The Secret Garden Cafe A Hidden Gem

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by Amy Falkofske

Walking along historic Occoquan’s Mill Street, one could easily miss the high, narrow entranceway to the Secret Garden Cafe; but venture up the brick stairs and you’ll see the quaint patio and garden of this one-of-a-kind restaurant.

“I had always loved the book ‘The Secret Garden’ [by Frances H. Burnett],” said Sarah DeVight who co-owns the eatery with husband David. “When we decided on the location, we thought it was a perfect fit. As you approach the top of our staircase leading into the patio it’s like walking into a scene from the book.”

Next you’ll be greeted by a friendly host and get your first whiff of the delicious food being prepared inside. “Our fresh eclectic menu has something for everyone. We pride ourselves on fresh ingredients and delicious approachable dishes,” said Sarah. “We do our own salad dressings, we make our own desserts,” elaborated General Manager Allison Dauksz. “We make our own Challah bread for our French toast. We even roast our own turkey for our turkey sandwiches.”

Making everything from scratch also allows the DeVights to cater to patrons that might have peanut or seafood allergies, something that the couple say they take very seriously.

Head chef and co-owner Sarah DeVight creates all the recipes for Secret Garden, where dishes are made from scratch daily.

Head chef and co-owner Sarah DeVight creates all the recipes for Secret Garden, where dishes are made from scratch daily.

A couple of Secret Garden’s most popular dishes are so in-demand that the restaurant serves them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One of these is the Cajun Spiced Shrimp and Grits. Another is the Monte Cristo, a sweet and savory French toast sandwich made with turkey, ham, Gouda cheese and topped with powdered sugar and raspberry preserves.

Another customer favorite is the Georgia Reuben, Secret Garden’s twist on the classic sandwich. It’s served on rye bread and made with coleslaw, Russian dressing and the house-made turkey instead of corned beef.

Sarah is the head chef and the one who teaches the recipes to the other chefs. Dauksz said that all the recipes are originals from DeVight herself, who has been cooking and baking since childhood.

In fact, the very popular Coconut Pecan Cake, which recently returned for the warmer months, is one of the recipes that DeVight has been continuously developing over the years. “It’s progressed, it progressed and progressed, and now it’s finally a perfection!” said Dauksz.PWLiving June 2015 SGC pot stickers

Bring a friend any Monday through Thursday starting at 4 p.m. for the $32 dinner-for-two special, consisting of a choice of entrées, soup or salad and a dessert to share. The freshly prepared Sunday brunch buffet is another crowd pleaser. Call ahead for seating when the weather is nice or on holiday weekends.

According to the DeVights, friendly service is another one of the restaurant’s unique features.

“Our servers work as a team, allowing for prompt and friendly service,” said the DeVights.

And their customers seem to agree. “I enjoy every experience at the Secret Garden Cafe. They are warm, inviting and accommodating. The food is always tasty too!” said Joy, one of the regulars.

“For me, coming to the Secret Garden Cafe is like walking into a great big hug. The food is fantastic and comforting and … you’re supporting local economy and local family,” said Andy, another regular.

Another unique characteristic of the café is its location. It’s “tucked away in historic Occoquan in a remodeled home that was built in 1860. The beautiful garden patio is considered a hidden gem by many customers,” said Sarah.

As one could imagine of a pre-Civil War structure, this houseturned-restaurant has a story to tell. Around the turn of the century, Dr. and Mrs. Frank Hornbaker purchased the home. Dr. Hornbaker was the physician for the town as well as for the former Lorton prison, and also owned the building below the house where he ran a pharmacy. (Today it is the site of Hawthorne House stationery store.)

While several families lived there following the Hornbakers, it is Grace Hornbaker’s portrait that hangs over the hearth to this day, and her great grandchildren frequent the restaurant today.

The restaurant showcases some other period pieces, such as the Hoosier cabinet that holds the menus, and the hostess station—an old barber stand.

In warm weather, the patio invites guests to relax in the “Secret Garden.”

In warm weather, the patio invites guests to relax in the “Secret Garden.”

The building’s first incarnation as a restaurant was the Country Kitchen, where David, who grew up in Occoquan, once worked. That restaurant was followed by the Garden Kitchen, whose owners eventually sold the location to the DeVights in 2013. Now retired, they continue to visit the cafe from time to time.

The DeVights don’t just serve the Prince William community with great food. They are also philanthropic, giving a portion of their daily sales to various local charities every month and hosting a charity at the restaurant the first Friday of each month. Recipients of these “Dine & Donate” funds have included the Occoquan Historical Society; Coby’s Angels, which makes donations to animal shelters and Woodbridge Senior High School’s Alumni Scholarship Fund. On June 5th, the cafe will host Rolling Thunder Virginia Chapter 3, with 10 percent of that day’s sales going to support the organization’s work in supporting wounded veterans.

The Secret Garden Cafe celebrated its second year in business in April, and the DeVights say that’s just the beginning. They dream of owning multiple restaurants that resemble the Secret Garden’s warmth and originality.

“We have always talked about naming different future restaurants after the different parts of a person’s home, lending a comfortable feel to our establishments,” said Sarah.

The Secret Garden Cafe is located at 404 Mill Street in Occoquan and is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. For more information, including a blog featuring cafe recipes, visit secretgardencafe.stonehouserestaurants.com.

Amy Falkofske (afalkofske@princewilliamliving.com) is a freelance writer and the owner and photographer of Beautiful Moments by Amy Photography. She lives in Bristow with her husband and two sons.

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