Lewisburg, WV, Labor Day 2019: A Dining Adventure Awaits to Feed Your Inner-Foodie

            “People will travel anywhere for good food—it’s crazy.”—Rene Redzepi

 

            “A walk in nature walks the soul back home.”–Mary Davis

 

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It had been a beautiful evening for a drive through the mountains of West of Virginia—clear, bright evening sun with billowy, cotton-fluff clouds overlaid on a canvas of brilliant blue.  Exiting I-64 to the main road leading to downtown Lewisburg, John, my husband, and I took in the sights of the bustling commercial area radiating outward from the downtown.  Turning right, and driving along the main road running through the heart of town, numbers of people meandered along the town’s walks enjoying the pleasant weather.

 

 

It was a beautiful evening with herds of deer along the country road home.

 

We continued driving, moving away from the town and towards the country.  Along our route, expansive farms mixed with residential areas in a patch quilt fashion seemed to unroll around us.  Dust blew up around our car as we left the asphalt road making our way towards CB Ranch, where we would be staying for the weekend.  Cattle swished tails; round bails of hay lay in fields, ready to be gathered for storage; and herds of deer were out for their evening meal. It was going to be a good weekend.

 

 

Once situated and settled in our bedroom suite at CB Ranch, we readied ourselves for dinner in town.  Since we had stayed in Lewisburg in November of 2018, we already knew where we wanted to head to for dinner:  The Asylum.  This local eatery, located in downtown Lewisburg, describes its offerings as upscale comfort food served with craft beers and spirits in a laid back atmosphere.  The Asylum has multiple TVs, a gas fireplace, numerous sitting areas, including multiple deck levels, and a full bar area.  John and I recalled the great food and excellent service we experienced on our previous visit as it met his love for great meat-centered meals, and my love of plant based, gluten free food.  (I have celiac disease and prefer to eat vegetarian.)

 

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The Asylum, in Lewisburg, WV, is a great place to meet friends, dine, and unwind.

 

The Asylum did NOT disappoint.   We began our meal with drinks and an appetizer of House Fried Potato Chips served up sizzling siracha style.  These tasty little crisps of goodness were loaded with flavor and just enough heat to be spicy without over whelming the taste buds.  John then chose the Pork BBQ sandwich.  This sandwich was loaded with pulled pork and a side of coleslaw.   I have to admit, despite the fact I am not a big meat eater, his pork smelled wonderful!

 

 

Meanwhile, I actually ordered an appetizer for my dinner:  Hummus and Pita Platter, but without pita.  Instead, they served me extra veggie sticks. Talk about creamy and crunchy goodness with just a hint of garlic all rolled into one scrumptious meal!  Yummy for the tummy.  Additionally, our service was once more attentive, affable, and always at the ready to ensure John and I had an enjoyable meal experience.

 

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Saturday was Del Sol Cantina and Grille Day.

Saturday ended up being Del Sol Cantina and Grille day regarding food and beverages.  Described by Google as a “comfy Mexican place” with both indoor and patio seating, John and I found their menu to offer an eclectic, fresh twist on Mexican fare.  John ended up in Del Sol at noon because it was the one location willing to put on The Ohio State football game, with one caveat—when the WVU game started, the large screen TVs would be switched over to that game.  Thus, John was only able to see the first half of the OSU game.  Fortunately for John, the OSU game quickly became an easy win, and also allowed him time to enjoy his lunch: Del Sol’s version of the classic BLT sandwich served with chips and salsa.   While John watched the game, I used the time to trek about the town, sip and savor some coffee from the Wild Bean, a downtown local coffee and sandwich shop; however, I did join John at Del Sol for an afternoon margarita treat.

 

    While John watched the OSU football game at Del Sol, I enjoyed walking around Lewisburg and taking a coffee break at The Wild Bean–check out the painted sign on the bathroom door of The Wild Bean!

 

Later, that evening, John and I return to Del Sol for dinner.  At Del Sol, if you want to start with tortilla chips (with free refills) you get to pick two dips—not just one.  Therefore, we chose both salsa and queso.   So, so, good!  Then, John decided to order homemade fried fish tacos, while I enjoyed vegetarian fajitas—Del Sol style—served with a large plate of freshly made black beans, rice, guacamole, sour cream, and tortillas—which I gave to John (although I could have ordered corn tortillas).  Then, I placed all of the veggies over the rice, beans, and guacamole (I removed the sour cream.), and I ate as one big plate of veggie heaven!  Our service during both lunch and dinner was on-point and friendly.

 

 

Sunday was set aside for hiking the Greenbrier River Trail.  While eating at Del Sol the previous night, the bartender/waiter recommended that we start our hike at the Anthony Trailhead, a few miles outside of Lewisburg.  He said it was pretty area that is often underrated.  However, before making our way to Anthony, we decided to fortify ourselves for the hike with breakfast.  Thus, we made our way to Retro Donuts and More, which serves both breakfast and lunch.  Set up like a 50’s style diner, John enjoyed a cream filled donut alongside a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich served on a donut bun.  Meanwhile, I enjoyed a latte while I noshed on a granola, fruit, and yogurt parfait. Fortified with deliciousness, we ultimately hiked a six miles along the beautiful, peaceful trail as the Greenbrier River meandered beside us most miles.

 

Retro Donuts and more before the hike!

 

At the Anthony Trailhead, parking lot, and boat ramp area.

 

Views from boat ramp and bridge above it at the Anthony Trailhead.

 

Views along the Greenbrier River Trail.

 

More of the beautiful scenery from the Greenbrier River Trail

 

Peaceful signs and sounds from the Greenbrier River Trail

 

We thoroughly enjoyed the sensory experience of the Greenbrier Trail.

 

After a long day of hiking, we cleaned up, and once more headed into Lewisburg for our final meal of the trip at Hill and Holler Pizza.   John and I had highly anticipated this dinner—John for their hand-tossed wood fired pizza; and I was eager to dive into the homemade gluten free crust pizza.  Plus, we both loved their salads—Cesar for John; and I love their crispy fresh garden salad.  Here, though, is where the proverbial wrench was thrown. While our salads were still fresh and plentiful, my beloved gluten free crust no longer appeared house made, but rather pre-fab, pre-made, and not-so-good anymore.  It was beautiful with all the veggie delights that I enjoy, but the crust was no better than frozen I can buy at the grocery store. After eating one piece, I chose to settle for eating the toppings, and left the over-priced crust behind. Don’t get me wrong, I understand I have to pay more for a gluten free crust, but this crust was not the same as it had been in November of 2018.  Furthermore, they seemed understaffed for the busy crowd they had in attendance on that Labor Day Sunday; thus, leaving us with poor, inattentive service.  Indeed, we were both disappointed.

 

Hill and Holler Pizza was a bit of a heart breaker this visit.  John’s pizza was still delicious, but the gluten-free crust was not what it used to be.  Still, the salads were fresh and tasty!

Despite this slight displeasure, John and I would still highly recommend the Lewisburg area as a great weekend getaway—even if you just want to go for the food!  There are plenty of sights to see, places to dine, friendly shops and boutiques, surrounded by the beautiful mountains and land of West Virginia. It’s a short, easy drive from the Tri-State area, and as the fall officially ushers in this week, it’s a great place to visit for an autumnal retreat!

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I still have not mastered the art of taking a selfie without triple chinning myself–I blame my short arms, but it could be aging! Still, look how beautiful that sky is behind us!

Naples 2019, Part 2: Fitness, Food, and Fun

           “You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.”—Paul Prudhomme

           “I didn’t mean to gain weight, it just happened by ‘snackcident’.”—Unknown

           What’s not to love about vacation?  Time to rest, recover, and consume ridiculous amounts of tasty food. However, in order to do that, one must “earn” those calories.  Thus, what better way to warrant devouring all of those scrumptious calories than through exercising in new, motivating locations? Never mind that the rest of the time is mostly spent sitting–surfside with a book, on a couch scrolling through social media, or in a lanai nerding out on an Internet interest?  It’s all about balance—right?

           Naples, Florida is the perfect location for foodies and fitness alike!  This gulf-side city offers a seemingly endless selection of dining and workout adventures.  From casual, open-air, bayside dining, to formal, four-course meals; from eclectic yoga studios, to year ‘round out-of-doors adventures; and everything in between, Naples has much to offer both.  In fact, there are so many options; it is hard to narrow down your choices, especially when staying for a short amount of time. Therefore, here are a few of the highlights John, my husband, and I discovered on our most recent trip; but trust me, there is SO MUCH MORE!

           To begin, name your athletic pursuit, Naples most likely offers it!  Golf? Check! Swimming/paddle boarding/scuba diving/kayaking? Check! Running/walking/hiking/biking trails/paths?  Check! Truly, the list seems endless! I happen to love yoga and group fitness classes, while John loves self-motivated gym workouts, and we did not have to drive far to find either of those!  

           Yoga studios were abundant in Naples.  Unfortunately, I was only able to visit three: Naples Yoga Center, Yoga Lab, and Yoga House.   I cannot say enough about all three sites! They were each aesthetically pleasing, extremely clean, and the instructors, with whom I encountered, were knowledgeable, friendly, and motivating. Specifically, Christine Salmons at Yoga Lab; Cesar Rios and Amy Lucky at Naples Yoga Center; and Lisa Frey at Yoga House were all talented instructors who offered challenging and rousing workouts for mind, body, and spirit!

 

 

           Meanwhile, John and I both worked out at the nearby L.A. Fitness Club.  Wow, what a great facility! Offering not only the usual cardio equipment, weight machines and free weights, but also possessing areas for swimming, group cycling classes, group fitness classes, basketball gym, separate baby sitting area filled with colorful play and climbing equipment as well as its own smoothie/juice bar. John made good use of the free weights, machines, and cardio equipment, while I tried out a cycling class, fitness classes, and made us of the cardio equipment.  One of the managers, whose business card I have sadly misplaced, was quite accommodating and helped us find the best short-term membership deal specifically designed for vacationers.

 

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           Now for the fun-stuff . . .food, food, and more food!

           We decided to break our drive to Naples into two days.  On our first day, we drove as far as Orangeburg, SC. There, we stayed in a new hotel, Tru by Hilton.  It was within walking distance to Ruby Tuesdays, so we decided to head there for dinner. Honestly, Ruby Tuesdays are typically not my top favorite places to eat, but this location certainly hit the spot.  Bartender and waiter extraordinaire, Webb, amused me in his attempt to sympathize with the fact I have celiac disease, “If it makes you feel any better I’m allergic to morphine!” Plus, General Manager, Anthony Dealoia, like Webb, was a great conversationalist! Overall, this was the perfect place to shake off the road dust at the end of a long day.

 

 

           Aw, Naples . . .it was so difficult to choose where to eat once we were there.  John would text me one on-line menu after another, trying to find the best gluten-free friendly spots in which to dine (Not that John needs to eat gluten-free, but he knows the challenge I often face when dining out.)  Here are a few we tried and really loved.

           Due to a minor staff miscommunication, our condo was not quite ready for us when we arrived after a full day of driving. Therefore, since it was dinner time anyway, we decided to stay out of the car and walk to the restaurant literally steps away, DaRuMa, a Japanese Steakhouse. Jeff, bartender/waiter, was welcoming and informative with regards to food choices.   He made excellent food recommendations for both John and I that met our unique, but very different, food loves. We would both recommend this spot one short block from Vanderbilt Beach.

 

 

           Another wonderful spot in which dined, not once, but three times, was Naples Flatbread.  Why? Besides being delicious and offering an expansive menu, there were also abundant gluten free options, and NFB has one of the best happy hours in Naples! (John and I have learned that if you are traveling on a budget, and you’re willing to eat dinner early, happy hour deals are often the way to go.)  Plus, did I mention the NFB staff? Manager/bartenders Conner Cerrito and Kyle Gilbert, along with Michelle Mejia, who also happens to be a free-lance writer, served up ample laughs, stories, cold drinks, and 100% delicious food! It goes without saying that this is a spot we would highly recommend.

 

          Two fun and festive eateries, also possessing great happy hour menus, include Agave as well as Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar.  Offering an abundance of gluten-free fare, both of these restaurants were obviously a local favorite as they were packed with business.  While their menus were overall different, their tasty dishes, attentive service, and celebratory atmospheres make both of these spots recommendable.

 

           One of our condo neighbors, Donna Wolf, recommended a restaurant called, The Dock, Waterfront Dining at Crayton Cove. Oh. My. Heavens.  What a lovely spot to dine, relax, and, you guessed it, enjoy Happy Hour specials. Our waitress/bartender, Ashley, was extremely helpful and considerate.  She worked diligently to ensure we had a positive “Dock-side” experience. In fact, we enjoyed the location, food, and Ashley so much that we came back for a second night, a few evenings later.  The food and drinks were stupendous, the service was outstanding, and did I mention how nice it was to dine on the Naples waterfront? Yep, this is one more place John and I would 100% endorse! (Thanks Donna! Also, thank you Robin Waeltz for the delightful conversation—fellow educators unite—and great insight into living in the Naples area.)

 

 

           Last, but not least, I have to mention, Haley Beaman, bar manager and notable waitress at Top Dawg Tavern in Columbia, South Carolina.  Driving for long hours on the road makes one tired, hungry, and sometimes even grumpy. However, when dining on delectable food while meeting someone as friendly, energetic, and outgoing as Haley, it eased away the road weariness on our return trip home.  This restaurant was in fact, one of several recommendations by the Hampton hotel in which we stayed. It also happened to offer a discount to those staying at the hotel.

 

 

           See what we did there?  We weren’t able to make Happy Hour at Top Dawg, but we were still able to find a deal on a great meal, super service, and pleasurable atmosphere while stopping for the night.  Definitely, this is a dining spot worth visiting when traveling in the area.

           Food, fitness, surf, and sand . . .take us back to Naples!

           One final note, I cannot say enough about all of the pleasant Uber drivers during this trip.  Special thanks go to Thomas, Ritchy, Herve, Fred, Hunter, and Craig. While we know it is your job to be safe, efficient, and sociable drivers, we still appreciate your outstanding service.

           From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and food-filled vacations!

 

          Other Wonderful restaurants that did not make it into the original newspaper article due to space include . . .

AZN:  Azian Cuisine

 

         Skillets Restaurant  (with gluten-free bread, pancakes, and waffles!)

 

The Crust (With a gluten-free crust!!)

 

Epiphany Gluten-Free Bakery (100% dedicated gluten-free:  serving up all gluten-free products as well as offering vegetarian/vegan, paleo, keto, and other food allergy-free options)

Lexington, KY, revisit April 2019, Part 2

           “Soon after, I returned home to my family, with a determination to bring them as soon as possible to live in Kentucky, which I esteemed a second paradise, at the risk of my life and fortune.”—Daniel Boone

           Author’s Note:  This is part 2 of a travel piece regarding my recent trip with my husband, John, to Lexington, KY.

           After a good meal the night before at Pies and Pints and a sweet snack from Trader Joes, we were up early, ready to go at Homes2 to Suites by Hilton Lexington, KY.  First priority though, we both squeezed in a workout. While I would not say, the fitness center at Home2 to Suites offers full gym experience; it does possess enough of the basics to maintain some semblance of a fitness routine.  Of course, after the workout, we took time to enjoy the hotel’s expansive breakfast bar while we mulled over our plans for the day.

           It was over our second cup of coffee that we decided to visit Fort Boonesborough State Park, about a 30 minute, or so, drive away.  We were fortunate to visit in April, the start of their season, which runs from April 5-October 31. This Kentucky State Park offers a campground, pool, and a reconstructed fort built in honor of the original Fort Boonesborough, a frontier fort in Kentucky founded by Daniel Boone and his men following their crossing of the Kentucky River on April 1, 1775.  This reconstructed version is a complete working fort with cabins, blockhouses, and furnishings offering visitors a glimpse into pioneering life in 18th century Kentucky. Throughout the year, Fort Boonesborough offers numerous special events with different historic emphasis. Although there were no special on-going events during our visit, we were able to still get a taste of those early pioneering days.

 

         Images from the entrance area of Forts Boonesborough, Ky.

 

           We began at the orientation building, watching a nearly 30-minute long documentary on the rich and unique history of Fort Boonesborough.  Afterwards, we took our time on a self-guided tour visiting as many of the cabins and blockhouses that were open, as well as listening and interacting with resident volunteers and artisans who make crafts and/or answer questions/offer information about life inside the fort.  These living history staff members were appropriately dressed in 18th century attire, and offered much insight into 18th century pioneer life.

 

      Cabins are arranged in a circle.  Visitors are encouraged to turn left past the entrance and begin at the Orientation building. John purchases entrance tickets for us.

 

Beautiful, historical paintings line the walls of the orientation room.

A small snippet of the the introductory video that is quite informative.

 

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Even the bathrooms have bits of 18th century history for visitors.

 

           In fact, we learned a few random, but fun facts.  For example, at one cabin, we were able to view how yarn was made from locally harvested wool and dyed, using native plants, such as walnuts, black eyed-susan flowers, and goldenrod, the state flower of Kentucky.  We further learned that women’s dresses were purposefully made without fasteners because an 18th century woman, living at Fort Boonesborough, would have only a couple of dresses her entire adult life, and those dresses needed to be able to accommodate her ever changing body size and shape.  Additionally, women were often better shots with guns than their husbands, as the men could be gone for extended periods at a time; thus leaving the women to defend themselves and their children. Furthermore, as soon as a child was old enough, male or female, they were put to work weaving, spinning yarn, or other such ongoing chores as young as the age of two years!  Plus, nearly every plant in the surrounding woods served some purpose to these pioneers! Additionally, nothing inside the fort was wasted, and all materials that could not be consumed were reused, recycled, or repurposed.

 

  Yarn color variety created by plants grown locally.

Fort Boonesborough’s meeting hall, tavern, and all purpose gathering place.

Other random images from Fort Boonesborough, KY.

           After a complete tour of the fort, we decided to explore one of the hiking trails.  This meandering, downhill (and uphill on the return) path led us down to a beautiful cool area with running water and the not-so-natural sounds of a distant highway! Along the path were numerous tiny white and violet flowers, vibrantly green mosses, and oversized mushrooms. Additionally, birdsong followed us all along the trail adding a melodious backdrop.  By the end, according to my tracker, we had hiked over four miles at a pleasant and conversational pace.

 

The trail starts off as a concrete path, which leads to a crushed limestone path, which leads to two paths that diverge . . .we chose what appeared to be the path less taken as it was narrow and did not show much wear.

Beautiful tree canopy images.

More beautiful images from the trail.

Three short video clips capturing the sights and sounds along the trail.

           Back at the hotel, hungry, tired, but relaxed from all of our time spent out-of-doors, we debated our plans for the evening.  Lexington has a Distillery District along Manchester Street, and John is a huge bourbon fan. However, John is also passionate about finding restaurants in which I can easily dine due to my celiac disease and my commitment to eating mostly plant-based foods.  As he perused through a number of local menus, he came across a place called, Carson’s, not in the Distillery District, but not too far away either. Doing what John does best, he zeroed in on the dishes he thought I’d like and began reading them aloud to me.  I was sold!

           According to the founder, Mark Fichtner, Carson’s is . . .”a rustic, yet refined concept with chef-driven recipes paired with prohibition cocktails, hand-selected wines, and craft beers.”   After a beautiful Uber drive through downtown, we walked into an industrial style setting with abundant leather, wood, brick, and over-sized crystal chandeliers sparkling overhead. As odd as that sounds, the atmosphere worked, and put us right as ease.

Water is chilled and  served in repurposed bourbon bottles; chandeliers hang from the ceiling; ample wood and leather; and an attentive and friendly staff make Carson’s atmosphere fun, casual, and yet, refined.

           Our servers for the evening, Cassidy and Madeleine, (I hope I spelled her name correctly!) were attentive, thoughtful, and full of advice/suggestions regarding food and beverages.  Additionally, we were able to meet and spend time talking with Kyle Limmerman, General Manager. He was a wealth of knowledge regarding food, beer, and bourbon, as well as was an on overall great conversationalist!  However, the biggest “talker” of the night, was the food!

 

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Kyle Limmerman, General Manager, at Carson’s in Lexington, KY>

 

           The menu of Carson’s is expansive; spanning all taste ranges from burgers to steaks, ribs to seafood, from salads to gluten, free vegan options, and nearly everything in between.  After much debate, discussion, and advice, we began our meal with béarnaise truffle fries. Oh my heavens, made with béarnaise, white truffle oil, shredded Parmesan, and scallions, John and I could have shared this with four other adults! The taste, scent, and texture were out of this world delicious!  

 

 

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We began with an appetizer, béarnaise truffle fries.

           For the main course, John enjoyed the Pork Belly Beer Cheese Burger.  Topped with lettuce, fried onion strings, spicy aioli, and finished with their sriracha bourbon BBQ sauce, this burger is sure to please!  John ordered it with a side of smoked Gouda macaroni and cheese that looked as if it were swimming in cheese sauce! Needless to say, after eating all of those fries, John ended up taking half of his dinner back to the hotel with us.  

 

           Meanwhile, I ordered the Portabella Vegetable Stack. This beautifully plated meal started with a bed of Bibb leaf lettuce and added grilled tomatoes; asparagus; red, yellow, and green bell peppers; red onion; and jalapeños sautéed. Then, it was topped with sliced avocado, marinated Portobello mushroom, and drizzled with a balsamic reduction, cilantro lime vinaigrette, and sriracha. HEAVEN!  What a gluten-free, vegetable delight for me with so many gorgeous colors, tastes, and textures blended into one perfect dish! Unlike John, I ate every last morsel of my meal!

 

 

           Sadly, our stay came to an end, as it was a short, but sweet stay.  We did do a quick stop at Lexington’s Whole Food Market situated in a gorgeous, and seemingly newly developed area, called, The Summit at Fritz Farm, just minutes from the hotel.  While there, I met a super-infectious barista who educated me on all things I did not know about coffee and the use of non-dairy milk to make various coffee drinks. He was quick to offer John and me both samples and made an aesthetic looking cappuccino out of espresso and almond milk that tasted as good as it looked.

 

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At Whole Foods I enjoyed an aesthetic looking cappuccino out of espresso and almond milk for the chilly and rainy ride home! 

           We drove home in a chilly rain, but the route was still guarded by ample red buds waving goodbye as we made our way home with warm thoughts of the possibilities for our next food/travel adventure!

From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and pleasant travels!

 

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Revisit to Lexington, KY, Part 1

           “There is nothing like Southern hospitality.  It’s such a beautiful and genuine thing.”—Abigail Spencer

           We had to go back.  The lure of its hospitable people, and the family ties to this state that run deeply in both of our families, acted as sirens beckoning for our return.  Of course, there’s no denying our love for a good meal—especially dinner; and, there were so many unexplored eateries vying for our attention. Sigh, yep, we had to go back—even for a short visit.

         It was love at first encounter for John, my husband, and me despite it occurring under a rather stressful situation.  In fact, like an old friend, Lexington, KY was, during our first visit, the calm in the chaos; the salve for the wound; and, the lullaby for the colic.  Okay, I’ll stop with the corny metaphors and get straight to the point. You, Dear Reader, should add Lexington to your short list of towns to visit for a weekend getaway.  

 

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           First stop, back to Home2 Suites by Hilton Lexington University/Medical Center.  During our previous visit, about a month earlier, John and I were with family, supporting a loved one at Albert B. Chandler Hospital a few blocks down the road from the hotel.  Due to the fact our stay was hospital related, we received a steep discount from Home2 Suites for our rooms—a considerate policy for customers who require a long term hotel stay in order to remain near loved ones receiving treatment/services at UK hospital.  Plus, the hotel staff could not be nicer. They go out of their way to ensure you have a comfortable, warm and welcoming stay; and we discovered the same was true on this return trip!

 

This is the out-of-doors patio complete with grill, numerous tables/chairs, and it is located just outside the salt water pool of the Homes2 Suites in Lexington, KY.

 

           This time, we did not have the discount; however, we took into consideration the following facts regarding the price: 1) Home2 Suites offers large, comfortable rooms with full size refrigerator, sink, dishes, glasses, cups, utensils, microwave, thus permitting us to bring along a few food items (mostly for me), but also allowing us to store any leftovers from dinners for later consumption.  2) Breakfast is included in the price, and it includes a wide array of food choices. In fact, I think the hotel advertises that there are over 400 breakfast combinations that can be created. 3) Therefore, the only meal for which we would need to buy was dinner. Plus, at Hilton hotels, fresh fruit, afternoon cookies, as well as hot and cold beverages are always available to the customer at no extra cost. 4) Plus, we were only staying two nights, making this stay budget friendly.

 

This is the just the oatmeal/cereal station section.  It is the section of the breakfast bar I visited, but there is soooo MUCH more offered here.

 

        The comfy lobby and breakfast area of Homes2 Suites. 

 

          We left on a Wednesday, immediately after school, because the school in which John and I teach, St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, was closed in honor of Easter for a few days.  Of course, that meant we hit Lexington at the height of rush hour. Ugh! By the time we navigated traffic, and what seemed like an unending sea of stoplights, we made it to the hotel after 6:00 pm.   Once settled in our room, we quickly made plans for an early evening, in order to be more rested and fully ready to enjoy the following day’s activities.

           We quickly decided to use Uber and head to Pies and Pints, a favorite of ours–though we had not visited this location.  Using Uber is something John and I enjoy doing when traveling because it allows us to ask questions, fully view the town, and gain insight into the location in which we are staying. As we drove through the heart of Lexington, the driver highlighted different spots along the route, noting those popular with University of Kentucky students versus spots favored by locals.  The weather was fine and students, professorial types, as well as all walks-of-life were strolling the walks of Lexington soaking up the last of the evening sunshine.

 

Menu from Pies and Pints.  Notice all of the gluten free options.

 

           As it turned out, Pies and Pints is next to Lexington Visitors Center in the square just across the street from the Convention Center and Triangle Park as well as within walking distance of Rupp Arena! The ambient sound of the nearby water fountains filled the air with a satisfyingly serene sound.  A man sang and danced across the street on the sidewalk opposite of ours, and colorful flowers sprouted along the walks. It reminded us of the drive to Lexington that afternoon as we passed one red bud tree after another—a long purple parade of petaled soldiers standing at rapt attention as we drove past one colorful roadside display after another.  Scents of spring abounded all around, followed by aromas of. . . . pizza, of course!

 

 

           Just like other Pies and Pints, this Lexington location offered the same menu staples with plenty of gluten free and vegetarian options for me, along with plenty of carnivore choices for John! However, for those who enjoy beer, each location of Pies and Pints features a unique menu of craft beers, many of which are local to the location.  In fact, Lexington Pies and Pints offered 35 beers and root beer (non-alcoholic) on tap, plus an extensive bottled beer menu.

 

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Devan, our bartender/waiter for the evening, was courteous, efficient, and attentive.

 

           Devan (I think that was our waiter/bar-tender’s name!) was courteous, attentive, and prompt with service.  John and I decided to relax and take our time with dinner. Therefore, we gave their chips and salsa a try while enjoying conversation before ordering our meals. Big mistake!  Why? Because their salsa is so stinkin’ delicious that we ate MUCH more than we needed, but boy, was it good!!

 

Chips and salsa for an appetizer hit the spot!

 

           We eventually decided upon our meals. I had to have their simple salad.  Maybe it’s the way they thickly cut cucumber slices and hollow out the center before cutting each piece in half, but there is something special about their simple salad that I cannot get enough of it!  Of course, it could also be their creamy Gorgonzola dressing that I always get served on the side. Whatever it is, it all comes together in deliciously tasting salad.  But, did I stop there? No!

 

This salad . . .

          I also ordered the Black Bean Speciality Pie with a gluten free crust.  This pizza is served with black beans, cheddar, jalapeños, salsa, cilantro & crème fraiche.  If you like a spicy beans and salsa, then this pie is sure to please! Plus, the gluten-free crust is actually quite good!

 

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          Meanwhile, John ordered a small pizza pie with traditional red sauce.  He had it topped off with pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese. Boy, did it look and smell good!  Unfortunately, he was so full from all of the chips and salsa we had noshed on earlier, that over half of his pie went uneaten that night.  Of course, it made a delicious lunch for him the next day!

 

 

          Throughout our time at Pies and Pints, our service was excellent, and the atmosphere was relaxed and yet upbeat.  I can only imagine the number of pizza pies made, and pints drank on afternoons/evenings of UK basketball games! What an ideal location for this tasty food venue!  John and I would certainly return, and we would highly recommend it for fun and a festive food atmosphere with friends and family!

 

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          After the Uber ride home, taking in more of the sights of Lexington, we decided to amble across the hotel’s parking lot to Trader Joe’s Grocery.  John and I cannot help ourselves! We love to visit grocery stores that we cannot find at home in order to see what’s trending food-wise outside our local area.  As with the one other Trader Joe’s we have visited, this one wasn’t large, but boy did it offer a wide variety of items not necessarily available in our local grocery market at fairly reasonable prices.  We found a few treats to try in the true spirit of further food adventures, and I could not help but feel a envious of the gluten free, non-dairy, and vegan options available there, but not available here locally.  Oh well . . . that’s what made it special!

 

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          Thus, the end came to a great first, albeit short day, in Lexington.  Part 2 of our Lexington stay will follow next week. . .

          

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Tippi Tail, one of our cats, was not happy we were leaving. Thus, this must be her attempt to keep us from packing!

 

The Kindness of Strangers in Lexington, KY

           “I’m convinced that probably everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  It’s just one more reason to always try to be kind.”—Yolanda Hadid

 

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

           Life is often not easy.  In fact, sometimes, it can seem down right mean; or, at the very least, unfair—especially with regards to a loved one’s distress.  Although it is the loved one dealing with the pain, emotion, and treatment of the illness, I would argue that the closest caregiver, often a spouse or child, also endures his or her own form of anguish, aching, and anxiety.  

 

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

           Thus, John, my husband, and I, upon receiving a text, made the quick and easy decision to go on an unplanned, though not entirely unexpected, trip to Lexington, KY in order to offer support and help for both an ill loved one and spouse.  However, the purpose of this bit of writing is to shine a light on the numerous acts of kindnesses we encountered from complete strangers. When coming upon others in day-to-day life, we often do not know what secret suffering simmers in each soul, therefore the simple act of a smile, sympathetic ear, or a soothing word can be a source of salve in another’s day as we experienced first hand in Lexington.

           Three completely different settings;and yet, all were a source of comfort. These three were the only locations we visited during our brief stay; however, all three made a positive impact in our time spent in Lexington.  Of course, bottom line, it was the people at these places who chose to make the difference; and to the many unnamed, I say (as do my loved ones and John), “Thank you!”

 

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            UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital.  It was, and is, a sprawling and bustling facility, with Kentucky Children’s Hospital behind it, and the Shriners Hospital for Children Medical Center across from it. In spite of its vastness, from our first impression–asking for help to find parking–to our last impression—the sweet lady from transport offering assistance to the parking garage—this facility was first class when it came to compassion and kindness.  

 

Left: Pedestrian connection ramp to hospital garage.  Right:  Shriner’s Hospital for Children Medical Center.

           Once we figured out the parking and pedestrian ramp, we realized how easy it was to access the hospital.  While it did require a good bit of walking, what appeared to be oversized golf carts zipped by walkers offering rides to those either unable or physically challenged by the walk.  Art surrounded us throughout our daily traverses of the ramp and entrance. While the beauty of the art certainly offered an element of tranquility to visitors who may be experiencing anxiety or stress, it was the staff of this facility that offered the greatest sense of calm.

 

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Look closely at the different shots of this painting.  If you focus long enough, the word ‘still’ can be found in a tree.  That simple word offered me a daily reminder of the importance of remaining ‘still’ on the inside.

 

           Given our situation, only two of the three of us were allowed back in the hospital room at a time.   Therefore, there were multiple opportunities for me to explore the hospital. Whether I was running errands to get coffee or food, or choosing to move/walk around and stretch my legs, I encountered supportive and thoughtful employees throughout the hospital.

           For example, there was the smartly dressed staffer in a resource room I happened to enter out of curiosity, that within one minute and three key questions, gave me an armful of free educational materials, not only for those at the hospital with me, but also for loved ones back home.  Then, there was the young man—heavily tattooed on arms and neck—an image for which a negative label might have been assumed; however, that was far from the truth with this gentleman! He had observed me taking pictures of the hot food available and texting it to another waiting back in the hospital room.  Placing my order, the man asked for whom I was getting the food. When I answered and explained the situation, he nodded—as did another employee beside him.

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This waterfall offers a source of tranquil sound.  It is a nice place to sit near, close eyes and focus on prayers, meditations, or simply relax.

 

           Handing me the box of warm food—given in generous portion sizes, I should add—he added with eyes full of sympathy, “May this food warm their belly and bless their soul.  God bless.”

           Then, the other employee added, “Yes, God bless both of them.”

 

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A tasty, warm meal can sometimes be a source of comfort.

  

         Yet, these were not the only examples of simple acts of kindness. Without giving names and specific details, I sadly do not have the room to elaborate on the innumerable positive and thoughtful actions offered from each of the nurses, staff, and doctors with whom we daily interacted; all were genuinely nice, engaging, and seemingly always willing to put forth the extra effort.  In fact, as we were leaving, two of the nurses said they would miss our loved ones. Even through the discharge procedure, we had the pleasure of being assisted by a gregarious transport female who truly took an interest in the absolute best place to take our loved ones in order for John to get their car to them easily. She was a delight, and I hate that I do not recall her name!  

 

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The entrance to the uphill, winding entrance ramp to parking garage.

 

           Home2 Suites by Hilton Lexington University/Medical Center.  It is hard to find the right words to describe the amount of care the staff of this hotel offered all of us.  As soon as they realized the purpose of our stay was related to the hospital, they bent over backwards to offer assistance.  Each time we entered the lobby, a manager was there to greet us, and ask if we needed anything. The rooms were spacious and comfortable with large refrigerators, microwave, kitchen sink, storage, and Keurig coffee makers.  While we did not spend much time in the room or hotel, it was certainly a bright spot to start and end each day, and a great place to rest. In fact, John and I agreed we would love to return on a leisure visit.

 

           BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse.  While we might have discovered this restaurant on our own, it was our good fortune for our loved ones at UK Hospital to encourage us to dine at this establishment for dinner both nights of our visit.  What an excellent recommendation it turned out to be! From plenty of gluten free, plant-based options for me—including pizza, chocolate chip cookies, and even gluten-free buns—to a wide variety of carnivore-centered dishes for John, BJ’s had it all. In fact, their menu is like reading a book (I think I saw it was 24-25 pages long), with page after page of choices.   Our waiter/bartender, Sam, was Johnny-on-the-spot, with great service, recommendations, and nice conversation. Despite the fact it took quite a bit of time both nights for John and me to settle upon a dinner choices, Sam did not bat an eye and remained patient, understanding, and attentive to our needs throughout our time there.

 

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The menu at BJ’s is big enough to be a book!

 

           John and I started both meals with chips and salsa while we perused the menu. (However, those with severe allergies to gluten should best avoid the chips, as they are not cooked in a dedicated fryer.)  Next, we enjoyed salads—side salad for me both nights, and John tried the Wedge Salad and the Caesar Salad on respective nights. My dinner choices were Turmeric-roasted Cauliflower and Peruvian Quinoa Bowl the first night, and Gluten-free Veggie Pizza the second night; whereas, John went with the Hickory Brisket and Bacon Burger for dinner on the first night and BJ’s Brewhouse Classic pizza the second night.  Our meals were prepared, presented, and tasted beyond palatable. In fact, I am fairly certain our taste buds did a happy dance during each meal! Again, this is another place we would love to visit again.

           In the end, our trip to Lexington was made as pleasant as possible, given the situation, due to people taking time to smile, offer kindness, and extend a caring attitude.  Thank you to all we encountered at these establishments in Lexington. We are forever grateful for your generosity and hope to return!

 

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Sam, our waiter and bartender for both of our evening visits, was congenial, attentive, and patient with our inability to decide on dinner!

Meal 1:  Turmeric-roasted cauliflower and Peruvian Quinoa Bowl for me; and Hickory Brisket and Bacon Burger for John.

Meal 2: BJs Brewhouse Classic Pizza for John; Gluten-free Veggie pizza for me.

         

           

 

Charleston, WV a Perfect, Quick Weekend Getaway

            “Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.”—Barbara De Angelis

 

 

            “If you don’t think a small act can make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room.”—Julie Foudy

 

Who doesn’t love a short get-away? Therefore, when John, my husband of nearly 30 years, surprised me by suggesting we take a short trip during our long weekend over President’s Day holiday, I was all in.  We debated the merits of various locations especially with regards to drive time.  The plan would be to leave immediately after work on Friday and return home on Sunday.  While not a long time, it would at least allow us an opportunity to take a break from the every day routine!  Ultimately, we settled on heading to Charleston, WV

 

Although only a short drive, around an hour or so from our home, it turned out to be the perfect distance as I was NOT ready to go immediately after work as originally planned.  Instead, we ran home after work to pack up for our short escape. Still, we made it to Charleston by 6:00 pm, and were soon walking from our hotel towards Adelphia Sports Bar and Grille for dinner.  Aw, but I am getting ahead of myself!

 

Four Points by Sheraton was our hotel of choice for this weekend adventure.   We stayed at this hotel on a previous trip in August on a spur-of-the-moment extension of a trip that was mostly spent in Alderson/Lewisburg, WV area.   It was purely by accident that we discovered this gem of a place as the hotel in which we have often stayed on previous trips was booked solid.  In fact, we had never before noticed Four Points. Looking back now, I don’t how we missed it.

 

Located on Kanawha Boulevard overlooking the beautiful Haddad Riverfront Park, it’s bike/walk/run trail, and the Kanawha River; Four Points is within walking distance of great restaurants, shopping, as well as local events.  The hotel itself is warm and inviting, allowing guests to immediately feel at ease.  The lobby is open and offers a variety gathering spaces as well as easy access to the hotel’s bar and restaurant, Riverside Cafe.  Just off the lobby is the 24-hour access fitness center.  Additionally, the rooms are nice, spacious, and very clean with extremely comfortable beds.  While there are nice amenities that come with the rooms, it is the staff that brought us back!

 

Various images from inside Four Point Lobby–there are so many places to gather in small groups or as quiet couples.

Cindy Bagwell, Director of Operations at this Four Points location is the quintessential hostess.  She can be spotted at all hours of the day chatting with guests, joking around with staff, and taking care of the needs of both guests and rooms.  In fact, Bagwell, who remembered us from our previous visit, made it a point to take time each day to talk with us. Her ease, grace, and humility seem to overflow onto the staff as well.

 

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Cindy Bagwell, right, is Director of Operations at Four Points, Charleston, but we think of her as Queen of hospitality!

 

Gina, Bruce, Kamilah (aka Mimi), and Sue were just a few of the Four Point staff that took time to get to know John and me. Conversations with this staff were such friendly exchanges with a genuine desire to get to know us and help us in any way they could.  From recommending food or wine on their menu to ensuring we had enough coffee and bottled water in our room, from giving John advice about sites to see on an upcoming conference trip to Chicago to chatting with me about yoga teacher training, we felt as if we were part of their work-site family!  In fact, we have already planned a return trip when the weather is hopefully warmer and more accommodating to explore the Haddad Riverfront Park area.

 

Pictured here:  Notes from “Mimi” regarding places to visit in Chicago; fitness center–complete with weights, yoga mats, exercise bands; and cardio equipment; Riverside Cafe; wine recommendation from Mimi; ballroom currently displaying the watercolor works by a local artist; and, this hotel offers recycling bins throughout its public spaces and private room.

Still, we cannot complain about the weather for the weekend of our stay.  After a week of rain, clouds, and more clouds, we were more than pleased to enjoy rain-free evenings on both Friday and Saturday.  In fact, the sunshine was abundant all day Saturday, making the temperatures hovering in the 40s feel like a balmy spring day, well, almost! Thus, we did not drive once during our entire stay until it was time to leave—which we loved!

 

We ate breakfast both mornings in the hotel’s restaurant, Riverside Café.  In fact, our meal Saturday morning was so good; John and I ordered the exact same meal the following day!   John enjoyed the Farmer’s Bowl featuring two homemade biscuits, freshly scrambled eggs covered with made-from-scratch sausage gravy. It smelled and looked amazing! I kept it simple and savored their steel-cut oats with raisins, slivered almonds, and brown sugar.  As we enjoyed our late breakfast each morning after working out the Fitness Center, we took just as much pleasure in our conversations with the staff during this time!  In fact, we lingered a bit longer in the lobby after breakfast to enjoy coffee, relax, read, and interact with staff.

 

Our breakfast was so good, we had to order the same thing each morning!

 

As previously mentioned, we walked to Adelphia Sports Bar and Grille offering traditional “Greek and classic American fare.”  Their menu offerings are varied and wide encompassing.  From Greek nachos to spicy wings; from a Greek salad to a Chef salad; from grilled salmon to Souvlaki; from Gyros to sandwiches; the menu at Adelphia is sure to have something to please every taste.  The staff was super-friendly, including our waitress/bar-tender, Brittany, who actually remembered us from our visit in August. With a super casual, fun atmosphere, this is the place to go, especially for TV sports viewing as there a numerous large screen TVs throughout the dining space.

 

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Another favorite Charleston eatery of ours is Pies and Pints.  Boasting the second ever location of this restaurant, it is also within walking distance of Four Points.  In fact, it is located right beside Adelphia as both are situated amidst cute local cafés, art galleries, a bookstore, and other local shops.  Pies and Pints make a one-of-kind pizza and offer many gluten-free options—including pizza!  Their salads are delicious and filled with abundant goodness!  Further, they offer a unique twist on nachos, wings, sandwiches (and yes, there is a gluten-free bread option!), and even pizza skins.  As their name indicates, they also offer a wide-ranging option of beers as well as wines. On this past visit, Alison was our waitress.  Like our previous visits to this establishment, Alison was quite friendly, good at making recommendations, and attentive to the needs of her customers.  If you love pizza, then Pies and Pints is a must-visit place when in Charleston.

 

Pies and Pints is located beside another one of our favorite places, Taylor Books.  It is also across the street from Ellen’s, a local ice cream shop; and, it is just down the street from Rock City Cake Company.

All in all, John and I thoroughly enjoyed our short excursion.  We didn’t have to travel far; and, once parked in the hotel’s lot, we never had to drive during our stay.  I enjoyed a few hours of shopping on Saturday afternoon at the Charleston Town Center, which was less than a five-minute walk.  Our room had a beautiful view of the river, and the hotel accommodations and staff allowed John and I to have equal parts of rest and fun. Plus, I can’t help but think all of the walking, fresh air, and sunshine also added to our restoration.  In case you can’t tell, Dear Reader, John and I highly recommend you consider a weekend get-away that is not too far from home in Charleston, WV.  And if you stay at the Four Points, tell them Steph Simply sent you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lewisburg Dining: Feed your Inner-Foodie

           “Eat and sip your way through downtown morning, noon, and night . . .

Plan your food adventure for any time of the day.”—visitlewisburgwv.com

Author’s Note:  This began as one piece, but quickly became too long!  Therefore, this is part two of a three-part travel series, once more featuring the Greenbrier Valley area of WV.  In the first part, I focused more on the abundant outdoor attractions, especially those of C B Ranch. During this second piece, I will feature the wide array of dining experiences that can be enjoyed while visiting Lewisburg.  Finally, next week, I will offer snapshots of what can be discovered along the Midland Trail National Scenic Highway.

           “Hi! Welcome back!  How have you been?”

           I was a bit taken aback.  As my brain immediately recognized her face from our previous visit at the end of summer, my thoughts kept swirling as I tried to recall her name.  Furthermore, how on earth did she remember us with as many guests as they must serve daily? Nonetheless, after engaging in a few minutes of pleasant conversation with both her (I think her name is Paige.) and Annie, FOH manager, John, my husband, and I knew we made the right choice by deciding to kick off our dining adventures in Lewisburg, WV at Hill and Holler Pizza.

           While we had been to Hill and Holler on our previous trip, the food, staff, and atmosphere at Hill and Holler is wonderful; therefore, we had to visit again—especially since they offer gluten-free pizza with their own house made crust that actually tastes delicious!  With 16 beers on tap, Greenbrier trained chef and manager, Todd Wagner, and a menu that is way more than pizza; including homemade ice cream, house-smoked wings, crab cakes, and freshly plated salads, Hill and Holler is not your usual pizza joint. It is eclectic, hip, and possesses bistro flair.  Plus, it possesses one of the largest stages in town for regular musical offerings.

 

 

 

Garden salad for me (top); and a Caesar salad (bottom) for John.  Gluten-free veggie pizza for me (left); and Pepperoni and sausage with extra cheese pizza for John (right).

 

           Meanwhile, back at the tranquil setting of C B Ranch, where we were staying, John began to pore through Trip Advisor as well as local web sites in search of our next Lewisburg food experiences.  Honestly, it was hard to choose as there are so many interesting and varied offerings in the Lewisburg area. John, who is ever conscious of the fact that I have celiac disease and am not a big meat eater, read menu after menu in an attempt to find just the right places.

 

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CB Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

           There are several key points that make the Lewisburg food scene so darn good.  To begin, the Lewisburg area possesses a local distillery, brewery, and cidery; and after much conversation at numerous local establishments, they all agree it is the fresh, clean taste of the locally available spring-fed mountain water that contributes to the success of those local businesses. Additionally, Lewisburg is in the heart of the Greenbrier Valley surrounded by a plethora of farms. Thus, most Lewisburg dining establishments feature numerous locally raised ingredients on their menu. Which brings me to my final point, while there are a few restaurant chains in the Lewisburg area, most restaurants and food venues are locally owned/operated; and, most importantly, all of these businesses seem to support one another.

           Our next dining adventure occurred at Del sol Cantina and Grille.  Jamie, our waitress and bartender, spent a large time discussing all the menu options available at Del sol, which is varied and wide.  From house made pizza to their version of hamburgers, and from fresh seafood dishes to traditional Latin fair, this menu offers a wide range of tasting options.  In the end, Jamie recommended the Veggie Bowl for me and Pork Enchiladas for John. Plus, we also sampled the their tortilla chips served with two house made sides.  I chose salsa, and John chose Salsa De Queso. All told, our meals, service, and atmosphere were excellent, and I have no problem recommending this tasty restaurant.

 

 

 

Chips with salsa and queso (top); Veggie Bowl for me (bottom); Pork Enchiladas for John; Jamie, our super helpful/friendly waitress/bar-tender at Del Sol Cantina.

 

           Retro Donuts was the location of our next food foray.  Situated about 5-10 minutes outside of downtown Lewisburg, this diner definitely offers more than your typical donut shop.  Not only does Retro Donuts offer freshly made donuts and pastries, (Oh boy, did they ever look good!), but it also features organic/fair trade coffees, teas, and espresso, unique breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and homemade soups and salads, with both vegetarian and gluten-free options available! Plus, it is all served up in a 60s diner retro theme!  Even the on-going background music is from the 60s, adding to the dining experience. Once discovered, we ended up visiting Retro Donuts twice during our stay. John enjoyed their donuts (of course!) as well as two different breakfast-style sandwiches. I enjoyed their cappuccino as well as a breakfast bowl one morning and their house-made granola with fresh berries and nonfat Greek yogurt on another.  As two visits indicates, I highly recommend Retro Donuts for efficient service, amusing atmosphere, and quality food!

 

 

 

Retro food fare . . .Harvest bowl with house made cappuccino (Top Right); jelly donut with hot cup of free trade, organic black coffee; (Top Left) the classic BLT (Bottom R); House made Granola Parfait; (Center); and Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich served on their world famous Donut Bun!

 

           Next up for us was a visit to The Asylum. Also located in downtown Lewisburg, The Asylum offers a unique and eclectic menu along with numerous craft beers and spirits.  The atmosphere is casual and cool with a large stone fireplace, leather couches/chairs, abundant tables, large bar, numerous large screen TVs, and multiple levels of sitting areas.  Yet, like all the other Lewisburg establishments, it was the food that made us want to visit again. John and I started off with a basket of their House Fried Potato Chips served Sizzling Sriracha style.  Next, I enjoyed their fresh house salad with house made dressing. Finally, John savored the oversized Pork BBQ sandwich with a side of homemade Mac-n-cheese; while I enjoyed their house made (gluten-free) black bean burger sans bun and served with fresh veggies and hummus. Yes, this is certainly another new favorite eatery that I highly recommend!

 

 

Images from the Asylum, open seven days per week.

 

 

 

Eating at the Asylum:  Sizzling Siracha House Fried Potato Chips; Pork BBQ with a side of house made Mac-n-Cheese; House made gluten-free Black Bean Burger served with fresh veggies and hummus as well as a House side salad.

 

           We were undecided about our last cuisine expedition until we happened to meet the owner of Retro Donuts, Arthur Forgette. He, along with Debbie Porter, are also the proprietors of The French Goat.  As the name indicates, The French Goat offers traditional cuisine as well as several twists on classic French dishes. Located in an attractively decorated house, the dining and bar areas are intimate, elegant, and comfortable.  Staff members go out of their way to ensure that every part of your dining experience is exquisite. Featuring the beautifully prepared and plated foods created by highly trained and much sought-after, Chef Stephen Gustard, The French Goat is a must-do dining experience.  John and I enjoyed being served and spending time with Shawn Huffman, bartender extraordinaire, who like Gustard, spent numerous years working and training at the Greenbrier. The wine and cocktail menu was extensive, and Huffman made perfect recommendations that enhanced our dining experience. We started with a decadent Cheese and Charcuterie Platter with tastes that seemed to melt in your mouth. After consulting with me extensively, Huffman recommended the Tuna Nicoise for dinner, but rather than serve it with the traditional ahi tuna, he suggested perfectly prepared, pan-seared scallops.  Meanwhile, Huffman suggested John try The French Goat twist on the traditional burger. The French Goat offered us a lovely and unique dining experience that I also highly recommend. Additionally, I could not help but notice the French Goat also has Bed and Breakfast! If our dining experience is any indication, I am sure the Bed and Breakfast would be restful and lovely respite.

 

 

 

Images from the French Goat . . .

 

 

 

Extensive Menus from the French Goat . . .

 

 

 

Dining at The French Goat . . . Nicoise Salad with scallops (Top right); The perfect red wine (Top Center) as suggested by Shawn Huffman (Top Left); Cheese and Charcuterie Platter (Bottom Left); and French Goat Hamburger

 

           Overall, Lewisburg, WV offers numerous choices to feed your inner-foodie! Unfortunately, on this visit, we were unable to revisit Stardust Café, Thunderbird Tacos, and the Irish Pub, but rest assured they are quite spectacular.  Additionally, we did spend a brief time in both The Wild Bean as well as Blackwell Catering, in which I, unbelievably, found a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie sealed in cellophane wrap to prevent cross contamination. The offerings in both eateries looked scrumptious!  Likewise, we heard great things about Amy’s Cakes and Cones as well as Corn and Flour, but due to my celiac,  we did not visit either one. Finally, we still have not yet visited General Lewis Inn, The Livery, The Market, as well as Food and Friends. Hmm . . . does this mean another trip on the horizon?

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La Famiglia–A Place to Call Home

           “It’s the nature of Italians to live life with a positive tone and to celebrate the invitations that come along in life. Italian food is so conducive to all of that.”—Lidia Bastianich

 

 

Caroline, Courtney, and **Emily–three of the friendly faces at La Famiglia.      **Emily has since left La Famiglia in order to focus on her studies at MU Medical School!

 

         “Hi Mrs. Hill!  We’ve got seats for you!”  The young lady exclaims as we pass her.  Her name is Caroline, and she is one of the many staff members at La Famiglia, 1327 6th Avenue in Huntington, WV, who makes John, my husband, and me feel right at home.  Caroline’s face glistens in the evening sun as she rushes about taking care of the outside patio customers.

           Entering through the front door, John and I are further greeted by Courtney and Selena, the latter of whom also happens to be one of my former Kindergarten students from what seems like a lifetime ago.

 

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Entrance to La Famiglia’s beautiful private event room–ready to book your next special event.

 

           “Hi guys! How are you?” greets Selena.

           “I’m going to check right now and see if the guys have gluten-free pasta in the back for you Mrs. Hill,” adds Courtney as she hustles away and disappears into the kitchen area.

           “Hi! Mrs. Hill.  How’s Maddie? I feel like I haven’t seen her in forever!” greets and asks another former, but much more recent, student named Sophie.

           “Hi guys, good to see you!” gently and softly adds one of John’s former students, Hayley.

           “Hey! Hi again!” chimes in Sam, a fairly new waitress with a youthful grin.

 

Tyler and Emily are ready to serve drinks from behind the bar.

 

           As the evening sun made its westward descent casting a warm, ripened- peach-hued glow overhead during this recent visit, John and I enjoyed talking with former and current students and/or their parents, fellow staff and/or church members, and even Rev. Monsignor Dean Borgmeyer, our parish pastor, before, during, and after our scrumptious dinner. Additionally, La Famiglia owner Ralph Hagy, and his sons, Joe and Jordan, each spent time, not only talking with us, but also making their rounds throughout the restaurant conversing with all of their customers.  This is one of the reasons why dining at La Famiglia has the feel of eating at home with extended family and friends; and, it is that very atmosphere, as well as made-from scratch food, that keeps “mi famiglia,” my family, returning again and again.

 

 

The interior and exterior of La Famiglia is comfortable and inviting.  Just look at that porch swing!

 

           Of course, it doesn’t hurt that La Famiglia is located directly across from the school in which John and I teach as well as our home church, St. Joseph Catholic School and St. Joseph Catholic Church respectively.   Since John and I tend to work late on Friday evenings, it’s not unusual for us to walk directly from school to the restaurant where we know our end-of-the workweek-fatigue will be assuaged with made-from scratch food—including the pasta, sauce, pizza, and yes, cheese, as well as gregarious conversation and a wide variety of appealing “adult beverages,” including house crafted specials, such as limoncello and figcello to name a few.

 

 

Jordan, Ralph, and Joe Hagy are seen most nights circulating among customers ensuring they feel at home and welcome!

 

           While I was already well aware of how very much my family enjoys dining at La Famiglia, I fell even more in-love with it after experiencing a sneak-peak behind the scenes!!  Ralph, Ramon, and staff invited me to not only take pictures of their wood-fired oven and kitchen area as the staff recovered from a weekday lunch rush and prepared for the dinner crowd, but also to observe the cheese-making process.  I was pumped to say the least!

 

 

Check out the wood-fired oven and busy kitchen!         Ramon Urbaez gets the water hot for the curds!

 

           Arriving around 3:30 one afternoon, I found the dining area abandoned, except for one lone salad and water sitting on the bar.  (Later, I would learn it was Ralph’s lunch for which he did not have time to eat.) As I walked toward the kitchen, I could hear Ralph talking.  Rounding the corner, I watched as Ralph deftly navigated between a call on a cell phone and a call on the restaurant phone. I could tell from the conversations that both calls were regarding acquiring fresh ingredients for the restaurant’s current menu and upcoming weekend specials.

           Across from him was a box chock full of fresh produce that Ralph later explained to me had just arrived from a nearby WV farm-based business.  In return, Ralph was sending the farm-business a few products from his restaurant to use and sell. Ralph explained that sometimes the barter system was still the best way for local businesses to help one another.  

 

Garden fresh produce at La Famiglia!

 

           Meanwhile, as Ralph talked, water was being heated over a stove in an enormous pot, seemingly big enough to bathe a large dog, to a precise temperature in order to make fresh cheese. Nearby, was another large pot filled with salted curds ready to be made into fresh mozzarella cheese.  Ralph explained that the staff goes through the cheese making process nearly every business day! The water must be heated between 160-180 degrees in order to create the best consistency and bring out the most flavor. Once Ramon stated the temperature was correct, both men went to work.

 

 

Salted curds await to have hot water poured over them in order to make fresh mozzarella balls.  Two pans of ice water baths await to cool the fresh cheese.  Additionally, a paddle is ready to help stir these curds along!

 

           Gloves were donned, due to the high temperature of the water, curds were dropped in the water, and Ramon began to work his magic on the curds using a large wooden paddle that looked very much like a paddle used to maneuver a canoe.  Ralph was at the ready holding the pot steady. It was hot work that Ramon said felt, “really good to do in the winter, but not so much in the summer.”

 

 

Ralph pours the hot water over the curds as Ramon is at the ready with the paddle.

 

           Once the correct consistency had been reached, both men plunged their gloved hands into the hot water in order to knead and form fresh, warm mozzarella balls between the size of a baseball and softball.  Each of these freshly formed mounds was then placed on a large metal baking sheet to cool.

 

 

As the cheese begins to bind and reach the right consistency, Ralph and Ramon begin making the fresh balls of mozzarella.

 

           Ralph was kind enough to allow me to taste a bit of the warm, ooey-gooeyness.  Wow! Did my taste buds ever light up and dance a mambo in my mouth. I tried to imagine, as Ralph suggested, how good the warm cheese would taste if drizzled with a bit of quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil served up with fresh garden basil and tomatoes.  Oh my! No wonder La Famiglia’s Fresh Caprese Platter and Margherita pizzas are two of their biggest sellers in the summer!

 

 

Margherita Pizza, Caprese Capri, and Caprese Platter are three dishes at La Famiglia that feature their daily-made, fresh mozzarella cheese!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           Watching the intense focus that went into their cheese making, I could only imagine the attention to detail that goes into each of their made-from-scratch menu items and weekly specials.  In fact, Ralph further explained to me that they make all of their pasta and pizza dough fresh from flour imported from Italy. Additionally, I was privy to see the first class, organic meats and tomato products they purchase from an Italian wholesaler. Clearly the restaurant does not skimp on quality when it comes to the ingredients for their menu items. No wonder my family feels like we are sitting down to a homemade meal when we go to La Famiglia, because we are!

 

 

Fresh, quality meats from an Italian wholesaler. 

 

           Whether you are dining in or taking out, the next time you want a home cooked, family meal that is truly made-from-scratch from fresh whole food ingredients, but don’t have the time or energy to cook, give La Famiglia a try!   From hand-cut steaks to fall-off the-bone, slow-cooked ribs; from fresh, tasty salads and soups to made-from scratch pasta and pizza; from grilled-to-perfection fish to savory appetizers, including their family recipe for hand rolled meatballs; and from one-of-a-kind gelatos to over-stuffed cannolis, and-oh-so-much more, you are sure to walk away from La Famiglia feeling like a well-fed part of their family!

           From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals!

 

Appealing appetizers, including Diavolo Horn . . .

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Farm-fresh salads . . .

 

 

Fall-off-the-bone Diavolo Ribs and Short-rib Dinner Special . . .

 

 

 

         

    

Fill-your-mouth-with-comfort Lasagna Calabrese  . . .

 

 

Unique seasonal specials, i.e. stuffed, grilled eggplant . . .

 

 

Phenomenal made-from-scratch (including the crust) wood-fired pizza . . .

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Perfectly cooked to your request, hand-cut steaks and other weekend specials . . .

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Steaming platters of made-from-scratch-pasta—notice how one platter fogged my camera lens!  (with gluten-free option available) . . .

 

 

Unique and homemade desserts . . .

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Christopher’s Eats: An Excellent Local Eatery with Outstanding Service and Staff

           “A great restaurant is one that just makes you feel like you’re not sure whether you went out or you came home and confuses you.  If it can do both of those things at the same time, you’re hooked.”—Danny Meyer

           If you know me, you know I enjoy cooking. Preparing delicious food from scratch is, to me, a creative and rewarding process—not to mention healthy and budget friendly.  Finding a recipe with potential, allowing complete absorption of my senses as I work with the recipe, giving it my own unique twist, serving it to loved ones, and seeing a smile spread across their face after the first bite, is an endeavor worth pursuing in my mind.  

           However, in world where schedules are often overbooked, and people are frequently overextended, it is nice to have a healthy and delicious alternative for meals that isn’t fast food.  A place where food is prepared from scratch with a similar sense of adventure and self-expression that I often feel cooking; and, where the staff takes time to know you by name. This is not an easy request, especially for me, as I have to eat gluten free due to celiac disease; and, I choose to eat mostly plant based.  (In other words, I rarely eat meat.) Meanwhile, my daughter, Maddie, and husband, John, have their own individual taste preferences; thus not any ol’ restaurant will do!

 

 

 

When dining out, I want my family to eat made-from-scratch real food such as these dishes prepared at Christopher’s Eats.

           One of our long established go-to restaurants is Christopher’s Eats, located on US RT 60 across from the semi-notorious pink elephant.  We discovered Christopher’s Eats several years ago when our daughter kept us rather busy with sports, especially soccer. A large portion of her games, and nearly all of the practices, were held at the YMCA Kennedy Center—just a hop, skip, and jump away from US. Rt 60. Therefore, it became our habit, 2-4 times per month, to either dine-in CE’s, as we love to call it, or dash-in for a quick to-go order for dinner.

 

 

 

The evening shines brightly into the bar and dining areas of Christopher’s Eats.           

          Christopher’s Eats consistently serves good, made-from-scratch meals.  From freshly baked flatbreads in their coal-fired oven to a wide-array of traditional and unique appetizers; from phenomenal fresh vegetable sides to creamy Mac n’ cheese and grilled meats to cooked perfection; from original bowl dishes to burgers, tacos, and other handhelds; and, from a wide array of succulent salads to decadent desserts; Christopher’s Eats has something for everyone!  

 

 

 

Both the dinner menu and lunch menu offer a wide-variety of food options–from the ultra-healthy to the ultra-splurge, and everything in between!

 

 

Jason Ball is at the ready at Coal-fired oven to create a wide-array of flatbread pizzas.

 

 

 

Jason Ball warms up for pizza making!

           Both John and Maddie love CE’s burgers and Mac and cheese.  In fact, their burgers (especially the Pimento and Bacon Burger) as well as their Mac’s cheese is the standard by which John compares when we travel and dine out.  I cannot tell you how many times John has lamented that a burger he ordered elsewhere is not near as tasty as what he can eat at Chris’ Eats. Additionally, he is absolutely crazy about their fish tacos and sautéed shaved Brussels sprouts.  

 

 

 

Fish tacos and sautéed shaved Brussel’s sprouts as well as Pimento and Bacon Cheeseburger served with a side of good ol’ Mac n Cheese are two of John’s favorite dishes a CE’s.

          Then again, John also loves their Black Bean and Corn Cakes as well as their Coal Fired Wings from the appetizer section of their menu.  We both love their Pulled Pork Nachos—although I rarely order them because of the meat and cheeses– but boy, are they ever good!! We have acquaintances that love the Coal Fired Olives, and others who love Pimento Cheese Fries or Sweet Tot Nachos.  Other diners with whom we have spoken, recommend all versions of the Seared Tuna—from appetizer version, to dinner portion, or served on salad. We keep it simple and order truffle fries as our appetizer even though they are technically a side.

 

 

Truffle fries are our favorite side that we often order as an appetizer, but tuna is a popular item with many of Chris’ Eats customers.

 

           Personally speaking, I love their bowls!  My two favorite bowls are the Veggie Stir-Fry and the Roasted Fennel Ragout.  The staff allows me to make tweaks to these dishes to adapt to my dietary needs and preferences.  (Oh my goodness, I am getting hungry just writing about them!) That said, the other bowls, look delicious as well; however, they don’t lend themselves as easily for adaptation for someone who eats gluten-free and mostly vegetarian.

 

 

 

Roasted Fennel Ragout, pictured here with asparagus and Veggie- Stir Fry are two of my favorite dishes at Christopher’s Eats.        

            Another personal favorite on their menu is the “pick three sides” option from which to make a meal.  (I’ve even added a fourth for a small upcharge.) Their vegetables are cooked and seasoned to perfection, including items such as Collard Greens, and their current offering of grilled asparagus!  The potato sides are also amazing—including Roasted Fingerling Sweet potatoes and Red-Skinned Mashed potatoes. Oh, and while these aren’t vegetables, have I mentioned their yummy melt-in-your-mouth fried apples?

           Additionally, I cannot say enough about their salads. I love the variety of salads as well as the fact that I can order most of their salads in two sizes.  Furthermore, for those eating a low-carb diet, CE’s offers several grilled meat options to top salads, including chicken, steak, salmon, shrimp, and tuna. Plus, all of their dressings are freshly made, and oh-so-beyond tasty!

 

 

 

          Look at these beautifully plated salads as well as a delectable looking entree!

         

 While I have not personally eaten these, I have dined at Chris’ Eats enough to see the wide variety of beautifully plated meat-based entrees and savory soups.  Given how gorgeously and generously prepared the entrees are served; I sometimes wish I were more of a meat eater. John has eaten the ten-ounce pork chop—despite the fact he is not, per se, a pork-chop kind of guy.  However, after John talked with a man who ordered the pork chop, and then listened to him describe in great detail how wonderfully it tasted, John had to order it and loved it!!!

 

 

 

           Check out these scrumptious looking main dishes so stunningly presented!

 

Sadly, I cannot eat their desserts as Chris’ Eats usually offers a cheesecake selection of the day.  Let me just say though, they look unbelievably good. I feel pangs in my heart each time I see one go by me while dining there (sigh).

 

 

 

Oh how I wish I could eat these tempting, tasty looking desserts!

 

           Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the exceedingly friendly staff at Christopher’s Eats.  They offer personal and thoughtful service, and pay attention to the details. Furthermore, I love that they make an effort to get to know their customers. In fact, nearly every time we visit, Chef Christopher Dixon, his wife (a manager and fellow yogi), Laura Dixon, or one of their other management staff, make a point to come around to greet customers and ensure quality service and food.  And, frankly, bottom line—even with their phenomenal food, if they did not have such outstanding staff and owners, we would not return as often as we do! CE’s staff makes it worth the 20-30 minute drive from Chesapeake, Ohio!

 

 

           

The next time you’re craving the comforts of good food, quality beverages, and a staff that caters to their customers, give Chris’ Eats a try; and tell them, Steph Simply sent you!  

 

P.S.  Thank you Christopher’s Eats for allowing me to use a few of your pictures from Instagram as well as take pictures during the dinner rush!

 

 

Time with family at Christopher’s Eats.           

 

Morgantown, WV 2018 Visit Offers a Fun Experience

           “Whether you’re in town for a conference at the Waterfront Place Hotel, attending a WVU football or basketball game, or exploring the great outdoors, Morgantown is a city that has something for everyone!”—MorgantownWV.gov

        “I like spending time with my husband.”—Lara Stone

        We had been visiting with our daughter in the Wheeling/Bethany, WV area, but it was Monday, and she was returning to her classes and studies.  However, my husband, John, and I were still on spring break from the school in which we teach, St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington, WV. Therefore, we decided to spend a few more days together in a slightly different area of WV.

 

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          During the winter months, John helped chaperone students from our school to a Latin conference and competition in Morgantown, WV.  It is held annually at Waterfront Place. This beautiful hotel, located in the Wharf District, boasts a full-service Bar & Restaurant called Bourbon Prime, a Starbucks, spa services, and a state-of-the-art fitness center to name a few of the amenities.  It also overlooks the Monongahela River and the Caperton Trail, a six mile bike and walking/running path. Plus, as John was able to see on his most recent Latin trip, Marriott has recently redesigned it, and he was eager for me to see it. Therefore, we decided to visit it for a couple of days.

 

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Waterfront Place overlooks Caperton Path and the Monongahela River.

        Even though it was technically spring, Mother Nature was not particularly inclined to cooperate with spring-style weather.  Instead, John and I “enjoyed” bitter weather that ran the gamut. From sunny and blustery cool on our arrival, to bone-chilling rain the next day, and finally to snow and high winds as we were departing, spring was visible only in the buds of trees and blooms of daffodils during our Morgantown stay.  While we were able to walk to and from eateries, we were always bundled up in layers! Still, the Capteron Trail is a convenient part of the Wharf District winding alongside the Monongahela River. Plus, the Wharf District is an area of revitalization with numerous restaurants, a few retailers, and several professional service offices readily visible on our strolls.

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          One restaurant we visited while in Morgantown was called the Iron Horse Tavern. This distinctive eatery specializes in WV craft beer and offers unique pub fare that was filled with variety.  From appetizers, soups, and salads to from sandwiches, burgers and full traditional dinner fare, John and I both found plenty of options from which to choose as he is the meat-based eater, and I am the plant-based (gluten-free) eater.  Which brings me to an interesting story. . .

 

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Ironhorse Tavern proudly featured WV brews.

       

          Months ago, I read about something called, the “Impossible Burger,” a product that is 100% plant based.  It supposedly looks, cooks, smells, and tastes just like ground beef. The last I had read about it, this burger was only available in big city locations along the West and East coast.  Therefore, I never imagined I would walk into a WV restaurant and discover it listed as a menu option, and yet it was!

        John and I were curious and asked our waiter/bartender about this item.  He shared with us that he was skeptical too, but tried one when it was first added to the menu.  Once he ate, it not only tasted exactly as described, but also he noticed that he was not bloated like he normally was after eating a traditional burger.  Therefore, he added that all he now eats, when it comes to burgers at the Iron Horse Tavern, is the Impossible Burger. Without thinking twice, I ordered it sans the bun as I have Celiac Disease and should eat gluten-free; and thus, here is the punchline.

 

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The Impossible Burger at Iron Horse Tavern

        I ate the burger.  It was AMAZING! The smell, the taste, and the look reminded me of my Grandmother Helen’s ground chuck hamburgers of over 40 years ago.  John tasted it too. He could not believe it! If he had not known it was a plant-based burger, he stated would have thought it was the read deal!  I ate every delectable morsel, which was accompanied by a side of tasty Brussels Sprouts (without the usual sautéed bacon in which they typically prepare it) and a tasty house salad.  Then, I went back to the hotel to read about this delightful burger discovery.

 

 

       

        Reading online I discover that one of the first ingredients is wheat.  The very thing I am NOT supposed to be eating! All I could do was laugh at myself during this head-slapping moment.  I had not even thought to ask or look-up before ordering! Needless to say, I experienced the side effects the next day; but frankly, I have no regrets.  I’ll never eat one again unless they make it without wheat, but I am glad I had the experience!

 

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        The other restaurant in which we had the pleasure of dining while in Morgantown was Iron Horse Tavern’s sister, Mountain State Brewing Company.  This restaurant is a proud WV establishment with an interesting and one-of-a-kind story that readers should definitely take time to look up either on the company’s web-site or on YouTube.  

 

 

       

          Here is what I most loved about MSBC, I could eat gluten-free and plant based!!!  Not only was there hummus and veggies on their menu, one of our favorite go-to appetizers when we eat a home, but also this restaurant had gluten free buns and/or bread with NO up-charge as well as a gluten-free pizza crust!  I was in shock at having so many gluten-free and plant-based choices. And, yes, for you wheat and meat lovers, there was PLENTY of that! After all, this was founded in WV by a couple of guys! John and I both walked away from this eatery with full bellies, happy hearts, and no nasty side-effects on the following day!

 

Gluten-free food for me!  Veggie sticks with hummus, Cowboy Caviar with tortilla chips, and a mushroom gluten-free pizza!

 

 

Pulled-pork nachos, pepperoni pizza.  John and both had so much food, we each took half of a pizza home, and it made a delicious lunch on the following day!

 

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Zack, our attentive server, at Mountain State Brewing Company

 

          Back at the hotel, John treated me to a 60-minute massage at the Olexa Salon and Spa located inside of the Waterfront.  Allison Friend, a licensed massage therapist, was delightful, engaging, and gave a massage I will long remember. I highly recommend Ally to any visitors.

 

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Allison Friend, licensed massage therapist, inside the Olexa Salon and Spa at Waterfront Place.

        Additionally, we must recognize the friendly and gregarious Waterfront, Bourbon Prime, and Starbucks staff.  Everyone seemed to go out of his or her way to ensure John and I enjoyed our time in Morgantown. We engaged in conversation with numerous employees as well as visitors throughout the hotel, and we did not experience any negative encounters.  We definitely left with a positive impression, and will likely return for another visit!

 

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Inside Bourbon Prime at Waterfront Place

Next time you’re in Morgantown, try any or all of these places; and tell them, Steph simply sent you!  Safe travels!

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Looking up at the terrace area of Waterfront Place overlooking the Monongahela River.