By PAM KASEY ∙ firstname.lastname@example.org
PARSONS — Surrounded by the Monongahela National Forest, Parsons might seem an unlikely place to go for seafood.
It is, after all, the seat of Tucker County, high in the Potomac Highlands. Twenty miles north of Elkins, 60 miles west of Moorefield and an hour from the nearest interstate, it's about as landlocked as it gets.
But people drive from several counties away for the oysters, shrimp and crab legs served up at the Parsons Country Inn.
Restaurant owner Ken Bott was born in Parsons, and he is the kind of returned West Virginian who gained a skill and a passion and brought it all back home with him.
"I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, but this is my home town," said Bott, who returned four years ago. "I came back here to get away for a while and enjoy the simple life."
Having worked all his life in the restaurant business, he bought the former Tucker County Inn to bring fresh seafood home — which, of course, is not all that simple.
"My oysters are never frozen," he said, when asked about the seafood he has trucked in weekly. "And they're always Chesapeake Bay oysters, not those big flavorless ones from the West Coast. Soft shell crabs come live. Scallops are fresh. The only thing I buy frozen is shrimp and sometimes fish."
Everything fried is breaded by hand, and not battered, but dusted, he said. "We just put a light film over it so you're not taking away from the flavor."
Most popular are the fried oysters and breaded shrimp.
"We also sell a lot of steaks, and we hand cut all of our steaks," he said. "We don't buy frozen meats. We do New York and ribeye steaks and they're char-grilled. You can't get the grease out of a steak if you flat grill it."
Parsons Country Grill offers an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet on the first and third Saturday of each month as well as a brunch buffet every Sunday that's especially popular for its fried chicken.
"On a buffet day we run anywhere from 250 to 350 people in one day," Bott said.
He employs about six locals and likes to hire people who have had hard luck. "Those people need to work too," he said.
They're the funnest part of his job.
"We have a blast," he said. "When it gets busy, everybody just kind of gets tough with it. We're a good team here. My employees that are faithful with me, they're here on time; they go over and above. And my mom, she's 75 years old; she can out-waitress any waitress I got. She's a highlight here."
Serving affordable food that's cooked just right is Bott's passion.
"I shop for quality at a lesser price. I have to really fight to keep prices where they're at," he said. "And if there's a mistake in the cooking, we fix it before it goes out of the kitchen. I don't get complaints here. At all."
With its growing popularity, it's only a matter of time before the restaurant outgrows its space. Bott said repeat customers from Clarksburg and farther are courting him with ideas for a second place.
Parsons Country Inn is located on West Virginia Route 72 just north of Parsons. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. For more information, call 304-478-2100.