BERRYVILLE — Perhaps the most popular restaurant in Clarke County right now is one that is open for only a week each year and just at dinnertime.
Long lines form in the afternoon for the Clarke County Ruritan Club’s barbecued chicken and beef dinners at the 65th annual Clarke County Fair, which continues through Saturday.
Prepared mostly from scratch, the meals are served in a nondescript building at the fairgrounds. Fairgoers can find it by following the plume of white smoke billowing from an outdoor shelter where the chicken is grilled. Or just follow the crowd.
“We have people who come here just for the dinners,” said cook Lorrie Farver.
“One guy in West Virginia comes only when we’re serving coleslaw” because he likes it so much, said Jimmy Swisher, who prepares the slaw and the barbecue sauce.
But his lips are sealed when it comes to his sauce recipes.
“Everybody’s trying to get the secret recipes from me,” Swisher said. “But they’re a family secret.”
Both eat-in and take-out plates are prepared. Adult meals are $12. Children’s meals are $8. The plates can barely hold all of the food placed on them.
Customers can choose the chicken or beef, or both, for the same price. The meal comes with various side dishes, corn on the cob, homemade-style pickles, bread and butter, and a beverage.
“Every night of the week we have different sides,” Farver said.
Alert the West Virginia man: Slaw is on tonight’s menu, as well as macaroni and cheese. Baked beans and pasta salad will be served Friday night, followed by slaw and green beans on Saturday night, according to cook Bonnie Herbaugh.
“The mac and cheese and pasta salad are the best thing here,” said Herbaugh’s granddaughter, Jordan.
But “it’s all good food,” she told a first-time visitor. “You can’t miss out.”
Diners sit on either side of long tables in the building.
“We came straight here to eat first,” said Donna Richardson of Winchester, who was at the fair with Lynn Short of Frederick County.
Short was a first-time visitor earlier this week. She said the chicken tasted wonderful.
“It’s messy but good,” Richardson said.
Each day, the cooks prepare enough food to feed a small army. They estimate how many meals they will serve on a particular day, considering that some days at the fair are busier than others, and prepare the right amount to meet that number.
Enough food was prepared for 450 people on Monday, 730 on Tuesday and 900 on Wednesday. The cooks have prepared for 800 diners today, 600 on Friday and 550 on Saturday, Bonnie Herbaugh said.
Wednesdays and Thursdays typically are the busiest, she said, because they are Senior Citizen/Children’s Day and Veteran’s Day, respectively.
Adults ages 62 and older and youth ages 15 and under were admitted to the fair without charge before 5 p.m. Wednesday. All day today, active duty military personnel and veterans will be let in for free.
The cooks already have gone through a lot of food to make the dinners. For instance, they peeled four cases of cucumbers and 10 pounds of onions on a recent day.
Only fresh vegetables are used.
“We’re not getting frozen stuff,” cook Rachel Herbaugh said.
Dinners will be served at 5 p.m. today and Friday and 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Get here as soon as we start selling,” Farver recommended.
People sometimes line up as early as 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m., especially on extremely hot days, she said. The building is air-conditioned.
Be aware, though, that when the food is gone, it’s gone.
“We sell out,” Farver said. “One time we sold out within an hour.”
The Clarke County Fairgrounds are located at 890 W. Main St., Berryville.