-made potato roll and topped with Maytag blue cheese, caramelized onions and pepper bacon. Served with hand-cut french fries that are double-fried before being seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh garlic and a secret mix of herbs, the burger is a tasty and unique take on a quintessential American classic. In addition to salads and dinner entrees, Domestic has a large selection of sandwiches, many of which are vegetarian, on its lunch menu. The restaurant also offers brunch specials every Saturday and Sunday. Aside from its regular dining options, Domestic hosts regular special events like chef ’s tables and beer and wine pairing dinners, as well as live music by local bands every Sunday from 4–7 p.m. and on random evenings throughout the week. “We get a pretty good bar crowd in here at night,” Doug says. “And it’s nice because we have a relaxed, kind of grown-up environment.”

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