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Flying Mouse Brewery
A flight of all of Flying Mouse’s beers is always a good idea.
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Swine Drive Deli Dogs
A fully loaded Mexican dog at Salem Field matches the loaded bases.
Warm-weather food means lots of things – BBQ, dawgs, beer, bagels and all manner of just-picked greens and other goodies. Here’s a quick tour of the delights of summer ingestion season.
BBQ, Bocce & Beer - Village Grill
If there’s anything more perfect than a Saturday afternoon at the Village Grill with a pitcher of Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, a platter of The Lick BBQ & Co.’s pulled pork, and bocce, then I can’t imagine what it would be. Summers, for me, tend to be a tad ritualistic – Wednesday evening mountain bike rides, Friday cookouts, Sundays floating down the New River – and now that The Lick BBQ has taken up permanent residence at The Village Grill, I’m certain that BBQ and bocce will be my new Saturday haunt.
The Lick’s genius lies in its partnership with Grill. Originally operating as a pop-up, after a few months of rip roaring success, The Lick set up permanent residence in the parking lot, with its pulled pork, ribs and chicken now available whenever the restaurant is open for business (unless they sell out – which often happens). The Village Grill recently built a shed in the back of the building to house the smoker and, even though it’s less visible now, the delicious smell of smoking meat still wafts out over Grandin whenever it’s fired up.
But what to order? If ribs are your thing, then beyond a doubt do get a rack. The meat falls off the bone and is excellent with or without one of the house sauces. My favorite is the pulled pork, especially when slathered in a mix of the spicy and sweet sauces. But if you’re more of a chicken connoisseur, you can’t go wrong with the whole or pieced-out chicken on offer – juicy with a crisp skin, the chicken is perfect either at the restaurant or taken home with an array of sides.
Speaking of which, do not, under any circumstances, forget to order the mac and cheese – its creamy, stove-top style rich sauce dotted with red peppers and black beans almost outshines the smoked meat. My only complaint? They don’t offer a larger portion of it than a small side – I’d order it by the pound if I could.
Sounds & Suds - Flying Mouse Brewery
It seems that you can’t turn in any direction these days without running into a restaurant with a tap list 20 or 30 deep of craft beers. In the same vein, you can’t go very far in the Roanoke region without finding yourself five miles or less from a craft brewery. From Roanoke Railhouse to Chaos Mountain, craft breweries dot the landscape – and that’s a very good thing for beer lovers everywhere.
One of the relative new comers to the scene is Flying Mouse Brewery, a much anticipated brewery located in Troutville. Although the operation ran into a few hitches in opening regarding zoning, and some pushback from some neighbors, it has now been opening its doors since September 2013 and welcoming thirsty patrons from all over the region as well as from the Appalachian Trail and Trans-Atlantic Bicycle Route.
Brewing session beers – i.e. brews with a lower percent alcohol by volume – Flying Mouse offers something for everyone. My favorite is the No. 8, a nutty porter that rolls in at only 4% ABV, leaving plenty of room for tastings of all the other offerings. The brewery’s kolsch, No. 3, is the perfect beer for a backyard cook-out or day at the beach given it’s summery lightness and crisp taste; the No. 5, an English Bitter, takes the cake for a nuanced, slightly bitter and malty sipping beverage. Several seasonals and experimentals are usually on tap as well.
The main attraction of the brewery, though, is its large bier garden with views of the surrounding forest and Tinker Mountain. Dotted with tables and chairs, it’s the perfect spot to sit back, relax and listen to one of the area’s local bands. Additionally, at least one food truck (or BBQ smoker) shows up every Saturday, so you have no excuse not to spend the afternoon relaxing outside. Family friendly with plenty of delicious options for both adults and kids, Flying Mouse is one of my new go-to breweries and somewhere I know I’ll spend quite a bit of time this summer.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame - Swine Drive Deli Dogs
If you’ve made it this far into summer and haven’t yet gone to a Salem Red Sox game, then you need to put down this magazine and head to the ball field right now. From the awe-inspiring view of the mountains to photo ops with the questionably mangy looking, yet oh-so-friendly Mugsy the mascot to dollar beers on Thirsty Thursday, a night at the Red Sox is quintessentially summer.
Until last year, however, getting dinner at the game wasn’t exactly a priority for me. The thought of a plain, generic hot dog and some wilted, cold fries just didn’t seem to hit the spot, so when it was announced last spring that the entire concessions program experienced a makeover, I was a bit skeptical but encouraged. Turns out that indulging in a meal at the Red Sox games is now by far one of my favorite summertime guilty pleasures.
While you could grab a burger or BBQ from Bull & Bones or a pizza from Roman Empire, I prefer to stick to the ballgame classic: the all-American hot dog. Swine Drive Deli Dogs offers far more than your average “meat in tube form,” as Anthony Bourdain so lovingly calls the genre. Although you could order a standard dog, it’s said that Swine Drive creates upwards of 50 specialty dogs per season, ranging from the Carolina Dog topped with pulled pork, coleslaw and a vinegar BBQ sauce to the Mexican Dog slathered with chili, salsa, pickled jalapenos, liquid cheese and crushed tortilla chips (an offering special for Cinco de Mayo). The Midwest Twister, however, is the hotdog you ought to order, if only for this one reason: The hotdog is wrapped in bacon. Could you get anymore gourmet and delicious than that at a local baseball game? Whether you stick with old standards or branch out, Swine Drive is upping the ante for ballpark food and offers a good treat for a warm summer night.
Carb Loading - Roanoke Bagel
Summer is about adventuring – be it hiking to the top of McAfee Knob with your family, spending an afternoon SUPing on the Roanoke River, or heading out on a bike ride with friends. But before you adventure, you better eat a fantastic and filling breakfast, and Roanoke Bagel provides just the ticket.
Churning out hundreds of kettle-boiled bagels a day since 1994, Roanoke Bagel is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. The current owners, Amelia and Gary Goldacker, can be found behind the counter taking orders and assembling sandwiches every day, though its not uncommon to catch them in the dining room catching up with good friends or reading The Roanoke Times (paper edition). It’s this comfortable atmosphere – as if the café were Roanoke’s communal living room – that I love so much about the shop.
As for the bagels, it’s true, they aren’t exactly New York style (is that ever possible outside of New York?), but they’re impressively close to the real deal. From poppy seed or jalapeno to asiago or blueberry, there’s a bagel or a schmear for everyone. Although there is a menu of sandwich ideas, I always end up with the same – an everything bagel with jalapeno cream cheese, egg and bacon. It’s the perfect balance of salt, heat and protein, a winning combination for a pre-adventure breakfast – and on my way out the door, I always grab a $3 bag of day old bagels so I can hit the trail the next day if the weather compels me.
Go Local - Farmer's Markets
Beyond restaurants and breweries, one thing stands out as the most definitively summer: our local farmers markets. These markets are home to the beginnings of any best bite of summer – from fresh zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and corn to just-laid eggs, seafood from the North Carolina coast and sausage from up the road, the entire valley is at our fingertips to enjoy.
Pick a market close to you – Grandin, downtown, West End, Salem, Vinton – and spend some time getting to know the farmers and purveyors. Leisurely stroll among booths, pick up that plum and smell it before you buy it. Everything has its own story and its own role to play in your cooking. Those shiitake mushrooms are begging to be marinated and tossed in a salad, the ground beef will work perfect in a burger and, yes, that baby corn is real and is delicious when shucked and added to a stir-fry.
If you’re ever unsure of how to cook or serve something, just ask the vendor. That’s how I discovered that creasy greens, a small, slightly spicy green that is delicious when sautéed simply like spinach or served in a salad raw. Globe eggplants are perfect when stuffed with bulgur and topped with a tahini sauce; chicken of the woods mushrooms really do taste like chicken. A trip to the farmers market is a full on sensory learning experience and it is undeniably my favorite part of summer. Bring on the vegetables, bring on the fiddler playing off to the side, bring on the best tasting food I’ve ever had the privilege of buying and preparing. Bring on summer.