• Steven Keith

Interest in outdoor dining is back on the upswing

With the dang Delta variant causing an uptick in COVID cases throughout the area, demand for outdoor dining is back on the upswing as well.

Mountain Pie on the River near St. Albans
Mountain Pie on the River near St. Albans

With the dang Delta variant causing an uptick in COVID cases throughout the area, interest in outdoor dining is back on the upswing as well.


While I don’t think we’ll fall back into a restaurant shutdown anytime soon, I do expect mask-wearing to increase and have already seen a spike in demand at restaurants offering seating where you can dine al fresco in open-air spaces.


Olive Tree Cafe in South Charleston
Olive Tree Cafe in South Charleston

But thanks to that health pandemic that temporarily shuttered all restaurants and then limited their indoor dining space last year, there are now more spots than ever offering outdoor options.


Here’s a roundup of a few “Food Guy” favorites!


While many restaurants set up makeshift outdoor areas in response to COVID-19, some owners took the opportunity to build all-new (and really nice!) patios, decks and outdoor dining areas to be part of their permanent seating options moving forward.


For Olive Tree Café chef/owner Michael Jarrouj, that meant building a new roof to cover his expanded outdoor dining area in South Charleston, then piping in natural gas to fuel fireplaces and heaters to keep guests comfortable during chillier weather.


At Charleston’s indoor-outdoor Capitol Market, Soho’s has always been a popular spot for its long row of porch tables overlooking farm stands full of spring flowers, fresh produce and fall pumpkins. But last fall, Soho’s added a new beer garden in the outdoor market, ramping up its ambiance even more.


Mediterranean Breeze in St. Albans
Mediterranean Breeze in St. Albans

Lola’s gourmet pizza bistro in South Hills gave up a handful of parking spaces to add several large picnic tables, which can be protected by a large party tent once the weather turns colder.


And for what is undeniably Charleston’s best views, head up to The Lookout Bar & Grill at Eagle View, where you can enjoy delicious food and cocktails on a deck perched on an overlook offering sweeping views of the Kanawha Valley, from South Charleston to Belle.


Two restaurants flanking both “ends” of St. Albans offer nice outdoor decks along the banks of the Kanawha River.


As you head west on MacCorkle Avenue past South Charleston and Spring Hill, Mountain Pie on the River has large covered and uncovered decks where you can enjoy a selection of piping-hot pizzas and ice-cold craft beers.


(Please note the original Mountain Pie location in Hurricane, however, just announced it's closing its doors this weekend.)


Just off the St. Albans exit of I-64, popular Mediterranean Breeze serves up a variety of brick-oven pizzas, sandwiches and Greek-influenced specialties in two dining areas inside and on a large deck overlooking the river outside. The pizzas and sandwiches here are popular, but don’t sleep on fantastic entrees like surf-and-turf kebabs, eggplant lasagna and a phenomenal coriander and olive-oil poached salmon with buttered turnips, mixed greens and tahini dressing.


The Lookout Bar & Grill in Charleston
The Lookout Bar & Grill in Charleston

Fairways Bar & Grill in Hurricane built a new outdoor patio strung with lights, creating an oh-so-festive atmosphere in which to enjoy an expansive menu of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Italian and American creations – and cocktails! – that continue to draw rave reviews.


In Barboursville, the newish location of Christopher Eats now offers its elevated bistro fare in new outdoor seating areas, which the newish location of Oscar’s Breakfast, Burgers & Brews (interestingly enough, in the old Christopher Eats location down the road) has just constructed a large outdoor patio perfect for devouring gloriously messy gourmet burgers washed down with icy cold craft beers.


Further east in Huntington, not only does Bahnhof offer incredibly good German-inspired food, but it also boasts one of the area’s coolest outdoor dining areas. A large multi-level biergarten features picnic tables, sofas, plants and firepits situated throughout covered and uncovered spaces, some flanked by colorful fabrics offering shade.


Soho's at Capitol Market
Soho's at Capitol Market

Tucked on the corner of Hal Greer Boulevard and Third Avenue, two-story Calamity J Grill & Bar offers a wraparound porch on its second floor overlooking the Ohio River and the Marshall University campus.


You can soak up those views while enjoying “food from the sun” offering a blend of Southwest and Soul flavors – and a casual, quirky vibe.


In downtown Huntington, the Southern Italian trattoria La Famiglia welcomes diners to a nice outdoor dining area and perennial Wine Spectator award-winner Savannah’s Bistro has added a large patio in front of the charming Victorian home full of small dining nooks where guests enjoy top-notch cuisine in a casually elegant ambiance.


So if you’re looking to dine “out” from Charleston to Huntington, plenty of good options await!


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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. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at wvfoodguy@aol.com.

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