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New Wheeling Country Club Executive Chef Crafting Memorable Dining Experiences

Photo provided New Wheeling Country Club Executive Chef Justin Droginske, left, and Beverage Manager Sonja Story have come to the club with a mission of creating a memorable dining experience.

Raised in Wheeling, Justin Droginske knows the tastes of the Ohio Valley. The Wheeling Country Club’s new executive chef likes to call the area “meat and potatoes country.”

And as the man leading the way for cuisine at the Country Club, he wants to please the palates of his customers. He also wants to offer that meat and potatoes in a way diners might not have experienced before, but he thinks they will enjoy.

With a love for seasonal ingredients and influences that span the globe, Droginske wants to take those diners on a culinary expedition, yet one that is rooted in the familiar.

Droginske’s career has bounced him around the region, offering him a deeper understanding of what people here want on their plates. He started as the salad prep person at Ye Olde Alpha, working there for five years before moving to Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington, Pennsylvania.

At the Meadows, he served as its sous chef for three years and started racking up culinary awards, like first place, best dessert for Eat Drink Pittsburgh, as well as first place, best dish for Eat Drink Westmoreland County.

From the Meadows, he moved to Oglebay as its chef de cuisine, overseeing the menus at all of the resort’s restaurants.

Yet when the opportunity to move to the Wheeling Country Club came to him this past July, there was no choice but to jump on it.

“I felt it was my perfect opportunity to take an executive chef position and have something of my own,” he said, “to show everybody what I can do and what I can offer to the Wheeling Country Club and its members and give them an experience they can’t have anywhere else in Wheeling.”

Ohio Valley diners may be a meat-and-potatoes crowd, but Droginske takes that as a challenge. In his dishes, he tries to coax people out of their comfort zones and toward tastes and spices they have yet to experience.

For instance, a chicken breast dish is a staple on any menu, but Droginske takes a slightly different angle, using a different cut of the breast that looks more appetizing on the plate. Diners love pork chops, and Droginske obliges with a chop brined in-house and paired with mashed sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts.

“My goal is to give our members a dining experience they can’t get anywhere else in Wheeling or even in Pittsburgh,” Droginske said. “I want them to have that feeling when they come here. I don’t want them to feel that they have to travel an hour to get a great meal. They can come here to their club where they’re comfortable and get what they want. ”

Many of his influences come from French and Spanish cuisine, evident in the chefs he counts among his favorites. That includes French chef Eric Ripert, close friend of the late Anthony Bourdain. Droginske loved the juxtaposition of the two — the tattooed bad boy Bourdain alongside the clean-cut Ripert.

That also includes Spanish chef Jose Andres, whom Droginske admires not just for his skill in the kitchen, but for his philanthropy, creating the World Central Kitchen and feeding people affected by natural disasters.

Wheeling Country Club diners can expect hearty dishes during these colder fall and winter months — from swordfish to pastas to plenty of root vegetables. And he also knows that the right — or wrong — drink pairing can make or break a dining experience. So he’s working very closely with the club’s new beverage director Sonja Story.

“I think it’s hugely essential,” he said. “She brings a lot to the table. She’s doing these craft cocktails and they’re coming in for a cocktail and that’s starting their experience as they walk through the door.

“And she is very engaging,” he continued. “She’ll never turn her back to the guest when she’s making a cocktail. She sees the ingredients and she knows what goes with what.”

Don’t be surprised to see Droginske making his way through the dining room, either. He wants to establish that personal connection with diners, as well. He wants their feedback, positive or negative.

In crafting the perfect dining experience at the Wheeling Country Club, he wants to know what works and what can be worked on.

“My pride is my forefront on everything,” Droginske said. “If you don’t have pride and passion for what you’re doing, then why are you doing it?

“I love what I do,” he continued. “I love pleasing the guests and giving them the satisfaction of feeling that they got what they wanted.”

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