Editorial & Letters
Urbanna, Va.— What I like about Dan Gill is his laugh. It is a wholesome laugh, not unlike the whistle of a freight train, nothing conjured up, nor fake nor wimpy; rather it is the sort of laugh that one might even climb on board and ride all the way to Alabama. It is a laugh as rich and hearty as the Brunswick stew ladled up at his country store that goes by the name of “Something Different.”
The other Sunday on my way back from a weekend in Baltimore, I whizzed by the store on my way home to Urbanna. Noting it was nearly lunch time, I did a quick turn around and whipped into his parking lot.
There was Dan rocking in a swing with his granddaughter on the front porch of the store. And, almost unbelievably, on a nearby bench, was a man playing Stephen Foster tunes on a violin. “Remarkable,” I said to Dan who immediately picked up on his cue and called it what anyone might expect when one stops by “Something Different.” I learned the musician was Steve Keith who also plays the banjo and guitar and sings too.
Mesmerized by such sweet melancholy sounds of “Suwannee River” and “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” I sat down to listen. “Now you know why I named my store “Something Different,” Dan said with his let’s go to Alabama laugh. When I went inside and enjoyed a barbecue on a bun with a side of slaw and freshly brewed iced tea served up with a thick wedge of lemon, Steve Keith serenaded me with his guitar. Before long, I was up and dancing . . . a fun way to spend Sunday morning in Middlesex County.
Dan is the son of one of the most memorable men I have ever met in Middlesex County, Virgil Gill, turkey farmer and raconteur supreme, who also came with that love of life laugh. No one can beat the Gills when it comes to laughter. I got to know Virgil when I started writing a column for the Sentinel in 1984. He would often call me to discuss certain points.
“Waaaaall,” he would say in his rich Tidewater accent, “You’re not so very bad Miss Mary Buxton from Ohiiiiiiiiyo.” Then he would go on to explain just why I had escaped his sobriquet of being “so bad“ and that was because Ohio was once a part of Virginia. “So we’ll consider you’ll one of us,” and the matter was closed.
Virgil is no longer alive but he must have been the source of Dan Gill’s wonderful laugh. Maybe that’s what afterlife is all about. A man’s laugh lives on after he passes, that is, if he has a good laugh. And if this is so I hope I have eternal life too.
On top of laughter, which is the greatest treasure on earth, Dan had an upbringing rich in cooking. I don’t know if any of his family recipes were ever written down, but I do know Dan Gill knows how to cook better than most people.
Southern food is his specialty. Items such as peanuts roasted in three ways, “lightly salted, regular, or with red skins intact. “And Brunswick stew, clam chowder and crab bisque laced with sherry, all according to Dan so very tasty because of his secret ingredient—kelp.
“Kelp?” Yes. Kelp. It adds flavor like you can never get in a can.
Then Dan’s barbecue comes in “tomato base” or “vinegar base” and also “bodacious” beef ribs, a slew of salads, pimento cheese spread and baked beans that are mouth-watering good. As I sat at the bar enjoying my barbecue Dan plied me with his famous hot virgin Bloody Mary mix, guaranteed to give you a punch even without the vodka.
All served up with lots of laughter.
You can get wine at Something Different too. Not a glass, but you can taste a variety of his fine wines two ounces at a time. If you happen to like one, you can buy a bottle to take home.
Dan writes a regular column in the Sentinel and Pleasant Living magazine; many of the stories are well remembered classics: like “The Cremation of Ethyl A. Pigg” and the “Making of a Chef Cook,” which explained how Dan got into the business of food in the first place. “We always had a garden and a milk cow and killed our own hogs. We made butter and cottage cheese, canned tomatoes, cured hams, made scrapple and salted herring with three hot sit-down dinners served up three times a day and made from scratch.”
With that kind of background, it is any wonder Dan became a chef?
To get to Dan’s place you come to Urbanna and keep going out Virginia Street and somewhere on the right between Bethpage and Kilmer’s Point Road, you will see his store with a sign boasting “Home of the Virginia Sandwich” (turkey and ham blend) and “bodacious butts and righteous ribs.” Why, even if one wasn’t hungry, one would have to stop at Something Different just to find out what the word “bodacious” meant (boldly, together, reckless, sudden action).
Dan has had a life beyond his food business. He was a member of the Middlesex Board of Supervisors for some time and did a good job representing his district, too. He also developed land along LaGrange Creek and he and his family did their share of farming too.
The store is open every day but Tuesday, “We do the second shift for breakfast,” Dan said opening at 9 a.m. in time for retired folks or “country gentlemen,” whatever strikes you as your kind of people. And the store stays open through 8 p.m. to include serving dinner, either eat in or pick up.
Dan assured me breakfast is also great at Something Different. “Stop by some time for some homemade “hoecakes,” Dan said as I was leaving.
I might just do that too. If only to hear that let’s go to Alabama laugh.
©2006 Reprinted with permision