That great quote is often attributed to da Vinci. Although it cannot be historically corroborated that he said this exact phrase, I continually find it to be true. The crisp white button down. The camel coat. The little black dress. The timelessness of function over frills in one’s home. The confidence of a great t-shirt paired with quality denim. It’s not that trends lack all good taste (I’ve been wearing Warby Parker glasses since 2011), but when they dominate the standards they become somehow banal. I would argue that is why they are so fleeting in the first place.
Food, like fashion, is fickle. Remember the 1990s? Trends like raspberry vinaigrettes, sun-dried tomatoes, and blackened everything were as in demand as “The Rachel” hair cut, one-strapped overalls, and rollerblading. Now it’s chokers (again?!), crop tops (again?!), shiplap, Sriracha (again?!), bourbon cocktails (best served by someone with a beard), and rainbow bagels. I myself am guilty of the occasional kale salad or quinoa bowl on the menu.
I have questioned myself and my validity many times since opening Stomping Ground in 2015. Who the hell do I think I am? Are biscuits enough? Do people get it? When this happens, I draw influence from chefs with impressive pedigrees like Gabrielle Hamilton and Alice Waters who have the confidence to put simple food on the plate. When ingredients and presentations are simple, there is nowhere to hide. Perhaps simplicity is the mark of a deeper, perhaps even riskier, complexity?
At Stomping Ground I have challenged myself, and my guests, to rally behind a simple and classic fare — the humble biscuit. Biscuits are extremely personal in how they are enjoyed and prepared. If you grew up with biscuits as a staple on the table like I did, eating one brings a rush of immediate, almost visceral childhood memories. Biscuits are challenging to serve because there isn’t an authentic standard but everyone has a pretty strong mandate about what makes a biscuit “the one.” They should be dropped. Or rolled. Or beaten. They should be served with cheese. Or black pepper. The outside must be crispy. They should be baked in a cast iron skillet. This list is only the start. Believe me, I’ve heard every opinion.
Biscuits became fundamental in the American South where the core ingredients of buttermilk, lard, and low-protein, softer wheat flours were readily available. This made them cheaper and more tender than their northern counterparts. I read somewhere that pre-Civil war biscuits were considered a delicacy reserved only for Sundays, usually at lunch. There was usually one person in the home responsible for making them. That individual passed down his or her technique and it traveled through generations of the family. These traditions fuel the feelings of proper biscuit etiquette.
The thing about simple is that it can take a lifetime to master. Some days the biscuits rise beautifully. The tall, layered, crispy exterior encasing a buttery, pillow-y center. Some days they are flat, dense, or crumbly. The weather, the temperature of your hands and butter, the fat content of the buttermilk, the way you turn them in the bowl all affect the end result.
In our restaurant, just like a traditional Southern family, the person that makes the biscuits is held in the highest esteem. Each pair of hands that touches the dough leaves a small signature. We all laugh in our kitchen because my biscuits, without a doubt, are the ugliest, albeit the tastiest. They stale quickly and are best enjoyed fresh so we make them throughout the day in small batches of forty. It takes tremendous effort and we work to perfect our process daily.
Despite your biscuit preference — cathead, rolled, beaten — there is one thing upon which we must all agree. Biscuits, dressed up with country ham or dressed down with gravy, are timeless. Like all classics, they never go out of style. And in the end, I’ll always crave authenticity.
If you wander down Del Ray’s, “The Avenue,” you won’t miss the farm-red building with a rustic fence bordering the patio. Stomping Ground opened two years ago and quickly became popular for its made-from-scratch biscuits and its neighborhood vibe. On weekends, excited guests line up before Stomping Ground opens hoping to be the first to get a just-out-of-the-oven biscuit or a fresh salad. Stomping Ground is mostly known for its fast casual breakfast and lunch but on Thursdays and Fridays they provide a full dinner service after 5:00pm. All meals are built from local, seasonal food that is organic whenever possible.
2309 Mt Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301