WV Food Guy: The inside scoop on indoor dining

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Well hello, old friend!

With indoor dining at restaurants back in my life, I made the most of the opportunity by hitting a couple of spots (OK, six in five days) this week to see how they were handling their new business reality — one of not packing folks in, but rather managing reduced capacity, spacing out tables, masking staff and adopting all manner of new sanitary practices.

I’m happy to report all restaurants I visited are taking the restrictions seriously, and I felt completely safe being out and about again. There were no crowds and I was impressed with some of the safety precautions in place.

One restaurant had a display of sanitized pens for signing receipts at the register, with a separate bucket to place them in for cleaning after every use. Another didn’t even provide a pen, asking you to use your own. And a third even had us throw away our own disposable plates and utensils to prevent staff contact at our table.

It was all so nice to see.

•••

The very day indoor dining resumed, I popped downtown to Black Sheep Burrito & Brews for lunch to enjoy one of the restaurant’s new “Ribeye Smasher” burgers.

They tell me those have been “selling like crazy” since debuting last Monday, and I can see why. The Argentinian (two ground ribeye patties with a fried egg, chimichurri, lime crema and pickled onions on pillowy brioche) was so phenomenal that I can’t wait to try the rest.

The next evening, I sampled a delicious apple salad from Hale House (romaine with candied bourbon pecans, sliced green apples, craisins, bacon and blue cheese crumbles tossed in apple vinaigrette) before taking the family to longtime favorite Fazio’s for a delicious Italian feast of chicken basil, veal Parmigiana, seafood Alfredo, a blackened filet, Caesar salad and a basket of their intoxicating garlic toast.

A sunny Saturday afternoon drew me to Pies & Pints for two wonderful West Virginia craft beers (a double IPA from Stumptown and a new-to-me IPA from Bridge Brew) which I paired with a plate of rosemary garlic flatbread with warm goat cheese and balsamic glaze.

And a scorcher Monday found me celebrating Memorial Day on the riverfront deck at Mountain Pie on the River between South Charleston and St. Albans, where I enjoyed the spicy Morning Pie pizza featuring sausage, onions, cheese, over-easy eggs and Sriracha on a pesto-painted thin crust.

Such a pleasant way to mark the unofficial start of summer!

•••

Indoor dining options expand even more this week, with the opening of the Charleston Town Center mall’s street-level restaurants. Chili’s, Outback and Panera Bread all reopened over the weekend, with Tidewater Grill and The Chop House reopening Wednesday — all under current COVID-19 guidelines.

The full mall, meanwhile, is now open limited hours from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. All mall stores haven’t reopened, however, so it’s best to call in advance if you want to shop a particular place.

•••

In other positive local restaurant news, I had a delightful conversation with Adelphia Bar & Grill owner Deno Stanley, who shared what customers can expect as they reopen this week.

“We took advantage of the downtime to completely close, even for takeout, so we could do a real deep-cleaning and lots of updates,” he said as workers were putting the finishing touches on some of the improvements.

Some of those efforts include an almost completely gutted and remodeled kitchen, new floors, new paint and trim, plus some new racks and signage for the bar.

“We also took everything off the walls, so we’re in the process of deciding what we’ll put back up and how the place will look,” he said.

I can’t wait to see the “new” place — and eat there once again.

•••

And finally, here’s a spark of even more good news in the midst of this never-ending cloud of COVID-19 gloom.

Charleston’s own Dem 2 Brothers & A Grill was one of 25 barbecue restaurants from around the country selected to receive a $10,000 gift from Kingsford Charcoal to help them survive these trying times — no strings attached.

“With many of our beloved BBQ joints closing or trying to get by with delivery and carryout, Kingsford wanted to step in and lend a hand to ensure BBQ-loving Americans can keep the flames ablaze,” said Kingsford spokeswoman Jordyn Volk.

Dem 2 was chosen to receive the gift, she added, “to help them keep serving up great BBQ in their community.”

Good on you, Kingsford. And congrats, Dem 2 Brothers!

Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as “WV Food Guy.” He can be reached at 304-380-6096

or at wvfoodguy@aol.com.