Laura Dean Bennett
If you haven’t experienced Chef Andrew Dean’s cooking at his Dean’s Den location in Frost, let me just say – it’s high time you did.
But now you don’t need to travel up to the Hill Country to do so.
Dean has opened a second location right in downtown Marlinton, at the old Dorie’s Restaurant location on Second Avenue.
One thing you can definitely say about both Dean’s Den locations is that the food is never boring – each dish bursts with creativity – and the portions are very generous.
Okay, that’s really two things – but two things worth saying. An exciting, unusual menu and huge portions?
Oh, boy. Oh, boy.
“I like to experiment with exotic dishes,” Dean said.
“My wife, Isabella and I often try things at home and if and when I think it’s something that will go over with my customers, I might offer it as a special and see how it goes.
“I use as much fresh, local food as I can and am always looking to expand that aspect of the menu. I’ll be working in local ingredients more and more, especially with my specials.”
The restaurant serves Wilfong Farms’ beef and local vegetables, as available.
Care is given to the presentation of each dish, yet another indication that there’s a professional in the kitchen.
So far, one of the top sellers at the Marlinton location is the Open Faced Roast Beef entrée. I tried it, and I can only say that it was a feast, and I fell in love.
Although the shredded roast beef was served on toasted sourdough bread, it bore little resemblance to a sandwich. It was much more like a real roast beef dinner, complete with fresh green beans and real mashed potatoes “with the skins on.”
Another delicious entrée which I got to sample, thanks to the forbearance of one of my dinner partners, was the Braised Lamb Shank.
I could clearly taste the Cabernet flavoring the lamb. Its gravy paired beautifully with the meat, the roasted veggies and mashed red potatoes.
All cooked to perfection – not overdone, but not too al dente.
Never have I tasted a better shank of lamb – nor even a tastier carrot, for that matter.
The Chicken Marsala was a tour de force.
This dish is famous around the world. It features a gravy made with Marsala wine which brings with it a nutty, brown sugary aroma.
The tender chicken cutlet (not dried out in the least) was covered in cremini mushrooms and nestled on egg noodles.
This is comfort food at its finest!
The ever-popular Gen. Tso’s Chicken, a dish that is a frequent special on both the Frost and Marlinton menus, is a favorite among diners.
It was the special the night my friends and I dropped in for supper, and not surprisingly, was already sold out when we asked for it.
But our accommodating waiter went to the kitchen to ask the chef if there was enough left for just one more serving. And we were in luck.
This spicy dish can be ordered three ways – mild, medium or hot.
I like a little spice in my food, but not enough to burn off my taste buds.
I found that mild was too mild and hot was too hot, but in true Goldilocks fashion, the medium version was just right.
During my initial conversation with Dean, I asked why there were no burgers on his Marlinton menu.
“It may be that one day we’ll add burgers to the menu here, we’ll have to see,” Dean said.
Well, Dean’s Den fans, that day has come.
The new menu, just released this week, features all kinds of burgers – Smokehouse, Steakhouse, Bacon Cheeseburger, Mushroom Swiss, All American, Black and Blue, and for those who like to spice it up – a Jalapeno Burger.
While Dean is an artist in the kitchen, Isabella finds her creative outlet at the easel and potter’s wheel.
The restaurant is decorated with her paintings and pottery, and some are available for sale.
Dean’s education background would not have suggested that he had a future as a chef.
He graduated with an IT degree from Stratford University in Washington, D.C. and became a certified Microsoft systems engineer.
Disillusioned with working with computers, Dean did a stint of construction work until he finally found his calling.
“I guess my inspiration for being a chef came from my grandfather,” he said.
“He had a Greek restaurant in Northern Virginia – a rather famous place called The Lamplighter. I must have inherited his love of cooking.
“After college and while I was trying to fit into the computer world, I kept finding myself wanting too cook,” he recalled.
“Finally, I thought, ‘Why fight it? Just go cook.’”
Dean is always on the lookout for talented and experienced staff – front and back of house. He’s employed several graduates of Pocahontas County High School’s Pro Start class and he speaks highly of the program.
The chef is keeping the Frost location open- no worries, Frost customers.
And he’s also still doing some catering out of the Frost location and, in the future, will be doing some small, private event catering from the Marlinton restaurant.
“I enjoy being able to offer that service to customers, although it’s a bit of a stretch right now while we get things going here at the new location,” Dean explained.
Going back and forth between the two restaurants hasn’t been easy.
“We’re still working the kinks out,” Dean said.
As marvelous as the Dean’s Den dining experience is right now, something tells me that when the kinks get worked out, Dean will have brought to Marlinton an unusual restaurant experience that can’t be beat.