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Area chefs and others in the food business share some of the best things they’ve ever eaten in Southwest Virginia .
SAM OWENS | The Roanoke Times
Taipei Chinese Restaurant's specialty Crispy Fried Sea-bass.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
A Wonton Noodle Bowl is on the menu at Cafe Asia in Roanoke.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
One of the Food Network’s most interesting shows is “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” in which celebrity chefs and other well-known food personalities are asked where they like to eat during their time off.
If I’m clicking through the channels and this show is on, I always have to stop so I can learn about Bobby Flay’s favorite BBQ ribs or the restaurant Sunny Anderson always hits up for homemade macaroni and cheese that’s almost as good as her mama’s.
The genius of this show is pretty simple: If these food experts say something is worth a try, it must be worth a try.
We have plenty of knowledgeable food professionals in Southwest Virginia who love to treat themselves to special dishes when they’re off the clock, so I’ve always wanted to do a local version of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
I asked a passel of sources to answer that question and these folks responded with great enthusiasm. They were all happy to give props to a peer for a dish that frequently appears in their dreams, whether it be as humble as a hot dog or as sophisticated as foie gras pancakes.
My list of must-try restaurants and dishes grew exponentially as I worked on this column. Maybe yours will, too.
Schlosser, who is busy these days with his downtown Roanoke restaurant and a new baby, said he consistently craves the submarine sandwich at New Yorker Delicatessen on Williamson Road in Roanoke.
“I don’t know if it’s the slightly burnt cheese or the onions in the cole slaw that stick with you three days after you engorge yourself on one of these,” he said. “We order these for our staff after a hard lunch some days and everybody here at Metro! can agree its the best thing ever.”
Keno and Lezlie Snyder
Owners, Parkway Brewing Company
Keno digs the “crazy hot” hot dogs at Moore’s Country Store in Lynchburg. “Just don’t forget the pint of milk or you’ll be burnin’ for days!” he said. Wife Lezlie said this store, which has a tree growing through it, is a great people-watching spot, as well.
As for Lezlie, she wrote in an email, “My daughter Olivia and I recently discovered the fried Oreos with ice cream at Beamer’s 25 [in downtown Roanoke]. We fought like honey badgers over the last bite! And I have to mention (shameless plug!) how well it pairs with a Parkway Raven’s Roost Baltic Porter — really! I know it sounds all Honey BooBoo, but those babies are unbelievable!”
Owner, Center Stage Catering; Professor at the Culinary Institute at Virginia Western
Schopp fondly remembers a special brunch dish he ordered at Lucky in downtown Roanoke: foie gras and buttermilk pancakes. Funny enough, Lucky chef Jeff Farmer doesn’t remember making the pancakes. Farmer comes up with new, seasonal dishes so often that one particular item may appear once on the menu and never again.
Schopp said he’s also fond of Chef Ted Polfelt’s Mediterranean brick oven pizza at 419 West in Roanoke County and the fried tofu at Wasabi in downtown Roanoke.
Owner, Foggy Ridge Hard Cider
Banana pudding, The River and Rail
“I return again and again to a favorite from Roanoke’s River and Rail,” Flynt wrote. “Aaron [Deal] serves a dessert that is an inventive take on banana pudding — it is a deconstructed version of this classic Southern favorite, with cornbread crispies and coconut-jalapeno sorbet. Each bite of this dessert highlights a different flavor — and while it sounds a little far from the original, it is without a doubt a Southern banana pudding, just a little gussied up.
“Of course, you can gild the lily by eating this with a glass of our dessert apple port, Pippin Gold!”
This dessert was also recently listed as one of the 50 best frozen treats in America by Food Network Magazine.
Owner, Baylee’s Best Chocolates
Sussman loves the creme brulee at Frankie Rowland’s in downtown Roanoke.
“My little brother took Big Brother and me to dinner there,” she wrote. “Everything was very good. To be polite, I said I would share the crème brulee with Little Bro. After tasting it, I was polite no longer. The texture was perfect, the taste rich and full and balanced. It was wonderful.”
Robert and Lisa Lusk
Noodle dishes, Cafe Asia
“We work long hours all week with food, on our feet, skipping meals, and wishing for anything but sweet,” Lisa wrote, “so on our one day off we head over to Cafe Asia [in Roanoke County] for some serious, spiced, big-flavored ‘comfort’ food. We love the noodle dishes, my favorite being their gigantic wonton noodle bowl with great big, fresh made wontons in a garlicky, gingery broth and greens. Rob goes for the Vietnamese pho with rice noodles and paper-thin shaved beef. We don’t have a noodle bar in Roanoke (which we miss from our D.C. days), so we’ve made Cafe Asia ours!”
“P.S.,” she wrote, “our kids love the ‘bubble gum’ soda at Cafe Asia. It’s often how we bait them there.”
“On the rare occasion I’m out of the restaurant, I load the kids up in the car and drive to Melrose,” Farmer wrote. “My first stop for the past 10 years has been Taipei. It’s unassuming Chinese at first glance, but the one thing Lin and Lu, the husband-and-wife owners, pride themselves on is the use of traditional ingredients. Everything is made from scratch and by hand.
“I’ve been in the kitchen and watched Lu’s father behind a mountain of egg rolls making them by hand. I remember years ago when I first had the crispy sea bass, a whole sea bass deep fried and served with dipping sauce. It’s amazing!”
Farmer added that his most recent discovery has been La Elenita Tienda & Cocina, also on Melrose Avenue.
“The family and I went there last week and when we walked in, there were probably twenty people all hunched over hot bowls of menudo. This was a very good sign. The menu is all in Spanish. Hands down the best tacos in Roanoke. I’m partial to tacos de lengua, cows tongue tacos, and these were the best I’ve had.”
Chef, 419 West
“Comfort food-wise, I still dig the Texas Tavern,” Polfelt said. “I order a cheesy Western and a bowl with. I’ve been eating there probably since I was a kid. It’s homestyle, good cooking — it’s just a good feel. I go there probably once a week, usually late on a Friday night after a long day of service.”
Polfelt said he also loves Alex Eliades’ prosciutto baguette at Bread Craft in downtown Roanoke. “The bread is crispy and moist, good-quality thinly sliced prosciutto, and arugula. My favorite side dish are the pickled vegetables. Great balance of sweetness and acidity.”
Restaurant consultant/former chef, Billy’s
Martines recently stumbled across Sabor Latino, a Latino food truck that parks outside La Esquina Latina & Dollar Items at 4117 Williamson Road in Roanoke.
“Sabor Latino would be my place for the best tacos in town,” he said. “Tacos Americanos are tender steak from the griddle, caramelized onion, corn tortillas, radish, lime wedges and some salsa verde that packs a little punch.”
When Martines visited the truck one day and the last order of tacos had been sold, he asked the cook to make him what she likes best.
“She smiled and said ‘OK’ and started cooking. In all my years in the restaurant business, I have never watched anyone making flour tortillas from scratch! It was amazing — crispy on the outside and chewy in the center. Inside this, they added refried beans, queso fresco, and a scrambled egg.”
Bruno and Tiffany Silva
Owners, The Landing at Smith Mountain Lake and Bruno’s GastroTruck
When the Silvas can find time for themselves, they love to take their 7-year-old daughter, Zoe, to the Millstone Tea Room in Bedford. They are fond of the brunch, but their very favorite dish is the mussels prepared with fresh herbs, garlic and wine.
“They are simple but perfect every time,” Tiffany said. “It is a really cool, rustic place — small, with good music, and it’s another husband-and-wife team, which is always fun to watch since I know how it is.”
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