As I ate breakfast with my husband in Niko’s Grille, Lexington, Virginia, it dawned on me how much I enjoy our pre-hike ritual. The sections of the AT that we’ve not yet hiked are a minimum 4 hour drive from home, therefore on Friday nights we drive to the town closest to our hiking start point. After checking into a dog-friendly hotel, we scope out a restaurant for the morning, and then settle in for a good night’s sleep.
I am not sure when we started this breakfast habit, but I do know that I enjoy it immensely. I order practically the same breakfast at every restaurant: veggie omelet, no cheese, no toast, side of potatoes, side of fruit and black coffee. Brian often indulges in the restaurant special and orange juice. As we wait for our food, we sip our drinks and listen to the hustle and bustle sounds of the servers and patrons. The smell of the food triggers a feeling of comfort, camaraderie and a desire to learn more about the people in the restaurant. We hear snippets of conversations that help us imagine what goes on in the town. In Niko’s, there were college professors chattering about college “stuff”, reunited alumni talking excitedly about their careers and families, and high school students meeting with recruiters from the military college.
Over the past 2 years, we’ve heard wonderful stories from the waitresses, restaurant owners and other patrons. In Virginia, our server, a young mother, shared a story of her misadventure while trying to help her father-in-law prepare for the deer hunting season. She had us laughing as she told of how he convinced her to help carry salt blocks up into the mountains while her husband stayed at home with the puppies and their daughter. She was animated and I could picture this young gal lugging a 50 pound pack on her back while sweating and swatting flies. Her southern drawl was endearing and I found myself wanting more coffee so that I could learn more about her adventures on the family farm at the bottom of the mountain.
While eating in a diner in Georgia, a man with suspenders pulled up a chair and starting chatting with us. He asked why we were in town and the conversation flowed easily from there. He spoke with pride about his son who was attending a nearby college. He said that the restaurant where we sat used to belong to his wife’s family a long time ago. When the building went up for sale the previous year, they bought it so that his wife could live her dream of bringing it back into the family. His eyes sparkled as he shared their hopes and aspirations.
In some restaurants, everyone knows everyone else. People chatter across the aisles about “Sadie’s grand-baby”, “Junior’s emergency appendectomy” and who is running for City Council. In a diner in New Jersey, the seats at the counter were filled with young women wearing pink and brown camouflage. I asked Brian what he thought that meant. He just nodded his head in the direction of the stack of shotguns propped along the bar. It was hunting season.
I love our breakfast ritual. Eating in various towns gives us a little glimpse of what it might be like to live there. Finding the “perfect” pre-hike restaurant has become part of our hiking adventure.
Here are some of our favorites:
Wynn’s Restaurant, Front Royal, Virginia
Wynn’s is a narrow diner in the middle of downtown Front Royal. It is clearly a local favorite, as each time we ate there, we had to wait for a table to open up. The menu is simple and the food is served on ceramic plates. The biscuits and toast are served on paper plates. I asked why that is the case. “Don’t know. It’s just the way we always do it”, was our waitress’s reply. The food was good, the coffee strong, and the conversations surrounding us made me smile.
Georgia Mountain Restaurant, Hiawassee, Georgia
We loved this place! As a matter of fact, we ate there 3 times during our 8 days in the area: day 1, midweek as our daughter left the AT, and after we completed our week of hiking. The food was wonderful; both Brian and Morgan claim that these were the best biscuits that they’ve ever had! The owner and his wife were kind and I enjoyed the contemporary Christian music that played over the speakers.
Elias Cole, Wantage, New Jersey
We ate quite early in the morning and therefore we had the great enjoyment of smelling fresh bread in the oven and pies on the pie shelves surrounding the small room where our table was located. Brian enjoyed a freshly made sticky bun and fresh bread french toast. If there had been a way to pack a pie into our back packs, we would have snagged a lemon meringue in a heartbeat! The restaurant is cash only and when we drove into the area the night before, there was not an open parking space.