Virginia Peanut and Chestnut Soup at The Mount Vernon Inn, Mount Vernon

Tourist season is approaching, and even at 3:30 PM on a hot, sunny Tuesday, Mount Vernon had its share of crowds – although there was plenty of parking, and you could simply walk up and purchase a ticket ($20 for an adult), the line for the 3:50 PM tour of the mansion stretched to about 75 people – see the left of the photo:

The mansion and grounds close at 5 PM, and 5:30 would be a really good time to visit the Mount Vernon Inn, although if you want table service as summer approaches, I strongly suggest calling for a reservation in advance.

Happy Hour at the restaurant runs daily until 7:30 PM for drinks, Tue-Fri until 7:30 PM for food (there’s a small bar, deep within its labyrinthian set of dining rooms), but Happy Hour here is no bargain – you can save a dollar, maybe two, on a limited subset of the dinner menu, and the drinks offered are no great shakes.

Surprisingly, however, Mount Vernon Inn has several bottles of liquor worth ordering: James E. Pepper 1776 Rye, Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Jameson Irish Whiskey, and most importantly, this is about the only place left in the world to find Rare Wine Company’s special bottling of George Washington Special Reserve Madeira (they used to have .500 ml bottles for sale in the gift shop; I’m not sure if any are left there, but they have it by the glass in the restaurant).

There are two things you should know about the Mount Vernon Inn restaurant: It’s better than it used to be (it used to be abysmal), but regardless of the improvement, it’s still essentially a food-service restaurant – if you can accept the latter, it’s a pleasant, quirky place to dine. Also, if you know a little about beverages, you can find something to drink here (e.g., the Broadbent Vinho Verde, a bracing, dry white wine from Portugal).

Beers, not so much, although I admit to enjoying an ice-cold goblet of their house draft ($6 at Happy Hour – I can’t remember which one it was, but I can remember which one it wasn’t: Devil’s Backbone Lager) after a hot day on the grounds, and before cobbling together a light dinner.

Mount Vernon Inn’s “signature dish” is The Inn’s Famous Virginia Peanut & Chestnut Soup ($7 for a bowl), with roasted peanuts and water chestnuts. Tasting primarily of peanut butter (not unlike many dishes from West Africa), the recipe for this highly promoted soup can be found here. To the best of my knowledge, you won’t find any chestnuts in this soup (although it does have water chestnuts, which aren’t bad), and as for the margarine, well, just look the other way. If you enjoy peanut butter, this soup is a lot better than it looks (it looks horrific, but it isn’t).

And the Caesar Salad ($10 for an entree portion) is better than it needs to be. Made with romaine lettuce, shaved Parmesan, house-made garlic-Parmesan croutons, and elegantly tossed in a house-made Caesar dressing, this salad was ordered solely because the ingredients looked inviting (that’s a polite word for “harmless”), and sure enough, this salad was as good as you could reasonably expect. Also, it’s relatively inexpensive – our server was kind enough to split it for us, and what you see here is only half of the salad.

If you go to Mount Vernon, and you’re hungry, you’ll enjoy your meal at Mount Vernon Inn – the key is not to set your sights too high, and not to get your hopes up. As ugly as that soup may look, this was a very serviceable meal, and we left content and without too much strain on the wallet.

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