Open Letter to Chef Richard Arbaugh

Dear Chef Arbaugh,


Events of this week have inspired me, nay compelled me to write this letter. While I do want to share the affect these events have had upon me and diners across our fair city, I must begin by describing the first time we met.

My first introduction to you , Chef Arbaugh, was not a handshake, an internet communication, an informative yet one-dimensional article in the Daily Mail. No, the first time I met you, you spoke to me through a sandwich.

When Daniel suggested we try a new place in South Hills I immediately requested to review the menu. No one likes to buy a pig in a poke. I am sure you understand that it wasn’t you, merely irrational fear of the unknown. The menu seemed limited. Nothing spoke to me. I was apprehensive and could feel my systems tensing, my face draw taught. I was resigned to yet another lunch which provided no personal satisfaction for me, only a public service to other diners provided through our compelling reviews.

The décor of your restaurant immediately brightened my spirits. The bold combination of teal and red-orange not only looked great with my hair but evoked a cheerfulness that not even the bottled sodas could quash. 

For reasons I may never fully understand, I found myself saying “ham and brie, no mustard”. I never order ham sandwiches.  Yet I always choke them down dry so that part of my order did not shock anyone at our table.  When the warm melted brie… the salty ham… the buttery toasted bread first crossed the threshold of my lips, I realized I need only one menu selection when I thought a dozen was slim pickin’s. I need only one perfect sandwich to make me the happiest girl on Bridge Road.  Your ham and brie sandwich, Chef, was that sandwich.

Allow me to present to you the results of my study on sandwiches using the Joyometer. 


As you can see, Chef, your ham and brie sandwich far exceeds other local sandwiches in the amount of Joy Units it provides to me, the consumer.  The control sandwich, a homemade turkey, provolone, lettuce, green pepper, Italian dressing sandwich on toasted French bread is itself quite a satisfying mouthful.  But it only scratches the surface of the happiness a sublimely simple sandwich like your ham and brie delivers. 

So simple.  Three ingredients.

Not only have I dreamt of this sandwich, I have attempted to recreate it in my home kitchen.  Unfortunately that attempt was gravely disappointing and fell far short of the mark.  While the low-carb bread I used may have played some small part in that failure, even the brie did not melt the way your brie melts, Chef.  As Carla, Cheftestant on Top Chef, would say: you put the love in it.

The second time we met, it was for dinner.  One of the finest dinners I have experienced in the greater Kanawha Valley area.  White linen tablecloths, low lighting (which is very flattering, especially when you start to reach a certain age, not that I am approaching such an age), stark white plates.  The service provided by your staff was impeccable. 


The food! Everything I tasted was delicious and I tasted everyone’s dishes. I can’t even name a favorite item.  The lamb was succulent and tender. The beef was flavorful. The tuna tartare melted in my mouth.  Dozens of paper-thin slices of potatoes combined with creamy cheese to form a heavenly gratin. Even the complimentary heirloom tomatoes with homemade ricotta cheese made my tastebuds sing.

Dessert, although delicious and decadent, could not provide the culmination a meal such as this deserves like a personal visit from you, Chef Arbaugh.  When you came out from your magic-making kitchen to speak to us, your infectious enthusiasm, your obvious love of your craft, shone on your face. 

I often close my eyes and imagine the details of that evening, reliving it in my mind. Hearing the crack of the caramelized sugar as I gently thrust my spoon toward the delicately flavored Crème Brulee center…

Now to the events of this week. You wrote to us!  It’s like being in the Rick Springfield fan club and receiving a personal note from Rick himself.  Not one of those signed 8 x 10 glossies that you know were reproduced with the signature already on it.  An honest-to-goodness, person-to-blog communication.

In this email you sent us, you revealed that you have read our reviews of your restaurant. But you didn’t just read them, did you Chef? No sir. You took our comments to heart.  When Misty and I read your words we were filled with delight. We felt so special that someone like you would value our opinions and act upon them.

In a move that can only be described as “genius”, you, Chef Richard Arbaugh, have single-handedly solved the pesky pickle problem that has plagued lunch plates for decades.  Instead of serving a pickle to every patron, you have decided to designate the pickle a “by request only” addition.  This is brilliant on several levels:

south hills market ham and brie

south hills market ham and brie

  • First, those who are offended by it, will no longer receive a sandwich tinged with pickly pickle juice.  I was working on the development of a special plate with a pickle compartment, much like a school lunch tray but more Martha-ish, to solve this problem.  Your solution is much simpler and more cost-effective.
  • Never again will customers feel the pang of regret in the pits of their stomach when they realize they forgot to say “hold the pickle”.  Pangs of regret mixed with hunger pangs in the same stomach is quite uncomfortable indeed.
  • No more will pickles be wasted.  Their short lives beginning with a hopeful journey to the dining table only to end by being scraped into the garbage.  Never fulfilling their destinies of being eaten and enjoyed by an accountant on lunch hour. Besides, it’s such a shame to waste food when there are starving children across the globe.  At least that’s what my mother always said.  Did your mother say the same to you, Chef?  I thought so.

I want to emphasize to you that your actions did not go unnoticed by me.  After my latest visit to your establishment (for the ham and brie, of course!), I posted a comment to our original review where I announced to the world that the pickle was thankfully absent from my plate. At the time, I thought it was just a happy accident, a joyful twist of fate.  But I now know that it was you, Chef, that made my lunch even better than I ever thought it could be.

What innovation will you next pioneer? I wait with baited breath. But whenever whatever happens, Chef, I want to be there to celebrate it.

Thank you for feeding not only our bellies, but our souls.  Thank you for the comfy chairs in the dining room. Thank you for reading our blog and not once alleging that I use illegal drugs.  Thank you for listening.  We will meet again soon.

Sincerely yours,

Fork You Contributor


P.S. I know what you are thinking. Well, there are two things.  First: Wow! What a fantastic letter! Not only the content, but the alliteration, the use of a wide array of adjectives, evidence that I know how to google for the thesaurus.  Your second thought: this chick sounds like stalker material.  I want to allay your fears.  There is absolutely no reason to have a restraining order at-the-ready.

25 responses to “Open Letter to Chef Richard Arbaugh

  1. You know, Susan, we hear an awful lot about food porn. I think what you’ve created here is food erotica.

    well played.

  2. Your sandwich graph does not include The Dinsmore, therefore I cannot take your sandwich graph seriously.

  3. The Dinsmore, I believe, is available at The Blossom Deli. Am I correct, Chris?

    Let’s just asssume that I am correct. We have not reviewed Blossom Deli (the lunch experience) so I did not include that sandwich. I have not eaten there in a long time. We tried once a couple months ago but they were PACKED. Line out the door.

    I included Penn Station even though I haven’t reviewed that joint because I kinda have reviewed it in my own mind – I’m just not supposed to post an official review. It’s one of those….shhhhh….chains.

    But other than that, did you like the graph? Colors? Format?

  4. Euwwwwwwwwww.
    Man I hate (I don’t hate much) chef worship. . . especially at a place as unspectacular as SHM.

  5. demosthenes.or.locke

    Sag, I’m curious as to where you think is better, particularly for lunch, in the greater Charleston area. SHM is a hell of a lot better than the Bridge Road Shoneys down the road.

  6. I seriously doubt Susan would try a Dinsmore, what with the coleslaw and Russian dressing.

    Am I right?

  7. Blair- I would have to order the Dinsmore without the slaw. Icky mayo.

  8. dl, I haven’t been in a Shoneys in years. I had no idea there was one on Bridge Road. To say SHM is better than Shoney’s is damning with faint praise. Frankly, to say it’s better than any sandwich joint in CRW is doing the same.
    While I’m sure I could mention any number of places that I find more desirable than SHM for lunch, I’m sure you would find my choice appalling and below your standards.

  9. demosthenes.or.locke

    I was making a reference to the bridge road bistro, the roof of which closely resembles a shoney’s. If SHM is unspectacular, where is spectacular in Charleston?

    Just curious in case you know of some great spots I haven’t been to.

  10. I hope Hillbilly isn’t seriously wondering if a Shoney’s exists on Bridge Road. Ron thinks the BRB looks more like a submarine than a Shoney’s, but I knew immediately what Demo was referring to.

    And it’s not chef-worship exactly- I am merely showing my appreciation for the man 86-ing the pickle on my lunch plate. I have been bitching about pickle juice for almost a year and someone finally acted upon it.

  11. It’s pretty unconvincing to say that you know of lots of better places, but refuse to name them because you’re sure people would disagree. You’ve pretty much argued yourself into irrelevance.

  12. I’ve ordered my share of sandwiches, but I can’t get too excited over them because they’re something anyone can make at home quickly with little skill involved.

    With perhaps the exception of certain types of bread and “secret sauces” there is really nothing about a restaurant sandwich that can’t be accomplished at home with little trouble and with the added advantage of being cheaper and having it precisely “custom tailored.”

    I buy restaurant sandwiches basically for convenience’s sake. for a restaurant to impress me it needs to do something more than stack stuff in a way I like.

  13. Wow. Folks around here sure know how to make quantum leaps in logic. I simply said I have other places in Charleston “more desirable” to lunch at than SHM which I find “unspectacular,” over priced and boring. . . I’m not one for “fad” food.
    I would rather eat a nice ham and cheese on rye with a big pile of good quality product with good fresh lettuce and tomato than some groovy over priced scantily adorned panini.

  14. demosthenes.or.locke

    “I have other places in Charleston “more desirable” to lunch at than SHM”

    Like where? How do you expect anyone to take you seriously when you refuse to name your secret lunch spot?

  15. I think Phil has implied that I am an idiot since I was unable to recreate the ham & brie sandwich at home. He said “they’re something anyone can make at home quickly with little skill involved”.

    They must get some special kind of cheese, because the brie I used was not at all the same. And then there was that matter about the low-carb bread – but I swear, none of the three components tasted like the SHM version.

    Either I am completely inept in the kitchen, or I have found an exception to Phil’s assertion. Maybe Phil would like to make me a sandwich and prove it???

  16. demosthenes.or.locke

    Well, I go out to eat either when I don’t have time to go home and cook or when I don’t feel like cooking or I want to be waited on. So for me, its totally irrelevant that I might be able to recreate the sandwich at home, but to each his own.

  17. I love the ham and Brie. I love the Dinsmore.

    The ham and Brie is better.

  18. Please, everyone–try SHM for yourself. You judge. It is worth the time and the trip. For my money, it is as good a dinner as exists in Charleston right now. My kudos to the chef. Bravo!

  19. For a good lunch, I really wish we had …


    the six I had over the weekend in Columbus were just heavenly.

  20. Enough of this bantering! Take it from one who has traveled extensively, lives in another city, has taught food service, and has eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world and almost all of the ones in Charleston, WV. The South Hills Market and Cafe offers superb food , not matter what time of day you may dine there!

  21. Mrs. CE-
    Can you name some of your other favorites in the Charleston area? Other WV locations?

  22. First, please get the name straight. –and please allow me to apologize for not geeting right back to you.
    On the many occasions that I have visited your fair city over the years, in addition to South Hills Market and Cafe, I have eaten at Laury’s, the Tidewater Grill, the main dining room at the old Daniel Boone Hotel, Delish (the old one), Fifth Quarter, Fazio’s, Bridge Road Bistro, Leonardo’s Spaghetti House, the Tarragon , Charleston Blossom Dairy, and the excellent dining rooms in a couple of country clubs there.
    I cannot begin to tell you all of the restaurants in WV, but let me name a few: All of the dining rooms at the Greenbrier until the renovation, the dining room at the General Lewis Inn, The Tavern 1785 , Food and Friends, Blackwell’s at the Elks Country Club, and the Stardust Cafe in Lewisburg;Lakeview Country Club , The Boston Beanery, Oliverio’s, and several other popular eating places in Morgantown; Twin Oaks in Bridgeport, Minard’s in Clarksburg, Muriale’s in Fairmont,the grill and dining room at Oglebay State Park, Oak Supper Club at Pipestem, the dinging room at Glade Springs Resort (under several different names)and The Char in Beckley just to name a few. Some of these restaurants are new and some no longer exist, but we both know that knowlege of food and preparation techniques increases with each experience.

  23. Mrs. CEO –

    Scroll up. Please note that you spelled your own name wrong. I thought the parenthesis after “CE” seemed odd. Now I know you really meant type an “O”.

  24. Thank you, Susan. Though the fingers are not as nimble as they once were, the mind and the taste buds are still quite agile While I have the opportunity, I want to applaud your “Open Letter to Chef Richard”!

  25. Pingback: A Fabulous Meal on the Hill « Fork You…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s