600 miles from New York City, West Virginia is an often-maligned part of the U.S., though as Anthony Bourdain discovers when he travels to the hills and valleys, the atmosphere in Appalachia is nothing short of welcoming. As can be expected for a part of the country that is as rural as it gets, with even the nearest Walmart being a couple of hours away, there is a strong emphasis on community, and that community comes to include our favorite traveler.
Anthony Bourdain visited West Virginia to film season 11 (episode 1) of Parts Unknown; it was his only visit to the “Mountain State,” and part of a concerted effort later in his career to show how even places close to home can feel foreign and scary if we fail to try and understand our neighbors – but that our similarities far outnumber our differences.
If you’re planning to spend some time in West Virginia and want to try and go to the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in West Virginia, this guide can help. There aren’t many formal spots – he had an almost equal number of local dining experiences, detailed at the end of this post – and unfortunately, not all of them are still open today.
Don’t let that deter you though: West Virginia is still as welcoming today as it was when Tony visited.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Calicuas, Manahoac, Massawomeck, S’atsoyaha (Yuchi), Shawandasse Tula (Shawanwaki/Shawnee), and 𐓏𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 𐒼𐓂𐓊𐒻 𐓆𐒻𐒿𐒷 𐓀𐒰^𐓓𐒰^(Osage) peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present peoples of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
The Coffee Shop (War) (CLOSED)
Visiting a typical coffee house for a typical breakfast in these parts, Tony meets with writer Nick Mullins and locally-born documentary filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon to discuss how the portrayal of West Virginia in the media over the years has given its people a stigma of being something to be gawked at by the more ‘refined’ areas of the country.
The meal here represents a hearty, filling start to any day where manual labor was the order of business – biscuits, gravy, and fried eggs, with a generous pot of coffee.
King Knob Motorsports Park (Philippi) (CLOSED)
Something more in the fresh air next, as Tony visits a local motorsports area to take part in ‘rock bouncing’, ably assisted by local driver Adam Ringer. This thrilling take on rural motorsports sees drivers pilot stripped-back chassis creations with a ton of horsepower, a nearly-unbreakable drivetrain, and not much else, as they test the limits of their indestructibility by driving up and down near vertical at times drops.
The adrenaline suitably peaked and appetites whetted, the crew all sat down for a swamp-caught cookout. Frogs legs and snapping turtle patties are grilled up, before a main of barbecued and fried smallmouth bass and catfish.
JMAC Customs (Princeton)
Following a trip to JMAC Customs, a local firearms company, to shoot some guns and blow up some pumpkins, Bourdain chats with the owners over the prickly subject of gun ownership. Together, they enjoy a simple BBQ lunch of venison & beef burgers and hot dogs.
Lost Creek Farm (Lost Creek)
For his final spot in this beautiful area, Bourdain becomes acquainted with the pawpaw, an indigenous tree in these parts that produces a largish fruit. Taste similar to a mix of mango, banana, and a hint of tangy passion fruit, the pawpaw has been largely forgotten by much of the country, but here at Lost Creek Farm, chef Mike Costillo is looking to bring it back into the local consciousness, together with some other forgotten cooking styles.
First, there is pawpaw ice cream, and an old-fashioned vinegar pie or “desperation pie” made from the sometimes-limited ingredients available in the region. There are also heirloom beans, fat horse beans, candy roaster squash, and ripe yellow tomatoes, all ingredients that define a nearly lost era and are grown locally at the farm.
For the main courses on this meal, the farm kitchen serves up sweetcorn chowder with communion wafer crackers, and buttermilk fried rabbit with fresh maple syrup, both dishes that demonstrate the locals are not too embarrassed by their ‘hillbilly’ past.
For a final toast, there is elderberry cider, another plant native to the region, together with West Virginia apples. A drink that would cost the moon in an East Village bar, but here, just represents the goodness of the earth.
Local Dining Experiences Tony Had in WV
As mentioned at the top, Tony has a number of local dining experiences during his West Virginia trip. I wanted to include those two so you’d have a complete sense of all the food he ate, even if these are hard (or impossible!) to replicate.
- Family Meal (Private Home) – For his first meal, Bourdain visits a local family with some Naples heritage, for a meal that could definitely be considered ‘fusion’ in a big city hipster neighborhood. There is spiced chicken cooked with peas and a spaghetti ‘pizza’ that is baked in the oven similar to lasagna. Over dinner, Bourdain and the locals discuss the challenges that the area faces with the coal money dwindling, and how educators are working to break the next generation free from the notion that ‘coal is king’.
- Unnamed Coal Mine – Delving 5000ft into the earth, Bourdain meets with the workers at a still operational coal mine in the area. Being so deep inside a cave doesn’t mean that the meals are lacking though, as they share a tray of chicken and roasted bear meat, slow cooked to break down the somewhat tough protein.
- Home Meal (Unknown Location) – Another local pastime comes to the forefront next, as Bourdain joins some locals on a hunting trip. Despite the hunt itself not being successful, there is a meal awaiting the party afterward, consisting of more biscuits and gravy, together with fried taters, eggs, bacon, some ice-cold beers, and a leftover from a previous hunt – squirrel stew.
Have any questions about these places visited by Anthony Bourdain in West Virginia or the foods he ate there? Let me know in the comments below!