Let’s begin with the distinguished Sunday brunch at River & Rail, and move on, a little later in the week, to the Metro! sushi happy hour. Date night? Alexander’s! And then we’re back to Sunday, and supper at Local Roots. It’s a full week of distinctive, well-thought-out dining pleasures.
Note: The story below appears in our Jan./Feb. 2015 issue. For the full story download our FREE iOS app or view our digital edition for FREE today!
While some in major cities are decrying brunch as an oversaturated, underwhelming, prolonged adolescence-inducing monster of a Sunday late morning, I would like to propose an alternative definition: brunch as accessible and welcoming, a meal that is lazy in the relaxed, pour-me-another-cup-of-coffee way that one wants the weekend to be; brunch as the plumb of a restaurant’s creative depth. It’s easy to schlep scrambled eggs, pancakes, and the ubiquitous egg Benedict, but is it possible for a restaurant to distinguish itself from the crowd and produce a fine dining experience at 11 am?
River and Rail furnishes a resounding “yes” to that question. From the moment you walk in the door to the light-saturated dining room, you are privy to the standard hospitality and quality of any lunch or dinner service at the restaurant. Order a French press of the locally roasted Red Rooster coffee to start the meal and, if you’re feeling like a bit more of a pep to the morning, indulge in a spicy, snack-laden Michelada, a beer-based take on the Bloody Mary that’s utterly compelling.
Once you’re a bit more awake thanks to the coffee, move on to a palate-opening shot of a Rappahannock raw oyster topped with a bit of sweet and tangy chow chow mignonette and a spritz of lemon. Just one apiece will set the tone for your perfect leisurely Sunday brunch.
Move on next to share the board of Benton’s 14-month aged Country Ham and Bourbon Mustard with the restaurant’s house-made bread & butter pickles and hunks of grilled bread, but be sure to ask for a bit of pimento cheese to be added to the side. Something about the salty ham, zing of mustard, and sweet crunch of the pickles paired with the creamy pimento cheese brings it all home, the perfect little breakfast tartine.
But you’re here for brunch and you’d like to move on to the main event. Thankfully (or unfortunately, depending on how you view it – so many choices, so little time), there isn’t a wrong option at the restaurant. If you’d like to go with a traditional egg Benedict, whatever is on the menu that day is bound to be a home run. Always atop a cathead buttermilk biscuit, the Benedict features a rotation of country ham, bacon, or, one of my favorites, fried oysters, with the usual but still luxurious Hollandaise sauce and two poached farm eggs. The farm eggs also feature prominently in the omelet of the day – a lighter option that never sacrifices flavor with combinations like blue crab and goat cheese. But if French toast is more your thing, never fear, River and Rail will never disappoint with its ultra-rich version featuring caramelized bananas and toasted pecans with brioche. Like dessert for breakfast, the French toast is an elevated take on the dish and one that keeps many coming back for more.
Since opening two years ago, River and Rail rightfully has established itself as the brunch destination in Roanoke. So much so, that you often need to call ahead for a reservation – perhaps the one flaw in the experience. From friendly service to perfectly poached eggs, the Crystal Spring hotspot proves that brunch isn’t and shouldn’t die anytime soon.
The River and Rail Restaurant
2201 Crystal Spring Ave SW, Roanoke