How does one even begin to describe how impressed they are upon walking into the River and Rail? It's a beautiful restaurant, the inside decor warm and inviting. The open space leaves plenty of room to move around in case you see friends at another table, while the comfy bar seats are sure to keep patrons in their seats with fresh drinks. And the menu? It's practically impossible to turn down.
"Let's go for one drink," we said. "We'll eat when we get back."
Two drinks and a meal later, we looked at one another and agreed that we did not regret our decision to try out the menu. After the initial impression, grabbing a seat at the bar (man, those chairs are comfortable - any chance I could "borrow" one for my house, guys?), and hugs all around (I happen to be good friends with the bartender and manager), we took a look at the menu. You know, "just to see."
Rodney, our bartender for the night, started us out with our drinks. I chose the fancy-pants Foggy Ridge Cider Sangria, made with - you guessed it - Foggy Ridge Cider, as well as the housemade brown sugar cinnamon nutmeg simple syrup (say that five times fast!), a squeeze of orange juice, and topped with white port. Determined not to fall out of my chair, I took my time with the sangria, though I admit it was hard not to down it all and order another.
JLo, the husband, ordered Rodney's Basil Manhattan, made with simple syrup muddled with basil and bourbon. The coolest part, in my opinion, was the one giant ice cube in the glass to prevent watering the drink down - plus, it just looked neat!
I have to note that before we ordered, Rodney introduced us to the man behind the creations, Chef Aaron Deal. While our critic Tony has a wonderful conversation with him in the new print issue, I want to say how genuinely impressed I was with him. Some head chefs aren't comfortable in the spotlight and do what they can to stay in the kitchen. Chef Deal, however, was constantly out front, shaking hands with customers like they were old friends and checking with his waitstaff to make sure everyone was satisfied. We had a relatively lengthy conversation given the crowd and if the 2009 James Beard Rising Star Semi-Finalist nomination doesn't impress you, his Southern hospitality certainly will. He even gave us one of his cards, with the offer if we ever needed anything to let him know. Quite frankly, I'd just be tickled if he remembered me upon reentry, nevermind I could tell people I'm buddies with a well-known chef that's sure to be going places.
Now to the important part: the food! We started with the Rappahannock Oysters - which you'll read more about from Tony Barbour - and deviled eggs. JLo - a self-proclaimed "Deviled Egg Connoisseur" - said they were the best deviled eggs he'd ever had (and his are pretty darn good). We followed up with JLo getting the bar burger that included onion crisps, giant cut fries and a house pickle; I got the Red Kuro Squash Soup and Beauregard Sweet Potato side (because I don't know how to turn down a sweet potato). The squash soup was delicious, thick and creamy, made with buttermilk and garnished with honey roasted peanuts that add just a touch of sweet to the savory. While I'm usually used to brown sugar with sweet potatoes, these had fried crispy garlic that added a huge flavor.
Unfortunately, we were too stuffed for dessert, but luckily, Tony's also got that covered in his restaurant review. We were able to enjoy the rest of our drinks as we took in the scenery of a very busy Friday night for the joint! Patrons all seemed to enjoy themselves immensely and of course, Chef Deal never stopped moving as he talked with almost everyone with a handshake and a smile. All in all, a stellar evening with great food, pleasant atmosphere, and good company. I usually only have one bar haunt, but I think River and Rail might be seeing a lot more of me in the future.
In the Nov/Dec issue of the Roanoker, our restaurant reviewer Tony Barbour takes a closer look at the menu and hosts a terrific discussion with Chef Aaron Deal about the concept behind River and Rail. You can also see more of the restaurant and beautiful dishes with photos from Jes Gearing. Check out the print issue on newsstands November 2nd to read more about this great new local restaurant and all it has to offer.