• Steven Keith

West Virginia chefs up for prestigious James Beard Award

Lost Creek Farm's Mike Costello and Amy Dawson among 20 regional finalists for James Beard's Best Chef of the Southeast award covering a six-state region.

Amy Dawson and Mike Costello from Lost Creek Farm
Amy Dawson and Mike Costello from Lost Creek Farm

In case you missed this BIG state food news, two West Virginia chefs have been named semifinalists for James Beard’s Best Chef of the Southeast award – a major accomplishment that hasn’t happened in the Mountain State since chef Damian Heath was nominated for his work at Lot 12 Public House in Berkeley Springs several years ago.


But lightning struck twice when the dynamic Lost Creek Farm duo of Mike Costello and Amy Dawson were announced as semifinalists a few weeks ago.


They are among 19 other nominees from restaurants throughout a multi-state region that includes Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. They are the only “pair” of chefs included on the list.


“We’ll have a little more to say about this later, but there aren’t many words coming to us at the moment,” they said in a Facebook post right after the semi-finalists were announced. “Though we’re not typically huge on awards, we’d be lying if we said this nomination isn’t hitting us straight in the feels. We’re honored by such unexpected and uplifting news.


“Thanks a million to everyone who believed in us when Lost Creek Farm was just a fledgling idea, stuck with us recently when times got tough, and especially to those who still rally behind us as we move forward making this dream of ours a reality. We love y’all so much!”


For those who aren’t familiar, Lost Creek Farm north of Jane Lew in Harrison County specializes in “heritage-inspired mountain cuisine” that has been featured in the New York Times and was highlighted in the late Anthony Bourdain's TV show “Parts Unknown.”


This year’s James Beard winners will be revealed at an event next week in Scottdale, then celebrated at the prestigious James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on June 13.


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When I announced the news that Los Amigos was opening a new location in Cross Lanes this month, I acknowledged that I’d actually never been to the restaurant’s original location in North Charleston — even though it’s been there, with a small legion of fans, for years.


I finally made it down to the original spot for dinner a few weeks ago, where I ordered a (way too large) combination platter, simply so I could sample lots of different items.


Taco Salad Texan from Los Amigos
Taco Salad Texan from Los Amigos

The tamale, enchilada, burrito and taco with rice and beans were all fine, but nothing to write home about. And the Birria tacos my mini-me got were passable, but nowhere near as good as the legendary platter served at Mexican Shoney’s (aka Los Agaves) in South Charleston.


I also didn’t care for my Texas Margarita, which seemed to get its orange kick from more orange juice than the promised Grand Mariner. Still, the food was fine and the service was friendly and competent for the most part.


Fast forward a week later and I ventured out to the new Los Amigos location in Cross Lanes, which some fans say is even better than the first. My take? The food was similarly just OK, but I do like the bright, clean and nicely decorated space.


The chips are thicker than I’d like, the guacamole was loaded with large chunks of bitter onion, and the peppers and onions in my Taco Salad Texans were mostly raw and crunchy, not sautéed and silky like you’d expect. The steak and chicken strips in my bowl were tough and dry, but the shrimp was decent.


A friend of mine said of Los Amigos: “My kids love it, but I’m not a big fan.” I can relate.


I hope they do well and many grow to like it, but it’ll take some more care and attention to polish up the food before I’d consider a trip back.


  • IF YOU GO: Los Amigos, 200 Goff Mountain Rd. in Cross Lanes, is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 681-217-1270 or visit www.losamigosmexicanrestaurant.net.


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In case you missed it, I wrote about FINALLY scoring the recipe for the legendary Admiral’s Anchor Tomato Pie, but the full recipe was inadvertently omitted when that column ran last week.


For anyone interested, you can find the full write-up – including step-by-step instructions on how to make one yourself – on my website at www.wvfoodguy.com.


• • •


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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