Located 90 minutes from D.C. down I-95, Hanover County, Virginia is widely considered the Napa Valley of tomatoes. From its ideal temperatures to fertile, loamy soil, all the right conditions converge to produce an abundance of top-tier, juicy spheres every summer.
The tomato hotspot is a longtime source of pride for its Richmond region, with a 44-year-old Tomato Festival that draws up to 40,000 fans of the fruit to Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville, Virginia every July. Now, a new dinner series that got its start during the pandemic connects chefs, farmers, sommeliers, and guests to the homegrown heirloom tomatoes they adore. In its second year, Summer Supper Somm is the brainchild of Village Garden farmers David and Barbara Hunsaker and Barboursville Vineyards sommelier Jason Tesauro.
“The idea for [the series] was hatched over tomato sammies and a blunt or two last summer,” David Hunsaker tells Eater. “Jason [Tesauro] and I were musing about all the love area chefs have for our heirlooms and the rich history of the tomato in Hanover County.”
Instead of throwing one event, they decided to spread the tomato series all around the state. Over 20 dinners bounce around Richmond, Virginia Beach, Great Falls, and D.C. to celebrate the season with tomato-obsessed tasting menus and Virginia wines through mid-August. From their humble, one-acre farm in Hanover County, the Hunsakers grow a staggering 300 varieties of heirloom tomatoes — from Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter to the Yellow Oxheart — that get plucked and put on full display for the series.
Summer Supper Somm still lingers in Richmond at restaurants like Lemaire, The Lobby Bar at Quirk RVA, and Shagbark, where each chef puts their own stamp on the starring ingredient. Richmond-based private chef Manny Baiden teams up with Richwine, a natural biodynamic wine delivery service, on Monday, July 25, to showcase Village Garden’s tomatoes and his Ghanian upbringing on the same plate.
“Growing up, my mom and I would go to Kaneshie market in Accra, Ghana,” says Baiden. “She’d have me pick the firm and ripe tomatoes so she could stew them for jollof rice — a staple Ghanian dish that I look forward to serving at the dinner.”
The Adams Morgan attraction for locavores will release tickets for the 40-seat affair soon. Local rye toast topped with tomatoes and a pasta base made from tomato leaves could make appearances across courses, says Crooks, all washed down with a vodka cocktail built with clarified tomato water, ginger, lemon, and coriander by barman Lukas Smith. (Crooks’s current menu shows off shipments from Moon Valley Farm in Woodsboro, Maryland, which grew its first-ever cherry tomatoes this year.)
A week later, one of the D.C. area’s fanciest French restaurants L’Auberge Chez Francois hosts a dinner on Thursday, August 11 on its idyllic six-acre grounds in Great Falls.
Summer Supper Somm touches down as far west as Staunton, Virginia at The Shack, where James Beard-nominated chef Ian Boden will give the summer fruit the five-course tasting menu treatment, and as far east as Virginia Beach at Zoe’s Seafood and Steak, where the seasonal series concludes on Thursday, August 18.
Richmond-based Duke’s Mayonnaise, a sandwich staple slathered on sliced tomatoes and white bread everywhere this time of year, is a big sponsor of the series. “Duke’s and tomatoes share a rich history, as tomatoes have long been a focal point of Southern gardens and summer suppers,” says Duke’s brand manager Rebecca Lupesco.
The white condiment celebrates its perfect partnership with the tomato with its own week-long festival, dubbed Duke’s Hot Tomato Summer. For the second year, 70 participating restaurants across Richmond and the mayo’s Greenville, S.C. birthplace pair Duke’s with tomato dishes through Sunday, July 24. Proceeds go to Shalom Farms to help them grow more tomatoes.
—Tierney Plumb contributed to this report