The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

June 22, 2014

3-0-4 W-O-W

What has happened to the old Boggs’ Bait Shop building and the former home of Ray and Elfa Boggs at the foot of Raleigh Hill in Beaver is more transfiguration than transformation. 304 ChopHouse owners J.P. Hunter and Anita Hunter are a pair of discriminating do-it-yourselfers — and they’ve proved from rave reviews about their new restaurant to be more than just what meets the eye. The food arriving from the immaculate kitchen bearing the titular 3-0-4 area code is as surprising an experience as the interior and exterior overhaul.

“When we got this building, it was a hot mess,” admits Anita, a former chief nursing officer for a large med-surg group in Austin, Texas. Diners can rest assured her Italian cuisine sensibility (her maiden name is Ciotola) and her exacting standards for hygiene and cleanliness unite to deliver pristine, uncomplicated, plated perfection. Eager diners have the bar set high upon entry— literally — with a centerpiece of a granite bar embellished with a bowl of fresh citrus still in its skin, waiting to be crushed into a fine mixed drink. No fruit will go unpeeled and no nozzles are allowed as far as beverages go. Anita believes nozzles are breeding grounds for bacteria and that fresher always tastes better. Here, bartender Annie Enright prepares drinks to order — poured into chilled glasses and dressed by juices that are always just squeezed.

Executive Chef Anita, along with Sous Chef David Lilly, takes no shortcuts to preparation — spending her Mondays and Tuesdays making everything from fresh jams and pastas to the bread & butter pickles used to top her grilled ground chuck sliders.

Husband and business partner J.P. is a 1960 Woodrow Wilson High School grad who went away to school and to the military, ultimately landing in California in the contract food management business, what he defines as “anything having to do with feeding masses of people well and on a daily basis.”

He and Anita met in 1976, and he knew there was something about her when later in their relationship, he bought her for Christmas an elegant bracelet and a serious set of Chicago cutlery knives. “She hardly looked at the bracelet but said ‘Oh my God, look at these knives!’” The pair married and lived in Palm Springs, then moved to Austin, Texas, where J.P.’s food service management business took him to flourish. When time came to retire, it wasn’t exactly the traditional settling into nothing notion the two had entertained for over five years. They were a hundred martini glasses in to the planning phase of their restaurant development, taking stock of, piece by carefully chosen piece, what would make a successful upscale restaurant in the Beckley area.

As contemporary/elegant as the couple have made the interior of 304 ChopHouse, from the grand granite bar to a rule where there are “no floating tables” and each seating area is anchored to a room feature providing privacy, the pair are surprisingly down-to-earth. Anita admits she is not the bling-y type, but friends convinced her to invest in a few chandeliers to mark the casual attractiveness with refinement.

Despite raised eyebrows at their location choice, J.P.’s business sense and desire to be the difference told him this side of town was where he wanted to be. “We’re here because this is where the growth is. We felt there was a void here and we could fill it.”

From first introduction to the house of the bait shop owners that would be an impressive restaurant, J.P. had a vision. “I did a walk-thru and thought ‘this is doable’” — while Anita just hid her face in her hands. “I can see things. Anita has to see it on paper…,” he says, explaining why ‘hot mess’ became her descriptor-of-the-day, at least in the wintry months leading up to their vision taking shape.

Anita’s “simple ingredients done well style” and sous chef Lilly’s penchant for grilling to cuts-like-butter chargrilled perfection together shine in dishes like the 304 ChopHouse signature filet, topped with a brandy reduction sauce and blue cheese crumbles. Patrons brag that they no longer need to travel to Charlotte, N.C., to enjoy good beef carpaccio, thinly sliced, high quality marinated filet, drizzled with olive oil and topped with capers, red onions and freshly shaved parmesan.

J.P.’s observation echoes Anita’s preparation ground rules — that chefs have the capacity to take a deliciously simple dish and over-formulate it with the kitchen equivalent of too much vibrato. “They say it’s their special dish. Well, it isn’t. It was invented in the ’50s and they just screwed it up. We take foods in their freshest form and add a simple, new twist.” Like grilling the artisan romaine for their ChopHouse Wedge Salad which “…  puts a little smoke to it,” says J.P. Add housemade blue cheese and applewood smoked bacon and it’s a wedge with an edge — one already earning a hearty base of repeat customers.

The dream they’d contemplated for at least five years has materialized, and the results are just what the couple bet on.

“I had a gentleman sitting at the bar — he looked like he was in a daze. I asked, ‘Are you OK?’ He said, ‘I just had the strangest sensation — I’m sitting here and I’m not in West Virginia., I’m in D.C. or someplace else. I can’t fathom I’m sitting in this place in Beckley.’”

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com

Text Only
Sunday Profile
  • lilly tent Lillys of the Mountain State come home

    When Robert and Frances Lilly settled near the banks of the Bluestone River in the 1700s with their four sons, they might have dreamed it would be a place that their descendants would always call “home.”

    July 27, 2014 4 Photos

  • motion theatre Motion Theatre takes the stage at Vans Warped Tour

    Local rock band Motion Theatre performed Tuesday at its biggest venue yet — the Burgettstown, Pa. stop of the Vans Warped Tour.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • centerpiece jake Days of Jake

    July 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • pickler Running down her dreams

    Pickler says she's thankful for all the blessings in her life

    July 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • vase The Best of West Virginia

    Tamarack’s Seventh Annual Best of West Virginia Juried Exhibition has been deemed a success, according to Gallery Curator Molly Halstead.

    June 29, 2014 6 Photos

  • chophouse couple 3-0-4 W-O-W

    What has happened to the old Boggs’ Bait Shop building and the former home of Ray and Elfa Boggs at the foot of Raleigh Hill in Beaver is more transfiguration than transformation. 304 ChopHouse owners J.P. Hunter and Anita Hunter are a pair of discriminating do-it-yourselfers — and they’ve proved from rave reviews about their new restaurant to be more than just what meets the eye. The food arriving from the immaculate kitchen bearing the titular 3-0-4 area code is as surprising an experience as the interior and exterior overhaul.

    June 22, 2014 4 Photos

  • Hospice 1.jpg ‘It’s a dream come true’

    From the professional landscaping that surrounds the pillared portico to the warm fireplace that serves as a focal point in the lofty great room, very few features of the region’s newest health care facility appear in the least institutional.

    June 15, 2014 5 Photos

  • 052514 Profile Patty Johnston 3.jpg A most loyal servant

    A longtime Beckley pharmacist is being awarded with West Virginia University’s highest honor — Order of Vandalia.

    May 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • full flower table Flowers are nourishing in more ways than one

    Summertime is the season when the earth bursts with life. From roses and sunflowers to nasturtiums and pansies, West Virginia comes into its fullness of color and fragrance when the sun is the brightest.

    May 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • twv director 1 Community rallies around Theatre West Virginia

    Theatre West Virginia is more than just a theater company — it’s a family.

    May 11, 2014 2 Photos