Let’s talk about food.
And for the record, give me a bit of credit for taking a full four weeks to broach the subject of food, which, as friends and people I push out of the way at Sam’s Club to get to the sample tables will tell you, I am a major fan of.
Along with figuring out bus routes and locating the park for Charlie’s morning walks, perusing the local fare and stocking up on takeout menus ranked high on the to-do list when acclimating to our new home.
I am delighted to report that Morgantown has plenty of cuisine options, from the exotic—Thai, Indian, Italian and Mediterranean—to the comforts—greasy Chinese and frozen yogurt—to the standards—all the chains, including Chili’s; Cheddar’s; and the hometown favorite, Cracker Barrel.
There is even, thank goodness, a Dairy Queen with a walk-up window on the main drag.
The foodie findings, however, became far more colorful once I opened myself up to the possibilities that first, being a true resident of West Virginia involved sampling the state food more than once; and second, there is a far more elaborate definition of "gas station meal" than I knew.
I’ll introduce the larger discoveries for now and reserve the right to return to the subject should I stumble on another food item that really ought to have been part of my regular eating habits since adolescence.
First up? The pepperoni roll, that slice of cholesterol I met my first night in town at Gene’s.
For full disclosure, I’m hooked on these things. I hadn’t even paid rent for the second month before I realized I would need to ration my pepperoni roll intake. I’m hooked, as in I should be doing commercials for these things. In fact, I’ll do one right now.
Imagine the best piece of pepperoni pizza possible. The sauce and the cheese, both existing in the perfect quantity, balance each other delicately. The spicy but not over powering pepperoni is also present in the ideal, and ideally sliced, quantity. The crust is thick, soft and constructed to buffer the aromatic steam wafting off the pizza.
With the pepperoni roll, that amazingness is contained in what is essentially an uncut hot dog bun. Keep in mind (don’t worry, this is more an aside to myself) that this food is built for comfort, not for health.
It is, however, 100 percent West Virginian. The state’s Division of Culture and History has catalogued the dish’s narrative all the way back to the 1930s and an Italian immigrant named Giuseppe Argiro and his Fairmont, W.Va., business, People’s Bakery.
The coal miner-turned-baker lit upon the bizarre recipe in a rather utilitarian thought process: He was attempting to combine the two typical ingredients in a miner’s lunch—bread and a hunk of pepperoni—into a one-hand-only meal.
Today, Argiro’s creation is available in restaurants, grocery stores, local bakeries, gas stations, country clubs and 20 feet from my front door at Gene’s.
Speaking of gas stations, the bar set by the fried chicken at the Cookoo’s in the Mapco Mart on the corner of East Third Street and North Holtzclaw is no joke, but it is not for the faint of heart. Maybe it’s that it’s fried chicken. Maybe it’s that it’s made in a gas station.
Either way, I think the general consensus is that Cookoo’s is more of a destination food spot than a regular stop.
Consider this: In Morgantown, the gas station is transformed into a magical land of indulgences and a few healthier choices where fried pickles and deli sandwiches appear with the touch of a button and alcohol is not only portable but packaged in single servings.
Sheetz, a Pennsylvania chain with locations throughout the region, has capitalized on the idea of combining made-to-order meals and gas. It’s an unfortunate name, and they don’t do much to help themselves out with their slogans—such as "Chill out, bro, you’ve got options" for the slushies and "This shay cray" for the blended coffee drinks.
However, back to the fried pickles.
The made-to-order process starts with four touchscreen stations, each containing page after page of starters, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, deli sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches, salads, burritos, nachos, popcorn chicken.
Each choice leads to more choices. Build a sandwich or a salad. Have an order of wings tossed in barbecue sauce and served with a side of honey mustard. Add the order of fries.
You can have anything you want. I’m not kidding. My first time at the station did not even result in an order. Somewhere between the coffee, energy drinks and milkshakes, my head exploded from food overload.
Once the order is placed, each customer takes his or her printed ticket to the cashier, pays and waits for the food to appear in the pickup window.
In the meantime, if the made-to-order beverages fell short—ha! yeah, right—of expectations, patrons can investigate the F’Real Blending Bar, a make-your-own Blizzard machine, or the Copa Di Vino wine display.
Apparently, I have been laboring under what I falsely believed was a working knowledge of wine because this company sells its wares in the Chattanooga area, as well as Morgantown and pretty much everywhere else in America.
Copa CEO James Martin has even appeared on ABC’s "Shark Tank" with his bottling concept, which, as the company’s website explains, allows people to "enjoy delicious quality wine anywhere their hearts desire."
Chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, riesling, merlot and white zinfandel—grab that plastic cup, pop the plastic lid, peel back the aluminum foil, and head out to one of the umbrella-shaded tables on the Sheetz patio.
It’s all in a day’s meal in West Virginia.
Charlie has yet to test out the pepperoni roll. Perhaps it will have to wait for her birthday. Pepperoni roll cake? I think so.
Because Charlie Barley Behringer could not simply disappear from Nooga.com, Mountain to Mountain will follow her and her mother's adventures, dispatch-style, in Morgantown as they tackle graduate school, first-year teaching and living in West by-God Virginia.