CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You would not be reading this if you didn't have an appreciation of the artistry and acumen required to produce exceptional and delicious cuisine to match the sea of wine available to us.From time to time in my travels around our glorious state, I am reminded of the dedication and diligence of those who enrich our experiences with their culinary skills oftentimes toiling in obscurity in out-of-the-way locations.West Virginia is a state full of out-of-the-way places and getting from point A to point B can sometimes involve a nonlinear route that results in pleasant diversions and discoveries. That's how, on a trip back to Washington, D.C., more than two decades ago, I discovered Canaan Valley and subsequently some very cool restaurants, cafes and holes in the wall.Many of these establishments happen to be in the Potomac Highland towns of Davis and Thomas just north of Canaan Valley. A recent trip to that stunningly beautiful part of our state renewed my faith in the creativity of mountaineer entrepreneurs.Muttley's Downtown in Davis has been around for many years, featuring excellent steak and other grilled meats and providing guests with a very-well-thought-out and value-oriented wine list.Owners Becky Bunner an Randy Colombo have now joined with Meyer House B&B proprietor Cindy Robeson to add a wine specialty shop -- Shades of Grape. The shop is adjacent to the restaurant and patrons can choose from a small, but very selective list of wines and edibles from around the world.From time to time, wines featured in Shades of Grape will be available on the restaurant's wine list at the same price as in the shop, and that is an excellent bargain. The restaurant is full of offbeat artwork, lifelike mannequins and assorted esoterica that will have you smiling and/or scratching your head. The wine shop and restaurant are open Tuesday through Saturday. You'll need to call for dinner reservations (304-259-4848), but a trip to Muttley's Downtown should definitely be a part of your itinerary.
In the mood for some very unique burritos? Then you'll need to cross the street from Muttley's and visit Hellbender Burritos. These are not your mother's burritos, but owners Rob and Melissa Borowitz guarantee that they are definitely good for you, and very large too. In addition, Hellbender's also has a very excellent selection of craft beers on tap and by the bottle.Cross the street again and you'll find Sirianni's Café -- one of the state's best pizza restaurants. Owners Walt Ranalli and Sandra Goss have catered to the pizza and pasta addictions of visitors for decades, and a trip to the mountains would not be complete without a stop at Sirianni's.Sirianni's, which also has a sister restaurant in Canaan Valley right off of W.Va. 32, features a modest (but good) wine list and a bevy of craft beers that will help you wash down the spicy vittles. Like Muttley's, Sirianni's wall art and pictures will keep you amused while you're waiting on the excellent pizza. You can call for takeout at 304-259-5454.Two miles north of Davis is the town of Thomas, where art galleries such as Mountain Made and the White Room share Front Street with the Purple Fiddle (a music club and sandwich emporium), antique shops and the Flying Pig restaurant.The latest addition to Front Street is Tip Top Coffee. Tip Top is a coffee shop on steroids with ambitions to be much more. Owner Cade Archuleta has sandwiches, pastries and cookies, and recently added a small, but excellent, selection of wines by the glass. The shop will begin offering a full menu and a bar service soon. The coffee is excellent and the staff is always smiling.For those of you who wish to go over to the dark (or pilsner) side, Davis and Thomas boast craft breweries where you can sip that lesser beverage on the premises. The Blackwater Brewing Co. in Davis and Mountain State Brewing in Thomas provide visitors with some very good craft beer.So take a trip off the beaten track and visit the Potomac Highlands where mountain biking, fishing, skiing, kayaking, hiking, hunting and rafting will leave you ravenous, and where you'll find some pretty accomplished folks that know how to feed the beast.For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown's Vines & Vittles blog at thegazz.com.