By LaTria Garnigan
Growing up in a small town, I’ve always been enamored with the main street areas. And especially of other cities I’ve visited, I’ve made it a point to see what their downtown looked like. So, it was no surprise that I would end up in downtown Hampton to visit Rutabaga’s Market & Café. As often as I can, I make it a point to shop local. There is truly something magical about supporting someone’s dream of entrepreneurship. Plus, there’s nothing like stellar customer service from a neighbor and food that you know is created from the heart.
Speaking of customer service, Rutabaga’s owners Tracy North and Michelle Pyrtle know a thing or two about the subject. I knew from browsing the website that this was a special place. And it was evident by Tracy proclaiming, “we’re huggers” as I walked in and greeted her. That’s that southern hospitality I love.
Though a small space, the 2-year-old eatery packs a lot of punch. There are candies, kitchen gifts, seasonings, jams, jellies, sauces and even homemade soaps and butters lining the walls of the business. For example, that sauce you bought may very well end up on one of the dishes offered at the café. This is something that North is quite proud of.
“We incorporate many of our products into our café menu so that our customers can see that there are many recipes that can be created with jams and jellies,” she said.
Their line of wholesale items, LeAnn’s Gourmet Foods, is a nod to the middle names of both of their daughters and is based on the family recipes they’ve grown to love. With over 50 products, there’s plenty to enjoy. But not only can you get these goods at their eatery, they are also carried in close to 35 stores.
Operating alongside the café is quite a genius move. But one that North said they were nervous about at first.
“We wanted a store front, but were unsure if we would be able to survive on products alone,” she said. “So, we decided on Rutabaga’s Market & Café.”
That decision has paid off, as the café has taken on a life of its own and really given North and Pyrtle a chance to use their own products throughout the menu. Which, in turn, gets them a whole new set of loyal customers who may not have been familiar with their wholesale line.
The Rutabaga’s Market & Cafe Menu
There’s so much goodness to taste on the Rutabaga’s menu and I was eager to try a few dishes. Going in, I already had my heart set on some deviled eggs. Because who can resist any restaurant’s offering of this favorite? And, of course, being in the south I just had to try the pimento cheese before topping that off with the asiago chicken panini. But enough about telling you what I had, let’s dive into the taste!
First up were two scoops of creamy pimento cheese on a bed of shredded greens, topped with their raspberry jalapeño sauce and bacon. Yes, bacon! I was sold as soon as they offered that as a topping. The pimento cheese was so velvety and smooth and interacted perfectly with the sweet and tangy raspberry sauce. But the bacon really gave it a crunch and savory flair. An added bonus were the corn chips on the side that were perfect for scooping up the pimento cheese. I hope they never take this off the menu, because it is truly a decadent dish.
In college, Wednesdays was the favorite day of my best friend and I because that is when one of the dining halls offered asiago chicken. We even made a song about it, but I won’t bore you with those details. So, I was delighted to see an asiago offering on the menu. The asiago chicken panini was perfectly hot, crunchy, yet creamy all at the same time. Inside, the shredded chicken, gooey cheese and seasonings really made a mark on my taste buds. I enjoyed the fact that the chicken was shredded because it made sure you had enough in every single bite. As a side, I had the two creamy deviled eggs. Which, for future reference, you may want to order a couple of servings because those two were gone almost as soon as they set them down in front of me.
And here’s a tip on Rutabaga’s, try to get there early in the day, North informed me that when a menu item is sold out, that’s it for the day. I’d hate for you to miss out on some of these yummy offerings.
Rutabaga’s was only a 25-minute drive for me from Stockbridge, so not a laborious jaunt. And if you live in Hampton, what are you waiting on? If you’re looking for somewhere new to go for a lunch spot or a nice trip on a Saturday, try them out and tell them I sent you. Also, for those who want to get a hands-on experience of cooking their favorite Rutabaga’s dish, the café will be offering new cooking classes – for kids and adults – starting in January. Look out for date announcements on their Facebook and Instagram pages.
A journalist first, LaTria Garnigan has always had a love of writing and exploring. And combining her love of food and travel is a winning combination. When she’s not looking up recipes or trying out the newest home delivery meal kits, she can be found catching up on her Netflix queue and discussing all things entertainment with her friends. You can keep up with some of her shenanigans on Twitter and Instagram — @SimplyTria.