A Connecticut man came into Restaurant Pomme in Gordonsville and ordered one of its featured dishes, Filet de Sole St. Germain.
He was so impressed that he told Maryvonne Gasparini, wife of chef Gerard Gasparini, that it was the best sole he had had in two decades, since dining at Wee Burn Country Club in Connecticut.
Maryvonne didn’t need a calculator to put two and two together. Her husband was chef at Wee Burn at the time. “My wife said, ‘It was the same chef!’” Gerard recalls with a chuckle. “He said, ‘Is Gerard here? I can’t believe it!’ He recognized the sole from 20 years ago.”
Such memorable cooking is making Pomme a culinary beacon in the region. It is among a cluster of shops and businesses that have revitalized Gordonsville, which traded largely on its rural beauty and rich history until a decade ago.
The Gasparinis were in New Jersey, where Gerard was chef at Baltusrol Golf Club, when an entrepreneurial friend pointed out the possibilities of starting a restaurant in an up-and-coming town. “My first impression was that there was not too much to it,” Gasparini says of Gordonsville. But he and his wife visited Gordonsville, and she fell in love with it. So the family made the plunge and survived a fire shortly after the restaurant’s opening in January 2005.
Now, life and business are good. “My wife said, ‘The first time I felt like home was in Virginia.’ She loves it.”
Pomme prides itself on making customers feel at home. The ambience — bright colors, Cezanne-like paintings, chummy table arrangements, a recessed brick wine area — blends cheer and light in an attempt to evoke the sunny South of France. Four apples — “pomme” means “apple” — line a table greeting customers, and Gasparini chats with diners like everyone is an old friend.
Born outside Paris, Gasparini was trained in France, went to Montreal for Expo 67 and had successful stints in Connecticut, New York (including at the Rainbow Room) and New Jersey. The Gasparinis — the business includes son Guillaume, who is the sommelier, as well as Maryvonne — recently opened a patisserie on Main Street in Gordonsville.
Paul Manning, president and CEO of PBM Products in Gordsonville and a driving force in the town’s renaissance, credits Pomme with being a leading draw among the businesses that have made the town a day-trip magnet — as well as an attractive place to live. “Pomme adds a certain cachet and character to the town,” Manning says. “I think Virginia is fortunate to have a chef and a restaurant like that.”
Manning is no stranger to the restaurant himself. His favorite dish? “I like the sole,” he says with a laugh.
The philosophy of Gerard Gasparini at Pomme reflects that of Gordsonville at large — a welcoming place that combines simple pleasures with sophisticated tastes.
The cuisine at Pomme, Gasparini says, is basic. “I learned classic French cooking. My philosophy is, you like my cooking or you don’t like my cooking. You like it, you come; you don’t like it, you don’t come.
“And I want to be very, very friendly with my customers. I don’t want to be snobby,” he says. “I want to be very, very friendly, like a small restaurant in Provence.”
A friendly business environment has helped Gordonsville grow beyond just a stop for Civil War buffs, says Paul Manning. He moved PBM Products, a $200 million enterprise that markets and distributes store-brand baby formula throughout the United States and beyond, to Gordonsville from New Jersey a decade ago.
He and Bruce Gupton, co-founder and chairman of a New York-based consulting firm who moved to the area in 1998, have invested ”millions and millions,” says Manning, in turning around Gordonsville. The men have purchased and renovated several buildings, including Pomme’s location that are now leased or have been sold for shops and businesses.
The result retains the flavor of rural Orange County through mom-and-pop shops and a Civil War museum while offering boutique businesses ranging from art galleries to garden shops.
Restaurant Pomme: Gourmet French cuisine. 115 S. Main St., (540) 832-0130. http://www.restaurantpomme.com.
Toliver House: Gourmet cuisine with French, Italian and traditional Virginia influences. 209 N. Main St. (540) 832-0000.
Old Somerset Print Shop & Fine Art Gallery: English antiques, prints and other art. 117 S. Main St. (540) 832-7679.
Exchange Hotel: Once an icon for passengers on the Virginia Central Railway, now a Civil War museum. 400 S. Main St.
(540) 832-2944. http://www.hgiexchange.org
Here are some upcoming events in Gordonsville and elsewhere in Orange County:
Annual Street Festival: Oct. 4, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Gordonsville. (540) 832-3297.
Pick of the Piedmont Fall Wine Festival: Oct. 25, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Booster Park, state Route 20. (540) 672-5216 or (540) 672-1653.
Ghost Walk: Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 7 to 9 p.m., Exchange Hotel, Gordonsville. (540) 832-29