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Blue Ridge regional eats?


Lew_Bryson
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I'm making a research run for an upcoming brewery guidebook down the Blue Ridge in Virginia on I-81, stopping in Harrisonburg, over the ridge to Charlottesville, back over to Roanoke and Blacksburg, then down into Tennessee to Jack Daniel's in Lynchburg.

I'm not necessarily looking for good restaurants along this route, I'm looking for regional foods I won't find elsewhere. Any suggestions? Trip starts March 13.

Thanks!

Lew Bryson

I Drink for a Living

Somewhere in the world...it's Beer O'Clock. Let's have one.

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Hey hey! I'm from Roanoke! You can find some regional flavor at the Farmer's Market in downtown Roanoke every day except Sunday. Mostly it's produce, some crafts, if you're lucky you will find rare and/or heirloom varieties of apples and pole beans. Sometimes you see creasy greens- I've never seen them for sale anywhere else, they're sort of like giant land-based watercress.

There are usually some Dunkard (sort of like Amish) farmers with some homemade baked goods.

One stand has authentic pork sidemeat just sitting there in an unrefrigerated case. Never tried it.

Wertz's Grocery, also on the market, acts like it has all kinds of regional specialties, but you have to look close, because a lot of their stuff does not come from the area. However, you should be able to get some good fried pies there. Also, good Virginia ham, the kind I had to have my mama send me last Easter when we lived in New Orleans.

Sumdat Farms also carries some unusual local and not-so-local gourmet items.

Both Wertz's and Sumdat have extensive selections of fine VA wines. I recommend Valhalla, it is crafted right there in Roanoke County.

Across the street is Good Things on the Market, among their huge candy selection are some local old-fashioned hard candies.

Here's another local thing:

Tinnell's Grocery, on Crystal Spring Ave. near the firehouse in South Roanoke. They definitely carry good, local fried pies, I believe Boone's is the name. They are also renowned for their ham biscuits, expensive but served by many South Roanoke hostesses at various social functions. Always a tragedy when you have a function coming up and they are out of ham biscuits.

As far as restaurants, my favorites are Angler's Cafe downtown, and Wildflour, on 4th St. in Old Southwest. Both strive for a local touch, and the food is good and inexpensive. If I had to choose, it would probably be for Angler's.

Of course, Hot Dog King on the market is a local institution. :wacko:

Sounds like you are too early for fishin season, otherwise you'd have to get some trout along the way. I hope you stop at Mabry Mill on the Parkway, they are another regional institution and many folks will not get their grits from anywhere else.

The Brugh Tavern in Explore Park is an interesting attempt at historical dining in an authentic setting. It might be worth checking out. They did not have their act together the last time I went there, but that was like 5 or 6 years ago.

This is the time of year to ask about Poke Salet, though you might be too early. Too early for ramps, too, I'm afraid, but might be worth asking about the farther south you get.

Have a great time!

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Thanks, Scottie. I'm down on the Dunkard thing, we got all them sects in eastern PA where I grew up. But enlighten me: what's fried pies?

Sounds like you guys are NOT afraid to eat the land's bounty!

Lew Bryson

I Drink for a Living

Somewhere in the world...it's Beer O'Clock. Let's have one.

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Lew, there's an entire thread on fried pies here on the Southeast forum. Scroll down a bit and you'll find two pages worth of info. Particularly popular in your target area. I am from this part of the world, but have been gone too long to make specific recommendations.

To find a fried pie, go to a small grocery/mini-mart sort of place in this part of the country and approach the cash register. Somewhere close by, somewhere between the beef jerky and the chewing tobacco and the key rings with trucker babes on them, you'll spy some packets of waxed paper, probably not even marked as to their contents. These are fried pies, usually apple or peach (you can ask which are which, and also who made them). They are great.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Here are some fun eats and diversions...

First off, DO NOT FORGET YOUR CAMERA, the Blue Ridge Parway is one of the most scenic drives you will ever take...

In Southwest Virginia, plan an afternoon in Floyd, VA. Floyd supports a large population of very friendly, ex hippies and counter culture types, who are smart, intelligent and a very eco-friendly bunch. A very charming town with down to earth small town country flavor. Probably some good Vegetarian spot in town. Most of these people are there because of Virginia Tech, 35 miles awayin Blacksburg, so don't be surprised when the log haired dude with the birkenstocks tells you he a VT professor in advanced computer science or a candidate for a doctorate if forestry...

If you get to Blacksburg, eat somewhere else before you get there. But do plan to spend some time at The Cellar, drinking good beer and eating some college town Italian fare.

A short ways away is the McCoy Rapids on the New River. Worth a detour for some great river scenery.

As you go north, the Roanoke Farmers Market area is cool, as previously mentioned, and you must see the new-ish O. Winston Link Photography Museum. Trains, Trains, Trains... Great pictures great photographer. On Shennandoah Ave. I believe.

Past Roanoke, as you get to central Va., take a detour down to the Southern side, and this is key, off the Blue Ridge Parkway and search out REAL BRUNSWICK STEW. The best kinds are usually in fire department or Moose Lodge parking lots as fund raisers. These are areas where truckers hats are functional and not used as trendy icons. Look for a group of old-timers with those exceptionally tall foam bill caps with the mesh netting gathered around a beat up truck and you will know you are getting warm.

And, oh yeah, those FRIED PIES. Having been a former resident of Virginia for over twenty years, I can say the best I ever had were in Stuarts Draft, Virginia on route 340 at a big huge Antique Mall near the Tastee-Freeze. In the back there was a Menonite Association selling a huge selection of not only these, but breads, pickles, preserves, etc... Load your car til it can take no more. But be respectful, Menonites make The Amish look like a bunch of devil worshipping heathens.

Oh yeah, that Tastee-Freeze serves a mean double cheeseburger if I remember correctly.

Also, spend time in Charlottesville, VA. The coolest town in Va. Wander the grounds of UVA and try to take in Monticello if possible and contemplate just how brilliant Thomas Jefferson really was.

Last but not least, If you have any room left in your trunk, return with as much salty SMITHFIELD COUNTRY HAM as your cardiologist will allow, and remember, it must say Smithfield on the label and be from Surry County or it ain't the real thing...

Missing Old Virginia,

Adam

Adam

Chef - Food / Wine / Travel Consultant - Writer

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Thanks, Adam. I almost had to wipe the drool off your post...

Me and Mennonites go way back, I'm hip, and thanks much for the cultural pointers as well; exactly the kind of stuff I'm looking for.

Lew Bryson

I Drink for a Living

Somewhere in the world...it's Beer O'Clock. Let's have one.

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And, oh yeah, those FRIED PIES. Having been a former resident of Virginia for over twenty years, I can say the best I ever had were in Stuarts Draft, Virginia on route 340 at a big huge Antique Mall near the Tastee-Freeze. In the back there was a Menonite Association selling a huge selection of not only these, but breads, pickles, preserves, etc... Load your car til it can take no more. But be respectful, Menonites make The Amish look like a bunch of devil worshipping heathens.

Hey! Mennonites drive cars AND my dad saw some dance once!

But their baking is great. Lew, I believe you are going through Harrisonburg. home of Eastern Mennonite University. You should be able to find some good cooking around there, too.

I totally second the comments on Floyd, the food scene there has gotten pretty good over the years, if a little crunchy. If you can, you should try to make it to Floyd on a Friday night for the famous Friday Night Jamboree at the Old Country Store. You will see a real live hoedown with some excellent fiddlin' and banjo-pickin'... and fried pies.

As for Blacksburg, I agree with sput, there's plenty of cheap college eats like falafel, but not much good local stuff in town, as far as I know. The Cellar is the only bar in town I would bother with.

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Mennonites vary a bit---in the area around Charlottesville (I was an undergrad there, and later worked at UVa Medical Center) there are different groups who have different ideas about what's okay and what's not: the same people who drive cars may fasten their clothes with straight pins. One of my best friends there was a Mennonite woman from Bavaria.

If your trip puts you in the way of a fiddler's convention, do stop. Galax, VA (right on the Blue Ridge, right before the VA/NC border) has one in August, I think. Quite the scene.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Thanks, everyone, for the great suggestions. Looking forward to this trip, especially since, as I'm finishing my itinerary, there are several large blocks of time where I have nothing to do but wait...so I'll go chow-hunting instead.

Lew Bryson

I Drink for a Living

Somewhere in the world...it's Beer O'Clock. Let's have one.

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Okay, you guys are making me miss home!

I am from Princeton, WVA (just over the border off I-81) and have family in Salem and Roanoke, and all the places mentioned above are really worth visiting.

If you are passing through Staunton, visit Rowe's. It's a country-style restaurant which serves an incredible vegetable plate, meatloaf, awesome chocolate cream pies. Nearly everything they serve can be bought frozen (or fresh pies, cookies and bread) to take home for later!

It's a true landmark.

The Accidental Chef

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  • 5 weeks later...

I went to college in Staunton (Mary Baldwin) and although I graduated 15 years ago -- I go back for visits occassionally. I haven't been back in a few years, but here are my favorite places in that part of the Shenandoah:

Rowes in Staunton -- Really good all the way around

The Beverly in Staunton (the BEST burger in the world is the Beverly Burger -- with fries)

Wright's Dairy in Staunton -- an old car hop with the BEST homemade milkshakes in the world. After we graduated and moved to Richmond, my old college buddies and I would get a craving and drive 2 hours on a whim for those milkshakes. I hope they are still around. I haven't been there in YEARS!

White Star Mills in Staunton-- I've only been there once for a classmate's wedding rehearsal dinner, but it was excellent and very highly rated. It was a bit out of my budget range when I was a student.

Belle Grae Inn in Staunton -- I went there for brunch a few times, and a classmate had a graduation dinner for her friends there. Great atmosphere. Very Victorian.

The Southern Inn in Lexington -- I didn't dine there as a student. It was a bit out of my student budget range (which was pretty much limited to Wright's Dairy and Rowes), but on a trip back a few years ago we ate there over and over again. My "significant other" -- a 6th generation New Yorker-- couldn't get enough of this place. Of course, when we requested cappuccino after dinner and our waitress looked at me cock-eyed and said, "Ma'am, we have COFFEE!" I knew that I had left my small-town Southern upbringing too far behind me. The food is GREAT. We went there three nights in a row.

Avoid The Depot in Staunton. When I was a student, we used to frequent a restaurant/bar called McCormick's. When I went back a few years ago, McCormick's had closed and I was told most of the staff had relocated to The Depot. It was, without a doubt, the worst meal I have ever had in my life.

Spanky's in Lexington -- A total college hangout for sandwiches, chips, and beer. It's a lot of fun, though. Maybe it's just my nostalgia talking...

There was a truck-stop right outside of Lexington that I THINK is called the Lee Truck stop that had incredible food. It's all a heart attack on a plate, but biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes to die for (literally, now that I've gotten older and, uhm, HEFTIER than my college days). It's right next to a landmark marking the birthplace of Sam Houston (I was surprised it wasn't Texas).

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The Southern Inn in Lexington -- I didn't dine there as a student. It was a bit out of my student budget range (which was pretty much limited to Wright's Dairy and Rowes), but on a trip back a few years ago we ate there over and over again. My "significant other" -- a 6th generation New Yorker-- couldn't get enough of this place. Of course, when we requested cappuccino after dinner and our waitress looked at me cock-eyed and said, "Ma'am, we have COFFEE!" I knew that I had left my small-town Southern upbringing too far behind me. The food is GREAT. We went there three nights in a row.

Spanky's in Lexington -- A total college hangout for sandwiches, chips, and beer. It's a lot of fun, though. Maybe it's just my nostalgia talking...

There was a truck-stop right outside of Lexington that I THINK is called  the Lee Truck stop that had incredible food. It's all a heart attack on a plate, but biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes to die for (literally, now that I've gotten older and, uhm, HEFTIER than my college days). It's right next to a landmark marking the birthplace of Sam Houston (I was surprised it wasn't Texas).

I was told by a guy who runs a nice upscale restaurant across the border in Lewisburg, West Virginia that the Southern Inn is one of his favorite places to eat in Lexington. When I was in undergrad, it was known for country food and slow service. Apparently it has gotten better since.

And the truck stop is Lee-Hi Truck Stop - on the Lee Highway right off 81 north of Lexington. Used to be (may still be) the home of the "He-Man Special" artery-clogging breakfast. In '91 or '92 they added a "breakfast bar" (which was met with cheers from us...I mean from those other drunken kids in there at 2 am).

I'd recommend at least a pit stop in Lexington simply because I think it's one of the most beautiful small towns I've ever seen. But I'm biased.

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