May 19, 2022
Made In Bristol: The Hickory Story
Chef Travis Milton has one mission with the menu he has crafted for Hickory: to tell the story and history of Appalachia through food.
Located at Nicewonder Farm & Vineyard, this fine dining restaurant elevates regional cuisine amongst the rolling hills right outside Bristol city limits.
Milton grew up just down the road in Castlewood, Va., eating the food his grandparents and great-grandparents served around the kitchen table. That early exposure to older cooking techniques and classic Appalachian foods like greasy beans stuck with Milton while he pursued a career as a chef.
After years of working in New York, San Francisco, and other big markets, Milton decided to bring his culinary talents back home in 2019. “I try to cook as if it’s a book, and I’m just adding my chapter to it,” he said.
Milton partnered with Kevin Nicewonder to bring fine dining to the established vineyards and inn, cultivating a well-rounded experience for visitors and residents alike. “I saw it as an avenue for the region to not only diversify an economic footprint but also as a way to grasp our own narrative as a region,” he said.
For Milton, Appalachian cuisine is about evolution and using what you have on hand, harkening back to that old adage that creativity is the child of necessity. “Seeing what my grandparents cooked, how they provided for me and the rest of the family with what they had, has been an ever-present fuel to my fire,” he said.
When you sit down for a meal at Hickory, you can expect to take a tour of the world from the comfort of Southwest Virginia. You can taste Milton’s Appalachian flair in every bite, whether it’s smoked ribs, amber-roasted trout, or warm cornbread. Plus, you can sample flavors you won’t find on many other fine dining menus, including a variety of sorghum dishes and apple stack cake.
The gardens on-site supply produce and herbs for many of Milton’s dishes, with the rest of the ingredients coming from farms around the area. “At the heart of everything, I wanted to be able to do something that was sustainable,” he said. Cutting down on the distance everything has to travel and cooking with seasonal ingredients while supporting other neighborhood businesses is good for the planet and the local economy.
With the Appalachian Mountains towering in the distance, this is the perfect spot to sip on a glass of wine made from the vines in front of you.
After years of outsiders shaping the narrative of the region, Milton is part of a generation of makers reclaiming their Appalachian roots and using their own voice to lift up their values. Every guest who walks through Hickory’s door will see the dedication Milton and his team put into building this cultural center. “The biggest thing for me is that you leave with some form of a story that the food told you,” Milton said. “It takes you somewhere.”
What story will you walk away with from Hickory?