If you travel on I-77, the sign for the Dutch Pantry is one of the last things you see in West Virginia before you cross the Ohio River (or one of the first things you see if you are traveling south). Here is the slighly smaller version that shows you where to turn for the parking lot:
C’mon, how can I not visit a place with a sign like that? And, indeed, I have stopped in a few times while traveling I-77. (Yes, I know it is a chain, or at least started as one. http://www.highwayhost.org/DutchPantry/dutchpantry1.htm. But I think they are down to three locations. Plus, look at the sign. Deal with it.)
The inside is kind of like going back in time. It harkens back memories of roadside diners the family would visit when I was a kid (if only they had the cow-shaped creamers that mooed when you poured the non-dairy creamer). I doubt the inside has changed much since it opened in the 70’s. A little gift area up front, antiques on the walls, a circular counter to one side, and rough beam ceilings. It feels like an authentic version of every chain restaurant that’s opened in the last decade; a little more of “this is what the owners think looks good,” and a little less “our focus group testing reveals triangular signs lead to 15% more appetizer sales compared to rectangular signs.”
The food is what you would expect for a WV restaurant: sandwiches and comfort food entrees, nothing special or unusual. My experience is that the dinners are okay. One internet reviewer summed it up pretty well: “not fancy or super excellent but good enough.” My last dinner was a bit disappointing; there was way too much gravy with not enough flavor covering the chicken and the chicked had a weird cold center. It wasn’t uncooked, just cold, as if they hadn’t finished warming it up after I placed my order.
But you don’t go to the Dutch Pantry for the entrees (at least I don’t). You go for dessert. They have an amazing collection of desserts. Bread pudding, shoo-fly pie, rice pudding, and the star attraction in my eyes: the apple fritters. The fritters are hush puppies like balls of doughnut dough mixed with apple chips, deep fried to a crisp and topped with powdered sugar. Think county fair in bowl.
I know they are terrible for me, but they are so insanely good. The Dutch Pantry also has an apple fritter sundae that takes a few fritters and adds ice cream, caramel topping (or maybe butterscotch), whipped topping, and likely more powdered sugar. It would represent the monthly caloric intake for a family in some parts of the world. I’ve never been able to get my head around the concept, but if you are up for the challenge, go for it. Be warned, the fritters don’t keep so well, they need to be eaten hot. I made that mistake once.
In all, if you are looking for a trip back in time, you could do worse than the Dutch Pantry. I don’t think it’s worth a long detour, but that stretch of I-77 only has a small handful of family run restaurants from Ripley to Cambridge. Just save room for dessert.