My mother always told me to clean up my plate, which meant eating everything that was on it. But there were some things I could never eat, like wax beans, and cauliflower, and certain species of meat loaf. Yuck. When my mother was particularly cranky she wouldn’t allow me to leave the table til I’d cleaned my plate. I spent lots of time at the table, moving the uneaten food round my plate in the dim hope that this might make it disappear, but it never did; and after awhile my mother realised that I could be even more stubborn than she was, at which point I was usually sent to my room, without the beans.
My mother had strange ideas about food. Most of the fruit and vegetables we ate came out of jars or tins. Peanut butter, spread on slices of bananas was a side dish with filet of sole, usually served on a Friday, though we were Methodists, not Catholics.
My mother never prided herself on being a cook, and I didn’t know any better. It wasn’t until the late 50s when my father discovered barbeques and steaks that my mother finally broke free of the monotony of cans.
Looking back on it, I realise she was probably the product of parents and grandparents that had no better food sense than she did. I don’t have any proof of this, but in my various trips back to visit the family in West Virginia, I have noticed that their diet generally leaves a lot to be desired. I should talk! Luckily, there are plenty of places to eat in the State, and not all of them are hot dog joints. A number of them serve a combo of both healthy and not-so-healthy food, so at least you’ve got a choice if you want one. West Virginia has never been recognised for much other than roadkill and ramps, so I am pleased to report that there are some eateries that are worth a visit, if any of you decide to drive through or visit West Virgina.
My son, the musician CW Stoneking, once booked a national tour in the States so that he could intersect with all the best barbeque joints in America – including one in Grafton West Virginia. But rather than go national, let’s have a look at my top five West Virgina restaurants/cafes – in no particular order.
BLUES BBQ – South Charleston, West Virginia
This joint has a loyal following, and great barbeque. However, it is definitely not for vegetarians. Blues is your cutting edge, West Virginia “BBQ Joint”. It’s noteriety as a “joint” stems only from the fact that it is so small. It has five booths, a six top and a counter. The decor is mostly muscian and movie posters from the Jimmy Hendrix era.
To say that this place is broken would be an understatment, but one isn’t eating the decor, and there are many that would it downright intriguing. I do. The main thing is it is clean, and the food is fabulous.
The menu is also very simple. IAs a rule of thumb, if a BBQ joint has more than 10 entrees don’t trust it. Making good pulled pork and ribs takes time, and that doesn’t leave time for other non-BBQ items like veggie burgers. Blues has several varieties of pulled pork sandwiches, but the locals love the Blues Original. It’s sweet and spicy with a thick consistency that closely resembles a Kansas City BBQ style. The Carolina sauce is a light vinegar-based sauce and it is good if you like that style. They also have a Williamsburg style – think molasses. Ribs and burgers round out the menu with some munchies to go with the good selection of bottled beer. Their chicken is fall off the bone tender and spicy. Speaking of which…
the Jamaican Jerked Chicken Sandwich is brow sweatin’ spicy and the kraut is really good. This is a big sandwich for big eaters, a bit pricey – by West Virginia standards – at $6.99 with no sides, but it’ll fill you up. Add the battered onion rings and baked beans for an addtional $2.59. The onion rings rock! And the beans in true montaineer tradition are some of the best you’ll ever chow down on. They are rich and thick with pulled pork added for flavor. And be sure to wash it all down with a Great Lakes – Dortmunder
Gold. Blues has always had a nice selection of microbrews.
SIRIANNI’S PIZZA – Davis, West Virginia
Sirianni’s pizza is some of the best I’ve ever eaten, and a lot of folks’ll go a long way out of their way for the experience. They also have great salads, fresh even in the winter. There are now two locations, one in “downtown” Davis and one in the valley, which only seems to be open on the weekends as overflow from the original location. Both spots are tiny, which means you’ll practically be sitting with your table neighbors, but that only adds to the charm. In typical West Virginia style, both spots only accept cash or check. They also offer take-out (takeaway) Just ring (304) 866-3388 for the Canaan Valley location. It’s next door to Big John’s Family Fixins restaurant, located beneath a realty office. Amazing pizza!
THE CUSTARD STAND – Webster Springs and Flatwoods, West Virginia
One of the most successful businesses in the West Virginia Hot Dog industry, is this little gem, which has become the leading producer of store-bought hot dog chili in the entire region. Its chili, “Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili” is sold in stores like Kroger and Wal Mart thoughout the eastern US. According to their Facebook page, the original restaurant “The Custard Stand” was actually named Elsie’s Dairy Bar – founded by Elsie Hamrick in 1960. The name was changed to The Custard Stand in 1991-and the chili began to be sold in retail stores in 2003. In 2009, the second location of The Custard Stand in Flatwoods was opened.
The Custard Stand has longer hours than your typical HDJ (hotdog joint) and is open 7 days a week. The Custard Stand in Webster Springs is easy to find : you know when people give you directions to a place and say “you can’t miss it”? Well, this is what they mean: The Custard Stand sits on the outside edge of a hairpin curve on the road that leads down into the Elk River Valley just before you get to Webster Springs, and if you didn’t negotiate the curve properly, you just might find yourself parked inside the place (which actually happened a few years ago when a truck lost its brakes and crashed into TCS’s warehouse). The place has two walk up ordering windows and the dining area is a picnic shelter across the parking lot. Periodically one of the two workers inside bellow an order number and a hungry looking customer will scamper over and get their food.
The dogs are nestled in paper boats and wrapped in wax paper. The consistency of the slaw and the careful wrapping job makes the hot dog an almost perfect specimen of a Utilitarian Dog: The slaw compacted nicely into the shape of the wrap is easy to eat without worry of spillage. The bun was soft and steamed.
THE MEDITERRANEAN CAFE – Charleston, West Virginia
Unassuming and easy to miss, The Mediterranean Cafe offers one of the more unique menus you’ll ever see. The cozy restaurant on Washington Street features food from countries around the region including Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Lebanon, and Morocco. For fans of fresh tomato salads swimming in olive oil, feta cheese, and pine nuts, this is the place for you. Check out the menu at http://www.allworldmenu.com/4.html
The list of appetizers and salads was deep and varied. But I may have skipped them had I known how generous the complimentary plate of feta, hummus, pita, and salads would be.
The service was warm and inviting. Would you expect any less from the owner?
I recommend their simple vegetable kabob for the health conscious. Perfectly grilled tomatoes, red onions, green peppers, and zucchini wrapped in a massive pita. The wrap was served with a side of mast o khiar, which is yogurt sauce flavored with mint.
THE DOWNTOWNER – Ripley, West Virginia
If you’re passing through Ripley on a road trip at lunch time and looking for a restaurant that will give you a bit of local flavor. Virtually every small town in West Virginia has a place like that. In Ripleythere are at least two, side by side, right across the street from the courthouse. One of them looks like it’s trying to be trendy, which is fine, but you don’t come to a town like Ripley to be trendy. The other is called The Downtowner, which appears to be a bit more old fashioned, and turns out to be one of the better eateries in the state. Try the Philly steak and cheeze sub with krinkle cut fries if you want something in keeping with the atmosphere. Not quite as good as those you get in Philadelphia, but still very tasty and satisfying.