A taste of Appalachia: New restaurant thrives at 202 East Washington Street – Shepherdstown Chronicle

Alma Bea is open at 202 East Washington Street. Tabitha Johnston
SHEPHERDSTOWN — A new restaurant has moved into town at 202 East Washington Street. Alma Bea, owned by Mary Ellen Diaz, officially opened its doors at the beginning of December, serving a variety of Appalachian dishes to the public.
“We have been overwhelmed by the community’s response to our soft opening in December, and our holiday menus around Christmas and New Year’s,” Diaz said in an interview on Tuesday. “Due to the wonderful response to our Tapa-lachian menu, I think that we will continue with that style of dining. That menu, which is served tapas style, offers small plates of Appalachian-inspired flavors in small, tasting portions.”
According to Diaz, menus will change on a regular basis, to introduce seasonal foods and family recipes from Appalachia, some of which have been passed on to Alma Bea through a recipe suggestion box mounted by the restaurant’s front door.
“I have long been fascinated by the cuisines that result when the food traditions of people from different places mingle,” Diaz said. “Appalachian cuisine is also inspiring to me as a way to honor the hardworking people who came before us, who built a culture and community out of this mountainous region. Appalachian mountain cuisine is the story about the adventurous folks who came to this region to create lives for their families, bringing with them many food traditions from their families and homelands.”
Diaz, who trained in the culinary arts in the U.S. and France, has opened the restaurant, following an impressive career in the restaurant business.
Alma Bea’s Ram Burger features cheddar cheese, Tennessee bacon, fried quail eggs, fried pickle, mushroom-caramelized onion jam and BBQ sauce. Tabitha Johnston
“I have a long history in the restaurant business, primarily in Chicago, where I lived for many years,” Diaz said. “After being the executive chef at Printer’s Row in Chicago, I opened a restaurant there called North Pond Cafe. After my first child was born, I left that role to take a position with a restaurant group, Lettuce Entertain You, which involved developing menus and opening restaurants in Chicago and Las Vegas.
“After my second child was born, and I needed to stay more at home, I launched a social entrepreneurial business in Chicago, First Slice, which I still own,” Diaz said, noting that Alma Bea has already made a name for itself, selling Diaz’s acclaimed pies. “First Slice has three pie cafes and, from the cafe proceeds, has for a number of years provided over 600 meals a week to people in Chicago who are homeless or in need. First Slice pies have a great reputation in Chicago and beyond. Food & Wine Magazine selected our apple pie as one of the best in the country. As we develop our pastry capabilities here at Alma Bea, we will be offering more of the variety of pies sold at First Slice. We are also developing pies here based on local traditions. For example, a very popular pie is our Potato Candy Pie, based on the peanutty goodness of traditional potato candy from this area.”
Now that Diaz’s children are grown, and she has returned from living for several years in Geneva, Switzerland, Diaz decided she was ready to try her hand at opening a restaurant in her mother’s home state. Her appreciation for the impact her maternal family made on her life can be seen in the very name of her new establishment.
“A lot of thought went into the name. We wanted to use a woman’s name and follow the unique Southern tradition of having two first names. Alma means ‘to feed the soul,’ and the name Bea, or Beatrice, means ‘she who brings happiness.’ The name connects us to our mission, to make food and create an atmosphere to nourish souls and bring happiness. It also happens to give honor to my mother’s family. My grandparents, who were born in Charleston, West Virginia, were name Alban and Hilma, and honoring them warms my heart,” Diaz said, mentioning she spent vacations as a child in West Virginia, visiting and cooking with her maternal relatives.
Alma Bea offers in-house meals, which can be ordered for take-out. The restaurant also has an Appalachia At Home menu, which is frozen house-made soups and entrees to pick up, along with instructions for heating.
Alma Bea’s symbol is painted on the front of its building at 202 East Washington Street. Tabitha Johnston
It is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 5-8:30 p.m., and Sundays, from 1-6 p.m. #gallery-5 { margin: auto; } #gallery-5 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 33%; } #gallery-5 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-5 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

An Appalachian family recipe suggestion box is mounted by the front door of Alma Bea. Tabitha Johnston
A sign on Alma Bea’s front porch welcomes customers on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Despite unseasonably mild temperatures during the recent holiday season, the mercury has begun to …
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