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, West Virginia
July 22, 2005
This small-town Main Street runs along the Tygart River with heavily forested hills on
both sides of the valley, so that no spot in this town of less than 3,000 people is without
its frilly green border, always in the corner of my eye. Shops and houses line the street,
and the courthouse with large lawn, front and sides, is a quiet spot with benches and this
clock that hints of yesteryear.
On down Main Street, we park on the curb in front of Medallion Restaurant, right in front
of the entrance. Even before we get out of the car, we see the sign straight out of another
decade. Was it the 1960’s when you could get all-you-can-eat for
One wall is lined with booths, and the long counter runs along the opposite wall. Tables
occupy the space in between, and the food bar is set up near the back--that’s where we sit.
I’m always disappointed by food bars that offer only iceberg lettuce, and that’s what I
sometimes find in a small town. Not here! Spinach salad is decorated with bits of
candied fruits, red and green peppers, and an oily dressing that is delicious. Pasta salad,
two kinds, contain black olives and red peppers galore. Wheat rolls appear to be
Second trip, my plate looks like this:
Okay, so the carrots are probably canned, and so are the green beans, but what can one
expect for $4.95? I would drive down here any day for that cabbage! It’s delicious, and I
feel as though I’ve been transported to Germany. The meatloaf is also good. Beautiful,
tall chocolate cake tempts me, but my dessert must be more of that cabbage. I get a soup
bowl full. It is cooked just right, tender and not overcooked.
David has fried chicken, meatloaf, and potatoes piled high on his plate, and I ask if his food
is good, too. His comment is that it reminds him of Cracker Barrel's. That’s fair,
especially since he loves their food. This little establishment puts out a pretty
good country-style buffet.
At the register, our waitress, who appears to be an owner, strikes up a conversation about
the hot weather and lack of rain in Philippi. This is a surprise to me, since my hometown
just an hour away has had flood and storm warnings many days running, on and off for
weeks. Not Philippi. (It’s been unusually dry for this time of year.) So, that’s the topic
of conversation around town, and just as she is about to reveal what else residents are
discussing, she’s called to the kitchen. The establishment is filling up with their
Wednesday evening crowd. Everyone can afford dinner here, and it’s too hot to
From journal The State Born of the Civil War, Part I: Philippi
July 15, 2003
During my various solitary rambles I’ve lit upon a method of being relatively thrifty, absorbing a bit of local color, and having a nice hot meal all at once by patronizing local diners, pubs, or whatever eatery the locals favor. Generally I sit unobtrusively in the back and eavesdrop on local conversations. (Okay, so being the talkative sort I often get drawn into conversation as well.)
I knew I’d hit pay dirt when I spotted The Medallion Restaurant directly across from the county courthouse. Although it was late afternoon, between lunch and dinner, I was feeling a little hungry, not to mention fairly hot and dusty. Some iced tea and something to go with it would sure go down a treat, I decided.
Listen, I’m not going to tell you that the Medallion features superb food, has a wonderful décor, or anything like that. It doesn’t. The menu and furnishings probably haven’t changed since the sixties. But it’s a virtual beehive of conversation, and the food manages to hold its own alongside the gossip.
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There are three women sitting at the lunch counter when I walk in the door, and two waitresses behind the counter. The younger waitress detaches herself, all smiles, and shows me to a table, while the older waitress continues to hold forth, uninterrupted, in a throaty smoker’s voice:
"If she thinks she’s going find anyone better than him, she’s crazy! Hell, I’ll take him if she don’t want him!"
A murmur of assent from the trio at the counter.
"What do you want to drink, honey?" asks Younger Waitress. She’s about half my age and calls me, in succession, "honey," "sweetheart," and "sweetie." This is, I decide, more a West Virginia thing than a waitress thing, though arguably it’s a bit of both.
I order one of my favorite diner foods, a tuna melt, along with iced tea, requesting French fries instead of potato chips. (All this driving and camping out is hungry work.) I’ve barely had time to absorb Older Waitress’ sage advice to one of the trio concerning her latest beau when the sandwich arrives: a classic tuna melt in every respect.
I eat it, slowly. When I finish, Younger Waitress brings my bill. I surprise her by ordering a slice of chocolate meringue pie and a cup of coffee. The conversation has shifted to a detailed account of a drowning that occurred the day before. One of the trio has connections with the rescue squad: the inside track on tragedy.
Two young women with three small children enter and sit at the table next to me. The two boys shoot the ends of their straw wrappers at each other and giggle.
I hate to leave this place, but there’s really not much more I can eat. I take my check to the cash register and Younger Waitress rings it up. Older Waitress is discussing her cousin’s wedding plans as I walk out the door.
From journal Country Roads and Covered Bridges