I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m a foodie.
I absolutely love going out to dinner with my wife to try something I’ve never heard of before (like gorgonzola-stuffed, bacon-wrapped figs) at a new or unusual joint; or to circle back to one of my all-time favorites for some simple Friday night comfort food (Elm Grove DiCarlo’s pizza, extra cheese + green olives and Pace Picante).
I wasn’t always a foodie (confession: I once ordered a soap-tasting Bourbon Street Steak at an Applebee’s, much to the disgust of my more renowned friends). I became a foodie while living in the foodie paradise of Northeast Ohio (I’m serious about that).
Naturally, I was a little concerned about how our move home to Wheeling would impact one of my favorite pastimes: eating. I mean, Wheeling’s a great place and all, but I was moving away from Cleveland, the home of the top Iron Chef, Michael Symon!
Little did I know that while I was away, Wheeling had quietly developed a small little food scene all its own and, from what I can tell, the pioneer of the odd and unusual chow-house in Wheeling is Later Alligator, an inspiring spot in Centre Wheeling that specializes in one hell of an atmosphere, and savory dinner crepes.
Years ago, I remember hearing about Later Alligator, but that’s as far as it went. I never looked into it, or tried it, or even knew where it was. Apparently, that was the trend around here (“I don’t wanna try NUTHIN’ new!”), because Later Alligator almost went out of business. Fortunately, a small group of passionate fans mounted one hell of a social-media campaign encouraging local residents to stop in and try Later ‘Gator, just once! Those fans knew the area would be much more receptive to a call to action to support a local community member in trouble, rather than a call to try a savory crepe, because A) that’s what we do around here – we rally around our own, and B) “How do you say that? Creep? Creppey?”
Long-story short, enough people rallied to try the delicious variety of creative food offered by Later ‘Gator (they don’t just do crepes) that the restaurant experienced a massive revival, and now seems to be challenging the reigning king, Ye Olde Alpha, for best sit-down dinners.
To give further credit, many people say Later ‘Gator has lead a sort of “Centre Market revival”, as the small district within walking distance of downtown is quickly becoming THE spot in town to open a shop, club, or restaurant.
Anyways, the point of all this encouraging back-story is that after learning about it, Morgan and I had to make sure our first dinner out in Wheeling took place at Later Alligator. And I have to say: we were not let down.
When you walk in, the very first thing you notice is the delicious smells coming from the open kitchen about halfway down the shop. But the second thing you immediately notice what really makes this place special: the décor and atmosphere. Right away, the restaurant screams, “This place is truly a labor of love!” (Side note: you KNOW you’re going to be served great food when a place looks like this one does).
‘Gator’s owner, Susan, has meticulously pieced the place together with restored artifacts from Wheeling’s past, most notably the ancient Wheeling Stamping or Wheeling Steel pieces hanging all over (rumor has it she rummaged through old factories and even dumpsters to find and restore unique pieces). The best way I can describe ‘Gator is this: the entire place looks like it could sell anything and everything and double as an antique store at any given time. And I mean that in a really, really good way.
The food… ah, the food. I ordered “The Wallie”, a crepe stuffed with chicken, spinach, ricotta, grilled tomatoes, cheddar, topped with raspberry preserves and roasted walnuts. I’m a pretty creative guy, but I never would have come up with that combo! It. Was. Amazing. Morgan ordered the Pest-O-Change-O, which was kind of like a chicken caprese salad in crepe form. I stole several bites of hers. Also great!
Between a completely filling dinner, beer (great selection, by the way), and tip, we spent about $30. How can you beat that?!
As we were leaving we realized the place has more tables out back in a really cool courtyard surrounded by a wall of ivy. I would love to see that place double as an after-work or evening beer-garden in the future!
In closing, our first meal out around here was as unique and tasty as anything we’ve had elsewhere. While we seated, we made a list of all the locally owned restaurants that have popped up in Wheeling recently, and we realized we have plenty to choose from each Friday. As of now, we have a 9-week Friday-night circuit lined up, and that only includes the ones we know about! I plan on writing about them all, but until then, frequent Later ‘Gator, because as their tagline says, “Eat, or we both starve!”