You've got to be kidding me!
"Southwestern Soul Food" in the middle of rural West Virginia? Huntington, West Virginia, as a college town and as the self-named "Antiques Capital" of the state attracts all sorts of oddities, but I had a hard time believing that the misty Appalachian Mountains could support such a place.
However, the hand-painted billboard on the side of the old brick building beckoned, so my first meal as a college freshman, naive of the realities of college life and ignorant of the culture of coal country was at Calamity Cafe.
Located at the corner of Third Ave and Hal Greer Boulevard (16th Street),at 1555 Third Ave, the cafe would soon become my favorite. Despite being only a few dozen yards from the heart of campus, this isn't your typical college town fair. Except for a smattering of professors, some art and some theatre students, most of campus, with a sneer about hippies, leaves the place in blissfull peace.
But what a place! Most of the varied art and artifacts on the wall are either the works of the art and weaving students across the street, or were found by the region's most venerable antique hunter, Carla Murphy. If you come when Carla's there you will know her by her unending smile, and most likely by her husband, who just goes by Murphy. The theatre professor, a cross between Jerry Garcia and old St. Nick is usually found in paint-smeared striped overalls.
But the place wouldn't be half of what it is without the music. To small for a real stage, whenever a band is playing, the stage is usually just an improvised corner of the seating area. The general schedule: Tuesday is Blues Night with local bands, specials on Bleu Cheese burgers and blue drinks of every variety. Wednesday is Open Mic night, and Thursday is dedicated to Shenanigans. Appalachian folk music is closely related to tradtional pIrish fiddle] music. Shenanigans, a small group of locals, music profs, and a collection of music grad. students celebrates this heritage every Thursday. Since Thursday night is the major binge drinking night for the campus, Shenanigans is a welcome diversion. Though the beer, especially the Guinness flows freely, unlike the other bars in town, the alcohol isn't an end in itself, but merely to enhance the celebration of the food, the music, and the company. Fridays and Saturdays feature a revolving mix of local and regional act. Must-sees include Complete Strangers and the hyperactive Willie Phoenix and the Voodoos.
But this is a cafe, right, so what about the food? I've never gone wrong with a single dish, but here is my suggestion, if your gut is hearty. Start with Psychedelic Nachos as an appetizer, if you dare. The heaping plate is a meal in itself, loaded with multi-colored chips, beef, chili and a host of peppers and cheeses. Your drinks when they arrive will be served in true folk fashion, straight out of a wide mouthed mason jar. Expect a few dribbles at first, but once you get the hang of it you'll enjoy it. If you are in town on a Friday, order the baked potato soup or forever suffer forever having missed your chance at this incredible soup. Choosing an entree is a hard task, but I recommend the Black Goddess Earth Pasta, if you have any room left. Chili pepper pasta, black beans, range chicken, scallions and cheese mingle on this massive plate. Should I mention the sides of salad, cornbread and sourdough rolls that accompany it?
Unless you came with partners, I defy you to still be standing after a meal such as this. But if you are, that will soon be resolved. For dessert, take the Arizona Mud Pie or Dirty Roy's Peach Cobbler. An after dinner drink should finish you off. Take your choice of El Diablo Magarita, Cowgirl's Kiss, Mustang Sally, or the Electric Sunrise if you want to taste one of the house specialties.
The hours vary, but the wait is never long and the friendly servers all look like hippie-godesses. The crowd is friendly, and the music flowws as free as the people.
Southwestern soul food in Appalachia, who would ever belive it, but there it is nestled between the Ohio River and the shoulder of the mountains is one of Huntington and West Virginia's finest.