Sunday, May 19, 2013

Urbane Camping

After our first visit to Café Cimino this past winter, we knew we had to get back there again! I wrote a story ( about how impressed we were with the food and the people at this charming country inn. This time, we decided to splurge and spend the night instead of just eating dinner. In addition, although the interior of this historic mansion is beautiful, we wanted to eat outside along the scenic Elk River this time.

Upon arrival, we checked into our nicely appointed room, which included a private balcony overlooking the river. The house was built at the upper end of Sutton just below where a creek joins the Elk River. A series of small rapids directly behind the house delight the ears with the constant sound of whitewater. We love the sound of rushing water (except for that time when the washer hose burst!).

Our table was waiting for us in the riverside dining area. We enjoyed watching two green herons cautiously stalking the water’s edge, thrusting their necks out from time to time to grab a small fish. Green herons are smaller and less majestic than blue herons, with shorter legs and neck, but are still fun to watch.

During our first visit, we didn’t know exactly what we were getting into, and upon arriving at the front door of this lavish mansion, we wondered if our casual jeans and t-shirt attire was acceptable. We were quickly assured that casual dress is fine in this establishment. To us, this became one of the endearing points of Café Cimino—you don’t have to get all “gussied up” to enjoy gourmet dining. Why wear a neck tourniquet when you are trying to swallow good food?

Another thing we noticed during the first visit was how amazing our waitress was! Jill was very helpful to us as first time visitors, and we wondered if she was the norm or the exception. We soon found that the waiter for our second visit was just as warm and friendly as Jill had been. Luke even gave us his card and offered to be our guide down the Elk River if we bring our kayaks sometime. Just like Jill, he has worked at Café Cimino for years, and is very loyal to the business. He is an amazing guy!

Once again, the food was incredible. I had the soft shell crabs—a rare dish that I first experienced while living in Washington. [Actually, my very first soft shell experience was at a drag strip in southern Maryland, where they served them on a hamburger bun. It looks a bit crazy to be handed a bun with legs and claws hanging out the edges!] My main course was served with the best bok choy I’ve ever tasted, accompanied by a gnocchi dish with ramps and morel mushrooms, both from the woods of West Virginia. Everything was delicious!

We enjoyed an after dinner walk along the rocks at the edge of the river as the sun went down. Then we sat around the firepit in the side yard as darkness set in. It was a bit too cloudy to see the stars (the moon peeked through a few times, though), but on a clear night I’m sure the sky is beautiful. In the meantime, we chatted with other guests and watched the mesmerizing fire dance around the logs. [Some of you might recall my discussion of flames at]

As I peered into the orange glowing embers and yellow flames, I realized that what we were experiencing could be described as luxury camping. We weren’t dressed up, but had just enjoyed a gourmet meal while outside watching herons and listening to the river, followed by a brief hike, and then finishing with the communal campfire (however, unlike real camping, a waiter periodically checked on the folks at the campfire to see if he could bring us anything). When the time came to call it a night, instead of getting into a sleeping bag inside a tent, we went back to our comfy bed in our room and watched television. Life is good!

However, I must point out that luxury camping does not come cheap (perhaps I should call it “Urbane Camping” since the last name of the couple who own Café Cimino is Urbanic). Some of you who know me well are probably surprised that a tightwad such as myself would spend significantly more for meals and lodging than I typically am prone to do. Indeed, we spent more in one night than we do other times for the whole weekend.

One of the reasons why is the friendliness that pervades this establishment. Everyone we have met here has been very welcoming, contributing to a magical atmosphere during our visits. The owners are trying to provide West Virginia with a unique experience—both in dining and lodging—without the haughtiness that you can get at other luxury locations. You can pull up out front in a Cadillac or on an old motorcycle and be treated with the same excellent service and food. I applaud their efforts to provide outstanding products (often using locally sourced foods) and service (from loyal employees who are treated well by the owners). I also appreciate their efforts to make this unique concept work in an historic building within the small town of Sutton in the middle of West Virginia.

We can’t afford to visit very often, but we will be back again, and are absolutely certain that we will have an enjoyable visit. Because of that certainty, Café Cimino is a great place for special occasions. In fact, two other couples with whom we talked had both come to celebrate their respective anniversaries.

I should also mention that by staying overnight, we got to check out for the first time the free breakfast provided for guests, and it was indeed delicious. We enjoyed sitting inside the lovely house, eating the wonderful food, and conversing a bit more with the staff and other guests before leaving. We had a great time, and look forward to our inevitable return trip someday. Until then, I’ll try to put more money in my piggy bank.

I took this picture before leaving Cafe Cimino Country Inn (

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