Get a Taste of the Greenbrier Valley
Duck confit? Check. Craft burgers? Check. Pan-seared scallops atop golden raisin puree? They have that, too. West Virginia’s Greenbrier Valley continues to mature into a varied and more refined destination-dining spot.
A decade ago, you may have stumbled upon a couple of standard restaurants or one of the town’s two popular bakeries, but today foodies have a number of creative and modern options from which to choose.
Located in the rolling, pastoral hills of the Allegheny Mountains, Greenbrier Valley’s history dates back to the 1700s, when visitors would travel to The Old White Resort, now The Greenbrier, to “take the waters” and enjoy the highly sought after sulphur springs, which gave rise to luxurious resorts along the Virginia and West Virginia border. The resorts attracted guests with refined palates, providing a springboard for a delectable culinary history that laid the groundwork for today’s impressive dining scene.
“The foodie landscape has really changed over the past 20 years here in Lewisburg.”
— Tony Juker, Del Sol Cantina and Grille
“The restaurants have been trending more toward an urban feel, offering cuisines typically not found in such a small rural area,” says Tony Juker as he shakes up one of his signature drinks—The Angry Margarita—at his downtown Latin bistro Del Sol Cantina and Grille.
Juker should know. He opened the Del Sol Cafe and Market back in 1994, when dining options were limited. In 2005, he reopened the doors to a more fully realized restaurant, Del Sol Cantina and Grille, which serves up Latin cuisine with a bistro flair that features favorites such as the Vera Cruz—pan-seared cod in a Latin tomato sauce with capers, onions and green olives—and other craft tacos and specialties. Handcrafted cocktails and local brews are also on the menu.
In fact, just up the road you’ll find Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company, which recently had their Mothman IPA (a nod to a West Virginia mythical figure) named as one of the “Top 101 Beers in the US” by Men’s Journal. David Kucera, a managing partner, says that finding the right brewmaster in Brian Reymiller has made all the difference.
“The saltiness of the pork changed the whole profile of our Wild Trail. It was ridiculous. I think I had a tear in my eye it was so amazing.”
— David Kucera, Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company
“Brian has really elevated the game here,” he says from the company’s taproom near the Greenbrier Valley Airport in Maxwelton, while pulling a pint of Chocolate Cherry Stout, their newest creation that is only available onsite. “We really enjoy how Greenbrier Valley restaurants fold local craft brews into their menu pairings.” Just recently, The French Goat chef paired a potato and cauliflower soup with crisp pork belly and fried parsley with the brewery’s award-winning Wild Trail Pale Ale, the results of which surprised Kucera.
“I don’t think I have ever experienced it tasting that good,” he says, grinning. “The saltiness of the pork changed the whole profile of our Wild Trail. It was ridiculous. I think I had a tear in my eye it was so amazing.”
The newest arrival to the craft spirit scene is Hawk Knob Cider & Mead, founded by partners Josh Bennet and Will Lewis. Bennett, in his trademark cowboy hat, says that the company tries to source most everything from West Virginia. Their Appalachian Classic Hard Cider is born of a blend of 100% Greenbrier Valley-grown apples, composed of more than 14 varieties. The full-bodied flavor has a bright finish and drinks more like a fine wine than your standard store-bought ciders. In fact, just like the aforementioned brews, many local chefs are having a lot of fun pairing the ciders, which also include an elderberry-infused version and a wild-fermented hard cider.
Toward the east end of Washington Street in downtown Lewisburg, you’ll find The Livery Tavern, an upscale eatery with a warm and inviting interior of exposed reclaimed beams, a handcrafted black walnut bar, solid oak plank floors and curtained booths. John Hirt, The Livery’s owner—who also owns Stella’s on the west end of the street, essentially “book-ending” the popular thoroughfare—says the area’s culinary history led him to develop a menu that paid homage to the rich agricultural heritage of the Greenbrier Valley.
“We present Old World-styled recipes and techniques combined with New World, avant-garde plating and presentations."
— John Hirt, The Livery Tavern
“Since fresh local ingredients are always available for our menu, we select the highest quality products available to us from West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. We like to stay as local as we possibly can, just as they might have done in Old World Tuscany.”
To that end, The Livery serves up favorites such as diced pork belly served with sautéed Brussels sprouts in a balsamic reduction. Hirt, whose sister Nancy manages the restaurant, notes that people come from all over to experience their Livery Tavern Caesar Salad. “We combine fresh romaine with flash deep-fried, shaved Brussels sprouts and roasted pine nuts, along with homemade Caesar dressing. People drive for miles to come and enjoy it.”
Passion in the Food
Just a quick 10-minute drive east on the historic Midland Trail, The Greenbrier resort is home to multiple restaurants, ranging from bar and grill offerings to the iconic Main Dining Room, which has been serving guests for more than 100 years. The Main Dining Room’s white-clothed atmosphere is the epitome of grand Southern dining and requires attire fitting of the occasion. While the resort’s other creative outlets, such as The Forum or Draper’s (named after the hotel’s famous interior designer Dorothy Draper) offer a slightly more relaxed welcome with just as much style.
“Guests today want to know more about the food they are consuming,” says Executive Chef Bryan Skelding, also a graduate of the resort’s well-respected and demanding Apprenticeship Program, first founded in 1957 by Hermann G. Rusch. “They want to know the source, the farming methods and the processing practices. Culinary curiosity is a good thing because at The Greenbrier, we take great pride in the quality of our ingredients. The modern day Greenbrier culinary experience is about ingredient-driven recipes that guests love.”
“All of us in the culinary brigade honor that tradition. We respect it.”
— Executive Chef Bryan Skelding, The Greenbrier
With the resort just two years younger than America (the sulphur springs were discovered in 1778), The Greenbrier team has a lot of tradition and history to live up to. Their sophisticated creations, with a strong Southern flair, are constantly forward thinking and pushing the culinary boundaries, not only for the resort, but for other Greenbrier Valley dining destinations as well.
“All of us in the culinary brigade honor that tradition. We respect it,” says Skelding. “But we also want to create menus and dishes that will stand the test of time and outlast our tenure.”
Any way you slice it, the Greenbrier Valley embodies all that is “wild and wonderful” in West Virginia. The rolling mountains and lush valleys have been attracting visitors for centuries; still inviting guests to embrace the beauty of its landscape, explore its unique story and indulge in a meal with friends.
by Josh Baldwin