GAINES – License plates from scores of states line the walls of the Gaines Diner.
If you ask the establishment’s longtime owner, Janice Chidester, she’ll tell you most of them are authentic souvenirs restaurant patrons gifted to her from their home states over the years.
“A few of them are just for decoration,” Chidester says, as she wipes her hands on her apron and slides into a dining room chair for a brief moment of respite, “but most of them are ones people have brought me over the years from where they live.”
The Alaska license plate stands out, representing the farthest state from which people have traveled to reach Chidester’s cozy, picturesque diner, tucked inconspicuously into the southwestern corner of Upshur County in north-central West Virginia.
The Gaines Diner, which Chidester has owned and operated for more than a decade, isn’t just a convenient place to grab a home-cooked meal on the way to somewhere else. It’s a frequent destination for people not only from around the region, but also from other states who’ve heard of the remote diner by word-of-mouth.
“My customers come from just about everywhere,” Chidester says. “It’s a nice drive, and I have a couple of customers from Flatwoods who drive up three days a week just to eat. People want to know how to get here when they get to the area.”
They come for Chidester’s famous brown beans and cornbread – “it’s their utmost favorite,” she says – and they come for a few other favored meals, including meatloaf and spaghetti-and-meatballs. But, perhaps, the strongest draws are the charming diner’s quaint, unassuming atmosphere; its all-day breakfast menu; and Chidester’s mouth-watering, made-from-scratch pies.
Although different desserts are featured daily, they include a variety of the freshest and fruitiest pies around – peach, apple, cherry and more – and a whipped, Oreo pie that is as smooth as silk.
“For as many ingredients as possible, we try to keep them local and fresh,” Chidester said. “In the summertime, we try to buy all of our produce and so forth from local farmers who have greenhouses and high tunnels.”
In addition to Chidester’s daily specials, her menu caters to breakfast lovers who can order up eggs, meat and all the fixins’ all day long. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches and onion rings are similarly popular staples.
Although the diner doesn’t officially open until 8 a.m., most days, Chidester will find a line of people waiting for her on the porch when she arrives at 6:30 a.m. The customers don’t mind waiting. They chitchat with one another or grab a seat on the porch in warmer months. For every season, Gaines Diner offers something to look forward to: In the spring, it’s their very own ramp dinner, and in the summer, it’s the scenic drive out to the diner, which draws patrons from all parts.
“In the summertime, people love coming on side-by-sides, motorcycles or four-wheelers,” Chidester said. “We also have a lot of people in the Selbyville area, Holly Grove and Holly River State Park come over.”
“You meet a lot of nice people,” she said, with a laugh. “It’s certainly interesting.”
In addition to license plates, photos from past car shows also dot the walls of the intimate diner, and those were snapped during the annual fall car show. On the third week of August, Chidester and her single employee set up a buffet outside, hire a DJ, and let the good times roll. Chidester hosts hunters in the fall, and out-of-state groups upon request.
“I have a group from Arizona, and they’ll call and say, ‘There are going to be about 12 of us … can we have prime rib and baked potatoes?’ We’ll make whatever they want, whatever that may be.”
The Gaines Diner had to close down briefly due to the pandemic but is now open Thursday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Chidester has also added a few grab-and-go items to her menu for customers’ convenience, like steak salads, chicken salads and taco salads. For directions – the scenic drive out to the Gaines Diner is half the fun – click here.
But the Gaines Diner isn’t the only place in Upshur County to satisfy your craving for downhome cooking and find a cure for cabin fever.
We also recommend:
Country Time Cookin’, 1024 Old Elkins Road (also Route 151) past the Woody’s Bowling Alley, Buckhannon, W.Va.
Open from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, Country Time Cookin’, has a convenient walk-up window for takeout and also offers delivery. Weekly and daily specials are posted on Facebook, and the menu runs the gamut from traditional Italian lasagna and lemon-baked tilapia to fried fish sandwiches and beer can chicken. Country Time Cookin’ also stirs up a new soup of the week every Monday and delicious homemade breads and desserts that bakers pull straight out of the oven. Don’t leave without grabbing their signature pepperoni rolls, especially if this is your first visit to West Virginia.
Check out their Facebook page here for call 304-472-0068.
Kay’s Diner, located on Route 20 South, conveniently located about a quarter-mile from the popular West Virginia Wildlife Center in French Creek, W.Va.
Open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, this family-style restaurant serves up breakfast and lunch specials daily; call 304-924-5030 or find them on Facebook.
Kathy’s Diner, located along Route 33 West off Weatherford Blvd.
Open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, owner Kathy Stinson has never paid for advertising; like the Gaines Diner, word of mouth attracts most of her customers to small truck stop diner that prides itself on its home-cooked meals. Much-loved entrees include baked steak, cabbage lasagna and baked spaghetti. Oh, and their hamburgers come highly recommended and are always fresh, never frozen.
Call 304-472-6115 or check out their Facebook page to stay up-to-date on daily specials.
Linda’s Kitchen, located inside The Moose Lodge at 25 N. Kanawha St., Buckhannon, W.Va.
Open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, you can grab breakfast all day or opt for one of their daily features, including stuffed green peppers, battered fish, Swedish meatballs and ribeye steak on special occasions.
Zick’s Restaurant, 207 Zick’s Road, Buckhannon, W.Va.
Open for dine-in and carryout from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Don’t miss the Saturday special; baked steak, mashed potatoes and green beans are a frequently served customer favorite.
Call 304-472-3135 or find them on Facebook.