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July 9, 2019

New Main St. eatery offers made-from-scratch menu

Photos/Don Del Rosso
Victoria Adams, who works nearby, stops in for lunch Monday at Ellie’s Place.
Ellie’s Place owner Alexander Dial passed on law school and returned to the University of South Carolina to earn a second bachelor’s degree, in culinary arts, in 1997.
Simple ingredients and don’t screw it up. Don’t overthink things. A good sandwich is a good sandwich.
— Ellie’s Place owner Alexander “Zan” Dial
Ellie’s Place
• What: Restaurant serving sandwiches, soup, salad and baked potatoes.

• Where: 70 Main St., Warrenton

• Owner: Alexander “Zan” Dial of The Plains

• Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

• Phone: 540-216-7810

• Facebook: Click here
The veteran chef knew a crowded field of more than a dozen Old Town Warrenton restaurants awaited him.

But that didn’t seem to trouble Alexander “Zan” Dial, who on July 4 opened Ellie’s Place at 70 Main St. The new place offers a range of sandwiches, soups, salads, baked potatoes and desserts.

“We’re not trying to compete with them,” Mr. Dial said of the other local eateries. “We do our own version of things. They have their chicken salad; we have our own chicken salad.”

The 46-year-old South Carolina native believes that a distinctive take on food, excellence and value will carry the day for Ellie’s — named after his 3-year-old daughter.

“If you do your own thing, you’ll stand out,” explained Mr. Dial, who owned and operated Federal Street Café in Middleburg from 2015 to 2017, when his landlord “effectively” doubled the rent. “If you do quality work, you’ll stand out. The converse is true: If you do terrible work, you’ll stand out, too.”

He prepares most of the food from scratch. Sandwiches generally cost $7. Depending on size, soup cost up to $5.75. Baked potato prices range from $4.75 to $6. To view the menu, click here.

Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Ellie’s Place serves lunch and dinner.

After shutting his Middleburg restaurant, Mr. Dial devoted the next two years to raising his daughter, while his wife Ann, 44, worked as a marketing coordinator for Hilton’s “luxury” hotels and later a company that operates restaurants in airport terminals.

“I was a happily unemployed, stay-at-home dad,” he said. “Wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

But, “I was ready to get back to work,” he said of the decision to open the Warrenton restaurant.

Off and on for about two years, Mr. Dial explored 25 to 30 potential Fauquier locations, most of them in Warrenton.

In May, he signed an 18-month lease for the 950-square-foot basement space on Main Street. Though declining to discuss details of the agreement, he said: “We got a really good deal here; we’re very happy.”

Hidden Julles Café had occupied the same place from May 2013 to September 2017, according to town records.

The space’s lack of visibility doesn’t concern Mr. Dial, who lives about five miles north of Warrenton.

“In my experience, if you make good food people will come.”

Mr. Dial takes an equally uncomplicated approach to what he believes works in the kitchen.

“Simple ingredients and don’t screw it up,” he explained. “Don’t overthink things. A good sandwich is a good sandwich.”

The son of a banker and a homemaker, Mr. Dial earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of South Carolina in 1995.

He got accepted into several law schools but passed on the offers after learning of former classmates’ discontent with the profession.

“I saw how miserable my friends were,” Mr. Dial recalled with a laugh. “They were in law school and had just graduated and I didn’t want to be miserable. I had always loved to cook. So I went back (to USC) and learned to cook.”

He received a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts from the university in 1997.

Mr. Dial worked as a “grunt” and then a sous chef at Hannah Jane’s, a Columbia, S.C., restaurant for about 3-1/2 years.

“It’s only claim to fame is where Hootie and the Blowfish sat around and wrote a lot of their songs there,” he said of the restaurant.

Mr. Dial left that establishment to become head chef of Station 22, a restaurant on South Carolina’s Sullivan Island. After two years there, he moved to Northern Virginia to start NOVA Personal Chef Catering in 2010.

In 2015, Mr. Dial abandoned the catering business to open Federal Street Café, which he viewed as a more “consistent” source of income.

Ellie’s Place can seat 20 people inside and 18 on two patios facing Main Street, he said.

“We think a lot of our business is going to be takeout,” Mr. Dial said. “Once we get all the kinks worked out — because there always are kinks — we’d like to start doing downtown bicycle deliveries.”

Alice Felts, 69, works in the same building as administrative assistant at the Mason Enterprise Center.

Ms. Felts, who buys lunch about three times a week, ordered a take-out lunch Monday.

“I’ve been excited by the aromas emitting from this place,” said Ms. Felts, who paid $10.76, including tax, for a sandwich, bag of chips and soft drink. “I could hardly wait for them to open. I plan to make this a regular trip. I look forward to trying everything on the menu.”

David “Ike” Miller, 53, who owns Miller Carpets along West Shirley Avenue in Warrenton, likes to support local businesses that offer good value.

“Great prices,” Mr. Miller told the owner Monday. “Right where they should be. You’re going to make some people on Main Street unhappy. But, that’s OK.”

His take-out of a French Dip sandwich and a small chili totaled $12.78, with tax.

“Very tasty,” Mr. Miller, who buys lunch about three times a week, said of sandwich. “You can tell it’s not out of the bag.”

Of the chili, he added: “Divine, rich. You can tell it’s made from scratch, and the portion’s great.”

Victoria Adams, 32, serves a marketing director for Warrenton’s Von Cannon General Store.

Ms. Adams paid $6.83, tax included, for a baked potato topped with chili and a white chocolate cookie.

“That’s a good baked potato,” she said. “It’s baked properly. Sometimes, they’re not baked through.”

Ms. Adams, who buys lunch about three times per week, plans to return.

“It’s good,” she said. “It’s near where I work; it’s healthy, value for the dollar. That’s why I’m here.”

Because of the holiday weekend, the business got off to a slow start, Mr. Dial said.

But despite Monday’s rain, “it’s been fantastic,” he said of customer response. “Can’t complain.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at or 540-270-0300. 
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