This Memorial Day weekend, I decided to head home to Roanoke/Salem, VA to visit my parents. I’m putting together a post all about stuff to do in Roanoke if you happen to find yourself there, but first a review of some of the best food I’ve ever had there.
It seems like since I’ve moved away from Roanoke, things have really come up. Well, that’s not entirely true. Very shortly after I moved away, the recession seemed to hit pretty hard. There were lots of empty store fronts and a once bustling downtown Roanoke seemed sort of dead for a while. But I’ve noticed in the past couple of years that things have picked back up, and the dining scene is really bringing its A-game. In the past year or so, I’ve been hearing about certain places repeatedly. River and Rail is one that kept coming up and after getting a recommendation from Roanoke foodie John Park that I should try their brunch, I was sold. I made the reservation for my parents and I before I even hit the road. John also connected with me Chef Aaron Deal on Twitter. The morning of, I was chatting with Chef Deal via tweet. I told him it would be fantastic to meet him if he had a chance to step out of the kitchen, the time of my reservation, and my name.
We arrived a bit early for our 11:30 reservation and were seated at a fantastic table in the front window. My first impression of the place was just “this is a great space!” I particularly liked that the kitchen was open to the dining room.
Since we were early, they started us the with Snacks and Drinks menu. Mom and I ordered their drink special, the MoreMosas. A mimosa with strawberry puree, vodka, and St. Germain. It was a fantastic twist on a mimosa. And I’m going to make them at home.
We also started with the Jar of Pickles, which was a mason jar of assorted pickled veggies. We dug in too quickly for me to get a picture of that. It had celery, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, beets, radishes, onions, etc. It was surprisingly delightful. Mom and I really loved the mushrooms. They were a touch sweet, which balanced out the pickle.
After we placed the order for our starter, the clock struck 11:30 and they brought us the menu. We decided on 3 different dishes and 2 sides, so that we could get a good variety of things. I went with the Crab Eggs Benedict on Buttermilk biscuit, Mom went with the Vegetable Omelet, and Dad went with the Brioche French Toast with strawberries, hazelnuts, and maple syrup. We ordered the Carolina Rice Grits and bacon as sides to split.
Several of the dishes came in little cast iron pans, as you can see in the pictures. I thought it was charming plating. It did, however, give my dish a slightly metallic taste in the first bite or two. Besides that, the biscuit was huge, and delightful, because you know, biscuit. The crab meat was excellent, and was nice big chunks. The eggs were cooked perfectly, the hollandaise awesome, and the spinach a perfect balance to everything. The grits were super creamy and flavorful. It was a nice cross between grits and risotto. Dad’s french toast was amazing. It was super fluffy and just covered in delightful things and therefore was just delicious. Mom’s omelet was served with a little salad on the side. It was lighter than the other two dishes, but jam-packed full of flavor. The bacon left a little to be desired. It was very thinly cut, and was sort of chewy. Dad read my mind and said that had it been thicker cut, it would have been perfect.
My parents do love food, but aren’t in the habit of going fancy and spending a lot of money on it. I don’t blame them, in Roanoke, it’s hit or miss as to whether or not it’s going to be worth it. However, they were both thouroughly impressed with River and Rail and I can’t wait to get back for dinner next time I’m in town.
The kitchen was fairly busy the entire time we were there, so I wasn’t sure if Chef Deal would even have time to check his Twitter. I could have just walked up to the exposed kitchen and said hello, didn’t want to bother him. Very shortly after we left, I got a tweet back saying that he looked up and we were gone. I was so impressed that he would take the time to seek us out and respond to me. I love supporting businesses run by nice people. I will certainly be back to meet him and enjoy more of his delicious food.
- Favorite thing I had: The pickled veggies were really interesting, way more so than I expected. The rice grits were awesome! The bite I had of Dad’s french toast made me super jealous I didn’t order it. My benedict was good- you can’t beat eggs, crab, and hollandaise on a BISCUIT!
- Favorite thing the parents had: Dad really enjoyed his French Toast. He said it was nice and fluffy and just sweet enough with the strawberries and maple syrup. Mom was thoroughly impressed by all of it. Her faves were the pickled mushrooms, the grits, and her omelet.
- Most interesting thing I want to try next time: The dinner menu! The Country Ham Board.
- And how was the service?: The service was absolutely perfect. The server was attentive without being annoying. At no point did we ever need a thing.
- What makes this place stand out: It’s some serious, high-caliber food in a place that you might not expect it. I go to awesome places in DC all the time, and I was super impressed with this. It’s not just great for Roanoke, it’s just great.
- How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): If I lived in town, I’d probably try to get there about once per month. It is a bit pricey for the area, even for somewhere the lady and I would go on the regular- at least the dinner menu. The brunch menu was affordable. That being said, I think I’ll be able to convince the parents to go a little bigger than usual for dinner there next time I’m in town.
- Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): There’s not too much nearby. There’s a cupcake shop called Bubble Cake about half a block away. It’s a pretty easy trip up Mill Mountain to the Star from here too. Or you could just pop back downtown.