Mouthwatering Memories

By Jack Houvouras

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If you’re looking for a place to grab dinner these days, the choices have never been better. Our cover story in this edition about Huntington’s booming dining scene illustrates just how diverse our local restaurants have become in recent years. Whether it’s American, Greek, Italian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Indian or German, our fine city has you covered. In fact, it’s safe to say that Huntington has the best dining scene in all of West Virginia.

Working on this story brought to mind some of my favorite local eateries that have come and gone in my lifetime, and I found myself taking a stroll down memory lane as I reflected on some of the places I used to frequent with family and friends.

When I was very young my parents would take me to Houvouras Grill (now home to Hank’s Wall Street Tavern) where my great uncle Tom Houvouras served up some delicious comfort food including the finest hot roast beef sandwich and mashed potatoes in town. Best of all, he always gave me a piece of candy free of charge! My parents would also take me to Bailey’s Cafeteria which offered some wholesome fare. The highlight for me was the red fruit punch and the gift basket filled with toys that the waitress would bring to the table. You could only choose one toy, so the decision required a great deal of thought. And on special occasions, my parents would take the family out to eat at the French Tavern on the west end, which they often said had the best food in Huntington.

Another early memory was hopping on a TTA bus with my best friend and next-door neighbor Rich Creamer, and heading downtown to HL Green on Third Avenue. There we would nose around in the toy section before grabbing a delicious grilled cheese sandwich at the lunch counter. We would then head over to the Anderson-Newcomb department store (now the Marshall University Visual Arts Center) to buy a roll of sour grape or sour cherry candy. Our next stop was the Peanut Shoppe on Fourth Avenue where we would order some lemon drops, salted sunflower seeds and red-dyed pistachios. If we had any money left over, we would catch a movie at the Keith-Albee, Camelot or Cinema theaters.

As a senior at St. Joseph High School, there was no better treat than walking to Frank’s Sandwich Shop for lunch. Frank’s was famous for their mouthwatering steak sandwich which featured a sprinkling of their top secret “hots” that gave the meal just the right amount of kick. Only the bravest of souls would ask for extra “hots” on their order.

When I started dating, the best place to go to impress a young lady was either Rebels & Redcoats or Permons at the Top. Rebels was a romantic setting on the west end with dark wood paneling, dim lighting and a warm fireplace. Permons sat atop the 15th floor of the West Virginia Building and afforded fabulous views of Huntington and the Ohio River. I wish Huntington still had a restaurant that overlooks the river.

In college, the place to be after a long night of partying was Dwight’s on First Street. It didn’t seem to matter what time it was, the place was always open. My buddy Joe Cross and I would always order the “Farm Boy” which featured two eggs, two pancakes, bacon and sausage. Damn, it was good.

Perhaps the place I miss most today is Victor’s Delicatessen on Eighth Street. At lunch, that was the place to see and be seen — all of Huntington’s power brokers gathered there. But what impressed me the most was their daily selection of nearly 10 different soups, all of them delicious. As a connoisseur of soup, Victor’s was my mecca.

Another restaurant I miss dearly is Calamity Café which was located on the corner of Third Avenue and Hal Greer Boulevard. They created some great dishes including my personal favorite — jalapeno angel hair pasta with shrimp. It was absolute perfection and would keep my belly warm for hours.

Of course, there are numerous other places I miss. Who could forget a bowl of Texas Red at Chili Willi’s, the Nitty Gritty Grinder at Mycroft’s, a donut at Ward’s or a scoop of ice cream at Broughton’s? But as we all know, change is inevitable. While we may have lost these iconic eateries, we have gained an eclectic mix of new restaurants representing different cultures around the world, and that is a change for the better. So, please peruse our cover story on Huntington’s dining scene and then go out and make some new memories for yourself.

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