One place that has developed is the Flatwoods exit, which includes a major hotel/conference center on one side, and a shopping center featuring a number of outlet stores on the other side (including a factory outlet for West Virginia’s own Fiestaware). Of course, it also has a collection of gas stations and restaurants (including a Custard Stand, which is another interesting West Virginia business story). Along what can be a rather desolate drive (especially at night), Flatwoods seems to be a major oasis.
A friend of mine has an interesting opinion on how the hotel/conference center began there. He envisions a meeting of community leaders, as they brainstormed ways to make their county a destination place, where someone must have lamented “How are we going to get tourists to come when we are stuck here smack dab in the middle of nowhere?” Suddenly, a light bulb went off in another leader’s head that being located in the geographical center of West Virginia might make an appealing location—at an equitable distance for all potential attendees—for various statewide organizations holding meetings, annual conferences, and such. Sometimes being in the middle of nowhere has its advantages!
Thus, the Flatwoods exit became what it is today. However, on this particular day at suppertime, we didn’t stop at Flatwoods—we ventured a couple of miles off the interstate exit just south of Flatwoods to visit nearby Sutton, the county seat of Braxton County. Listening to West Virginia Public Radio over the years had made us aware of one of their sponsors called “Café Cimino” in downtown Sutton, so we wanted to see what it was all about. As far as we knew, it might have been just a glorified coffee bar, and we aren’t coffee drinkers. But we soon found out it was quite a culinary feast.
The big Victorian mansion beyond the courthouse near the end of the main street now provides bed and breakfast lodging, as well as a gourmet restaurant. Despite our t-shirt and jeans attire, we were warmly welcomed as we walked in the front door (the food might be “high society,” but their attitude isn’t). We were seated next to an ornate fireplace and were amazed at the grand interior surrounding us.
The waitstaff was very friendly, and a talented woman playing guitar serenaded the night’s customers. West Virginia arts and crafts as well as local pictures were displayed prominently. The meal itself rivaled some of the delicious dinners we have enjoyed on cruise ships. It included organic produce and locally sourced foods such as smoked trout. Although it was admittedly pricier than what we normally spend, the quality was excellent. Bravo to the chef!
We can’t eat there all the time, but once in a while it is nice to splurge. The whole evening was quite a memorable experience! We plan on returning when the weather is warmer so that we can enjoy their outdoor seating, overlooking the Elk River below the Sutton Dam. We also noticed a few other restaurants that looked interesting near the historic Courthouse Square. Who would have suspected that downtown Sutton has developed into such a “foodie” destination? I-79 slightly sidestepped the county seat, but it is certainly worth checking out the Sutton exit instead of the Flatwoods exit.