Just two hours outside of Washington, D.C., small-town charm, history and healthful, warm mineral springs still flow in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
George Washington first visited the spring at age 16. To this day the stone bathtub alleged to belong to Washington is perpetually filled with 74-degree water that flows from the springs.
Berkeley Springs is favorite tourist destination, But its big on annual events for the locals. Designed to bring people into town. During a recent “Cocoa Crawl,” artisan shops, restaurants and service businesses greeted “crawlers” with their versions of the chocolatey treat. The event saw some 500 people enjoying a crisp evening with friends, new and old.
In addition to its flowing spring water and family-friendly events, including the annual Apple Butter Festival, Berkeley Springs has a dining scene that continues to attract foodies.
Take the case of Morgan’s on Main, where culinary expertise is applied to create simple yet satisfying cuisine. The new downtown eatery is elevating Berkeley Springs’ dining options. The menu features what is commonly called “comfort food.”
But Chef Sam Yokum, who started cooking with this grandmother in central West Virginia, is not just serving meat loaf. It’s meat loaf that is firm and moist, and you can taste its freshly ground pork and beef. It’s not my mother’s meat loaf, that’s for sure.
Chef Yokum, whose culinary education includes the Pennsylvania Culinary Institue, sticks to fresh vegetables and whole foods. If you order turkey, it is sliced from a bird, brined and roasted in-house.
Morgan’s on Main is not fancy food; it is food for people who are hungry and not looking for gimmicks.
The menu includes chicken pot pie, done right. Too often chicken pot pie is derivative, over seasoned and over baked. Far too often the dish’s flavor is diluted by frozen vegetables and excess water. The chicken is dry, and the dish is almost always over salted.
Morgan’s on Main’s version features fresh-cut vegetables, moist chicken and a house-made gravy stock topped with puff pastry. Chef Yokum refrains from over seasoning the dish, allowing the taste of the chicken and vegetables to shine.
His time spent cooking along the Virginia shore allows Chef Yokum to appreciate the flavor balance of a crab cake. Not over seasoned with Old Bay and with a good crab-to-filler ratio, his crab cakes are a delightful alternative to the meat-and-potatoes meals of the area.
There are plenty of sides and small dishes to customize your meal.
A creamy, delicious macaroni and cheese comes with crisp, roasted Brussels sprouts. Chili, never on the top of the list, climbs the ladder. Chef Yokum issues a dish that is not overly dry-seasoned with powdered chili. Restraint on the amount of red beans keeps the dish from being too starchy. Savory ground beef and fresh tomato broth are accompanied by house-made corn bread.
While on the topic of bread, make sure that Chef Yokum’s biscuits and apple butter start the meal.
Completing dinner is the English-style rich chocolate mousse topped with fresh whipped cream and peppermint. It’s the chocolate dish Morgan’s on Main served during the recent Cocoa Crawl, by the way.
When not eating
The town, formerly named Bath, is a destination not only for its Victorian-style mineral spring bathhouse, but it also boasts a vibrant arts scene. The town rests among beautiful mountains, hiking trails and the Cacapon and Potomac rivers, perfect for kayaking and water play.
There are numerous lodging option, including the refurbished rooms above Morgan’s on Main.
Other options include a Best Western on the south end of town and the historic Country Inn of Berkeley Springs, located near town center.
Berkeley Springs offers plenty of shops offering artisan and craft items, unique gifts and antiques. A favored stop is the Mountain Laurel Gallery. Other places to shop include the Ice House, a historic building converted into a showcase for local artisans.
Fans of unique art and sculpture, as well as those who admire the artistry of quilting, will find plenty to “ooh” and “ahh” over.
The Roman Bath House at Berkeley Springs State Park features mineral water soaking tubs that will fit up to six. The tubs are filled with 750 gallons of 102-degree water tapped from the springs. The whirlpool, also heated to 102 degrees, is a 150-gallon mineral bath with jets. The cost for the bath is $27 for the first person, $17 per each additional person.
Check the website for prices. Reservations made in advance are a must.
Look on top of the hill above the Bath House to see where the Berkeley Castle stands.
Through the holiday season, parking meters in Berkeley Springs are turned into holiday works of art, and parking is free.
• Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning travel and food writer and travel editor at Communities Digital News.
IF YOU GO
Morgan’s on Main
174 N. Washington St.
Berkeley Springs, WV 25411
Berkeley Springs State Park
2 S. Washington St.
Berkeley Springs, West Virginia 25411-3284
—- 2018 Holiday Events —-
Friday, Dec. 21: Merry & Bright – A Celebration of Light – at the State Park, a free evening of dancing, carols and seasonal celebration. (7-10 p.m.)
Saturday, Dec 22: Ornaments making in the park for the kids. (2-4 p.m.)
Saturday, Dec. 22: A reading of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” at the Berkeley Springs Museum. $5 per person, $20 per family donation suggested.
Suggestion: Bring clean jugs to fill with the Berkeley Springs mineral water. It is free, as declared by Lord Fairfax some centuries past.