By Debra Cornwell
Named for the Lost River that flows just above the town of Wardensville, WV, Lost River Brewing Company will be showing up on culinary maps very soon. "Our intent," says the twentyeight- year-old owner, "is to have a laid back atmosphere with great food and beer."
The sign out front says: "Live, hardshell crabs and live oysters." Would you keep on driving if you saw that sign in the mountains of West Virginia? I would usually caution you to run to the hills, but in this case, be sure to stop. Lost River's owner, Adam Myers, has a brother who owns Nate's Trick Dog Cafe in Irvington, VA. Nate is a chef who developed Lost River's recipes, and he buys crabs directly from a waterman in Reedville, VA—that's where you can catch the boat to Tangier Island. The crabs are still kicking and never frozen. The fresh oysters come from Virginia's Rappahannock River.
Adam says, "Our Chesapeake Bay offering of live soft shell crabs, live hard shell crabs, and live oysters, are prepared to the customer's liking. Lets enjoy them while they are in season! When you are finished picking crabs, Key Lime pie is a great finish."
Adam's father, Wally, does the baking—all the fresh breads and baked desserts. "My dad came into the restaurant carrying seventy-five, tiny key limes yesterday and stated he was making key lime pie," he smiles. "I said, ‘Go for it,' so he stood there juicing all these limes." We tasted the key lime pie—rich, puckering, traditional pie with a mountain of meringue—no green food coloring here, or lime flavoring disguised in a too-sweet pie.
One of the recent specials was glazed duck breast, alongside garlic broccolini and a bread pudding of bacon, spinach, and Gruyere cheese. The bison meatloaf is a labor of love to make, with twenty ingredients, according to Adam, and comes with artfully piped mashed potatoes and small, crunchy (and wonderful) green beans.
We feasted on the Shrimp Matamoros, fresh-shucked oysters, mac and cheese, pork ribs, broccolini, green beans, and key lime pie. The shrimp appetizer was prepared by filling a ring mold with diced avocados, black beans, shrimp, tequilalime salsa, and crème fraiche. The appetizer and freshly made tortillas were lightly dusted with spices, to lend some heat. The Rappahannock oysters that we devoured were sweet, with a crisp, clean finish, and the faintest hint of salt—divine. There are so many wonderful variations of mac and cheese, and this is one of the best. With caramelized shallots, loads of melted cheddar, and some chunks of feta, this is a great side or appetizer. Warning, once you share a bite, it will be gone before you get another bite.
When the whitewater stretch of the river reaches Wardensville, it is renamed the Cacapon River, and eventually flows into the Potomac. Years ago, the town suffered from a devastating flood, and it never regained its prosperity. Adam says, "I hope Lost River can inspire some other businesses to set up shop in Wardensville. Sixty percent of my clientele are folks from the Washington area who own second homes here. Much of my business is repeat business. Residents and visitors don't have to drive to Moorefield, Strasburg, or Winchester for a great meal. We employ eight in the front of the house and four in the kitchen and do about eighty covers in four hours."
The building that houses Lost River was built in 1859, and was an Odd Fellows Lodge, among other things. Adam recalls, "We bought the restaurant that was previously here in September 2010. We opened at the end of November 2010. The only items that remain from the previous restaurant are the bar, the piano, a mirror, and the paint on one wall. Everything else was gutted and updated." The piano, an original Steinway, has conveyed from owner to owner since 1902. The building's owner recently called Steinway to tell them about it. The company didn't know the piano still existed and was delighted to learn that it was still being played. In addition to the music, fascinating historical pictures of Wardensville dot the walls.
"We cut and batter our own fish and chips; we make our own dressings and sauces," Adam reveals. "The applewood-smoked meats are done by me, and we pull our own pork. The steaks are cut here, and the burgers are made here. Only three people know the crab cake recipe. Everything is made to order, so there is a wait, but it's worth it." The restaurant tries to source locally and is cultivating more local resources. "If we can cook it here, we do. It gives us better control and quality. We also try to keep the menu fresh for our regular customers."
Now, about the beer. Adam is an experienced beer maker and would love to morph Lost River into a brewpub. "Permitting at the state and federal level has been challenging," he says, "but we are sticking with the process and hope to be brewing sooner than later." In the meantime, Adam is building his nice selection of craft beers, IPAs, and wine.
Put Lost River on your daytripping, foodie map. Mapquest got me there in a roundabout way. The easy way is to take Route 50 West from Winchester and turn left onto Route 259, which changes into Main Street in Wardensville. The restaurant, with its bright red metal roof, is on the left. For additional information, see: www.lostriverbrewing.com.