Food & Drink

A Southern Spin on Baklava

The chef Ian Boden, of Staunton, Virginia’s the Shack, opens a new market and shares a family recipe

Photo: Ian Boden

At the end of February, the Washington Post gave the chef Ian Boden and his twenty-six-seat restaurant the Shack an exemplary three-star review. Located less than three hours south of D.C. in Staunton, Virginia, the Shack has become a hometown spot as well as a destination, and hungry patrons have flocked there to sample Boden’s tasting menu, which rotates with the likes of fried Pink Lady apples, latke okonomiyaki, venison tartare, and wild striped bass with collard saag and field peas. “We got three weeks of being absolutely slammed before COVID hit and we had to go to take-out only,” Boden says.  

photo: Norm Shafer
Ian Boden.

The downtime—and the increased demand for takeaway food—led Boden and his wife, Leslie, to transform the storage building next door into the Staunton Grocery, a revitalization of the duo’s former high-end market designed to sell Southern and mid-Atlantic foodstuffs. “Any time you want to buy specialty things, you have to drive to Charlottesville, which is forty-five minutes away,” he says. “We want to be a community pantry of sorts.” Boden will not only stock his shelves with the likes of Burnt & Salty mustard from Charleston, Pennsylvania’s Keepwell Vinegar, and Louisville’s Bourbon Barrel Foods’s sauces and spices, but will also invite those makers to teach demos and give talks, shortening the gap between purveyors and consumers. “We want to help people put a face to the food,” Boden says.

In addition, Boden will also serve sandwiches and other grab-and-go delights, including the couple’s baklava that they’ll bake once a week at the new spot. “I’m a Russian-Hungarian Jew, and Leslie is from Swoope, Virginia, so we’ve slowly developed a baklava recipe that is totally Southern and all local,” Boden says. Their twist on the traditional Eastern European and Middle Eastern treat incorporates local pecans and black walnuts, and gets heightened with Appalachian-made syrup, honey, vanilla, and butter. “On one of our particularly slow weeks at the Shack, six people ordered just baklava,” Boden says. “It made me so angry, but my wife was just laughing. It’s that good.” 


  • Leslie's Baklava

    • 1 cup pecans, chopped

    • 1 cup black walnuts, chopped

    • 3 tsp. cinnamon, ground (they use Spicewalla)

    • 1 tsp. Berbere spice mix (they use Spicewalla)

    • ¾ lb. butter, melted

    • 1 box frozen phyllo sheets, put into refrigerator the night before. (they use Athens brand)

  • For the Syrup

    • ½ cup granulated sugar

    • ¼ lb. butter

    • ½ cup water

    • 1½ cups local honey

    • 2 tbsp. black walnut syrup (they use Tonoloway Farm)

    • 3 tbsp. vanilla extract (they use Bourbon Barrel Foods)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the nuts and spices in a small bowl and mix well.

  2. Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with some of the butter. Layer 10 pieces of phyllo in the dish, brushing each piece with butter before adding the next (keep the remaining dough covered with a damp towel). Sprinkle a quarter of the nut mixture over the dough. Layer 4 pieces of phyllo on top, brushing each with butter before adding the next. Sprinkle with another quarter of the nut mixture. Add 4 more phyllo pieces on top, brushing each with butter, then add another quarter of the nut mixture. Add 4 more pieces of phyllo with butter, and the remaining nuts. 

  3. Layer the remaining 10 pieces of phyllo on top of the nuts, brushing each with butter. Cut into the baklava to make strips, about 1½ inches wide, then make diagonal slices, about 1½ inches apart, to create a diamond pattern. Bake until golden, about 1 hour.

  4. While the baklava is baking, make the syrup. Bring all of the syrup ingredients to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. 

  5. As soon as the baklava comes out of the oven, slowly drizzle the syrup over the top, pouring just one-third of the syrup on at a time to allow it to absorb and soak in before continuing. Allow to cool fully before serving.