By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It wasn’t time for the diner to open, but Elizabeth Allemeier was already pulling pork for the day’s special barbecue, and she was having a good morning. The weather was good, the pork was good, and she was doing something she loved.
“I cook it all night long,” Allemeier said as she worked. “We only get the best pork from North Carolina. It’s a beautiful pork with very little fat. It’s all good.”
Potatoes for the day’s potato salad were cooking on a nearby stove, and she was making sure it was going to be prepared the right way, too. No recipe books were standing open anywhere. The food was being cooked, as Allemeier said, “by taste.”
“You don’t measure anything. It’s all by what I think would be good, and see if anything needs adjusting. Like even my chicken and dumplings. I’ve kind of got it down, but it could always be a little bit different because there’s no set recipe. Sometimes I’ll experiment and make up something else and have fun with it,” she said.
And it all had to be cooked the right way.
“If I can’t be proud of what I’m doing, I can’t do it,” she explained as she prepared the pork.
Allemeier said she was born in Welch, but her family moved to California when she was about 2 years old. She was a florist for 40 years before deciding to return to West Virginia and “fell in love with Bramwell.” Her family still has a farm on No. 9 Mountain in McDowell County, and the fruit it produces now joins other ingredients at The Corner Shop Diner in downtown Bramwell.
“I’ve been working here for three years and I love it,” she said.
The old-fashioned diner with many of the original furniture and fixtures belongs to Donna and John Husband, but Allemeier does the cooking. She has no formal training, but she prepares a variety of hamburgers, dishes like chicken and dumplings, and other fare. She demonstrated one popular order, the fried green tomato sandwich. She started breading slices of green tomato and started frying bacon; both were going between slices of bread with brown sugar.
“I’m going to make you a fried green tomato sandwich that’s a party in your mouth,” Allemeier assured the man waiting for it. The sandwich’s recipe didn’t come from a book or a cooking show.
“I came up with this recipe in a dream, and it turned out to be the best dream I’ve ever had because people went crazy for it,” she recollected. The sandwich is just one recipe she has created.
“I’m the chef, what can I say, but I go by cook most of the time .The definition of chef is someone who makes up the recipes and makes the menu and everything, but I’m a cook at heart.”
Allemeier helped start the cafe, but later decided she would rather cook than own the business entirely.
“I originally started the cafe for the absentee owners, and I did it like that for about two years or so and got it built up pretty good. Then the owners decided they didn’t want it anymore. They wanted me to take it over, and I said no, I’ve been in business before. I don’t want to do that again.”
Later the new owners took over, and this allowed Allemeier to keep working in the kitchen she loves.
Business has picked up in Bramwell thanks to the visitors coming to ride their ATVs on the Pocahontas Trail, Mercer County’s branch of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail. The diner, the neighboring Bramwell Cafe, and other businesses see repeat customers coming from Ashland in McDowell County. Allemeier said word of mouth helps to generate business.
“We’re a good destination, too,” she said of the town. The customers made the job fun.
“I love it, love it, love it,” Allemeier said enthusiastically. “I love the customers. They’re so much fun. The customers are incredible, and I love the feedback.”
The people who stop by to eat spur the cook to keep improving.
“They’re the ones who make me do a better job, because that’s what I strive for, to make them really happy. When I make a fried green tomato sandwich, I come out and go, ‘Was it a party in your mouth?’” She laughed. “I’m not shy at all. I always like to make sure it’s good food and see if there’s something I need to change, but I’ve been very fortunate. You’ve got to have feedback.”
Allemeier remembered her career as a florist. She was good at making floral arrangements, but she added how she had a “brown thumb” when it came to raising flowers. Being a florist led, in an indirect way, to learning how to make Mexican food.
“ Whenever I do Mexican food, I do it all homemade,” Allemeier recalled. “I had a little girl I had come stay with me in California. When I was manager of the flower shop, she was 16, emaciated and homeless. She came to work one day with no shoes on and I asked her what had happened.”
The cockroaches infesting the place where the girl was sleeping were out of control, and Allemeier decided she had to help.
“And she stayed with me for a year and bless her heart, she ended up being a paralegal and everything,” Allemeier said.
While the girl was staying with Allemeier, she taught her benefactor how to make Mexican cuisine from scratch. Allemeier even learned to fry tortilla chips.
“I do everything homemade and we use only the best ingredients,” she said. “The only complaint I get from people is that they’re so full, they don’t have any room for the homemade ice cream.”
Allemeier plans to stay at the diner because she has found a place where she likes to work.
“We have fun. It’s a fun place to be, and Donna keeps me laughing all the time,” she said. “I’m just lucky that I enjoy what I do.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org