Among Pomegranate’s entrees: pan-seared rack of lamb provençal.
There was a moment when Diana Dixon was driving down the road, trying to come up with a name for her planned restaurant – a word connected with food, she thought, but also something that would sound “healthy, upscale, inviting, intriguing.”
After rejecting such inspirations as “Artichoke” and “Green Beans,” she remembered a picture she’d seen of a restaurant in San Francisco bathed in a golden glow with warmly inviting reds and bronzes. The colors made her think of “Pomegranate,” and a restaurant’s identity was born.
The establishment that she and her daughter’s significant other, Alejandro Rivera, carved out of a former wine warehouse in Troutville is bathed in warm burgundies, bronzes and coppers. It’s accented by track lighting that makes the colors shine differently from spot to spot. You have to look closely to see the clever transformation from concrete-block warehouse walls (softened by drywall) and concrete floors (made glossy with colorful resins) to relaxed restaurant, bar and gathering area with a luxurious feel. Dixon did more than her fair share of the painting, as did her daughter, Deann Bishop; it’s a hands-on labor of love all around. The building was purchased in June 2008, and Pomegranate was open for business by November.
The opening capped a five-year pursuit for Dixon and Rivera; they knew they wanted a special restaurant in the Botetourt area, but it took that long to find “the” spot. Their marketing vision hinged on the fact that the burgeoning Botetourt population was ripe for an upscale experience; residents had to travel to Roanoke or Lexington to satisfy the fine-dining urge.
Rivera, who worked his way up to manager during an eight-year tenure at Frankie Rowland’s in downtown Roanoke, marvels that Dixon was “brave enough and kind enough and interested enough” to support his quest to run his own establishment. A former educator in Botetourt County schools, Dixon poured “every dime she had” – a huge gamble, even allowing for the fact that educators aren’t overpaid – into the project.
“Not making it is not an option,” she says.
Early evidence suggests the gamble has paid off. Pomegranate enjoys the kind of buzz that makes people want to try it out, and a certain number of them have become weekly visitors. Via word of mouth, an early clientele drawn mostly from the Roanoke and Botetourt areas has expanded to include diners from as far away as Christiansburg and Lynchburg.
“People tell each other in the office and the gym,” Dixon says. Trend watchers have spotted references on Facebook as well (as in, “I’m off to have dinner at Pomegranate tonight”), and one recent Saturday evening spot-check found the 82-seat restaurant juggling double-digit reservation numbers. Not bad for a (relatively) new kid on the block.
Tasting the Food
Apart from Sunday brunch, Pomegranate is open for dinner only, Tuesdays through Sundays. The creative force behind the cooking is Chef Drew Queen, a virtuoso in his mid-20s who, like Rivera, comes from Frankie Rowland’s. He likes to put together unexpected combinations, such as pan-seared rack of lamb provençal with pea shoots and tomato feta red wine reduction, to challenge the taste buds. Dixon notes that Queen makes his own mozzarella and pancetta, and the bread is housemade as well. He’s young and energetic enough that the menu offerings change fairly frequently.
The evening we visited, a jazz/blues quartet played softly as we enjoyed two of the nine proffered tapas: seared scallops with pumpkin-seed-crusted cauliflower chipotle sauce and sherry-orange gastrique, and housemade gnocchi with mushroom pesto.
The sauces gave the scallops a delicate, savory finish without masking the taste of the scallops themselves. The melt-in-your-mouth goodness of the gnocchi benefited from strong mushroom flavoring to counterbalance the minimal conventional seasoning (such as salt). To his credit, the server alerted us to that strong presence of mushrooms when we ordered the dish, in case it wasn’t what we had in mind. In fact, he was informative and attentive throughout.
Our only complaint during this portion of the meal was that the bread was not as fresh and soft as we would have wished; it appeared someone had left it out, unprotected from the air. Sometimes it’s the smaller touches that are hardest for a restaurant to settle into.
There were nine tapas choices on the night we visited, including tuna tartare with flatbread, duck confit with cherry ginger sauce and grit cake, crisped calamari with roasted tomato pesto, and housemade paté. It would have been great to sample each.
The chicken that evening was split roasted half-bird porcini dusted with quinoa, kale and pancetta butter; other possibilities included pork chop, filet mignon, duck, salmon, snapper, seafood linguini and vegetarian strudel. But because I love lamb and it’s not easy to come by, I chose that evening’s version – with sweet potato purée, roasted red pepper and caramelized onion reduction. The reduction and purée made fabulous accompaniments to the medium-rare lamb. My companion ordered crab cakes he raved about – with beurre blanc and pomegranate reduction – and there was plenty left to take home for another day.
The entrées are served with a fresh house salad (we chose the house dressing, which was, appropriately enough, pomegranate vinagrette).
In an unusual move, Pomegranate offers family-style side dishes to share (such as mashed potatoes infused with your choice of roasted poblano peppers and bacon; roasted garlic and parmesan; or simple horseradish). We chose slender green beans in saffron aioli, and they were perfectly cooked. The restaurant was out of our first choice, the intriguing-sounding roasted beets, leeks and sweets.
The meal was capped with a shared dessert of very smooth chocolate lava cake with crème anglaise. (Next time: the chocolate cherry bread pudding with house brandy sauce.) It was washed down with a cup of coffee that was also smooth, if not quite as hot as it should have been.
Just a few kinks to work out of an otherwise sterling dining experience. Our guess is that Pomegranate is here to stay.
When You Go
106 Stoney Battery Road
Troutville, VA 24175
(two miles north on U.S. 11 from I-81, Exit 150)
Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday, plus Sunday brunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Live music three nights a week.
Entrée prices range from $18 for vegetarian strudel to $35 for filet mignon.