With divine cuisine across the globe, right here in the Eastern Panhandle, there’s a multitude of spices and dishes to try. Food is a part of culture and shared across thousands of restaurants. Throughout the country, meals range from takeout through Uber Eats to $100 burgers in Las Vegas. A food palate is endless when it comes to flavors and your tastebuds. Gathering my own findings within the local Shepherdstown area and beyond, there are divine eats for all to enjoy. So as summer days turn into fall, try a new place or revisit a favorite.
Habanero Mexican Grill
Located In Martinsburg, Habanero Mexican Grill is a small place full of feisty heat but is ready to cool you down with a family environment full of fun and laughter. I had such great pleasure speaking with the owner Hutch (who did not disclose his last name). With the business running since 2008, the original owners were a couple who moved to West Virginia from California to start their empire. Since 2010, Hutch has taken ownership and has been serving Mexican style food ever since. The food ranges from six-inch tortillas to taco salads.
With a loyal customer base, things weren’t always easy on the Habanero Mexican Grill when COVID-19 struck. Hutch reported that he would only allow three people in line at a time while also cutting back his regular business hours. When it came to his food truck, destinations were seldom, and gatherings were not held. Now, the only issue he faces is employment being unstable as he wishes to hire more staff. For Habanero Mexican Grill’s future, Hutch imagines that one day the business will expand as he quotes, “You don’t want to be far enough to take the business away from here.”
As food became the main topic of discussion, the most popular dishes range from chicken and steak burritos to burrito bowls (filled with rice, beans, and any other sorted toppings). He says that for people who aren’t sure on what to order, they tend to go for quesadillas. For the burritos, they do come in two different sizes: small and regular. When it comes to the ratio of people that enter his establishment, it ranges from infant to elder due to the family-friendly atmosphere.
Putting Hutch’s words to the test, I ate a soft chicken taco with queso and chips. I must say for a small business the food uplifts with extremely large flavor full of spices and herbs. Dig in for a bite that will have you salsa dancing for joy.
Sweet Hut Café
Taking a twist on cultural food items can turn into a trend. With Twain street food on the rise, Sweet Hut Café has taken their menu by storm with delicious items such as bubble tea and rolled ice cream. Located in Martinsburg, WV, I had the pleasure to sit down and discuss Sweet Hut Café with Susan Chang. Once the business opened in January of 2020, it had to shut down for one month due to COVID-19. Chang, who is also part owner of Chopsticks (located in Martinsburg) wanted to expand on the business by stating, “People complained that the dessert menu was too small, so once we captured the idea of expanding our business. We wanted to incorporate the rolled ice cream and the poke bowls to give people something new.”
The location of Sweet Hut grew interest to her as she mentioned, “It was downtown in a city-like area, and I adored the back porch the restaurant has.” Her hope is to find local artists that are willing to paint the wall by the porch outside for people to view. As for the future, she wants to slowly expand her clientele and add more futuristic items to her menu slowly. Cheng quotes, “With having the largest bubble tea flavors within the area, we will try to familiarize our menu and bring something more popular to our menu. A lot of what’s on the menu is a creation made by our staff.” Due to the pandemic, another location will not be opening in the future, but she seeks to hire staff for the morning shifts.
For popular dishes on the menu, the Sweet Hut Poke bowl and different varieties of bubble tea are what’s trending. For the rolled ice cream, that is a seller during summertime. All bubble tea flavors can be turned into ice cream flavors as well. For the ratio of people who enter Sweet Hut Café, it is mainly younger people.
Trying the Taro Milk bubble tea with lychee popping pearls, I also had the chance to devour the philly cheesesteak eggrolls and the famous Sweet Hut sauce. Being very intrigued with the tea and eggrolls, my only hope was to find more room in my stomach for the rolled ice cream.
Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery
As we roam through Mexican spices and Taiwan treats, there’s a warm cup of history with a flaky crust of love at the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery. Founded in 1982, Howard Butcher found a love for European style breads due to living in Germany and being in the military. Shipping bread across the country and booming with recognition, Butcher soon passed away and the Shepherdstown building was bought in 1990 as a grocery store. As Pam Berry took ownership in 1997, clientele was on the rise as it transformed into a café style shop. Once Berry was struck with COVID-19, she lost her wholesale business, and many staff were nervous about working. To keep the business floating above water she said, “I stayed employed the whole time and I had two of my staff that helped me part time.” Along with curbside, she did maintain this routine for roughly eight weeks before transitioning back to her regular hours.
Futuristically, Berrry desires for mail orders to be back and running and the Sweet Shop Bakery may transform into a Soothing Style Restaurant one day. Popular desserts among the shop would be the raspberry almond cake among various cupcakes. When it comes to the ratio, Berry quotes, “Most of them have two legs and two eyes, but for the most part we get all kinds of people.”
Being delighted with the atmosphere of the owner and staff members, sampling their fall items was a must. Pulling away from the traditional coffee, I chose an iced chia latte with two pumps of hazelnut and one pump of pumpkin. For the teas, I grew a love for the blueberry lavender tea. With such grace, I was delighted to meet such outstanding people and I was grateful to find a home far away from my own.
Whether you’re in the mood for sweet or savory delights, you’re going to be in for a treat when it comes to finding delicious delights. West Virginia has so much to offer and when it comes to finding good eats, these restaurants only touch the surface for what else the eastern panhandle has to offer. Dig into one of the delectable eats listed above, I’m positive you’ll enjoy it.