Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Eating my way through Roanoke

The only part of Virginia I've been to is Alexandria, which is really Washington, D.C. Everyone at work told me that they loved Roanoke. Know I know why.

It's small enough that the speed limit on the highway through town is still 55 mph. The downtown is trying to revive, which a cute little shop on a block with several empty buildings. But what I couldn't believe were all of the restaurants in the downtown area! You could eat someplace different for several weeks without having to make a return trip to any one restaurant. But there are some places you'd definitely want to go back to ... again and again and again.

Blues BBQ Co.

107 Market St. S.E.


I can't go to the South and not have barbecue. Fortunately, there's a local BBQ joint right in downtown in the market area.

Tucked into a corner, most of the interior of Blues BBQ is taken up with a huge bar. There might have been upstairs seating, but I didn't notice as we walked by the stairs if that area was open. There is also outside seating in the market area, which would be nice on a not-too-humid day.

I opted for the Carolina Style Pulled Pork sandwich, which featured dry rubbed smoked pork shoulder, served with a spicy apple vinegar sauce. (The other option was the Memphis Pulled Pork, served with a tangy BBQ sauce.) I had the slaw on the side (rather than on the sandwich) and fries. Yummy! The sandwich was piled high with moist, tender pork. After I ate the whole sandwich (and most of the fries), I was ready for an after-lunch nap and a bigger pair of pants.

(I somehow failed to take a picture of my sandwich before I ate it. I'll have to do that next time. You'll just have to trust me that it's as good as it looks.)

There were three sauces on the table -- the apple vinegar sauce, a tangy red sauce and a mustardy sauce -- and I tried a bit of each with my sandwich. The vinegar sauce and tangy sauce were actually good in combination.

Appetizers include fried grit cakes, fried green tomatoes, fried pickles ... you get the idea. A few pizzas and three salads also grace the menu. But this is a BBQ place, folks.

Other sandwich options were beef, ham, brisket and chicken. BBQ platters included baby back ribs, a half pound of brisket, pulled pork and chicken. And then there were other entrees, one of which was something like three half-pound hot dogs topped with a pound of BBQ meat. Unfortunately, the website doesn't have the full menu posted, so I can't give you the details. But reading the description made my stomach roll over a bit.

According to the website, the restaurant also has a bourbon club. You can join for free. As you work your way through sampling the 61 different bourbons, you can rack up prizes. Probably don't want to try all 61 in one sitting, however.

New York Pizza

708 Hardy Road, Vinton


At the end of my first week in Roanoke, we took a field trip to New York Pizza. When you see the building, you're of mixed thought -- 1) old building, ewww; 2) old building, must have been here forever; and 3) why is there a life-size statue of Jesus in the parking lot?

This place really is a local gem. I'm guessing Little League teams and soccer teams come here after games for pizza.

The pizza looked amazing, and the calzones were huge. Subs, stromboli, burgers and pizza rolls fill out the menu. But we went specifically for the cheese steak sandwiches.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Most of us ordered the Cheese Steak Special, which comes with mushrooms, onions and green peppers (I picked out the green peppers). Someone ordered tomato and lettuce on their cheese steak sandwich, which I don't quite understand. But to each his own.

I'm going to let the photo speak for itself on the size of the sandwich. Let's just say that it did NOT come with fries or chips. Just a pickle. And quite honestly, even the pickle was a little too much. I couldn't even eat the entire sandwich. There would have been no way I could have eaten fries, too.

Yum. Yum. Yum.

Thelma's Chicken and Waffles

315 Market St.


This restaurant is right by the downtown market. If you're looking for a light meal, this is not the place to eat. But if you're looking for some good ole Southern homestyle cooking, sit right down.

Service is casual but friendly. After all, this restaurant proclaims it's a "family owned business founded on Faith, Hope and One Love!"

The house speciality, as the name implies, is chicken and waffles. Just thinking about eating the two at the same meal kind of made my stomach turn a bit. But you gotta do like the locals do, right?

Turned out to be pretty darn good. The chicken -- fried, of course -- was moist and juicy. Topped with the hot sauce on the table (tasted like it had a lot of Frank's Hot Sauce or something similar in it), the crispy, spicy chicken was a nice balance to the soft, sweet waffle smothered in maple syrup. I don't know what it was about the waffle that made it so good, but that was the best waffle I think I've ever eaten. Just the smell of it alone was enough to make me drool a little as my plate was set before me.

I barely touched the side dish of fried potatoes. And I love fried potatoes. But that waffle was just too good to waste space in my stomach with potatoes!

For an added touch of ambiance, the maple syrup container was stuck to the table. Gotta love it!

Thelma's menu is full of home-cooked style meals. I think pretty much all of the meats are fried. Most of the appetizers are fried. Side dishes to entrees include lima beans, mash potatoes, corn pudding, mac and cheese, cabbage and onion rings. You can even order extra meats with your entree -- anyone for a side of chicken livers?

The menu also includes hot dogs, burgers, catfish sandwiches, ribs and a plentiful breakfast selection.

Wear elastic waist pants and plan on a nap after you eat. It's a wonder I was able to go back to work that afternoon!

The Quarter

19 Salem Ave.

You know it's a Cajun place when the sign on the outside of the building has a neon alligator.

The building housing The Quarter is beautiful. Like most of the downtown eateries, it is an older building that has been remodeled. Downstairs and upstairs dining rooms, with a patio area for when the weather is nice. Beautiful wood bars on both levels (I stole the photo of the bar off their Facebook page).

High ceilings, I think with painted tin panels. (I prefer the unpainted tin panels, but maybe these were in bad shape or something ... or maybe no one has respect for architecture and their idea of good design is to paint it black ... but I digress.)

I ordered the Shrimp and Andouille Pasta. My serving had four or five good-sized shrimp, mixed with a good portion of sausage, tossed with a Cajun cream sauce and penne pasta. The shrimp were good, and the sausage had a mild kick to it (I've had better andouille). The cream sauce had good flavor, but it didn't have as much kick to it as I expected. My dining companion mentioned that maybe folks in Roanoke can't handle the spiciness. Overall, the dish was good, but just seemed to lack the uumph it needed.

The menu also includes staples like red beans and rice, crawfish etouffe, jambalya, shrimp and grits, seafood po' boys and muffuletta. Along with sandwiches, burgers and salads.

Online review are not kind to the food at The Quarter. Service and atmosphere get high marks, however.

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