MIDDLETOWN — For Kari Rushing, opening the Vault & Cellar restaurant is a way to stay true to her roots.
Originally from the Middletown area and having grown up just 10 minutes down the road from the restaurant at 7843 Main St., Rushing said the idea behind Vault & Cellar is to make everyone feel like family and friends.
“We’re really focused on giving great hospitality, especially in this year after the pandemic started where I think some of the finer touches got a little lost,” she said. “What we’re trying to provide is a great time for our guests. We want it to feel as if you’re walking into a dinner party and we’re all friends.”
That begins with Appalachian cuisine, in collaboration with Chef de Cuisine Lucas Reiser.
“I really think everything comes back to heritage and growing up. We’re taking food that are things that our grandmothers made and elevating it a bit to make it elegant,” Rushing said. “Why can’t we take the food from our area and make it the high end option? That’s how all of these world cuisine’s that everyone thinks are refined started. I think that’s something we can do in this region. There are a lot of heritages that get lost, so we want to bring more of those things back in front of people so they don’t get lost or forgotten.”
One dish that has already received compliments is her “rabbit food.” Started as an inside joke, the dish’s star is a rabbit hindquarter that is paired with Carolina gold rice, roasted carrots and braised greens.
“It’s a really fun dish,” Rushing said. “We’ve already gotten so many comments from people who had said they’d never had rabbit before but that they loved it. It’s pleasant to hear those comments and know we brought something to people that they’ve never had before and they were able to enjoy it.”
Rushing also pays homage to the building’s previous restaurant, Nana’s Irish Pub. She took the idea of Nana’s Scotch egg and took it in a new direction that features a quail egg wrapped in scrapple with a breading that includes crushed pork rinds and Route 11 Potato Chips.
In addition to various Appalachian dishes, the restaurant also bills itself as having the “best bourbon selection in the valley.”
“Bourbon is the one American spirit,” Rushing said. “You can’t make it anywhere outside the U.S., and it really has roots here.”
Part of cooking Appalachian cuisine is cooking with Appalachian products. Rushing said she wants to use as many local products as possible and has already partnered with a few local businesses in that regard.
The opening of Vault & Cellar is a culmination of Rushing’s dream, one that maybe few women in the food industry feel is obtainable, she said.
When she was in culinary school, a female teacher told all of the women in her class that if they wanted to have a family they needed to be personal chefs. That fueled Rueling to be a successful executive chef with her own restaurant while being a wife and mother of two.
“The opportunities for women in this industry are somewhat limited if you want to have a family because we’re not able to have these 18-hour days,” Rushing said. “I’ve even had people ask me leading up to our opening how I was going to open a restaurant and take care of my kids. No one would ever ask a man that. We’re open four days a week so it gives us a little breathing room, and I’ve got a really fantastic staff that helps with everything.”
The restaurant’s name is a hat tip to the building itself, which was a bank in the late 1800s. The building still has the bank’s original vault.
Rushing’s husband, Ian, handles marketing for the restaurant. He also owns Honey and Hops Brew Works in Front Royal with his two brothers.
Vault & Cellar is open for dinner starting at 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. It will also does coffee and pastries from 7-11 a.m those same days. The coffee is provided by Cordial Coffee in Berryville and pastries are from Flour and Water Co. in Woodstock.