Sunday, February 12, 2012

Charleston Eateries

Yesterday, a former classmate traveling through Charleston posted this picture of the Southern Kitchen on Facebook. It brought back many good memories of this favorite restaurant for UC students of my era. Unfortunately, I understand it closed a few years ago, but the memories of late night runs down MacCorkle Avenue to the “SK” still live on.

One of my favorites was their hot apple dumplings, but all their food was good and available all the time. The inside was decorated in a chicken motif, with roosters, eggs, and other such bric-a-brac. Plus, near the cash register were framed official letters of thanks from politicians and celebrities who had eaten there. It was an authentic West Virginia restaurant that had never changed over the years.

The SK became a favorite stop of mine if I was passing through Charleston and needed a meal over the decades after my graduation. Even though our dining tastes these days normally trend towards something a bit more exotic, Anna and I got to eat there a few times, so that I could reminisce.

This picture also got me thinking about other eateries I experienced while at UC. Growing up in Parkersburg, but dependent on the Charleston/Huntington TV stations, I had always seen the commercials but had never experienced Geno’s Pizza. I was eager to try their pizza, but ended up enjoying their Pizza Bread (a sub bun with sauce and toppings). The Geno’s shop at the top of winding Bridge Hill Road was the closest, but a few times we visited the larger restaurant at South Charleston.

Speaking of pizza bread, the Anchor (just past the SK on MacCorkle) also had good pizza bread. It helped to soak up the quarter beer in plastic cups that drew many students there on Thursday nights. I also remember getting taken to St. Albans to get pizza from a new place called Husson’s, which now has a location much closer to campus. Of course, the Pizza Hut in Kanawha City was another popular place, when money and a ride were available.

The Shoney’s chain of restaurants actually got its start in Charleston (there is a historical display near the Patrick Street Bridge). With a Shoney’s nearer to campus than SK, sometimes we would venture there for strawberry pie or hot fudge cake. A couple of friends were selected to be “secret shoppers” for Shoney’s, testing the quality of food and service in exchange for providing feedback on the experience.

There was a family owned Italian restaurant across the river not far from the capitol called Leonoro’s. I ended up eating there a few times, and it was very good. It is still there and I should probably go back and give it a try again. Anna and I recently got to eat at the Quarrier Street Diner (also known as Young’s Restaurant) where I had eaten a time or two as an undergrad (we also ran into a fellow UC alum that night).

For those extra special dates on a formal dance night, the place I preferred with Steak & Ale, near the railroad station and the South Side Bridge. I also went to the restaurant on the roof of the Holiday Inn Riverfront once. I never made it to Joe Fazio’s or Ernie’s Esquire, which were also popular fancy restaurants of that era (but I did eat at Ernie’s while working the 1982 WV Legislative Session).

Although I only ate there one time, a couple of guys I looked up to took me to a place called the B&B in downtown Charleston for a late night (or should I say early morning?) breakfast. It was a bit of a rough place—you went there just to be able to say you went there once. I remember that visit in part because I ran into a guy I knew from Parkersburg who was attending WV State College.

I made the trip down to Jefferson (almost to St. Albans) a couple of times for an all-you-can-eat buffet at Smiley’s Motel. All you can eat deals were rare back then, so it was worth the drive for college students, especially to fill up on a Sunday afternoon.

Wendy’s was the closest fast food place to campus, and it was frequented for burgers as well as their Frosties. I tease Anna that maybe we saw each other there, because she can remember eating there as a young girl during the late ‘70s. The Bonanza steak house beside Watt Powell Park (the baseball stadium) was also close and popular (buy the cheapest meal and then fill up on the salad bar).

My senior year, the Taco Bell opened just beyond Shoney’s, and it quickly became a favorite destination. It was open late and was cheap—two essentials for college students. It was my first real exposure to Mexican food—but now I know that there is much more to Mexican cuisine than Taco Bell.

These are just a few of my memories from my four years (plus the ’82 Legislative session, when I also lived in the UC dorm) in Charleston. I’m glad I got to live in West Virginia’s capital city, and I enjoyed my time there. Most of my student days, I didn’t have a car on campus, so it was a real treat to eat out (on those rare times when I had enough cash), which is why these restaurants have such good memories. If I had to pick a favorite, though, it would have to be the Southern Kitchen. I’m sad it is no longer in business.

Hopefully, a lot of my former classmates will join me on the riverbank the last weekend in April for the big UC Alumni gathering and we can reminisce on the good old days!

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