My wife, grandson and I had the pleasure of taking a trip to North Carolina earlier this summer. One of the standards we decided upon, after a completely unsatisfactory fast-food breakfast, was that our traveling meals would be quality stops at local establishments – no chains for us, we wanted authentic foods served by local experts.
As we were going to be in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee around dinnertime, that meant we were hankering for barbecue. Lo and behold, heading south on Interstate 81 around Kingston, I spied a sign for Dean’s Dream Pit, and off we went. Well, let me tell you, an hour later we had feasted on some of the meanest ‘que this side of Big D, made some new friends, and received an extra big helping of mountain hospitality. The owner’s wife even prayed with us for a dear, sick friend, making our meal an even more personal experience.
You see, travel is all about savoring experiences and making memories. A big part of our travel experience is focused on food – where we eat, what we eat, how we eat it, who we eat it with, and what we learn while we eat. And, more often than not, the true flavor of a destination comes from eatin’ where the locals eat. Nothing against the chains, mind you, for they serve a valuable purpose, delivering good quality food with consistent menus, service and atmosphere, while you are on the road.
But we all know the real meal deal comes from the local joint, eatery, or white- linen bistro that creates the memory.
We’ve got all of that and more, right here in our own backyard, in Washington County.
Where to begin, really, when calling out the best local food experiences? You don’t want to miss any, and you can’t list them all, so let’s hit some of the highlights. In no particular order, style, price range, or menu type, how about these – River House Café in Charleroi; Mr. Big’s Sports Grill & Tap Room on Racetrack Road; Jackson’s and Los Chiludos in Southpointe; Anthony’s on the Mon in Charleroi; the Back Porch in Speers; High Point in Coal Center; Atria’s in McMurray; Breezy Heights in Avella; The Gyro Place in Canonsburg; Fusion Japanese Steakhouse in Washington; Bistecca at The Meadows; The Union Grill, Popcorn Willy, Shorty’s, Adams Pine Creek Buffet , Angelo’s, Al and Rubens, The Upper Crust and The Tower Restaurant, all in Washington; Hog Fathers, now in several locations throughout the county, local chains like Max & Erma’s, Kings and Eat ‘n Park, Capstone Grill, Bartram House Bakery, Sharp Edge Brasserie, Bado’s Cucina, Arlechinno, Juniper Grille and many others, all on Route 19 in McMurray; The Spring House in Eighty Four; Bert’s Hot Dogs in Burgettstown; Century Inn in Scenery Hill; and Lagerheads in California.
Whew! And I didn’t even mention the tea rooms, sweet shops, caterers, banquet halls, and national chains that dot the area. The point is, many of these places are locally owned, purchase local goods and services and employ local folks. They are the small businesses that are the most vital part of our economy, and they serve up the $144 million spent by visitors on food and beverage each year in Washington County.
They are the flavor of Washington County. Think of our local restaurants as the seasoning on the travel experience, spicing things up as we make our way down the road.
J.R. Shaw is executive director of the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency.