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These four restaurants are Roanoke’s elegant, venerable special-occasion dining rooms – where the attention to detail is as meticulous as every menu item is delicious.
An elegant dinner at a special restaurant is the most common way to celebrate uncommon events: a wedding, an anniversary, a birthday, Mother’s Day or graduation. Talk to friends, business associates, family, neighbors, and you will find a consensus of choices for such special occasions.
And Roanoke’s four premiere special occasion dining destinations have much in common even if their menus and their ambiance differ from one another. The common factor is an intensely personal sense of hospitality. Even in a hotel dining room, the dinner feels as if he or she is a guest in someone’s home.
The oldest, largest and perhaps most elegant setting is the Hotel Roanoke. In a three-way tie for second place (although not always second choice) are The Library, Alexander’s and Frankie Rowland’s Steak House.
Each of these dining venues has its own ambiance and its unique menu, providing a cosmopolitan air to the Roanoke Valley’s dining options. The one aspect common to all four restaurants is the ability to have special dinner in a quiet room with attentive service in the presence of people respectful of others.
These are places where we wear our “Sunday” clothes (or at least business casual dress) and use our best airs and graces. Here are four dining rooms where we can celebrate our Southern heritage of gracious living, whether we spent the day in an office or a factory. They are place for quiet celebration.
In order to present the dining rooms in an unbiased way, they are discussed in order of their appearance historically.
“Absolutely loved our Valentine’s dinner tonight! Everything was prepared perfectly! Especially our favorite dish: she crab soup!! Always a delight!!”
The Hotel Roanoke was built as a destination for rail travelers in 1882. The Regency Room opened in 1938. Over the years, the Regency Room has become a standard for special-events dining in the Roanoke area. During those seven decades, it seems that not much has changed. Actually much has changed, but the basic ambiance is not much different today from what it was when the first diners spent an evening in the candle-lit room.
Executive Chef Billy Raper took care to make tradition the center piece of his menu. When Hotel Roanoke reopened in 1995, Raper took command the kitchen. He assembled former chefs to discuss the menu items they had offered over the years and that formed the core of his menu.
You still find peanut soup, spoon bread and bread pudding on the menu (although the spoon bread is no longer automatically served with every meal). Another product of those discussions: Corn Cake Chesapeake – Smithfield ham, scallops and shrimp on a corn cake based on the famous spoon bread.
One item of Raper’s own offerings is Chef’s Traditional Signature Crab Cake – what he calls a “new tradition.” It features lump Blue crab meat with Chesapeake spices and a corn and leek puree.
In addition to his respect for tradition and his passion for new traditions, Raper is a locavore. He prefers to use locally-grown foods to create a distinctive regional menu.
Let’s not forget the festive, theatrical foods like Bananas Foster, served flambé tableside.
The Regency Room is large enough to seat 150 people comfortably (so even in a commodious dining room you are not likely to hear conversation from nearby tables). In the large room, there is a kind of intimacy that is enhanced by the décor and the standard of service.
Perhaps the popularity of the Regency Room today is due to a remembrance of the standard of service set by former owner Norfolk & Western Railway.
Hotel Roanoke Food & Beverage Director Declan McGettigan notes that “the current owner and its management team (Doubletree Hilton) often allow local tradition to trump corporate standards.”
You may no longer have a “roll girl” tending your bread dish, but the level of service matches the quality of the food and all combine to create a magical Southern experience for your special occasions.
Breakfast Mon-Fri 6:30 a.m.–10:30 a.m.;
Sat-Sun 7 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Lunch Mon-Sat 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Dinner Mon-Sat 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Sun 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
540-985-5900; Reservations recommended
The Library, Piccadilly Square
“My birthday at The Library was perfect! I even got a song from Lowell and a personal menu!”
The Library has been a popular special destination restaurant in Roanoke for 32 years. Since 1998, the restaurant has benefitted from the ownership of long-time maitre d’ Lowell Hill.
Hill boasts that The Library has more awards for service than any other restaurant in the valley. That claim is not a surprise to anyone who dines there.When you come through the door, maitre d’ Gregory Greenwood greets you by name, and he never forgets your name for the rest of the evening. You are a guest in his “house,” and he works to make your visit a pleasant one.
If you are a previous guest, Gregory or Lowell is likely to know your preferences for beverages and food, but there is no presumption – no “you want the usual?”
Instead the conversation will sound like this, “Michael, I know you prefer a single malt Scotch before dinner; may I get you a drink while you consider your choices for dinner?”
Steak Diane served tableside is the room’s most popular beef dish. Each member of the staff has his own variation of preparation and presentation, but the quality is consistent from table to table.
In a nod to tradition, Hill recently added an item from the restaurant’s original menu. In deference to the request of a magazine publisher (and others), Beef Admiral has made a triumphant return.
The Library has a general dining room, a separate small dining room and a room designed to host larger parties. The larger room has been the site of wedding rehearsal dinners, birthday celebrations and board meetings for local companies.
The small dining room is an intimate space for four where we recently spent an evening with friends. I had the Boston scrod which was prepared in a manner more health conscious than the cheese-covered scrod I find in Boston taverns.
If you are seated at a main dining room table, you will notice that the space between tables allows for private conversation.
Mon-Sat 5:30 p.m. – Late
540-985-0811 FAX: 540-345-6588
Alexander’s, 105 South Jefferson St.
“Thank you for such a great evening. My nephew graduated the next morning, and Alexander’s was a perfect place to celebrate.”
Alexander’s is special for two reasons. It is an intimate dining room with a cosmopolitan ambiance, and it was a pioneer of the renaissance of downtown dining.
When Bridget Meagher opened Alexander’s in 1979, it was located in a typical early Roanoke downtown building. The 25 x 125-foot space was immediately a popular dining destination. The restaurant was moved to the current location in 1984 to accommodate the demand of an increasing clientele.
How appropriate that a restaurant which helped spark the Market area revival is now a centerpiece in the downtown living revival. How ironic, then, that the same restaurant can transport you away from Roanoke.
In addition to pioneering downtown fine dining, Alexander’s has been in the forefront of what is now called the locavore movement. Bridget Meagher and her husband Hugh have always grown herbs and vegetables used in the restaurant.
They also helped start a farmers group in Floyd to provide locally-grown vegetables to restaurants. Now they are growing blueberries for the restaurant and for sale to local consumers.
The food and the ambiance at Alexander’s can give you the feeling you find in restaurants in New Orleans, or SoHo, or Tribecca. The movement of people and vehicles outside the front window augments the fabulous food to trigger your willing suspension of disbelief.
That same front window was once a window of shame. Many years ago, a friend proposed a gentlemen’s wager on a football game between our respective alma maters. The loser would buy lunch, which would be served at a table by the window, with a banner from the winner’s alma mater displayed from all to see. It was a long lunch under a Notre Dame banner, but it seemed to be the perfect place to mark such a special occasion.
The menu offers “small plates” which include lump crab lasagna with white truffle cream & chive oil, shrimp & corn risotto, crawfish rémoulade & fried eggplant “sandwich,” and shrimp étouffée with grits cake. The last of those betraying the New Orleans roots of the owner.
Entrées show a similar savoir faire of the talented staff. The menu is a presentation of “classic culinary concepts with new presentation and new styles,” says Meagher.
But the desserts! How about strawberry shortcake with Chantilly cream or chocolate praline mousse cake with port glazed walnuts?
The entire dining experience is a result of a rare synthesis in the restaurant industry. The culinary team members (which includes the owner) have been with Alexander’s for an average of 19 years. One anchor, Bonnie Mills Webb, has been with Meagher for 25 years. (Webb’s parents were long-time owners of The Gavel, a popular dining spot for courthouse denizens.) The service staff present a similar high average with average service in excess of 10 years.
The sustained quality of the food, the unobtrusive professional service, the atmosphere of the room and the owner’s elegant personality have made this a favorite special dining destination for Roanokers. Tues-Thurs 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.;
Fri-Sat 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Lunch, Wed 11 a.m. – 2 p.m; 540-982-6983
Online reservations at alexandersva.com
Frankie Rowland’s Steakhouse, 104 South Jefferson Street
“I’ve been to several of the ‘top’ steak house chains around the country, but this topped them all. The menu was simple and the food was impeccably prepared.”
Frankie Rowland’s Steakhouse offers a quiet, dignified setting for dinner. The atmosphere is more like that of a private club than a restaurant. If we had not abandoned our agricultural heritage, you might expect gentlemen smoking fine cigars in such a room. The linen-covered tables and upholstered chairs reinforce the club-like atmosphere.
Roger Neel and his late partner Al Pollard opened the eponymous room (using their middle names) as a kind of climax to a restaurant career they started as a sandwich stand in the Market Building as the City Market revival was beginning.
Since its opening in 2001, Frankie Rowland’s has been a popular place for business entertaining and for marking special occasions. In recent years, that role has expanded with the addition of a private dining room that has a Salem Avenue entrance.
The menu is simple, but that simplicity does mean that the fare is not special. The aged Angus steaks and the Maine lobster are superb. My wife is fond of the jumbo crab cakes and the bread pudding.
When the restaurant opened, it quickly became known for its distinctive martinis, and the pineapple martini continues to be the room’s signature drink. The bar liquors and the wine list are as elegant as the food.
One afternoon, I was in the restaurant a few hours before it opened while the reservations hostess was away, and I heard an endless stream of people calling for reservations. Company business manager Tara McAlister confirms that the restaurant has remained a popular special occasion destination for Roanokers and people who do business with them.
The private dining room has helped both venues. Before the addition, the restaurant had to be closed to the public if a pharmaceutical company wanted to make a presentation. Now, those dinner meetings can be held without denying dinner to the other patrons. The new room even has its own entrance.
Lounge, Mon-Thurs 4 p.m. – midnight;
Fri-Sat 4 p.m. – 1 a.m.
Dinner, Mon –Thurs 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.;
Fri-Sat 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.; 540-527-2333