Montani Semper Liberi: Mountaineers are Always Free. That’s West Virginia’s motto and it fits like a well-worn pair of work boots. From its beginnings, the Mountain State has showed an independent streak, first when 55 counties in western Virginia broke away—a dispute over Virginia’s secession and the ongoing Civil War—to form a new state, then over then, over the decades, when the state was considered the butt of jokes, West Virginians ignored the noise and quietly kept to their own. Today it’s a state of stunning beauty. A place where mother nature takes the front seat and families stand by generations-long traditions, recipes and folkways.
The boldest carve out a place for themselves in these hills and hollows, helping evolve the core of West Virginia, drawing on influences from around the world and discovering delights in the woods and fields next door. Now, West Virginia is getting her day in the sun. Adventure seekers have found her. Wildlife lovers walk her hills. And chefs, farmers, and brewers have developed a set of flavors that put West Virginia right on the plate. We’ve got your route charted: Ten stops to uncover the surprises of a state that’s been hiding in plain sight.
A wood-fired oven makes for perfect pizzas, toasty sandwiches, and some of the best pub sides around at Mountain State Brewing Co. Plus, fresh brews on draft (the Miner’s Daughter Oatmeal Stout and Almost Heaven Amber Ale are especially good) makes for a place you’ll come back to again and again.
Back in 1927 Giuseppe Argiro took a coal miner’s meal—country roll dough stuffed with pepperoni and sometimes cheese—out of the dinner bucket and into the bakery case, and West Virginia’s state food was born. Sticking to Giuseppe’s vision, the OG pepperoni roll spot, Country Club Bakery, makes them his way. Sold in store or online, they’re a treat for Mountaineers when they need a taste of home.
The oldest Italian bakery in the state, Tomaro’s Bakery was second to the pepperoni roll craze but fans swear Tomaro’s is second to none. Taste them both and decide for yourself.
To split up the stretch between Clarksburg and Charleston, Pizzas & Cream in Nebo is the move for brick oven pizza, housemade ice cream, and a giant patio where you can stretch your legs and enjoy as much of both as you want.
Noah Miller left his hometown to enroll in culinary school, only to leave and help join chef Daniel Boulud open his Palm Beach restaurant. With his finely honed palate and an arsenal of French techniques, Miller returned home and opened the thirty-two-seat Noah’s Eclectic Bistro, where the menu changes every week, and there’s no such thing as a last-minute reservation.
Sandwiches, burgers, and sharable starters that go far beyond what any run-of-the-mill deli can slap together: Secret Sandwich Society is all about big bites packed with flavor and washed down with a local brew or, better yet, a smoked old fashioned. Grab lunch to-go and make your way out to New River Gorge. The New River flows north from North Carolina into West Virginia, and created this haven to whitewater rafters and kayakers. A single-arch bridge spans the gorge, and it’s tall enough to fit the Statue of Liberty and Washington Monument standing end- to-end under it.
Showcasing the best of West Virginia’s artisans and makers, Tamarack sits right off the interstate and offers a respite from a long drive. Pick up food and goodies from around the state and bring home a piece of functional art for the kitchen or a masterpiece for the wall. It’s a one-stop shop for all things West Virginia, minus the tacky tourist stuff.
Carhops with those change-dispensing bandoliers bring your burger, fried green tomato sandwich, fried chicken, and milkshakes right to your car at Jim’s Drive In. They’ve changed their prices three times in twenty years, and you can still get a burger for $5 and a hot dog for $2. It’s nostalgia all the way around.
If farm-to-table is more your style, the Livery Tavern sources veggies and herbs from their plots out back—and their wine list is a mile long. Or get your fix of nigiri, maki, and sashimi, or an exceptional Thai curry at Kome Thai and Sushi Bistro. Pro tip: Don’t skip the rockfish (striped bass) sashimi.
For a different taste of the Greenbrier Valley, stop into Smooth Ambler Spirits just outside Lewisburg. Their wheated Big Level bourbon is mashed, distilled, aged, and bottled on site with local grains and water. Talk about terroir.
WHITE SULFUR SPRINGS
Unwind at the close of your West Virginia journey with a stay at the Greenbrier Resort. It boasts a sumptuous spa complete with mineral springs, three golf courses, and guest rooms that make you feel like royalty. Among the resort’s twenty restaurants, classic steakhouse Prime 44 West honors West Virginia native and NBA logo model Jerry West. You can get a 44-ounce porterhouse, a Wagyu filet, and an array of seafood that makes seaside visitors jealous.
- by Tate Jacaruso
- by TLP's Partners