At Vinton's Dogwood Restaurant, the emphasis is on just plain good food, prepared well.
A lot of high-end restaurants lately have “discovered” Southern cooking. And I think that’s a wonderful thing. Fusing down-home favorites with a culinary school flair makes for some incredible eating. But sometimes it reminds me about the old joke: What do they call French toast in France? They call it toast. So what do they call Southern food at Dogwood Restaurant in Vinton? Well, they just call it food.
You won’t find any panko-breaded oysters or $20 plates of grits with a couple shrimp, and you won’t find soft lighting, a Memphis blues soundtrack or an award-winning list of bourbons. But you will find a clean and inviting restaurant (appointed with furniture from Twist and Turns, and decorated with artistically exposed brick) with friendly and efficient wait staff. And you’ll find a big selection of good country food, and plenty of it.
It can be a bit tough to get to; I dropped by for lunch on Saturday to find out that there was no lunch on Saturday, and they’re only open for dinner Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. But after a return trip for dinner, I don’t mind the trouble.
We showed up at around six in the evening, and the first thing we noticed was that it was full to the rafters. Around a dozen tables and counter space for maybe eight more people, and it was SRO. Not bad for a downtown Vinton eatery. But before too long, a little space at the counter cleared up and we were able to poach a couple of seats.
Did I mention that the food was country? Ham steaks, chop steaks and chicken livers, oh, my! And a baker’s dozen of homemade side items including cabbage, pinto beans, pickled beats, turnip greens and sugar snap peas. Nope, no pickled beets at a “Southern-inspired” bistro.
I opted for the meatloaf and my wife was a little more adventurous with the Tuscan pork chops, which were served in a tangy tomato, caper and balsamic vinaigrette sauce. I don’t remember Aunt Bee ever making this one, but it was zesty and unpretentious, and went well with a side of mashed potatoes (no skins, no fire-roasted garlic, no nonsense) and pintos topped with diced onions.
Now about my meatloaf. They cut me off a slice of this stuff almost as big as my head. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was eight inches long and if it weighed less than a pound, I’ll kiss a pig. And best of all, it was meaty and flavorful, moist and filling. I had mine with turnip greens (“Vinegar on the side?” “Thank you, ma’am.”) and some of the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had. No gooey cheez-whiz in this, just plenty of almost-burnt cheese. This was church-picnic macaroni and cheese. If I have a bone to pick with dinner, it’s that their cornbread’s not as good as mine. But nobody’s perfect.
We finished up with a homemade blackberry cobbler a la mode, crispy and buttery. If they have this when you go in, go ahead and indulge yourself.
The best compliment I can pay Dogwood Restaurant is that it made both of us think about loved ones who have passed on and made us remember the good things they cooked for their families. It’s not Southern food. It’s just good food.
Dogwood Restaurant, 106 East Lee Ave., Vinton