By Josh Baldwin
“Within the first couple days customers started asking for ‘More, more, more.’ They loved the food and they wanted extended hours. So we listened, and before we knew it we were serving lunch and dinner. Eight and a half years later customers are still thanking us,” says Sparrow, a Greenbrier County native.
At the time, Stardust Cafe was really on the forefront of the local farm-to-table movement, sourcing most of their ingredients from local farms in season. They shopped at Lewisburg Farmers Market, Greenbrier Valley Farmers Market, the Monroe Market, and a number of other local farms and gardens throughout the year.
“I think everyone in town now uses and understands the importance of using local products,” notes Sparrow. “For us it has been equally about providing a superior product, and supporting local economy. I remember when Food Inc. came out and was showing at Carnegie. A huge number of community members attended. There was a massive increase in the understanding of what we were trying to do after that.”
From May to November the cafe gets their hands on any and everything available from all of the different markets. But in the meager months of winter they depend on produce such as greens, potatoes, winter squash, chickens, microgreens, beef and garlic.
Step inside Stardust Cafe and you would think you were transported to some Napa Valley bistro, with chalkboard menus behind the counter, a few dozen wines lined up atop the eat-in counter, a pastry display, and tables made of old doors and window shutters turned flat and topped with heavy glass. In fact, Destiny lived in both California and New York City for a number of years and brings some of that sense of style to the space’s warm and inviting atmosphere.
“We try to create an atmosphere that is hip and interesting, yet comfortable,” says Sparrow. “We want all people to feel welcome in our restaurant, from the farmer who grows our food dressed in overalls to the couple who owns a house at the Sporting Club dressed in a suit and tie.”
And indeed they all come to the Stardust Cafe, if not for the atmosphere, then most definitely for the delightful food prepared daily behind the counter.
Growing up in New York City, Destiny was surrounded by the best ingredients and restaurants. Having a Sicilian father, she always enjoyed the best home cooked meals as well. Later, in her twenties, she and a group of friends opened One Life, a co-op natural food store and restaurant located in Venice Beach, California.
“We were using fresh organic and local foods long before it was so popular, even in the 70s,” she jokes.
Today, Sparrow relishes in preparing her popular daily soups such as a curried butternut squash with homemade local veggies, herbs and chicken stock, a perfect balance of light and warmth for the fall season. “I make all my own stock with vegetables and herbs sourced from the market and my own garden. We buy whole chickens from Rainbow Farms so that’s what I use to make all my chicken stock.”
And while Sparrow develops an ever-changing array of soups, Destiny designs a number of creative, delicious salads. Her most popular, featured in Southern Living Magazine just last year, is the Trust Me salad. The salad is such a stimulating assortment of fresh ingredients—fresh greens topped with grains, dried cranberries, chevre, avocado, tomato, onion, and Destiny’s secret vinaigrette—that the cafe decided to name it “Trust Me,” so people would try it. Since the beginning of the restaurant, the salad has remained a staple on the menu.
Speaking of staples, the cafe’s Best Ever BLT brings in repeat customers as well. With crispy, crumbled bacon slathered on honey wheat bread, juicy tomatoes, red onions, romaine and a zesty pesto mayonnaise, the sandwich is probably unlike any other BLT you will have tried in recent memory.
But while Stardust only began to develop their following with lunch sandwiches and paninis, it has become their evolving dinner menu that drives the demand for reservations today.
Take for instance the curried chicken, a grilled, free-range breast covered in a housemade creamy curry sauce that is highly aromatic and has a rich, bold taste that is sweet with subtle hints of spice. The dish is served with a mango chutney and summer squash over basmati rice. The dish remains their best seller after years and remains on the menu throughout the year regardless of the season.
Other seasonal favorites include the pork shank, slow cooked to fall-off-the-bone perfection and served atop mashed potatoes and gravy, with a side of grilled Fuji apples. “The pork shank is really in a category all its own,” jokes Sparrow. “People dream about it.”
The locally raised, bone-in pork chops are also popular, again served with a grilled fruit—peaches this go around— to accentuate the savoriness of the pork.
“Right now, I’m really high on our zucchini pasta,” says Destiny. “Long spaghetti strands of raw zucchini which we serve with a marinara sauce, homemade ricotta cheese, grated parmesan and fresh basil.”
Add to these savory dinner options a few fish dishes including sesame Ahi tuna and wild Alaska salmon and Stardust’s menu truly delivers a number of options to fit any discerning palate.
“We have three chefs on staff right now,” explains Sparrow. “Chef Toni, Chef Eric, and Chef Lamar. Destiny and I maintain the Executive Chef positions, but each of these fabulous chefs bring something different to the table.”
To compliment Stardust Cafe’s array of entrees and salads, the restaurant stocks a variety of exciting wines and focuses on smaller, sustainable wineries that remain focused on delivering quality grapes.
“We choose our wines based on quality of grape or vineyard and on the wine’s rating,” explains Sparrow. “We prefer small family-owned vineyards, and interesting wines that other restaurants aren’t carrying. We try to pick wineries that use organic grapes if we can, and we do whole staff tastings to introduce new wines so that we are all knowledgeable about what we are selling.”
Stardust provides customers a true option when looking for a bistro-style experience that employs fresh, locally sourced ingredients and a passion for remaining sustainable. As a popular dinner destination, reservations are recommended. Lunch, however, while just as popular, serves on a first-come basis and is offered every day of the week except Sunday.