Good eats (and sips!) in the western part of the state.
By Hope S. Philbrick
If you’re planning to drive Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains, as I did earlier this year—a highly enjoyable road trip—you’ll want to stop and eat along the route. Here are recommended eateries, all of which serve flavors that linger in memory long after returning home.
Southern Inn Restaurant
If you’ve only got time for one stop in Lexington, then head to straight to Southern Inn Restaurant, which has been the town’s hub since 1932. Chef George Huger, who has owned the restaurant since 1998, is committed to using local ingredients as much as possible. His cheese plate routinely features options from nearby Mountain View Farm. His salads feature local lettuces (in season). Meats were raised on farms nearby. Local beers flow from the taps. Specials change often but signature items linger on the menu. Crab cakes are popular in summer months while oysters rotate in to take their place in colder seasons. Fried chicken, meatloaf, pasta and liver are popular entrées while pecan pie and crème brûlée are signature desserts.
Here’s a place to sample, sip and drink wine that’s 100% snooty-free: The Barking Dog wine-rating motto is “If it tastes good to you, that’s all that counts!” Grab a bar stool or table and put your elbows on the table, no one cares. The wine-by-the-glass menu changes weekly and features an eclectic selection of wines from across the state of Virginia and around the world. Time your visit right and you might get lucky: Free wine tastings are hosted periodically as well as free cheese and olive oil tastings. In addition to wine, there’s a great selection of craft beers. Pair your chosen libation with one of the cheese plates or gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches for a scrumptious, filling and surprisingly affordable meal.
This new restaurant by James Beard Award nominee Chef Ian Boden is teeny-tiny, so the odds are that you’ll have to wait for a table unless you have the gift of perfect timing. No matter. Rest assured, it’s worth the wait. Beef and lamb burgers are a key draw, but the daily-changing menu features diverse upscale creations such as chilled asparagus and buttermilk soup, lamb shank tortellini, roasted salmon with clams, duck breast with herb gnocchi, and much more. Glance over a few weeks’ worth of menus and it’s clear this chef embraces creative whims—so much so that some days burgers are left off the menu. Order whatever piques your interest, it’s not like you can make a mistake.
During lunch this casual eatery sells pizza with both traditional and creative topping combinations by the slice. Sure, you might order a couple pieces to try different flavors, but arrive hungry and buy a whole pizza. You’ll get a hotter pie and leave more fully satiated. The menu boasts more than 20 pizzas plus sub sandwiches and salads. The bar pours more than 200 beers, including local and craft brews. Ciders are also on tap. Live musical performances are routinely staged just inside the doorway, helping lend the place its upbeat vibe.
This popular upscale restaurant was established in 1979 and is one of seven restaurants featured on Roanoke’s walking culinary tour. During our tour stop we were served a cup of flawless shrimp & grits alongside the award-winning Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager. If you take the tour, you’ll be won over and want to return. If you skip the tour but want a great meal, this is our must-dine pick. We’re drooling over the menu’s lobster mac & cheese, chipotle chicken sandwich, pan-fried mountain trout, prime rib, spicy Bloody Billy’s (a.k.a., Bloody Mary) and other creative cocktails. One visit isn’t enough to sample everything that’s bound to sound appealing, unless you bring a crowd of folks eager to share.
Part gift paper and greeting card store, part candy shop, chocolatepaper sells pretty, sweet treats by the piece or pound. We dare you to choose just one–we opted for a dark chocolate smothered caramel–but it would be a real shame to skip the place altogether. The store sells dozens of lines of the finest chocolates in the world, including truffles, patties, clusters and more. The chocolate Roanoke star is the ideal melt-in-your-mouth souvenir.
Cork & Crust
Don’t be fooled by the uber-casual atmosphere: This place serves soul-satisfying pizza that will make your taste buds dance. Artisan pizzas are made using local ingredients in creative combinations like “Rustic” with roasted garlic, mushrooms, fresh thyme, caramelized onions and house mozzarella; “Big Apple” with bacon, caramelized onions, apple and white cheddar; “Toscana” with kale, artichokes, oven-dried tomatoes and olive tapenade; “Sriracha Chicken” with grilled chicken breast, charred red onion, baby spinach and oven-dried tomatoes; and more. There are also daily entrée and tapas specials like tandoori chicken and eggplant parmesan. The bar pours international wines and craft beers.
This iconic ultra-casual eatery was established in 1930 and it’s a must-see-to-believe eating experience that puts you elbow to elbow with other fans and curiosity seekers along a counter while fast-moving staffers work the opposing side. The motto is: “We seat 1,000 people 10 at a time.” Order whatever you want (we tried a burger but hear hotdogs and chili are popular favorites). Just don’t ask for ketchup. One visit may be enough, but once is essential: Southern Living included it on a list of the “100 Places to Eat Now” and we agree it’s too unique to skip.
Wildflour Restaurant & Bakery
This place in Roanoke’s Old Southwest Historic District had us at hello. The motto is “wholesome, delicious food prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients”—we couldn’t script a better culinary approach. Cheery, bright décor sets an upbeat vibe and attentive servers may have you doing a happy dance (perhaps literally, perhaps not). Proof indulging can be healthy, this menu presents original recipes made with whole foods and an impressive selection of vegetarian options. It’s a yum you can trust in dishes like Mexicali blackened salmon salad, Evie’s crab cake, pork caprese, black bean burrito supreme and veggie lasagna. Save room for desserts including cake by the slice.
Blue Ridge Restaurant
This casual eatery is the town’s unofficial gathering spot each morning, so while you sip coffee you might overhear reports on the current road conditions, how business is faring and what crops are nearing harvest. Eating up the local culture is as satisfying as the classic made-to-order eggs, toast, bacon and potatoes are filling.
Chateau Morrisette Winery
Come to sample wine, stay for the view. This award-winning vineyard and winery—planted in 1978 when there were no other working wineries in Virginia—produces over 20 varietals of dry, off-dry and sweet wines using grapes and other fruit. Taste 10 wines for $8 per adult, including the popular Black Dog, a blend of Cabernet, Chambourcin and Merlot. Odds are you’ll find something to suit your palate…and may be tempted to pet at least one pup.
Note: There is a restaurant at Chateau Morrisette, which we did not try during our short visit.
Mickey G’s Bistro
If Italian food is your comfort food, then prepare to feel as cozy as when wearing your favorite pajamas at this busy restaurant. This is authentic Italian, from the intoxicating aromas wafting out of the kitchen to the savory/sweet flavors skipping across tongues. From brick oven pizza to gooey chicken parmigiana, baked lasagna to fried calamari, the most-craved and best-loved classic dishes are here. Your biggest challenge will be choosing among all the temptations.
The name suggests that Appalachian ingredients and Latin cuisine may be an unexpected combination, but one bite proves it’s a wise match. The seasonal menu features a range of options with one commonality: everything is made from scratch, with many ingredients acquired from local farmers. And while the menu presents Mountain meals and Mexican favorites, there’s also an eclectic mix of options from Naan sandwiches to Spanish meat balls, pomegranate scallops to crayfish etouffe and more to ensure there’s something for everyone. Performances by local musicians add to the festive ambiance.
Pine Tavern Restaurant
The servers at this historic restaurant may talk to you like they’re your momma, and you’ll be glad to be part of this family. The restaurant started in 1927 and recipes have been handed down generations. Dig into generous portions of American classics like fried chicken, country ham, roast beef and gravy, pulled pork barbecue, fried catfish and more. Choose to pass plates family style at your table or savor individual portions. Either way, save room for fruit cobbler.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC