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JEANNA DUERSCHERL | The Roanoke Times
Coach & Four is located on Wiliamson Rd.
JEANNA DUERSCHERL | The Roanoke Times
Coach & Four server Dawn Wilkes prepares salads for Hannah and Lance Shipe.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
In today’s ever-changing world, there is comfort to be found in the knowledge that some things remain untouched — the Mill Mountain Star, the Roanoke Weiner Stand and Coach & Four , for example.
The latter, a restaurant on a spit of land abutting Williamson Road in northwest Roanoke, has been serving patrons since 1977. It has not been reviewed by The Roanoke Times since 1990, so we decided to see if we could discover its recipe for success.
The 1970s apparently came but never went at Coach & Four. A pub-style bar with hunter green walls and dark wood paneling sits to the left of the entrance and starts slinging unbelievably cheap drinks to a mature crowd at 3:30 p.m. Don’t expect microbrews or espresso martinis. During happy hour , domestic bottled beer runs a cool $2 while highballs cost just $2.25 ($2.50 and $2.75, respectively, outside happy hour).
The dining room decor is perfectly pleasant but dated. It is the kind of white-tablecloth place where your grandparents first celebrated their anniversary 30 years ago and have returned every year since . The close tables require deft maneuvering, particularly when the place is packed, as it was on my Saturday night visit with two other couples.
The expansive menu offers a selection of seafood, pasta and poultry, as well as steaks from the restaurant’s “high glow broilers.” Many of the items ordered by our reviewer in 1990 remain available, including the Coach & Four special. This offering “of sea scallops, tender chunks of chicken breast, large gulf shrimp, marinated and served with lemon butter over rice pilaf” will run you a dollar more than the $14.95 it cost 22 years ago.
Every meal starts with a “famous” meatball slathered in gravy. In today’s haute-cuisine parlance this would be an “amuse bouche,” but at the Coach & Four it seems more appropriate to simply call it a scrumptious, free meatball.
The bacon-wrapped scallops ($6.95) appetizer was delicious so long as I avoided the bland tarragon cream sauce served alongside. We enjoyed mushrooms ($4.95) filled with crabmeat stuffing and smothered in melted cheese that arrived piping hot and swimming in molten butter.
Another longtime tradition is the Coach & Four salad that, precisely as our reviewer put it in 1990, “is a pleasant affair that you gussy up yourself from an assortment of garnishes.” The garnishes — bacon bits, tomatoes, cheese, croutons, pepperoncini, cucumbers and onions — are chosen from a platter hoisted on the waitress’ arm . The toppings helped because I found my iceberg lettuce a little watery.
On my first visit, I opted for an entree of chicken cordon bleu ($13.95) with potato croquettes . The generous portion of flattened, double chicken breast stuffed with Virginia ham and Gruyere was delicious. A light, slightly salty brown gravy on top added moisture and flavor. The croquettes are fun and tasty — they have the look and feel of fried cheese sticks but are actually mashed potatoes.
I’ve had family members rave about the steaks cooked under the Coach & Four’s broilers. Indeed, my wife’s blue cheese-encrusted filet ($16.95) was tender and perfectly cooked. Rather than encrusting the filet, however, the melted blue cheese utterly engulfed it, a significant denigration of the dish.
My second meal began with she-crab soup ($4.95), which resembled a velvety chowder with sizeable chunks of green and red peppers amidst plentiful shards of sweet crab.
Continuing the seafood theme, I opted for the fried seafood panorama ($14.95), a selection of eight scallops, two butterflied shrimp, two oysters and one filet of flounder with cocktail and tartar sauces. Each arrived golden brown, and the crispy oysters were particularly good.
My dinner companion ordered the crabby chicken ($14.95), a boneless double breast of chicken filled with crabmeat stuffing. It was surprisingly tasty, and although she was a little uneasy about the gravy, I found the added saltiness complimentary.
During our first visit, on a busy Saturday, service was spotty. Our waitress removed beer glasses without asking whether a refill was desired (it was), and my appetizer plate sat empty at the table long after I’d finished.
Service on the second visit greatly improved, I assume, because the restaurant was much less busy.
The bottom line
The restaurant business is notoriously tough, yet Coach & Four has survived for decades, where many others have faltered. Owners Wally and Ronnie Niccolls , who have operated the restaurant since 1989, have obviously made a conscious effort to preserve the cheap drinks, generous portions and value pricing .
My colleague’s 1990 observation that the Coach & Four, “like a clutch hitter … comes through with basically good food and good value” still rings true .
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