Road Trip: Morgantown, West Virginia

A fun drive south of the border for burritos, coffee, dessert and more.

The spacious and confortable interior of Black Bear Burritos.

The spacious and comfortable interior of Black Bear Burritos.

Several times a year I travel to Morgantown, West Virginia to meet with a business associate who lives there. She knows all the great dining spots in town. We lunch together while talking about business and life.

Morgantown is only 75 miles from Pittsburgh, an easy drive down I-79 taking about an hour and twenty minutes. Or, if you have a boat and desire a more leisurely trip, follow the Monongahela river south past McKeesport, Monessen, and Point Marion. Whichever way you get there, it is cool to cross the Mason-Dixon line into what has been called the northern most southern state, or the southern most northern state. Either way it’s a land of sweet tea, elimination dinners, a little twang in the speech, and friendly smiles. Morgantown ranks high on many “Best Small Town” lists.

A visually interesting city, Morgantown sits on a large hill hard against the ol’ Mon river. In a several mile radius of Downtown, one can spot several beautiful Victorian buildings on West Virginia University’s historic downtown campus, the elevated people mover vehicles that run between the upper and lower campuses, a smaller Station Square-like development that has the Caperton Trail running parallel along the river for walking, jogging, and biking. The Downtown streets feature many independent restaurants, bars, and clubs. Signs of industry are also present—a small, cleaner burning coal plant and a lock and dam on the river. Boats are docked below Table 9 restaurant at The Wharf. The Morgantown riverfront also features a sleek, modern amphitheater.

Lunch at Black Bear Burritos 

The West Virgina Hot Rod with chicken and bacon accompanied by Southwestern Slaw and tortilla chips.

The West Virgina Hot Rod with chicken and bacon accompanied by Southwestern Slaw and tortilla chips.

My associate had decided on Black Bear Burritos for our lunch this time, which she heartily endorses. Located in an older building on a hilly street in downtown Morgantown, the storefront was wide and deep with large plate-glass windows. There’s a second location on WVU’s Evansdale campus, a few miles away .

Black Bear Burritos is committed to providing the finest food available. They fry their own tortilla chips daily, use only vegan rice, and their tofu and vegetarian beans are 100% organic. They buy as much of their food as possible from local farmers and also recycle.

In a phone interview, owner Jason Coffman (the other owner is Matt Showalter) spoke about how Black Bear came about. “Matt and I knew each other as undergraduates at WVU. After graduation we went to different cities to work in our career fields. On our travels we experienced other college towns with their atmosphere and mix of businesses. With us both coming from families that were involved with small businesses we wanted to do something entrepreneurial. We had worked in restaurants before.” Coffman and Showalter thought that a mix of burritos, beer, and music would make for a good dining and nightlife concept. With that love of good food, music, and beer they opened the Downtown Black Bear Burritos in February 2013 because as Coffman says “We had a handful of insanity left.” The Evansdale location followed several years later.

Featuring burritos and other tortilla related offerings their menu highlights a variety of different culinary cultures including American, Mexican, Jamaican, and others. They saw a niche in the market not only for burritos, but also for some of the fine craft brews that were emerging in West Virginia. Their landmark beers are brewed in the region. Black Bear Stout is crafted at Mountain State Brewing in Davis and Black Bear Shakedown IPA is made at Chestnut Brew Works in Downtown Morgantown.

My business associate friend and I were having fun catching up on things but found time to order guac and chips. She mentioned their guacamole is a little different. It’s a creamy white spread with some sour cream mixed in with the avocados, tomatoes, and spices. It was very tasty. Other Sound Checks (appetizers) pair up chips with salsa, hummus, or lada (enchilada sauce) spreads. Additionally chili, a pesto quesadilla, and Big 12 (athletic conference WVU plays in) Nachos which feeds four are on the menu.

I followed my associate’s lead by ordering the Ire Member Jamaican burrito (many of the wraps have fun names). It comes with choice of protein—I chose chicken—cheese, rice, black beans, pineapple, jicama, with a Jamaican jerk sauce in a flour tortilla and topped with hot salsa and sour cream. It was a large burrito and was accompanied by chips and southwestern slaw. After eating our burritos we were well satisfied and in a cool, relaxed island vibe.

A Build Your Own Quesadilla topped with apple salsa.

A Build Your Own Quesadilla topped with apple salsa.

Other burrito offerings included WV Hot Rod with Fresh lettuce mix, roma tomatoes, grilled chicken and bacon (or tofu and Fakin’) pepperjack cheese, and a spicy chipolte Dijon wrapped in a sundried tomato tortilla. The menu proudly proclaims “It’s wild and wonderful!” Another that peaked my interest was the River Trail, a crispy quesadilla stuffed with cheese, rice, red beans, roasted corn, grilled tomatoes, caramelized onions, (chicken, steak, or tofu) and smothered in a Mexican enchilada sauce. “This one covers several states!” the menu says.

Amber (l.) and Carolyn (r.) frame the bar's wide selection of draft beers.

Amber (l.) and Carolyn (r.) frame the bar’s wide selection of draft beers.

Diners can choose from the named items or create their own burrito, quesadilla, stroller (a salad wrap), nachos, or salad. An interesting selection of branded hot sauces (both local and national) are on hand to suit any preference. There are many beverage options including beer, pitchers of Margaritas, wine, cocktails and soft drinks including brewed ice tea, Nantucket Nectars, and Sarnac bottled sodas.

Service was friendly and efficient. Black Bear Burritos is a fun and funky local haunt that features musical entertainment on many nights.

Coffee and Conversation at Blue Moose Cafe

The fun and folksy exterior of Blue Moose Cafe in downtown Morgantown. The blue wooden cutout hanging in the center of the photo is, what else, a Blue Moose.

The colorful, folksy exterior of Blue Moose Cafe in downtown Morgantown. The blue wooden cutout hanging in the center of the photo is, what else, a Blue Moose.

Feeling full and in a deep chill mode we decided to “lively up ourselves” by adjourning stage right to the Blue Moose Cafe, which is several blocks away. Doesn’t Morgantown have a great affinity for wildlife? We were in need of some caffeinated beverages and a little dessert. Blue Moose is a pleasant, locally owned place offering a full line of coffee, coffee drinks, tea, meals, desserts, and pastries. We chatted with several nice people while we all waited for the talented barista to make our drinks and dessert. The coffee, apple pie, and cheesecake put us on a nice glide path for more informative and fun conversation. The Blue Moose Cafe also features musical entertainment and cultural events including literary readings, art openings and exhibits.

Mid-afternoon—after another exciting trip to Morgantown—I was heading for the I-79 North on ramp and already looking forward to my next visit.

A skilled barista prepares a coffee drink.

A skilled barista prepares a coffee drink.

There are many fun activities including hiking, swimming, boating, rafting, museums, entertainment, fairs, festivals, and more in the Morgantown area. For more information see the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau website.

 

Black Bear Burritos
Downtown Morgantown
132 Pleasant St.
(304) 296-8696

Evansdale, Morgantown
3119 University Blvd.
(304) 777-4867

Blue Moose Cafe
248 Walnut St.
Downtown Morgantown
(304) 292-8999

Morgantown and the rest of West Virginia always make for a great road trip, however on June 23, ten out of the state’s 55 counties, in south central and southeastern parts of the state, were hit by the third worst flooding in the state’s history and declared federal disaster areas. Please donate to the West Virginia Region Red Cross what you can to help our friends to the south recover and rebuild.

Photos and story by Rick Handler, executive producer of Entertainment Central.