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Vagabond Kitchen Chef Matt Welsch and some of the heartier, locally inspired dishes offered at his Wheeling restaurant

Get Out! Hit the road and dine with style in West Virginia

With the return of the American road trip, officials in West Virginia are rolling out the culinary red carpet and directing travelers to some of the state’s best restaurants via their curated “culinary trail.” So load up your vehicle and enjoy yourself some vittles. West Virginia is a calling!

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By Carmen Gentile


The great American road trip is back!

It went away for a few decades as airfare became cheaper, prompting many to forego the open road for direct flights to Disney World. 

But when the pandemic closed the airports, many folks ventured out overland, discovering nearby treasures they’d somehow overlooked.

I know we did. During the pandemic, my wife and I road-tripped often to Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and West Virginia, finding incredible sites that we’ve since revisited. 

We’ve especially come to appreciate West Virginia’s renowned natural beauty, as well as its surprising number of incredible culinary offerings. 

In recent years, the state’s reputation as a food destination has grown so much that the West Virginia Department of Tourism recently created a “Culinary Trail” highlighting more than two dozen of the state’s best restaurants, offering road-trippers the opportunity to plot their course according to their dining desires. 

The trail boasts both local cuisine perfected over generations by West Virginians relying only on local ingredients, and that of new arrivals who’ve made the Mountain State their home. 

Every one of the trail stops is carefully curated and offers something special you won’t want to miss. 

Working your way north to south, you’d do well to start your West Virginia culinary tour at the Vagabond Kitchen in Wheeling

There, Chef Matt Welsch, aka “The Vagabond Chef,” oversees a seasonal menu that’s regionally inspired and dictated by what bounty West Virginia can provide that time of year.

When asked to define the meaning of “Appalachian Cuisine,” Welsch makes clear he’s “borrowing” another’s definition, giving credit where credit is due. 

“I steal my definition of Appalachian cuisine  from Chef Tim Urbanic,” starts Welsch, setting the scene for a classic West Virginia origin story. 

“We were sitting on the porch of his farmhouse and he said ‘It [Appalachian cuisine] is the food of immigrants based on what they know and combine it with whatever they could hunt, forage, or grow.’”

I have to agree with Urbanic by way of Welsch: much of my rural Western Pennsylvania upbringing also consisted of mixing cultures and foods [I’ve had pierogies and pasta on the same plate] with what was readily available in my grandmother’s garden. 

A renowned chef who’s traveled the world, Welsch brings that adventurous spirit to his kitchen creations and encourages others to be so bold. 

“We [West Virginians] have continued to grow and evolve,” he said. “We have people living here now from all over the  world. That only adds to the richness of [culinary] history.” 

Some of the dishes on Vagabond’s spring menu include locally sourced salmon and a hearty, mountaintop take on classic meatloaf. 

The Forks Inn, a reservation-only dining room and cocktail bar that features French and Appalachian-American flavors, is also part of the West Virginia Culinary Trail.

From Vagabond, motor southeast to the heart of Appalachia, where you’ll find genuine, first-rate … Lebanese food. 

Not what you might expect when pulling into small-town Parkersburg, but Cham’s Lebanese Cuisine has earned a reputation for tasty, authentic dishes from the Middle East. 

There are a wide variety of destinations and cuisines on the culinary trails from which to choose, so many in fact it might prove difficult to keep them sorted. 

The best way to organize your West Virginia foodie trip is with this free West Virginia Culinary Trail passport

You’ll plot your own culinary adventure from one fine eatery to another, taking in West Virginia’s natural beauty while dreaming of delicious meals to come. 

Seems like “almost heaven” to me.

Carmen Gentile

Postindustrial founder Carmen Gentile has worked for some of the world’s leading publications and news outlets, including The New York Times, USA TODAY, CBS News, and others. His book, “Blindsided by the Taliban,” documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan. Reach him at carmen@postindustrial.com.

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