Update: The Bluffs announced Aug. 27 that would close for the remainder of the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It plans to reopen in spring 2021.
The Bluffs, a historic restaurant on the Blue Ridge Parkway, is once again up and running thanks to a collaboration between the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the National Park Service and the owners of Muddy Creek Café, which has locations in Winston-Salem and Sparta.
Shana Whitehead and Bill Heath of Muddy Creek were drawn to the project because of their love of the outdoors and national parks.
“Some friends actually told us about it, and thought we’d be great for it,” Whitehead said. “I just love the Blue Ridge Parkway. I love national parks. I have this park ranger doll I’ve had for 10 or 15 years, and now I keep it in the kitchen (at The Bluffs).”
Whitehead and Heath also have a love of historic buildings.
In 2011, Shana Whitehead opened Muddy Creek Café in a converted 19th-century mill in Bethania. After developing an audience for live music and taking on Bill Heath as a partner, Muddy Creek added a Music Hall next door to the café in 2015. They opened up the second Muddy Creek in Sparta, again offering a combined café and music hall.
When they were forced to leave Bethania to make way for a new tenant, they moved to another old building in Old Salem at the end of 2019.
The Bluffs, at Milepost 241, opened in 1949 as one of four restaurants on the parkway to complement Doughton Park trails and campground. There also was a nearby lodge.
The Bluffs closed about 10 years ago. But about 2017, the nonprofit Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, which is based in Winston-Salem, started looking into bringing the restaurant back.
The Muddy Creek folks won a bid from the National Park Service for the project, and the foundation paid for the restoration. That included such things as a new roof, new flooring and the removal of asbestos. But much of the original look was kept, including the exposed beams and high ceiling.
The foundation, a fundraising arm of the parkway, was able to raise almost $1 million for the project.
“We were eager to help, because we had already heard from a number of people who wanted to see the facility reopened,” foundation spokeswoman Rita Larkin told the Journal this spring.
The restaurant will be seasonal, just as it used to be.
Whitehead said she expects to keep it open till Oct. 31 this year, and then reopen in May 2021.
It Is located next to the Doughton Park Visitors Center, a short distance from the Doughton Recreation Area Campground. The campground is closed this year because of the pandemic.
Once the campgrounds reopen, Whitehead said, The Bluffs will add breakfast service.
Through Muddy Creek, Whitehead and Heath are known as much for live music as food. But the emphasis will be on the food at The Bluffs. Whitehead said it’s possible that they may bring in some small acoustic acts to play outside, but that The Bluffs is a restaurant, not a music venue.
Whitehead pointed out that the nearby Blue Ridge Music Center — at Milepost 213 on the parkway — already offers a wide array of live music.
“You could easily have dinner at The Bluffs and see a show at the Blue Ridge Music Center an hour away,” Whitehead said. “And I hope people will do that.”
The menu at The Bluffs honors the restaurant’s heritage but also offers a modern touch, including a bit of Muddy Creek.
Over the years, the Bluffs was known for such things as fried chicken, biscuits and sweet potato pancakes. The chicken and biscuits are on the new menu — and the pancakes will be once breakfast service is added.
The menu — the same for lunch and dinner — offers a mix of sandwiches, burgers, salads and entrees.
The chef is Niki Farrington, formerly of Silo Bistro & Bar in Winston-Salem, which closed permanently during the pandemic. Farrington also is working as a chef for menu development for Village Juice in Winston-Salem, and she is the longtime owner of Niki’s Pickles, which sells a variety of pickled goods primarily through farmers markets.
Farrington and Whitehead said they wanted to include the classic Southern fare that people remember from the Bluffs. “But we also have some lighter, healthier things, too,” Whitehead said.
“We want to have a little of both, but we’ll see what works,” Farrington said.
Appetizers ($8) include pimento cheese, a staple at Muddy Creek, as well as fried Niki’s Pickles.
Main-dish salads include classic chicken and tuna salads ($12) as well as blackberry balsamic chicken ($14) and Salmon Cobb ($14).
The four burgers on the menu ($9 to $11) include bacon-cheddar burger and a “black & bleu” with blackening seasoning, grilled onions and bleu cheese. Diners also can choose Beyond Burger as a vegetarian option.
Sandwiches ($8 to $11) include a classic BLT and a BLT with turkey. There’s also grilled pimento cheese, chicken bacon ranch, open face tuna melt and open face tempeh melt, the latter a vegetarian sandwich incorporating tempeh from By the Brook Tempeh in Chapel Hill.
Sandwiches come with a choice of fries, chips, fruit, side salad or Niki’s Pickles.
The Bluffs’ menu has just four entrees, evenly split between the old and the new. A plate of buttermilk fried chicken, biscuit and two sides sells for $16. Country ham — served with red eye gravy, biscuit, stewed spiced apples and one side — sells for $12. Contemporary entrees are the grilled or blackened chicken ($12) and grilled or blackened salmon ($14), both served with two sides.
Sides include pinto beans, mashed potatoes, greens, buttered corn and grits. Diners also can get a vegetable plate of three or four sides ($8 to $10).
A kids menu offers grilled cheese, cheeseburger or grilled chicken sandwich with chips or fries ($5 to $6).
For dessert, the Bluffs currently has homemade blueberry cobbler.
The new Bluffs will have a few things the old restaurant never add. One is air conditioning. The other is beer and wine, as soon as the permits come through.
The restaurant could seat up to 80 people, but Whitehead has spaced out the tables to follow COVID-19 guidelines, reducing indoor seating to just 24. To compensate, The Bluffs has nine picnic tables, most of them under a tent, outdoors.
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