Three delicious days dining around Fairmont & Marion County
A friend recently asked what it would take to get me to spend a few days in the Fairmont area to offer an honest review of the restaurants there? That’s easy, I said. Just an invitation!
So I recently ate my way through Marion County during a few glorious, glutenous days, where I savored more of the region’s Italian roots (as expected) but was surprised to discover so much more.
From artisan bakeries and old-school diners to local brewpubs and ethnic options, here’s a bite-by-bite recap of what I found.
After getting an early start to make the easy two-hour drive up I-79, I made my first stop Noteworthy Sweets in downtown Fairmont, where I was greeted by a counter of fresh-baked goodies begging for me to buy them. All.
While mentally deciding just how many of those lovelies I’d be getting to go, I took a seat in the bakery’s cheery café for piping hot coffee and some of the best house-made French toast I’ve had. So moist and creamy inside, but still toasted outside without becoming dry.
That sufficiently fueled me up to enjoy a nice walkabout – and more food! – in Fairmont’s pretty downtown.
After doing some shopping, I popped into the coolest little place called Joe N’ Throw, a combination coffee shop, café, craft beer bistro and pottery studio. While there, I resisted the temptation of another breakfast (served all day!) and instead tried the recommended blackberry “jamwich” featuring turkey, provolone, spinach and West Virginia-made blackberry jam.
With that sweet-meets-savory delight still dazzling my tastebuds, I plotted my next move. That took me just a few blocks away to The Grape Leaf, a somewhat upscale café serving made-to-order Middle Eastern fare. In an attempt to try as many different items as possible, I ordered the Mediterranean sampler and devoured a late afternoon snack of grape leaf rolls, beef-filled sambusas, hummus, baba ganoush, fattoush and falafel bites with warm pita and cool tzatziki sauce.
After a little rest, I made dinner plans at The Rambling Root, an eclectic hotspot in downtown Fairmont serving locally inspired fare paired with craft beers made on site. I enjoyed a brew on the restaurant’s twinkling outdoor patio as the sun set, then headed inside to try another with dinner. That dinner was a towering slow-roasted pulled pork sandwich with DJ’s One Sweet World barbecue sauce, coleslaw and pickles, paired with what were possibly the best hand-cut house fries on the planet.
Something I lament in Charleston is the lack of good ol’ traditional diners, so I set out for breakfast at Fairmont’s McAteer’s Restaurant, where my biggest discovery was locally made spicy Demus sausage, which was fantastic stuffed inside my fluffy omelet with a mound of Provolone cheese.
The potatoes with peppers and onions I ordered on the side were good, but I much preferred the cup of sausage gravy which, um, I also ordered on the side. Along with a side of house-made hot-buttered cinnamon-raisin toast.
Now that’s a big breakfast!
After a short drive out for some “waterfall” therapy at beautiful Valley Falls State Park, I headed back into Fairmont for a hearty Italian lunch at Mama Di Roma. Although the restaurant’s storefront looks pretty unassuming from the street, inside lies a large dining area offering a shockingly large menu of incredible Italian specialties.
I snacked on (don’t judge) hot-buttered garlic rolls, a fresh house salad and a phenomenal slice of Mama’s House Pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, green pepper, garlic, olives and mozzarella. That would’ve made a meal in itself, but it didn’t stop me from also ordering a bubbling hot plate of eggplant parmesan that made my eyes roll back in my head. In a good way.
Everything here was also made fresh when ordered – and also delicious. I’m so coming back for dinner here on my next trip to town, which will give me an excuse to try even more (and larger!) portions of so many good options.
For dinner on this day, I made the short drive out to Rivesville, where Short Story Brewing is making waves as one of the state’s hottest craft breweries. A small menu of awesome munchies, wings, hoagies and more add to the offerings.
After checking out the facility’s cool indoor drinkin’ and dinin’ areas on two floors, I made my way to a large new outdoor heated deck to sample a few wonderfully juicy IPAs. They were perfect accompaniments to wash down my towering Oktoberfest Burger topped with (are you ready for this?) a brat, sauerkraut, mustard and house-made beer cheese.
Oh yes I did!
Not about the pass up another diner breakfast, I settled into a booth at the retro-cool DJ’s 50s & 60s Diner, serving classic fare paired with a hefty side of nostalgia in Pleasant Valley. (It’s that shiny, silver bullet of a building right off I-79.)
Surrounded by décor straight out of “Happy Day,” I filled up on a classic diner breakfast – eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns and gravy – although I couldn’t stop eyeing the veggie omelet a guest was oohing and aahing over right next to me.
After a quick walk around Prickett’s Fort State Park, a tour of a gorgeous new elegantly rustic wedding venue (The Barn at Stone House Lavender) and a stop at MonValley Vineyards in White Hall for tastings – try the signature Que Syrah Shiraz! – I ended my Marion County dining adventure with lunch at Copper House Grill back in Pleasant Valley before heading home.
There, I devoured the pub’s signature creamy crab dip. It’s usually served in a giant bread bowl, but I opted for tri-colored chips to save room for a classic club sandwich and fries washed down with yet another Short Story brew.
As much good food as I had during my visit, I still left wanting to try more of it – and at more restaurants, too.
Like deli specialties at Hermosilla’s Deli Market and DeMary’s Market, locally sourced creations at Wildflour, old-school elegant dining at the throwback Aquarium Lounge, more family-style fare at Dutchman’s Daughter, the reputed “Best Burger in Fairmont” at Beer Burger Bowery and the list goes on.
That’s the sign of a good food town, which the Fairmont area delivers.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.