Photo by David Hungate.
Star City Coffee House
While Star City Coffee House takes its name from java and its crusty accompaniments, the menu is full of great soup and sandwich surprises.
Based on its name, Star City Coffee House could be easily misunderstood; the name fairly screams “coffee.” When I heard about this latest occupant of the El Palenque/Chico and Billy’s/Pizza Hut on Brambleton, I had images of a roaster in one corner, baristas behind a bar and a big ol’ espresso machine. Maybe some bagels and fresh-trucked pie in a case up front. And when I walked in and saw photographs by local artists on the walls of the smallish, well-lit dining room, a couple of comfy armchairs in the corner, and the tiny folded paper menus, I thought, “Yep. Standard coffee shop. Wonder where I can get something to eat on the way home…”
Don’t be fooled, Roanoke. Once I took a second to actually read the menu, I could see that I had maybe misjudged them a little. I didn’t ponder my misdeed for very long, though; seeing a few of the more imaginative items pushed the error of my ways right out of my head.
Yes, much of the menu consists of lunchy-type things like soups, salads and sandwiches. And some of the offerings, like the egg salad sandwich or the Reuben, are a little rudimentary. But whether for lunch or a light supper, there’s plenty on this little menu to please.
There were no appetizers on the menu, so we made do with a generous bowl of thin-cut sweet potato fries from the side item list. They were tasty and crispy, dusted with a sprinkling of coarse salt. My wife followed up with a thick split-pea soup with plenty of firm carrots and topped with crumbled bacon and a dollop of sour cream. My French onion was even tastier, made with copious amounts of onion, and topped with plenty of cheese atop a French bread crouton.
My wife’s Thai chili steakburger was a standout. Chef Mark Linson is particularly proud of his selection of six “steakburgers” – fusions of ground beef and hunks of sirloin – and he should be. Topped with sautéed ginger, garlic and chili peppers, along with a little sharp cheddar, the burgers impressed with the way the flavor of the beef shone through the spiciness. For her side, she chose the “Reece’s Panisses,” crispy steak-cut fries made from chickpeas. They had a hearty, creamy flavor that really didn’t need the zesty dipping sauce they were served with.
My sandwich was a pair of grilled bratwurst with Dijon mustard and red sauerkraut on a ciabatta loaf. The sweet kraut was a nice counterpoint to the more aggressive sausage and mustard. I loved the pan-European theme to this sandwich; it straddled the alps like a bowlegged Tyrolean. I chose the black bean and quinoa salad to go with mine and was pleasantly surprised by the fresh mix of tomatoes, green peppers and green onions.
Now, about that trucked-in pie: don’t go looking for it here! All desserts are made in-house, and by somebody who knows how to do it. I ordered a huge slice of rum cake (topped with a rich nut glaze and rumored to be made by the owner’s mother) and was tempted to eat an intemperate amount. My wife tried the chocolate gelato, and as it was her first time trying gelato, I think it may have served as something of a gateway gelato: she is quite hooked on the rich, intense, gelato-y goodness. Luckily, there is a wide variety of flavors (also made in-house), so she has a pretty reliable connection.
I’ll be heading back there for breakfast (Linson tells me I really need to come in and have something called a “stack of hots,” griddle cakes that are somewhere between a pancake and a crepe), and after sampling his other creations, I’m sold. Maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be the guy in the corner gobbling rum cake at 7 a.m. and singing “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere.”