Who’d have thunk it: a Venezuelan restaurant in Elkins, WV? But it’s true. And you should go there.
On a recent work-related excursion, I had the opportunity to stay overnight in Elkins. Since all I ever talk about is food, people routinely ask me for restaurant suggestions, and I immediately thought of El Gran Sabor. I have intended to check it out for a few years now but I never make it to Elkins when visiting in my hometown of Buckhannon just a short drive down Corridor H.
The restaurant is housed in a grand old home near the main drag, across from The Iron Horse. If you’ve been to Elkins, you’ve seen the iron horse statue. Restaurant seating is available in a couple rooms near the front of the first floor and outside on a patio. If you walk through the first floor to the back, you’ll find a nifty bar area with dual-level seating and a stage for the live musicians – and you’ll find live music every Wednesday and Friday.
The back story on this venture is interesting. Head Chef Derdlim Lopez came to Elkins a decade ago to stay with a cousin. She enjoyed the town and eventually met her husband, Rob Masten, who was playing in a local salsa band. He played music…she liked to dance. After they were married and had an opportunity for Rob to study music in Venezuela for a month. When they returned to Elkins, the light bulb came on and they opened El Gran Sabor. Derdlim handles all the cuisine since she studied cooking in Venezuela. Rob, a musician and music educator, handles the music aspect.
One of the folks I was with that night knew Rob – he was her student at Glenville State College. Therefore, I was fortunate to talk with him besides enjoying the food and listening to him play in the bar. That’s right – the live music during my visit was the owner himself and a friend.
Now on to the food.
But I need to tell you about the service. Our server was a friendly college student from Davis & Elkins. He put us at ease, told us about the food, made suggestions and was a pleasure to talk with. His shift was over part way through our meal but we were seamlessly shifted to another server who was just as friendly and professional.
Now I really will talk about the food.
I took a suggestion from our server and ordered one of the specials: a tequila shrimp dish with rice. It came with either soup or salad and figuring that salad is salad, I chose the chicken tortilla soup. Since I waited so long to eat here, I went ahead and ordered a chicken empanada to taste as well. My dining partner ordered what we were told is the most popular dish, the cachapa.
Think of a chicken enchilada without the red sauce. That’s the chicken tortilla soup. It was piping hot, contained lots of white-meat chicken and the pleasant aroma hit me as soon as it was placed on the table. There were also some potato chunks and onions in the soup.
I would describe the cachapa as a sweet corn pancake. It’s thicker and fluffier than a tortilla. It was filled to the max with shredded chicken – no fillers, all chicken. You could choose beef, cheese, or ham & cheese instead of chicken. It is served with rice, black beans and your choice of soup or salad for a very reasonable price (around $8-$9). Lucky for me, I was offered a taste of the cachapa and the black beans and it gave me instant food envy. Not that I didn’t like my entree, but I really, really liked hers!
Cachapas are a traditional Venezuelan dish. In that country, you can frequently find them at roadside stands. They are eaten any time of day and filled with ingredients such as queso de mano (a soft mozerella-like cheese), jam, or meat. Check out this quick cachapa recipe – it uses creamed corn and pancake mix.
My entree consisted of a plate full of mildly seasoned rice and a dozen medium-sized shrimp. There was a slight heat that built as I ate. It was way too much food for me to finish, especially since I was eating off everyone else’s plates and had an empanada still to go. So I did what any reasonable individual would do: ate all of the shrimp! My overall impression: properly cooked and mildly flavored. Mine was one of the most expensive choices at about $12 but given the portion size, quality of ingredients and side dishes, I felt it was worth the price tag.
Think of the empanada as a Venezuelan Hot Pocket. The outside is a crispy shell made of corn flour and it’s filled with your choice of protein for only a few dollars. I again chose chicken, not being a fan of beef or ham. They do not skimp on the protein here – the empanada was packed tightly with shredded chicken and nothing else. Of course I shared with the others…I was getting really full at this point.
El Gran Sabor is a unique dining opportunity that I highly recommend if you get the chance to drive anywhere near Elkins. And hopefully you’ll be able to relax in the bar after dinner and enjoy the music.
FOUR FORKS.El Gran Sabor across from the Iron Horse 413 Kerens Avenue Elkins, WV 26241 304-636-8200 Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 11-3 and 4:30 – 9 Friday 11-3 and 4:30-10 Sat Closed for lunch
Open 4:30-10:00 Sun & Mon CLOSED Lounge hours depend on event