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  • Writer's pictureSteven Keith

Let’s Go (Pepperoni) Rollin’ on the River!

The largest "Rolls on the River" pepperoni roll festival to date comes to Charleston this Thursday, plus we have a James Beard Awards wrap-up, a reader recipe request and another reminder about good eats and Wine & Jazz.

Deep-fried pepperoni rolls from The Bucket in Dunbar
Deep-fried pepperoni rolls from The Bucket in Dunbar

If you’re obsessed with the Mountain State’s beloved pepperoni roll – or are just looking for a good time in a fun outdoor setting – roll on over to Kanawha Boulevard for both this Thursday evening.

The annual Rolls on the River pepperoni festival returns to downtown Charleston’s Haddad Riverfront Park from 5-8 p.m. that night featuring pepperoni roll tastings, craft beer, local artisans, live music from the Stefan Cotter Trio and a free children’s area with games and inflatables.

Pepperoni rolls from Sweet Mama's Bakery
Pepperoni rolls from Sweet Mama's Bakery

There’s also a spirited competition in which I am one of a handful of judges who’ll taste every last entry before crowing the region’s “Best Pepperoni Roll.”

And a lot of entries there are!

This will be the largest Rolls on the River to date, with a whopping 24 restaurants, bakeries and other businesses offering their individual take on West Virginia’s official state food.

Rolls this year will be made by the Boys & Girls Club, The Bucket, Café Appalachia, Daily Dose Café, D.P. Dough, Fat Albert’s Pizza, G&G Heritage Farm, Honeycomb Café, Karen Townsend, Mamma A’s, Mardi Gras Casino, Mea Cuppa, Nellie’s Cookie Jar, Oh My Greens, The Pitch, Roger’s and Mazza’s, St. Timothy Lutheran, Saving Thyme, Simply Sweet, Sugar Pie Bakery, Sweet Mama’s Bakery, Thyme After Thyme, Willow Creek Cottage and Zul’s.

Part of FestivALL and hosted by Charleston Montessori School, the event is a fund-raiser for the school’s scholarship fund. Admission is $35 for adults with 10 tasting tickets and 5 beer tickets, $20 for 10 tasting tickets and 1 water ticket, or $10 for children with 5 tasting tickets. Additional beer tickets are $5 each.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit the event’s Facebook page.

James Beard Finalist Does Us Proud

I know this has gotten a lot of press lately, but you can’t overestimate the immediate significance and long-term impact of watching West Virginia’s first-ever chef nominee walk down the red carpet as a finalist for the prestigious James Beard Award.

The significance? It’s never happened before.

Chef Paul Smith at the James Beard Awards
Chef Paul Smith at the James Beard Awards

The impact? The title “James Beard Finalist” will follow Chef Paul Smith for the rest of his already-illustrious career, and foodies all over the country will go out of their way for the chance to dine at James Beard-honored restaurants.

The folks at 1010 Bridge Restaurant in South Hills, which Smith co-owns with Aaron and Maria Clark, tell me they’ve already seen several new customers walk in the door who said they traveled (in some cases, for hours) just to try a James Beard Finalist’s food.

How cool is that for our little town?

Although Smith didn’t bring home the medallion that night, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the awards gala in Chicago last Monday night to watch a deserving chef soak it all in and get his due.

After the ceremony that night, however, Chef Paul told me he was proud of his accomplishment but couldn’t help but feel he let the state down by not winning.

Hogwash, I told him. Go back to your hotel room tonight, I said, and just start reading all of the Facebook posts that are flooding your feed right now. Then you’ll see exactly how much admiration is coming your way.

I did the same thing and stumbled upon a video taken at Capitol Market’s James Beard watch party held back in Charleston that night, during which more than 400 local fans gathered to cheer Paul on. Not long after his category was announced, the group broke into a rousing rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” that brought a tear to many an eye. Mine included.

I’d say the Mountain State is pretty proud of this talented native son.

Reader Looking for Sid’s Pie Recipe

Pepperoni roll from Zul's
Pepperoni roll from Zul's

Reader Ed Parkins reached out to see if we could help him track down a sweet memory from his past.

“I’m trying to find out if anyone might have the recipe for the Chocolate Boston Cream Pie they use to make at Sid's on the West Side,” he wrote me. “It was great.”

I’ve heard a lot about Sid’s, but it was before my time here in Charleston. Can anyone give Ed a hand?

Food & Drink and Wine & Jazz

Don’t forget we’re just a few days away from this Saturday’s Wine & Jazz Music Festival, which will feature more food and drink options to pair with its live music lineup on the University of Charleston lawn that day.

The "Pestoroni Roll" from Oh My Greens
The "Pestoroni Roll" from Oh My Greens

Hosted by Fund for the Arts with presenting sponsor Spilman, Thomas & Battle, this year’s event from 3-1o p.m. Saturday will feature 12 different food trucks, including Big Marv’s Café, Black Sheep Burrito, Bridge Road Bistro, Dem 2 Brothers and a Grill, Gil’s Pit Beef, Just Drinks, Karubees Jamaican Restaurant, Pepperoni Grill, Phat Daddy’s on Da Tracks, ScragglePop Kettlecorn, Scooby’s Icy Treats and Wild Graze Charcuterie.

In addition to a large selection of wine from West Virginia vineyards, Mountain State craft breweries Big Timber, Black Sheep, Clendenin Brewing and Parkersburg Brewing will be serving a wide range of beers and hard seltzers. National brand beers, spiked lemonade, ciders, soft drinks and water also will be sold.

Tickets to the event are $45 and will be available at the gate during the event, in advance at The Wine Shop at Capitol Market or online until 9 p.m. Friday at Children 12 and under are free with a paying adult.

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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 or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at

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