People who hike the Appalachian Trail don't agree on much. They're free spirits who share the mantra "Hike Your Own Hike" but not much else, apart from their love of the outdoors and the Trail itself.
There is, however, one truth that all thru-hikers seem to hold dear: "Eat at The Homeplace Restaurant in Catawba, Virginia! It's the best meal on the Trail."
Up until the day I visited The Homeplace, I thought its legendary fame was exaggerated by hikers so hungry they'd be happy to eat anything, if it were deep-fried, doused in hot sauce and/or ketchup, piping hot and made by someone else.
I learned two things when I arrived: 1) The Homeplace is fabulous; and, 2) The Homeplace has one solitary flaw: They're only open Thursday thru Sunday for dinner. Five dining rooms seat about 150 hungry folks at a time, with a steady stream of patrons patiently waiting their turn.
Oh, the woe of hikers who must pass this magnificent farmhouse on the "wrong" day or too early in the day.
Imagine trekking 1,400+ miles from Mount Katahdin in Maine or 700+ miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia ... only to be shut out from The Best Meal on the Appalachian Trail.
Alas, this is why there are zero days: to wait for The Homeplace to reopen.
Built by the family of John Morgan in 1907 on a 600-acre farm, the gloriously restored farmhouse was purchased in 1981 by Harold C. Wingate, along with 150 of the original acres of land and the farm's dairy barn.
On September 17, 1982, The Homeplace restaurant was opened to the public, with Harold Wingate and his son, Kevin, at the helm. The lady who served me, Joan Anderson, has worked at The Homeplace for 29-years. She seemed to genuinely enjoy her guests and her work.
Today, there is almost always a brief wait for a table. That allows folks time to meet on the front porch, gaze from the gazebo at the private pond, or stroll the grounds with the scenic hills that beckon flatlanders to hike the AT.
The Homeplace is hiker friendly, but they even allow gentlemen in tuxedoes to take their classy ladies for dinner and photographs.
Editor's Note: The Homeplace Restaurant is hiker friendly. That does not mean stinky hikers would not be MORE welcome if they hosed themselves down before dinner. Thank you.
The meals are served in rooms with attractive artifacts but are far different from cookie-cutter road houses with farm implements nailed to the walls. The Homeplace is homey and refined but it's more like going to your rich uncle's farm than to a restaurant.
Three meats -- fried chicken, country ham & roast beef (with BBQ on Thursdays) -- are served with green beans, delicious cole slaw, pinto beans, buttermilk biscuits, mashed potatoes, soft drinks and fruit cobbler.
All you can eat buffets can be monuments to gluttony. At The Homeplace dinner is served home-style. If you would like additional portions, they are free with the price of the meal, but don't be surprised if you cannot down all you get with your first helping.
Three meats, a drink and dessert cost less than $20, plus the generous tip you will want to share with your server.
You might arrive in a private limo or on foot. You might be a foodie or a scruffy nerf-herding thru-hiker. Either way, I cannot imagine that you would not appreciate the quality of the food, the delightful surroundings, the abundance of food or the happy faces of the others who are fortunate enough to dine with you.
While you're there, say hello to a thru-hiker. They probably won't be hard to find. Please resist the temptation to sprinkle them with water. They won't be offended if you keep your distance, but they're harmless adventurers. Only a few are truly able to use Jedi Mind Tricks to lure you onto the Appalachian Trail to thru-hike with them ... but be careful of the ones who look you in the eye and quietly say, "You want to carry my backpack! You want to carry my backpack!"
Before you head for wherever after your meal, take a look around. Set a spell on the rocking chairs. Say hello to a stranger.
That's a big part of the experience of The Homeplace in Catawba, VA. The best restaurant on the Appalachian Trail.
Tags: Appalachian Trail, Hiking, News, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer