Most people buy and read cookbooks for the recipes. My favorite part of a cookbook is the writing. Chefs tuck little gems of wit in there that you will definitely miss if you open the book only when in need of a recipe. One of my favorite cookbook lines is in Chef Jessica Koslow’s Everything I Want to Eat. She says “a great restaurant makes a neighborhood. And a neighborhood is defined by its favorite restaurant.”
I do not suffer the illusion that Stomping Ground makes Del Ray the unique neighborhood that it is, but I love the sentiment of this quote. My vision for Stomping Ground, however lofty, has always been to create a safe and fun place to go. Alexandria, and Del Ray in particular, was a natural location for us to open given the premium this neighborhood places on community. We don’t make Del Ray what it is, but our food has become a conduit for this community to gather. You can wander into Stomping Ground every day (except Mondays because we need to sleep) to see who’s around and what’s going on. Stopping by for a solo lunch or dinner? You won’t eat alone because suddenly you are dining with your friends, many of whom you just made.
Our Stomp community first developed over breakfast biscuits. Friday mornings became filled with a group of women gathering to eat biscuits and discuss kids, neighbors, and teachers. Parents brought their kids in for daily scrambled eggs and lemony avocado. And then there were our many Veggie Hash devotees. Our staff learned the names of these regulars. We learned their kids’ names. We memorized their orders and their special requests. Over time, as you came to Stomp you came to support our philosophy about food – seasonal, local, made from scratch, and biscuits! – and our philosophy about humans – everyone (from guests to staff) deserves a place where they feel safe and supported. Those morning groups are going strong three years later.
A few months after opening we started offering full service dinners on Thursday and Friday evenings where we ditch the counter service and offer our guests a rotating, seasonal menu – with mini biscuits, of course! Those morning groups started showing up for dinners. In fact, I’m never quite sure who arranged to meet for dinner or who just ran into each other and dined together.
Naturally, I’m partial to the food, but what makes dinner at Stomp so unique is Stephanie Swick, a local restaurant veteran you’ll meet during your dinner here. Steph seems to know every guest. A casual observer would have a hard time distinguishing the guests she knows from those she doesn’t given the warm greeting she extends to everyone. She seems to have a soft spot for our younger guests, many of whom she embraces with a hug before walking them to their table hand-in-hand, parents trailing behind.
You can imagine my surprise when more than a handful of our regulars started asking if we were able offer dinner on additional nights. But wait! They wanted the food to go?! What?! You don’t want to hang out with us? But that is our schtick! See how great we are?! And how many of your friends are here?! Don’t want you to see your people? I was reminded by these folks that they had very busy schedules filled with families, jobs, etc. They loved their Thursday or Friday night ritual but they wanted more of the food. At home.
So introducing…Stomp at Home dinner bags! A changing three- to four-course menu that feeds two adults. You can order a bag online anytime during the week and pick it up between 5pm and 7pm on Sunday at Stomping Ground.
And now that I think about it, what a better way to be a part of a community than to have Sunday supper with you and yours?
Nicole’s cooking style is rooted in, but not limited to, her love of southern biscuits and her diverse culinary upbringing. A military brat, she spent her childhood in the Chicago suburbs enjoying her great-grandmother Mae’s Lithuanian cooking. As a tween, she moved to Paulding County, Ga. where she begrudgingly fell in love with the charmingly perplex small towns of the Deep South. She fondly remembers grubbing on Martin’s biscuits, late-night Waffle House debauchery and cooking with her family.
After graduating from the University of Georgia, Nicole started a marketing career at an art nonprofit in Atlanta. At 25 years old, she became the youngest executive at the local Atlanta NPR affiliate.
Chasing her dreams, she moved to Alexandria, Va. where she took a short post in the Whole Foods marketing department. Realizing that cooking had been her true love all along, she began night courses at L’Academie de Cuisine. She completed her apprenticeship at Blue Duck Tavern where she was promoted to a line cook after graduation. From there, Nicole worked as a private chef for busy Washington D.C. executives and their families.
As grown-ups tend to do, Nicole realized something about her childhood — the best parts were enjoying small town communities, cooking with her great-grandmother and sharing meals with family and friends. She opened Stomping Ground to build a safe and welcoming community around yummy, handmade food from local sources. As her first foray running her own kitchen, she has shamelessly hired better, smarter cooks to fill her kitchen and your bellies. Her great-grandmother’s recipes often appear on the Stomping Ground menu without advertisement and, no, she won’t tell you the secret ingredients.
Nicole lives in Del Ray and won’t shut up about how much she loves living there.
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