WANT TO GO: Huck Finn's Restaurant and Bar Park along the river and walk down the gangplank to the restaurant. WHEN: 3 to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Bar is open until midnight, but kitchen closes at 10 p.m. WHERE: 40 Dunbar Ave., or W.Va. Rt. 25 INFO: 304-766-8007 or www.HuckFinns.com
DUNBAR, W.Va. -- Linda Coulter doesn't serve fast food. She doesn't own a heat lamp.
Regular customers at Huck Finn's, the casual barge restaurant and bar she and her husband, Frank, own along the river in Dunbar, know they'll have plenty of time to visit before they dine in the Kanawha River establishment.
Coulter's the only cook in the kitchen, and she makes everything from scratch, so orders are ready when they're ready.
"This is a fresh kitchen. It's going to be slow. Huck Finn's is not a place for someone in a hurry," she said. "After they order, customers should sit back, have a beer, and let me cook for them."
It's usually 15 degrees cooler with a breeze blowing under Huck Finn's awning than it is up the hill. It's the kind of place where boaters who dock at the restaurant rub elbows with landlubbers who park on Route 25 and make their way down the plank to the barge. They take a seat in the 65-seat restaurant and order from Coulter's menu of "Cajun and southern comfort foods with an Appalachian twist."
Take the Appalachian Gumbo, a smoky mixture of Cajun favorites - andouille, kielbasa, sausage, bacon, onion, green pepper, celery and tomato served alongside fluffy rice. The Appalachian kick is kale she chops, sautés and adds to the mixture. The gumbo won the Food Critic's Award at Taste-of-ALL Charleston June 27.
Servings are generous at Huck Finn's. Coulter forms the 8-ounce burgers with a light touch. The secret to a good burger, she said, is to let it breathe. A tightly compressed burger won't cook through without burning and drying.
In addition to the usual all-American toppings, Coulter offers the Pat Woody, a spicy version with pepper jack cheese, Wasabi mayonnaise, jalapeno and banana pepper, The Blacken' Blue with roasted red pepper/chipotle butter, bacon and blue cheese and Fireball Au Diablo with Cajun hot sauce and cheeses, all for $7.
Grilled cheese, catfish filet, pulled pork barbecue and grilled chicken sandwiches, as well as the burgers are all served with hand-cut potato chips.
Hand-pressed sandwiches are menu staples, including the meaty Huck Finn with Creole mustard, a Cajun Cubano with pulled pork and ham and the Turkey Cubano, an intriguing combination of turkey, pepper jack cheese, strawberry jam and Creole dressing. Sandwiches are between $5 and $7.