by Derrick McKee
I was in town for a few days back in February 2013, when I noticed a post on my friend’s Facebook wall about a new boutique eatery that was going to open its doors across from the Wheeling Coffee Shop on Washington Avenue. The restaurant, appropriately titled Avenue Eats, would focus on “serving freshly made food using exceptional quality ingredients” in order to “satisfy the taste buds of a flavor-deprived community.”
Once I read that, I was determined to show the new restaurant some support and become its first customer. I walked in the door promptly at noon on opening day, only to find that my foodie-buddy, Larry, and his lovely wife, Valerie, apparently grabbed their lunch at the ridiculous hour of 11 a.m.! Drats.
Despite the minor setback, I forged ahead.
Salad? Yes. Gourmet burgers? Hmm. It’s a Friday. During Lent. Oh wait! Fish tacos! My favorite! Winner!
I chomped into my meal, savoring the hand-crafted dressing drizzled sparingly over the field of fresh greens plated in front of me. I bit into the perfectly grilled tilapia filets topped with cilantro-lime slaw, tomatoes, and fresh crema. I wiped my mouth, paid with a smile, and said “I’ll be back.” And yes, I took pictures of the food.
More importantly, I took pictures of the menu, and posted them to Facebook in order to try and get the word out. I sat content as various friends wrote, “Awesome! Can’t wait to try it!” and “YES! Looks unique and delicious!” But then I sat perplexed when someone wrote something along the lines of, “I just don’t see something like this flying in Wheeling. It’s too gourmet. It’s too trendy, fresh, and therefore expensive for people to appreciate. I wish them success, but I don’t think it will work.”
I scratched my head. I crinkled my nose and cringed. I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I dutifully put on my Mr. Wheeling hat and said, “YES IT WILL!”
As I sat along the newly installed window-bar recently at Avenue Eats, taking new pictures of the delicious items I ordered, I couldn’t help but smile and think back to that initial exchange. It’s been nearly 24 months since the doors opened on that cold February day, and just by looking around you can tell that the business is a success, if not already a Wheeling staple (packed house!).
It’s clear the owners took — and have maintained — a serve-it-delicious-and-they-will-come attitude, and built their business slowly, knowing that happy customers would continually return (while hopefully bringing friends with them).
As the menu has expanded into a full-page of drool-inducing salad, sandwich, and burger combinations that could go up against anything served by Iron Chef Michael Symon at his Cleveland-joint B-Spot, and appetizers I’ve never had before like fried risotto, and gourmet cupcakes that rival ones I devoured in downtown Chicago, and charcuterie & cheese plates to go along with their expanded wine and beer menu, the quality of the food and service has only gone up, not suffered.
The ambience of the place has excelled recently as well, as a dining room makeover recently took place, matching the quality of the interior to the quality of the food. The space inside was reconfigured to allow for additional seating, and when it’s warm out, their Washington Avenue-adjacent deck is lined with umbrella-covered tables and smiling customers.
I’m not sure who the owners or chefs of Avenue Eats are, and considering how packed their lunch crowd was even at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, I didn’t want to interrupt their workflow in order to ask around and find out, but when I meet them, I want to shake their hands and thank them for recognizing a need in the Wheeling marketplace and for taking the time to execute in a way that never sacrifices quality. They’ve truly brought something special to the Friendly City, and they deserve to be commended.
In that vein, and in closing, as brown gravy dripped off my poutine burger (poutine is a Canadian delicacy consisting of fresh cut fries, cheese curds, and gravy) and onto my fingers, I heard someone say that Avenue Eats was already named one of the best burger joints in the South. Considering they grind their own meat each morning, grill your burger exactly to spec, and have an option for the wildest and mildest of taste buds alike, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them on a “best burger in America” list sometime soon.
Grill on, Avenue Eats. Grill on. And thank you for proving that anything can and will fly in Wheeling, so long as you start with your focus on the product, while keeping the customer at heart.
photos by Derrick McKee