Chefs don’t dine out the way you and I do.
They don’t, like us, just enjoy the food—or, if we’re paying special attention, maybe also the plating and the ambience. Chefs critique the menu and the tableware and the lighting. They try to figure out where the ingredients came from and assess the happiness of the waitstaff. They can’t help it. When a chef loves a restaurant, it’s high praise indeed.
So where in our region do off-duty chefs like to eat? We asked three of our favorite chefs which restaurants they love—or want to try—within a few hours’ drive of Morgantown. Their tastes run from lowbrow to highbrow and span ethnicities, and their admiration takes in details the rest of us might never notice. We pared their lists down to lesser-known eateries. Take their recommendations along and eat where the chefs eat when you go road-tripping this summer.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1h30m, 412.521.2088 chengdugourmet.net
One place I really like to go to when I have a chance is this Chinese place in Squirrel Hill called Chengdu Gourmet. They have an Americanized menu but also a traditional Chinese menu that I think is really great. It gives you a chance to have a lot of stuff you can’t get at most American Chinese restaurants. I really like the Dan Dan Noodle, it’s Szechuan noodle dish, has pork in it, a lot of hot chili oil, and then some pickled mustard root. Lots of soups, rabbit, beef tendon, things you may not get anywhere else. If you order a soup there it’s giant, like huge.
Washington, Pennsylvania 55m, 724.206.0918 presidentspub.com
Presidents Pub is that kind of gastropub-type establishment that’s invested in quality food and making things in-house. Elevating stuff by using skill. They’ve got a cool, eclectic menu. I don’t know how much they get local but I suspect quite a bit. It’s down in a basement and has this speakeasy kind of feel to it—the kind of place where the staff are happy to be there, excited about the food, talk to the customers. Great cocktails, too.
Cecil, Pennsylvania 1h10m, 412.220.7170 @yongsgoldenpig
Super small hole in the wall on Pennsylvania Route 50, pretty small menu, bulgogi and different stir fry-ey ramen bowl-esque meals. It’s fantastic. They just hit all the right notes, with good Asian, a little sweet, a little spicy, the barbecue falls apart in your mouth, spicy as you want it. I had their bulgogi pork, some sort of a soup, everything was amazing. I can’t explain the building—tiny little building and they only have a third of it. I’m always impressed with people who do amazing food with not much of a setup.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1h30m, 412.238.8518 docetaqueria.com
It’s this tiny little hole in the wall, I bet you anything it’s no bigger than your office, all they do is tacos—get them with pork, beef, but they are so good, they practically made me cry. Carry out or sit at the bar, there’s hardly any seats, lot of times there’s a line out the door. Most amazing tacos I’ve ever had. I want to go back.
J.C. Wine Cellars
East Springfield, Ohio, 2h 740.543.4200, jcwinecellars.com
I’ve been there just once. They’re in this old service station or something, middle of nowhere. The food is top-notch. It’s got a rustic Italian feel, but more diverse than that. They source well. I’d absolutely go back there.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1h30m, 412.246.0974 chickenlatino.net
The best chicken I ever had in the world was everywhere I went in Peru—the second best is Chicken Latino. The Peruvian green sauce, salsa verde, made with amarillo peppers and some odd herbs that are hard to find, will absolutely rip the top of your head off, and you will keep eating it. And it comes with giant, thick-cut french fries. The Pittsburgh dining scene is so hip right now, but that’s where my wife and I go most often. So friendly and unfancy.
Wheeling, 1h25m, 304.905.6173 thevagabondkitchen.com
Chef Matt Welsch is what we need more of in this state: somebody who’s absolutely an advocate for West Virginia in every way, shape, and form—a big, hairy, tattooed cheerleader for West Virginia. The food at Matt’s Vagabond Kitchen is West Virginia comfort food, often with a twist, often treated with classic reverence. His chili is excellent.
Fayetteville, 2h20m 304.900.5516 thestationwv.com
The Station is a classy establishment, but it has sort of a Prohibition vibe that keeps it breathing. Chef Kirk Mulcahy sources everything locally that he can. They’ve got a cool kitchen. As a line cook, the worst thing you can have is an open kitchen because all the customers can hear you cuss. At the same time, customers love to see you cooking. His kitchen is walled in with windows, so you can see in but not hear—best of both worlds. I think it was a gas station at one point—to transform that into a classy, hip place is impressive.
Bridgeport, 45m 304.848.0911 provencemarketcafe.com
Provence, it’s a cool kind of kitschy place, great food, and Anne Hart and Michael Brown are really excellent chefs. They have a great wine selection. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d probably never find it. They just do really great stuff.
Walk-up counter, it’s the size of a closet, if you ask for ketchup he’ll kick you out. It’s century-ago style, old school, and it’s not contrived—it’s real.
Clarksburg, 50m 304.622.4023, vitospizzawv.com
I worked in Clarksburg in the late ’80s, early ’90s, and ate here. Vito refused to speak English and had the most amazing calzones and pasta dishes. Linoleum floors, counter service, like Greenwich Village 50 years ago.
33 Country Club
Glenville, 1h35m 304.462.8494, “33 Country Club” on Facebook
It’s more of a bar, used to be a skating rink I think probably years ago. There’s a lady that works in the kitchen, and she makes fresh bread every day. The BLT is pretty killer. She actually chops the bacon they put on the BLT. There’s a choice between homemade bread and “regular” bread, but I don’t know why anybody would get the regular bread. My band played some music there, and I had one BLT before the show—and then another one after.
The Donut Shop
Buckhannon, 1h10m 304.472.9328 @thedonutshopbuckhannon on Facebook
They’ve got the best pepperoni roll I’ve ever had. They grind their pepperoni. It’s a fresh-baked roll, and they ask you what kind of cheese you want—I like the mozzarella. They slice the fresh roll, put it all together, heat it up for you. Any time I go that way I come home with a big sack of them.
Davis, 1h40m, 304.259.5454 @thesiriannispizzacafe on Facebook
I’m a lover of pizza. Might be my no. 1 weak spot when it comes to impulse control. Sirianni’s stands out as unique. It’s very much a mainstay of the community around there, “old ski town” distilled into one place. They source locally whenever they can. Thin crust, big pie, you gotta fold it to eat. Good beer on tap, too. And a great jukebox if they still have it.
Shepherdstown, 2h35m, 304.876.6080 “home of the world’s best sausage gravy” on Facebook
Every time we’re in Shepherdstown, we eat at Betty’s Restaurant. It’s everything it’s cracked up to be, absolutely fabulous every time.
Guide House Grill
Knoxville, Maryland, 2h50m301.655.3663, guidehousegrill.com
I haven’t been to Guide House Grill yet, but I’ve been hearing some great things about it. The building was a guide house for river rafters, I think. The chef is Darin Kordyak, great guy, I’ve known him for years. I think he’s worked about everywhere all over Morgantown and used to have a band here in town, West By God. His fiancee is their beverage director. They do a lot of cool events, too.
McHenry, Maryland, 55m, 240.442.5542, moonshadow145.com
Head Chef Jason Fickes used to be at Table 9 in Morgantown. This restaurant had been around for a long time, used to be nice, got on hard times, and came under new ownership. Jason is from there. Combination of classic comfort dishes and fine dining without being too fancy. They do good work.
North End Tavern & Brewery
Parkersburg, 1h55m, 304.428.5854, netbrewery.com
North End Tavern were part of that first wave of brewers, before there were over two dozen beers in the state. It’s a cool, kitschy place—it has all these different levels, kind of a labyrinth feel to it. They have quarter-pound burgers, a diner burger but a good diner burger, along with stuff like liverwurst that you never see. Good quality, original, simple.
Williamstown, 2h, 304.375.3633, villadavinci.com
I found DaVinci’s a couple months ago. I was driving up from Charleston so hungry but didn’t want to eat at a chain, so I went to this place. Their food was really good. It’s an old Italian place, very Italian, but the menu has some more current dishes, some healthier meals that I was impressed by, and I think they’re making their own bread. I was pleasantly surprised.
Dave Halterman, Chef – Sargasso, Morgantown
Marion Ohlinger, Chef and co-owner – Hill & Hollow, Morgantown
Matt Welsch, Chef and owner – Vagabond Kitchen, Wheeling