When I got the good news, I flew upstairs like a shot to tell my wife. It seemed my editor had finally decided to send me to a restaurant in one of our favorite neighborhoods: Roanoke’s Grandin Village.
“It’s about time!” she gasped. “The patty melt at the Community Inn is to die for!”
Alas, ‘twas not to be. The assignment was actually Local Roots, a restaurant that I’d passed on the way to the Grandin Theater any number of times, and always meant to check out. Local Roots is locally owned, and billing itself as a “farm-to-table restaurant,” it seemed to be the kind of place that would serve locally grown food. And since we like to do whatever we can to support the local guy, this seemed like a cool way to kill two delicious birds with one stone. So we set out for Grandin Road, and to her credit, she barely grumbled about missing out on the patty melt at all.
When we walked in, after passing a pair of happy-looking couples at café tables on the sidewalk (always a good sign), the manager greeted us like old friends, thanked us for coming in with a depth of sincerity that should have sounded sarcastic but didn’t, and led us to our table with a flourish of fully congenial hospitality.
It’s a warm-looking room, and it was abuzz with a good neighborhoody kind of activity. The building boasts gorgeous exposed brick and pressed-tin ceilings, and the bits of the room that aren’t made of reclaimed and lightly stained wood are painted in inviting earth tones. Along the half-wall leading past the kitchen, there’s a row of mason jars filled with sorghum, green beans, honey and pickled peppers, and above the bar, there’s a row of beer tap handles boasting of the array of craft beers that have graced the place. Wholesome food plus craft beer equals excited food guy.
At first, I’ll confess to having been a bit disappointed by the apparent dearth of selections on the menu that evening. Six items apiece on the appetizer and main-course menus. But trust me when I say that it started to make sense when it all got to the table. The complexity and creativity of the dishes more than made up for any paucity on the bill of fare.
Case in point: We had each ordered an appetizer, but also wanted to try the Artisanal Cheese Plate & Accompaniments. As we munched on a pair of dense, yeasty rolls that I could dine on every day forever, our waitress – a witty, generous, knowledgeable lady named Liz – asked us whether we’d prefer to have the cheese plate or the appetizers first. Being pretty easygoing diners, we told her that it would be fine to bring it all at once. “Hmm,” she replied, “I’ll bring the cheese first.”
In my house, “Cheese & Accompaniments” means you get crackers with your cheese. If we’re really puttin’ on the dog, maybe toothpicks and cocktail napkins.
The thing Liz brought to our table looked like the palette used by the craziest painter in the world.
It was a World-Bank-Occupy-Farmville riot of colors, textures, and flavors on a great big plate. For each of the five cheeses presented to us, there were at least three other food items, each selected to pair with one of the cheeses. Crushed nuts, purees, sliced fruit… And a number of things which beggared belief or identification. A mound of black-with-a-hint-of-red cubes that looked for all the world like blushing obsidian turned out to be hibiscus gelatin.
This is as good a time as any to mention the bathroom thing. I’m not usually a big fan of the whole “clever gender restroom demarcation sign” thing. Gulls and Bouys, Molls and Gangsters… when I’m feeling an urgent call, I don’t think I should have to be decrypting anything. But this one was kinda fun.