A conflux of modern and traditional amidst the grandeur of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, here, a sense of time-honoured Americana creates a place with authentic charm, starring Roanoke Virginia.
Amble About Downtown: Explore like a local
Get a dose of three museums (Science Museum of Western Virginia, History Museum of Western Virginia, Harrison Museum of African American Culture), an aquarium, butterfly garden (with colourful cocoons on display), and performance theatre all in one space at Center in the Square. For panoramic views of the city head to the rooftop green space that uses the latest sustainable and energy-harnessing technologies.
Steps away, don’t miss the City Market Building and Historic Market District area with vendors selling everything from fresh plants to local produce and artisanal crafts.
Roanoke’s answer to the Hollywood sign? The 10,000 pound Roanoke star or Mill Mountain star, which was erected as a Christmas decoration in 1949 and is the world’s largest freestanding illuminated man-made star. While you’re there, walk to the Mill Mountain Zoo and the Discovery Center.
Make sure to check out the local boutiques and shops around Roanoke City Market, you won’t be able to resist picking up a bag of freshly roasted (and local) Red Rooster coffee beans.
With an eclectic mix of art forms, the permanent collection at the Taubman Museum of Art focuses on American and regional Appalachian art. The modern edifice, designed by architect Randall Stout is a marvel in itself, with unbeatable views of the city. Don’t miss the amazing Judith Leiber handbag collection. Best of all admission is free!
You know the reputation of a great diner, when you overhear a regular asking to be attended by his favourite waitress. It also helps if the biscuits are legendary, selling more than 5000 over five days during Christmas. Opened in 1941, The Roanoker Restaurant serves Southern classics like country ham, pancakes, fried chicken and grits. Current owner Butch Craft, a former 45 year employee, took over the business six years ago when the son of the original owner, E.C. Warren, passed away. Today, Craft is committed to maintaining the Roanoker’s welcoming atmosphere and serving up good food.
Appalachia Press in downtown Roanoke is a haberdashery of antiques, greeting cards, and prints. Each creation is handmade art. Sought after for his classic printing methods (letterpress and silk screen), print maker and owner John Reburn’s designs range from traditional wedding invitations to cheeky cards (ie. life of the party elves and sorrowful skeletons).
3 Questions With Executive Chef Stephen DeMarco of The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center
Where do you find inspiration?
My grandmother and mother were my first inspirations – I would see them just grab leftovers out of the fridge and throw a meal together and have it taste and look great. My first chef inspiration was Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill in Manhattan. My inspiration now is my fellow team mates.
What drew you to Roanoke?
I fell in love with Roanoke from the moment I drove into the city – the land, the people, and the community.
What do you look to bring to the Roanoke and southwest Virginia culinary world?
My varied background. A touch of the big city. A straight-forward approach to food. Embrace the southern heritage with some northern touches.
Peanut soup you say? This legendary dish served in The Regency room at the Hotel Roanoke is certainly an acquired taste. The creamy, savoury soup recipe which has remained unchanged for more than 100 years combines a roux, onions, celery and chicken stock and is finished with peanut butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. This is the one dish that is at once puzzling to diners and cannot be taken off the menu. Served alongside spoonbread (a soft, cornmeal-based bread), it makes a hearty appetizer.
The menu at Metro! is an eclectic ride – sushi, steak, burgers, and classic French dishes are listed amongst shrimp empanadas and local blue point oysters. But this is by no means a confused menu. As sous chef Joseph Vidal notes, “[the menu] is a way for [Executive Chef/ owner Andy Schlosser] to travel through the food.” Vidal adds that most of the produce comes from the surrounding area, something upon which Schlosser insists. For dinner, curry chicken and roti topped with a dollop of crème fraîche and hummus, a nod to Chef Schlosser’s time spent in the Caribbean leads easily to the next course of rich scallops St Jacques served in a voluptuous calvados cream and parmesan gratin. The trip around the world concludes with a peanut butter pie served with vanilla custard, peanut butter crumble and whipped cream.
Taking the Norfolk & Western Class J 611 from Lynchburg to Roanoke, there is a steady stream of eager onlookers, young and old along the journey who have stopped on highways, in open fields, farms and along the train tracks, giddy with excitement in their eyes, simply to stand and wave to passengers on board. When the train halts at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, there is a sea of people to welcome home the Class J 611. This historic moment marks the first time in more than sixty years that the beautifully restored passenger train has taken to the tracks. The energy is palpable even for a form of transportation that would be considered by some as démodé. This kind of exuberant fanfare could only be experienced in a place like Roanoke.
Sipping Wine in the Blue Ridge Mountains
To say that the view from the balcony at Chateau Morrisette restaurant is breathtaking is an understatement. Those ubiquitous Blue Ridge Mountains, whose staggered mounds and indigo hued beauty echo that of sculptural relief are the backdrop to one of the largest wineries in Virginia. Housed in salvaged timber frame buildings in (among the biggest in North America), the winery started as “a love affair between the Morrisette family and the rural Virginia countryside.” It has since gone on to win countless awards and produces fifteen varieties of wine, including the popular Our Dog Blue Riesling. For lunch, order a glass of chilled viognier with the Chateau Spring Napoleon– a beautiful and fresh tiered salad with creamy feta, avocado, pickled radish, sweet watermelon, served on a bed of baby spinach leaves.
All About Botetourt County
The tiny town of Fincastle was founded in 1772 and named after Lord Fincastle, son of Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s last royal governor. Numerous historic homes, churches and the courthouse still stand today in a harmonious blend of various architectural styles including: Antebellum and Jeffersonian. Walking through the town is like being on a movie set- eerily quiet (the population is less than 400), yet with surprises around every corner.
White Oak Tea Tavern, located in the former 1783 Cloyd House, is a pub-style tearoom. Enjoy a warm cup of brewed tea and a freshly baked bread bowl filled with artichoke and spinach chicken salad.
Did someone say shopping? See if you can spot a treasure at Harris Hall of Antiques – like the art piece featured on Antiques Roadshow that was valued between $12,000 and $16,000. Then, head to charming Apple Barn II owned by Rachel and Alfred Nichols of Troutville. The big red barn showcases everything from hand cream and accessories to ornaments and home décor.
When the smell of warm doughnuts hits your nose, give in and indulge in classic flavours like cinnamon sugar and strawberry cheesecake or try something new like turtle at Cupcake Cottage and Sweet Treats.
Take a step back in time at Heritage Family market, a family owned and operated business selling everything from local jersey cow milk and cheese to fresh bread, local condiments and sweets.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
If there is one reason to come to Roanoke it is to be surrounded by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. Seeking outdoor adventure? Head to Explore Park near Milepost 115, just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here, you can walk countless trails, take to the water and kayak or visit the historic buildings all spread over hundreds of acres of pristine nature. Further down the Parkway, at milepost 176, you’ll find the most photographed site along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway – Mabry Mill. This historic site is a restored grist mill, sawmill, woodworking shop and blacksmith. Count yourself lucky if you catch the reflection of the mill on the water and trees in full bloom simultaneously.
Flying Mouse Brewery
If Flying Mouse Brewery’s mascot, Bartleby Hopsworth doesn’t make you smile, the craft beer will. Nestled between TransAmerica Bicycle route 76 and the Appalachian Trail, the brewery’s sample flight includes everything from the mild Flying Mouse 3 (Kolsch style) to the dark richness of the Flying Mouse 8 Porter.
This travel article first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.