Burgers, Burritos & Brews: An Indulgent Food-Inspired West Virginia Road Trip
Though I’ve been to all 50 states, West Virginia is one that I’d left relatively unexplored—at least until my husband and I took a week to do a loop this summer and unearth its highlights. What I would come to discover? West Virginians love their burgers—and know how to brew a mighty fine craft beer, too. But there’s plenty more to the state than meets the eye; it’s also a mecca for both nature and culture lovers with artisans aplenty and some spectacular outdoors offerings to boot.
We left Nashville early in the morning, and by the time we crossed over the state border from Kentucky into West Virginia, we were famished. Griffith & Feil’s legend precedes it, and we could hardly drive past Kenova without getting off the interstate for cream sodas. But then the server said we just had to try the banana split, and who are we to argue with a local? And, OK, fine, we’ll take a root beer float and chocolate shake, too. (When on vacation, right?)
But it had been a full day of travel, and we’d yet to track down a beer. (That’s usually the first matter we take care of on any trip.) Luckily, just down the road from Kenova is Huntington, home to the famed Marshall University, as well as Summit Beer Station. We stopped for a refreshing microbrew then continued along our route.
We arrived in Charleston just in time to catch the sky ablaze in colors from a perch alongside the Elk River facing the Lee Street Bridge. While we weren’t ravenous again just yet, we’d heard great things about Noah’s Eclectic Bistro, so we nabbed one of the 11 tables and grazed on a variety of seasonal fare (the menu rotates weekly) to hold us over until the morning.
The next day began with coffee, pastries and juice at Starlings Coffee & Provisions followed by a walking tour of downtown, which was capped off by a visit to Capitol Market, my now favorite place in the state capital. Not only was it a farmers’ market outdoors, but a purveyor of West Virginia-made artisan food products like Holl’s Chocolates indoors (the chocolate-dipped Popsicles are a no-brainer).
Black Sheep Burrito & Brews was on the agenda for an early lunch before we headed up to Spencer. On top of having its own brewery—in a taqueria! what a novel concept—there are a dozen creative burrito combinations on the menu, in addition to taco flights (or rather “flock of tacos” as Black Sheep has aptly named them). I couldn’t pass up options like Thai Shrimp and Bulgogi-Korean BBQ so I had a trio of tacos and maybe a house brew or two (or three). Don’t worry—I wasn’t the one driving!
We had a full afternoon agenda planned in Spencer that included checking out blacksmith Jeff Fetty’s designs in the new Artist Colony before heading over to Chestnut Ridge Winery to put aside the beer in favor of wine. Though there aren’t even 2,500 residents in Spencer, there’s plenty to do to fill an afternoon, including fishing at Charles Fork Lake, mountain biking along Bens Run Trails and 19th century history via Goff Hill Civil War Park.
Back down near Charleston, we had a late afternoon tour at the family-run JQ Dickinson Salt-Works, then joined the crew for one of their monthly Farm to Table Dinners that brings a different West Virginia chef to whip up a lavish regional-inspired spread outdoors for all attendees. The stars began to twinkle and the crickets chirp in harmony, signaling it was time to drive the hour and change to Stonewall Resort in Roanoke for the night.
When we woke up the next day, the sun was shining and the lake glistening through our hotel’s picture window. We headed down to the activity center, purchased a day pass then grabbed a paddleboard and glided across the emerald water.
When hunger struck, we packed up the car and ventured into nearby Weston. Thyme Bistro had come highly recommended, and I’d venture to say it was the best meal we had all week. Though I really wanted the burger, I opted for the meatball sandwich instead—and will dream about that meal for years to come, too.
Next, we traveled back in time by a trip to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, a 150-year-old landmark that served as a sanctuary for the mentally ill up until 1992. Our hour-long tour took us through the various facilities and was highly informative. While no ghosts attached themselves to me during the walk, I might have to head back for an overnight paranormal experience to really get in touch with past patients!
We stopped for photos and panoramic views from Coopers Rock along the way to Morgantown, then checked into the town’s newest boutique stay, Chestnut Hotel, for the night. From the hotel, it was but a three-minute drive to Chestnut Brew Works, which just opened in 2015 and serves food like a pepperoni roll cheese melt with quinoa chips, plus just happens to make some of the best beer in town. Once we got back to our hotel, we decided to take advantage of the balmy summer evening and go for a stroll, ending up at Iron Horse Tavern for a final round—or rather, a nightcap—before calling it a day.
Saturdays in Morgantown are a bustle of activity, and we started our morning by picking up treats from a smattering of vendors at the weekly Farmers Market. West Virginia University’s Outdoor Education Center offers ziplining on Saturdays, and we’re never ones to pass up a good canopy tour, so following the market, we tested our wits via the four zip lines, aerial bridge and ladder, and 45-foot rappel.
For the final act, we ventured back south; our last afternoon before heading back to Tennessee the next morning would be spent along the New River Gorge. We stopped numerous times along the Gauley River to watch rafters flit in and out of the gushing rapids. There are several outfitters along the river, with camp sites and cabins to rent. Pack some smores and your sleeping bag for a really unique end to your West Virginia trip.
In partnership with Wild, Wonderful West Virginia
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