The story below is from our September/October 2015 issue. For the DIGITALLY ENHANCED VERSION, download our FREE iOS app or view our digital edition for FREE today!
Sumptuous flavors can have an even sharper appeal after you’ve done an enticing hike.
Roanoke, Virginia: a town situated between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, a city through which the Roanoke River runs, a home base within a stone’s throw of Jefferson National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Smith Mountain Lake. It’s a city encompassing two often separate worlds—one marked as a cultural hub with its opera, award-winning restaurants, and shopping malls, the other defined by trees, rock, and water. But those two spheres are what make Roanoke…Roanoke.
The reason why so many of us live here is because we can step outside our doors and run or bike to the 12+ miles of trails at Mill Mountain; we can redefine “happy hour” as one spent after work on a paddleboard in the river. But then, afterwards, we can drop by one of our four breweries for a pint or grab a bite to eat at a “top 100” restaurant. We have options here—and, even better, we lack traffic, overpriced cocktails, or a dress code for dinner.
So where better to pair adventures with dinner destinations, and all those within an hour of your driveway. From hiking to biking to kayaking, there’s something for everyone in Roanoke, not to mention a great meal waiting when you finish. So lace up your shoes, throw your mountain bike on your car, and find a life vest because your autumn is about to get a lot more exciting…and delicious.
A Sight for Sore Legs
Located off Route 122/Big Island Highway is a place you may never have heard of unless you live in Bedford: Millstone Tea Room. Chef/owners Melanie and Jared Srsic have operated the restaurant since 2001 (and assumed full ownership in 2005), so Millstone is no newcomer to the area, but its scenic location shelters it from much of the city crowd. On a Saturday evening, be prepared to wait for a table if you haven’t reserved one in advance and, if the weather is good, ask for patio seating so you can enjoy the wildflower garden, twinkle lights on the historic 1930s building, and feral cats rolling around in the yard behind the restaurant.
Before settling into one of the best meals you’ll eat in Virginia, however, start your afternoon with a steep but rewarding hike up to Flat Top, the taller sister peak of Sharp Top at Peaks of Otter. Skip the crowds and drive about three miles north of the Peaks of Otter Lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway to find a small, shaded parking lot and a small sign indicating the Flat Top hike.
Wind your way through patches of rhododendron 2.5 miles to the top of the mountain. In summer, you’ll find wildflowers dotting the trail; autumn, of course, introduces a riot of color through the beech, oak, poplar, and hickory trees. When you’re almost at the top, you’ll find a “false peak” with a view back towards the parkway. While it’s beautiful, push onward the final few tenths of a mile to the top where you’ll be greeted with blustery winds regardless of season and 360-degree vistas of the surrounding mountains and valleys. If you’re lucky, which you often are on this hike, you’ll have the top to yourself—plan on spending a bit of time there to soak in the sun and rest your legs. And be sure to explore both the west and east viewpoints.
Once you descend to your car, head west on Va. 43 to Millstone Tea Room. If you’re feeling nervous about your hiking duds, don’t worry. It’s a casual-upscale restaurant. You’ll see couples on date nights as well as fellow hikers or travelers like yourself. Begin your meal with a selection of the house charcuterie—all made in-house or locally sourced. Served with a spicy mustard and baguette, each on offer was delicious, though the country pate and the lardo were standouts, and perfect when paired with the organic radishes offered in the vegetables section of the menu. Cleaned and served with rich, local butter and sea salt, the crunch and spicy kick of the radishes is one of the best ways to celebrate the spring and summer season.
For a second course, try the mussels with herbed white wine. Again, like the radishes, another deceivingly simple dish, these mussels were bursting with herbs, butter, and white wine, delivering a broth that was impossible not to drink straight from the bowl at the table (don’t worry, crostinis are offered to help you out with that).
For a final course, Rabbit Sausage with Spoonbread, Summer Squash, and Sorrel Sauce is an absolute must if available. Again, featuring all local ingredients, the two generous links of sausage were grilled, the casing snappy, the spoonbread silky smooth, and the sorrel sauce a piquant lemony punch amidst the richness of the dish. Topped with baby mustard greens and edible flowers, the dish embodied the essence of late spring and provided the perfect finishing touches to an afternoon filled with strenuous hiking and serious noshing.
Flat Top Hike:
Millstone Tea Room
9058 Big Island Hwy, Bedford