STEPHENS CITY — He’s hardly arrived, and people are already making a trip to visit Paladin.
Paladin is a bull. Specifically, he is a 1,100-pound sculpture created of motorcycle and car parts.
The piece was installed in February, and already travelers are following social media to 181 Warrior Drive in Stephens City to locate it. It’s not unusual to find visitors arranging themselves for a selfie in front of the contemporary chrome sculpture. Paladin is a piece of important outdoor art, and photos are going viral.
Paladin is also the name of the restaurant behind the bull. A quirky, warm and definitely local space, it is the latest restaurant from the group that also owns Front Porch Market and Grill in The Plains and recently sold Flint Hill Public House restaurant.
The sculpture is part of the collection of restaurant owners, Craig Spaulding and William Waybourn, who also own Long View Gallery in Washington, D.C. Paladin Bar and Grill is filled with their art, which includes an extensive collection of original vintage movie posters.
The restaurant opens to a large bar, opposite abundant tall tables and individual curtained banquettes that can seat six or more. A second dining space awaits expansion of the restaurant, which may eventually also include outdoor dining, and there is also a private room available, centered on a massive table made for the space from a single slab of 100-year-old chestnut.
The kitchen is under executive chef Jason Von Moll, 35, who oversees house-made preparations from pickles and slaw to sautéed vegetables and roasted meats.
The signature house burger, topped with fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese and bacon jam, begins with eight ounces of ground Angus beef and is finished on a brioche bun.
The pimento cheese appears again at the center of fritters that start with frozen balls of cheese, rolled in a light crust and deep fried until the crust browns and the cheese melts.
The brioche buns also enclose the house-made pulled pork, that begins with a bone-in pork shoulder that is slow-roasted for 12 to 15 hours before being pulled and finished in a sauce sweetened with Coca Cola. The accompanying potato chips are made in-house.
Lighter fare includes blackened red snapper, finished in a compound butter made with poached crayfish.
Bar snacks include deviled eggs and house-spiced nuts. The bar seats 18 and has 20 taps for beer, cider and sparkling wine.
In selecting the site for Paladin, Spaulding and Waybourn chose the former home of Big Daddy’s Barbecue, which closed in 2016, in part because the restaurant fixtures were already in place and nearly new, according to Dan Myers, 38, vice president of operations for the restaurant.
“There was minimal work to do here,” Myers said.
Still, Myers applied his design skill, painting the rooms in a color scheme of deep gray and green, and including mismatched pendant lighting in the bar and bright red, rainbow crystal-draped faux gypsy chandeliers in the private dining room.
In ancient Rome, a paladin served the emperor as a palace guard, and the word continues to connote power and heroism.
The bull sculpture, Paladin, is the fifth in a series by Texas artist Bettye Hamblen Turner, which was previously installed in the hills of former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch. It is now the only piece in the series to be separated from the others and moved from Texas.
And it is the only piece in an open, public space.
“We encourage people to come just to look at the art,” Myers said. “It’s amazing. People come and take pictures of him.”