Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Top 10 Places to Eat Before and After Boating in the Mid-Atlantic

I know all of you are super hardcore and fine dining doesn't factor into your decision about where to boat each weekend (yeah right), but once you're there you've got to eat something. Zagat's couldn't be bothered to write reviews of these restaurants—or if they have, I couldn't be bothered to check—so I've written them myself.

I'll be the first to admit that this list is subjective and heavily biased in favor of the places where I boat the most. A more appropriate title for this blog post might be The Top 10 Places to Eat Before and After Boating in Garrett, Tucker, and Fayette Counties, but that doesn't have the same ring to it. For those people who feel slighted by the omission of their favorite restaurants, I'd be glad to hear your suggestions. My goal is simply to provide some helpful recommendations in case you ever find yourselves in the vicinity of these establishments, and to send some business their way in gratitude for feeding me well.

The Top 10

1. In camp with your friends

Not even the best restaurant can beat cooking and eating in camp with your friends. Sure, it can be hit or miss. Some nights you'll have a seven course meal consisting of a cold cheesy weenie and a six-pack of warm Bud Light (true story). But on other nights you'll have grilled chicken and vegetable kabobs with twice baked potatoes and dutch oven pineapple upside down cake. Either way you get to spend time with your friends, which is what it's all about.

2. The Riverside Hotel
Friendsville, MD

This is a vegetarian restaurant and I'm a carnivore. Just think how good it must be for me to rank it above every other restaurant! It's walking distance from the Upper Yough take-out with front porch seating overlooking the river and family style dining. It serves all-you-can-eat meals featuring hearty soups, home baked breads, organic salads, and your choice of fantastic desserts all for $11. Some people treat the Tomato Basil soup like the Second Coming, but all of the soups are delicious. Whichever one they're serving is my favorite until the following weekend. The bread and butter are always soft, and if you're lucky you might even get the blue cornbread with honey. The salad ingredients are picked fresh from the backyard (including edible flowers), and the cayenne brownie is to die for. They don't serve alcohol, but you can bring your own, and the other beverages are refreshing. The only complaint I can think of is that they're not open year-round, but absence makes the heart grow fonder.

3. Hellbender Burritos
Davis, WV

When I first started running the Blackwater, people directed me to Siriani's—and for good reason—but one night the expected wait was over an hour, so I walked across the street to Hellbender's, and now it's almost always my first choice. There's rarely a wait, the service is friendly, the wood-burning stove takes the chill out of your bones, and they have giant inexpensive burritos. “How giant?” you ask. Well, the first time I went there I asked our waitress that very question. She held out her arm and gestured roughly between her elbow and her wrist. Hell yeah! After a long day on the river that's exactly what I wanted to hear, and the burrito didn't disappoint. I'm a creature of habit, so I usually get the Chicken Hellbender, which has a nice kick to it, but there are plenty of other options. If I'm really hungry I'll also get a bowl of green chili, which has an even nicer kick to it. They used to have a delicious brownie for dessert, but the lady who baked them at home couldn't keep up with demand, and if you're still hungry after the burrito I'll be impressed. Did I mention they serve local beer from the Mountain State Brewing Company?

4. Pies and Pints
Fayetteville, WV

Some rivers always keep you coming back for more, like the Gauley; some restaurants always keep you coming back for more, like Pies and Pints; and after drinking yourself under the table with the wide selection of barley pops they have on tap you may start wondering if you've been swept into a friendly version of the Gauley's famous undercuts. The Cuban Pork Pie is my favorite pizza anywhere with its marinated pulled pork, caramelized onions, pineapple slices, jalapeno peppers, fresh cilantro, and crème fraiche. The Black Bean pie is also superb. The only problem with Pies and Pints is that everybody else knows how good it is too, so the wait can be rather long on busy weekends; however, their new location has more seating than the old one and the hostesses/waitresses are good at moving things along without making anyone feel rushed. Pies and Pints is truly a classic and I wouldn't be surprised if other people list it at #1.

5. The Purple Fiddle
Thomas, WV

Full disclosure: I've never eaten at the Purple Fiddle. It embarrasses me to say it, but it's true. I walked in the door one morning for breakfast, and the guy at the counter told me to go down the street to the Flying Pig, but that I should come back in the evening for dinner and a killer bluegrass band. He was right about the Flying Pig, and I appreciated his honesty, but I didn't come back in the evening and strangely I never have. On many occasions I've meant to come back, but I'm an early-to-bed and early-to-rise kind of guy, and Hellbender's pulls me in like a tractor beam, so I usually end up crashing early in the wildlife refuge outside of Davis while my more rambunctious friends have a great time there and speak about it afterward with reverence. The way they tell it, the Purple Fiddle is the best bluegrass venue in all of West Virginia. One of these days I'll find out for myself, but for now it makes the list on word of mouth alone.

6. Cathedral Cafe
Fayetteville, WV

Cathedral Cafe gets my vote for best breakfast in West Virginia, and no trip to the New River would be complete without a stop here. Housed in a converted church with tall ceilings and stained glass windows, the atmosphere is unique. The food is uniformly good and I can never decide whether to order something sweet, something salty, or both. The prices are also very reasonable because they cater to the dirt-bag boater and climber crowd. In fact, people watching is one of the best things about Cathedral. For boaters like myself who don't climb, it's an opportunity to see another culture and eavesdrop on conversations that are remarkably similar to our own. The restaurant fills up quickly, so I recommend going early to make sure you find a table, especially if you have a big group.

(Expert tip: don't give your bride-to-be a taste of the sweet potato pancakes if she has a tree nut allergy, or you might be accused of attempted homicide. “But I didn't notice the pecans!” won't hold up in court.)

7. Canoe on the Run
McHenry, MD

The menu is short, but every item on it is good. I particularly recommend the breakfast combo with the Morning Sandwich, roasted red potatoes, and slice of melon. Your passion for cinnamon rolls will also be richly rewarded. Don't despair if you see none beneath the glass; they usually have more in the back. Sit outside on the deck and enjoy the light breeze while your mouth waters in anticipation... This place gets bonus points for having “canoe” in its name, even though I don't canoe.

8. Siriani's Pizza
Davis, WV

This Canaan Valley favorite is always busy, so you might have to wait to be seated. Service can be slow, but the pizza is excellent, the atmosphere is fantastic, and you won't be in a hurry to leave anyway. Skiing photos, equipment, and memorabilia line the walls. Sitting at one of their tables gives you a warm feeling that erases all thoughts of the harsh winter outside. They are known for their pizza but their pasta is also quite good, and I often order the O Mike Goss. One thing worth mentioning is that Siriani's is CASH ONLY. If you don’t have any cash, they’ll tell you to swing by the bank in town. Don’t even bother because the bank ATM never has money. Go to the bar across the street from the bank instead.

9. The Flying Pig
Thomas, WV

As mentioned previously, the Flying Pig was recommended to me by a guy at the Purple Fiddle. Now it's my go-to place for breakfast whenever I'm at the Blackwater or one of the wilderness creeks nearby. The atmosphere is very laid back—it feels almost like you're sitting in the bay window of your mom's kitchen, and the proprietress isn't afraid to get sassy at your friends if they can't make up their minds about what to order. The menu is no frills, but the food is high quality and there are little flourishes like the dill in the egg scramble that make this place a winner. Plus it's cheap!

10. Dirty Ernie's Rib Pit
Fayetteville, WV

This has to win the Best Name for a Restaurant award. “Dirty Ernie” evokes images of a guy out back with a smoker made from an oil drum. It's not a restaurant either, it's a “rib pit.” Even if the food was terrible I'd still go there. Fortunately it isn't. I may not be a barbecue connoisseur, but the ribs taste great and fall off the bone. This is a great back-up option if Pies and Pints is too crowded, or a great first choice if you're in the mood for some ribs.

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order)

Black Bear Burritos
Morgantown, WV

I've only been here once, and that was years ago, but I understand the burritos are still good and they have live music on Saturday night.

The Crabby Pig
Cumberland, MD

I was introduced to the Crabby Pig only recently, but it's quickly becoming a favorite. I haven't tried the seafood yet, but the barbecue is very tasty and the pulled pork sandwich is awesome. The restaurant also has easy access from I-68, which is a plus.

Fat Eddie's
Mt. Nebo, WV

This is a mandatory pit stop during Gauley Season before heading home. It's located just east of Summersville Dam on Rt. 129 and serves up burgers, hot dogs, fries, and shakes. Try ordering the hot dog with “Full English.”

The Firefly Grill
Ohiopyle, PA

Nice place to grab lunch with outdoor seating in Ohiopyle.

Lucky Dog Cafe
Confluence, PA

If I went to Confluence more often this restaurant might make the top ten, because it meets all the requirements: good food, good atmosphere, and good people. I've only been there once, so I'm not sure what to recommend, but if you're hungry after running Drakes Creek or just took your family/co-workers rafting on the Middle Yough, this is your best bet.

Mountain State Brewing Co.
Thomas, WV and McHenry, MD

The pizzas aren't quite good as the ones at Pies and Pints or Siriani's, but they're no slouches either, and Mountain State brews its own beer, which the other two restaurants can't boast. They frequently have live music as well.

Cumberland, MD

Friends tell me it's not the same as Uncle Tucker's, which used to occupy the same building and brewed its own beer, but Puccini's still makes delicious wood-fired pizzas.

Queen City Creamery
Cumberland, MD

This place is known for its custard, but the deli sandwiches are excellent too.

Rusty Fork Cafe
Elkhorn City, KYl

There aren't many dining options near the Russell Fork, but this one seems to be the best. It's a great place to grab breakfast before the release starts. And I love the name!


Vicki Capone said...

This is by far the most useful paddling blog post I've read in a long, long time. Thanks!!

Scott A said...

You're welcome Vicki. Glad you liked it!