I was heading for Big Stone Gap to spend two days shooting photos of filming locations for the “Big Stone Gap” movie for the Virginia Tourism Corporation. I posted a status on my Facebook photography page asking about places to eat. Most people simply said there were none, one of my fans said she drives to another town for food, and then my grandmother gave me a call. She grew up and lived the majority of her life in nearby East Stone Gap. She said she’d seen my status (she’s one of my biggest fans on my Facebook page) and wanted to let me know the only place to get breakfast in Big Stone Gap was the local Hardee’s. So, can you imagine my glee when I learned there was a cafe on the second story of a house above a used bookstore in town? I call this a two-for-one deal for early mornings.
I’m a huge fan of used bookstores. I visit as many as I possibly can, browse through every single shelf (yes, even in the steamy Romance section) because I don’t wanna miss a thing. About the only place I enjoy spending time more than a used bookstore is a small cafe. Guess what? That’s upstairs, walk straight ahead, Kelly will be out in just a moment.
I’m not a morning person, but I’m still a photographer. I woke at sunrise the second day I was in Big Stone Gap and took a walk along the Greenbelt Trail in town. Unfortunately, the weather decided not to cooperate with me. I didn’t get any photos, but I did enjoy a peaceful walk around the town on the trail and worked up quite an appetite. By the time I arrived at the Tales of the Lonesome Pine Bookstore, I was ready to eat.
Kelly Pearson is the chef at the Second Story Cafe, a native of nearby Surgoinsville, Tennessee. She had asked me the day before during my brief visit with the bookstore what I wanted for breakfast the next day. I told her French toast because it’s my favorite breakfast. But what I didn’t know was that the three thick slices of French toast would be served smothered in a sauce the name of which I will never forget for the rest of my life: salted caramel cheesecake sauce. Just take a moment to let that sink in. If you need a visual aid, just take a look at this photo.
This was the most perfect breakfast I had ever eaten. The bread was thick, soft, perfectly cooked. The sweet caramel cheesecake sauce wasn’t so sweet it overpowered your senses, but just sweet enough to give your taste buds a nice kick. Then came the final component to this perfect meal: several pieces of salted, crunchy, perfectly cooked bacon. Everything really is better with bacon on it. I usually like to jot down notes while I’m eating, but this meal was so delicious I had already eaten half before I could muster the will power to set the fork down and pick up the pen.
After I finished every last morsel of that breakfast, I sat down with the chef to learn more about how she could create such an amazing thing. My first question was perhaps the most obvious, but would also prove the most irrelevant: where did you go to culinary school? Kelly smiled as she said she’s never taken a class on cooking in her life. I was more thoroughly impressed by this than if she’d graduated a top culinary school at the top of her class.
Kelly is a small-town girl at heart. She loves small, country towns. She is a big supporter of local farms and businesses. She believes in organic, non-GMO, free-range foods. So when she was looking for a place to live in mid-2013, Big Stone Gap was the perfect place for her. When she moved to “The Gap” she almost immediately became friends with Jack Beck and Wendy Welch, owners of the Tales of the Lonesome Pine Bookstore underneath. Jack and Wendy had been wanting to open a cafe in the large house with their bookstore, and suddenly Kelly arrives, perfect for the job.
Up until this point the only cooking Kelly had ever done was for friends and family. She’s been cooking since she was 2 years old, helping her grandmother cook eggs. By the time she was 15 she was making three and four-course meals for the family just because of yes. She has a passion for cooking and a natural talent, two things which work very well together in an artistic field like this.
The menu is simple, but contains a good variety: chicken salad, soups, sandwiches, and desserts, along with daily specials she prepares the night before. Everything she serves is fresh with no frozen foods whatsoever. Kelly shops at the local farmer’s markets during the in-seasons and visits the locally-owned Bob’s Market to find fresh meats and vegetables delivered directly from local farms. She is a big fan of the hormone-free, grass-fed, free-range, no-preservatives local beef.
As my time with Kelly winded down I asked her what she wanted to do with her future at the Second Story Cafe in Big Stone Gap. “Go organic, make my own bread, and set an example as a community leader,” she replied. Natural talent, a strong passion, and ambitious? I think I might have just found the secret ingredients in that salted caramel cheesecake sauce. Seriously, that sauce was so good I’d eat it off a cardboard box. I’m just glad she puts it on French toast instead.
Second Story Cafe Information
Phone – 276-523-5097
Address – 404 Clinton Avenue E, Big Stone Gap, VA
Price – $5-$10
Hours – Tuesday-Saturday 11:00AM-3PM, Closed Sunday-Monday
Handicap Accessible – Unfortunately, no. The Second Story Cafe is on the second story of an old home in the downtown area. The bookstore on the first floor and the cafe on the second floor are not accessible. However, the owners and chef are super friendly and accommodating, and would probably bring you the food as take out if you asked.