I have always appreciated the exquisite synergy between food and a companion beverage. Now that beverage is wine, but in my formative years, I discovered others that not only whet my whistle but were also improved when I sipped them with food.
The first epiphany occurred when I poured a small bag of salted peanuts into a bottle of RC Cola and took a drink of the mixture. Holy Molley! Both the peanuts and the cola were vastly improved by the marriage of these humble products. Later, when I was old enough to place a quarter on the bar at Joe’s Sportsman Inn and request a “cold one,” I discovered that even alcoholic beverages were improved when consumed with food and vice-versa.
At Joe’s, it was a hot dog made with mouth-searing chili sauce created by the proprietor to keep patrons from ordering food. Joe, who preferred to sip Calvert Reserve blended whiskey without interruption, could never understand why his thermo-nuclear hot dogs were so popular. Anyway, that’s when I realized that food was a lot better when accompanied by a complementary beverage other than water or even RC Cola.
Since then, I’ve had the occasion to dine at some pretty special restaurants in the US and around the world. As a matter of fact, we have quite a few good ones right here in the Mountain State that also understand the importance of cultivating a good and fairly priced wine list. Others have noticed too, including the Wine Spectator Magazine that has recognized eight Mountain State establishments with “Awards of Excellence” and another for “Best of Awards of Excellence” for their wine lists.
The state restaurants receiving Awards of Excellence are: Bridge Road Bistro, The Chop House and Laury’s in Charleston; Provence Market Café in Bridgeport; Final Cut Steak House in Charles Town; Sargasso in Morgantown; Savannah’s in Huntington; and Spats in Parkersburg (within the Blennerhassett Hotel). Another state restaurant, The Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, received “Best of Awards of Excellence” and that’s quite an honor since fewer than 1,000 dining establishments achieved that distinction.
One restaurant that is conspicuous by its absence from the Wine Spectator list is the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs. I spoke to an official at the Greenbrier who noted that the restaurant lists are currently being reviewed and updated. Once this process is completed, the resort will be presenting them for review. Expect them to be among the Wine Spectator awardees in the future.
Not every good restaurant in the state has sought national recognition and there are several establishments that deserve mention here for their exceptional food and their thoughtful wine lists. Here a few of my favorites.
The South Hills Market and Café in Charleston, owned by Richard and Anne Arbaugh, features a superb and ever-changing menu of continental, low-country and new American delicacies with a visually appealing presentation. The wine list is well conceived, priced fairly and complements the cuisine.
Another Capitol city establishment — Paterno’s At The Park — has become the city’s best Italian restaurant with a very good and reasonably priced wine list. And Rocco’s in Ceredo features artful and inventive southern Italian delicacies. Rocco knows his wine and the list marries seamlessly with his creative cuisine.
The charm and atmosphere of Café Cimino in Sutton is only exceeded by the Italian and Mediterranean dishes inspired by Chef Tim Urbanic. I once participated in a 10-course Italian meal with accompanying wines, including consecutive older vintages of Barolo. Café Cimino is also a B&B and should be on your must go-to list.
In the northern part of the state, the Wonder Bar, between Bridgeport and Clarksburg, has always been known for its excellent steaks. With new ownership, the steaks are still superb, but the wine list has been completely improved and updated.
Three other restaurants in Charleston deserve mention here. Noah’s Eclectic Bistro is a small, 11-table establishment that, as its name implies, showcases a very wide-ranging menu and a wine list exceptional for its variety and value. And the good folks at the Bluegrass Kitchen continue to improve their small, value -oriented and well thought out list to accompany the excellent menu offerings. And finally, some of the best thin crust pizza in the state, along with an extensive wine-by-the-glass list, can be enjoyed at Soho’s at the Capitol Market.