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The Hotel Roanoke
The tradition of peanut soup at Hotel Roanoke goes back to 1940.
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Dry Pond Cafe
Patrick County's Dry Pond Cafe has no sign beyond its window greeting.
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The Galax Smokehouse is overcoming the myth that Virginia is not a BBQ state.
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Tuggles Gap's classic breakfast burrito.
The southern-most miles of the Virginia section of the Blue Ridge Parkway provide a wide array of must-tastes. These six stops also offer architecture ranging from a regal 1882 Tudor to an equally classic O’Mahony Diner Company pre-fab diner. The meals inside reflect the heritage of the structures, with peanut soup, succulent ribs, award-winning BBQ and more.
Roanoke, VA: Peanut Soup and Cornbread at Historic Hotel Roanoke
The second part of our four-part series about foods in the 29 counties through which the Blue Ridge Parkway passes begins with the gentility of the Regency Room at the Hotel Roanoke.
When it came time to decide on a title for his book about the Hotel Roanoke, the late Donlan Piedmont settled on food: Peanut Soup and Spoonbread. In his preface to that book, Virginia Tech professor Marshall Fishwick calls them “landmark dishes.”
For some, the Hotel Roanoke is defined by its connection to the Norfolk & Western Railroad, which built the hotel in 1882. For others, the hotel is a place to get a glimpse of the Virginia Tech football team, removed from Blacksburg for a quiet night before the next day’s home game. For others, there are memories of past Miss Virginia pageants. Photographs of winners who have gone on to claim the Miss America title hang in Peacock Alley.
Celebrity visits, Civil War veterans’ reunions, a cattle auction in the ballroom, and military officers relaxing in the Pine Room Pub during World War II all define the Hotel Roanoke. Since 1940, so has peanut soup, the recipe created by Chef Fred Brown and held as a secret until just a few years ago.
Billie Raper, currently executive chef at the hotel, grew up in Richmond, where his father cultivated peanuts. Chef Raper’s first job was in Colonial Williamsburg, where he made peanut soup.
“The idea of making soup out of peanuts is foreign to some,” Raper says. But for those who frequent the hotel’s Regency Room, it’s as commonplace as Virginia country ham. Peanut soup is on the menu every day and is also offered up by the crockful during the hotel’s special-occasion buffets.
Peanut soup’s corn-flavored companion at the hotel is a link to Colonial Virginia as well.
“Spoonbread is a moist, soufflé-like version of cornbread,” says Chef Raper. “You make a cornmeal mush and then add eggs. My mother in Richmond baked it in a cast-iron skillet.”
The Hotel Roanoke has survived fires, the Great Depression, closure and ownership changes. Today, it flourishes under the ownership of Virginia Tech, and its adjoining conference center, marked by a wall of Hokie Stone, is managed by the City of Roanoke. Among the constants at this Tudor Revival institution are the portraits of Virginians George Washington and Robert E. Lee in the lobby, and peanut soup and spoonbread on the menu.
The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center, 110 Shenandoah Avenue, Roanoke, Virginia, 540-985-5900. hotelroanoke.com.
Franklin County, VA: The Hub's Knockout Pies From 1920s Recipes
The Hub in Rocky Mount, Va., has held on through some hard times as well. It opened in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression, and still occupies the same spot on a hill above the railroad bridge. At one time, textile mills surrounded The Hub. Millworkers had a half hour for lunch, and they packed the place.
“Now all those textile mills are gone,” says The Hub’s owner, Richard Harrell. “One of the few industries left around here is Ply Gem, which makes windows just across the bridge from here.”
In addition to The Hub’s three-meal-a-day menu and about six gallons of sausage gravy served every Saturday, pie has kept the doors open. Harrell says the pie recipes were salvaged from the long-defunct Rocky Mount Pastry Shop, where they originated in the 1920s and ’30s.
Butterscotch, chocolate and coconut pies are made every day by Harrell’s wife Terry, who, as her husband says, “occasionally ventures out and makes others, like peanut butter crunch.” The golden-orange color of her butterscotch pie is unforgettable.
Over its long history, The Hub has had only three owners. Butch and Mary Ann Wilcox ran the restaurant for 36 years and still can’t stay away. “They’ll come in and work every once in a while,” says Harrell.
He appreciates the help, since he splits his time between running The Hub and pastoring the 600-member Boones Mill Baptist Church, just up the road.
His limestone-fronted restaurant with a cowboy painted on the outside cooler offers counter, booth and table seating.
“Some of our local folks eat here two or three times a day,” says Harrell.
Pastoring a church and running a restaurant aren’t all that different, he tells me. “You’re just nourishing folks in different ways.”
The Hub, 245 North Main Street, Rocky Mount, Va., 540-483-9303.
Floyd County, VA: Tuggles Gap Restaruant Offers Local Produce Infused With Southwestern Flavors
Floyd County claims more musicians per capita than New York City. On The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, and within sight of the Blue Ridge Parkway, sits Tuggles Gap Restaurant, where live music is performed every weekend.
Once the location of the Parkway Service Station, the pine-paneled restaurant near “the crest of the Blue Ridge” serves satisfying repasts, often with a southwestern touch and a vegetarian theme. Drawn by her “love of the rural environment,” current owner Cheri Baker bought the restaurant and its accompanying 12-room roadside motel two decades ago, with her mother, Neil Baker. Risking their life savings, they moved cross-country from Grants, New Mexico, and brought with them recipes for making green and red chilies.
Those sauces are slathered over a beautiful breakfast burrito, stuffed with scrambled eggs, shredded cheese, tomato, and onion. The menu offers red “or” green chili, but Cheri Baker says “and” is appropriate, too: red over one half and green over the other, a combination called “Christmas” in New Mexico. The red is the bolder of the two, made from an old New Mexico recipe using dried Anaheim peppers.
Tuggles Gap is fully aligned with Floyd County’s long-standing farm-to-table focus. Hamburger meat is local, purchased at Slaughters’ Supermarket in Floyd County. Vegetarian omelets are stuffed, whenever possible, with local squash, peppers, onions and spinach – and, as Baker says, “whatever is in the kitchen.”
Tuggles Gap is a direct link to the early days of the Blue Ridge Parkway, when travelers along the thoroughfare began demanding quick access to lodging, food and fuel. The original shell of the building that now houses Tuggles Gap Restaurant, about six miles outside the town of Floyd, dates to 1938.
Tuggles Gap Restaurant and Motel, 3351 Parkway Lane South, Floyd, Virginia, 540-745-3402.
Patrick County, VA: Dry Pond Cafe’s Ju-Ju Burger
My quest for oddly named hamburgers took us to the Dry Pond Café in Patrick County, Va., near the North Carolina line, despite the best efforts of our GPS device to steer us into someone’s driveway.
“GPS’s don’t work very good around here,” says regular customer Patsy Oakley, who remembers when there actually was a pond at Dry Pond – a “swampy thing,” she calls it, that eventually dried up.
The Dry Pond Café is a business without a sign. Nothing on Highway 103 says you’re there. The restaurant’s name is only painted on two windows.
“It’s a little brick building,” owner Shvonda Cockram tells me over the phone as we plan our trip to Patrick County.
“You’d think it was a house. It’s a pretty big business considering how small it is and no sign.”
Dry Pond Café is the home of the Ju-Ju Burger. Its name was a child’s term of endearment.
Cockram’s parents owned the café from 1996 to 2010. “The kids my mama used to babysit called my dad, Junior Lankford, Ju-Ju,” she says. “He died in 2005, and we’ve kept the name of the burger in his memory.”
A Ju-Ju Burger is a bacon double cheeseburger – a half pound of meat and two pieces of cheese.
While cooks at the Dry Pond Café construct Ju-Ju Burgers, they’re also smashing baked potatoes with a wooden mallet and loading them with cheese, bacon, ham, grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms.
Meanwhile, Bonnie Brown is making intensely colored sweet potato pie out of fresh sweet potatoes.
The Dry Pond Café is easy to overlook, but for travelers through this part of Virginia seeking good food and fellowship with local folks, it’s a must stop.
The Dry Pond Café, 2156 Dry Pond Highway, near Stuart, Va., 276-694-6055.
Carroll County, VA: Hillsville Diner’s Stewed Beef (not to be confused with beef stew)
On North Main Street in Hillsville, Va., two architectural styles couldn’t be more different. The Hale-Wilkinson-Carter Home is a dominant downtown structure, adjacent to the Carroll County Courthouse. Built in 1845, the house, now with five stories and 34 rooms, became the home of multimillionaire George L. Carter, who made his fortune in coal-mining and railroading. Carter died in 1936, 10 years before another Hillsville landmark was set in place just a short walk down North Main.
It’s a prefabricated diner, constructed in Elizabeth, N.J., around 1940. By some accounts, the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company built about 2,000 of them, between 1917 and 1941. Only a few survive, including today’s Hillsville Diner. Its first home, until 1946, was Mt. Airy, N.C. Then it was hauled to Hillsville, where it’s been ever since. With its rounded metal ceiling and sliding front door, the diner has the feel of a streetcar. The hoods, the steam table and the grill are all original.
And also from the 1940s, stewed beef holds on. Mac McPeak, third generation owner of the Hillsville Diner, says it’s not beef stew. “Stewed beef is simply cooked beef tips,” he tells us, while covering half a platter with the historic dish, along with homemade cornbread muffins and “real” mashed potatoes. McPeak isn’t the first restaurant owner on our tour to serve up mashed potatoes and place a heavy emphasis on that word “real.”
In fact, it’s an adjective that applies equally well to the Hillsville Diner itself and all it stands for, as a symbol of small-town, Main Street America.
The Hillsville Diner, 525 North Main Street, Hillsville, Va., 276-728-7681.
Grayson County, VA: The Magic BBQ Flavors at the Galax Smokehouse
The final stop on this swing is downtown Galax, Va., on another North Main Street. Since its opening in 2003, the Galax Smokehouse has been honored every year in a blind judging by the National Barbecue Association.
Dry-rub ribs smoked over hickory wood for four hours and pork butt for 11 are among the highlights of the extensive menu, which also features mesquite-smoked beef brisket covered in brown gravy. Owners Dan Milby and Ron Passmore tout hickory-smoked Idaho baking potatoes, mashed, loaded with cheese and sour cream, and baked.
The barbecue philosophy espoused by these two Florida natives is “we smoke, you sauce.” The geography of their sauces is wide: a vinegary version with North Carolina connections; a tomato-based sauce that speaks of Tennessee; a spicy Texas blend; a mustard-infused sauce of South Carolina lineage; and a very local addition, called Susan’s Sweet and Sassy, created by Rick Clark, the police chief in Galax, and named for his wife.
Running a barbecue joint represents a stark career change for both Milby and Passmore, who once worked as “perfusion technicians,” overseeing heart-lung machines during open heart surgery procedures. Passmore still works in health care, supervising all the EMS personnel in Grayson County while handling the finances of the Galax Smokehouse at night.
Whereas many Southern barbecue establishments are rural, Galax Smokehouse is right downtown, occupying the building that once housed Bolen’s Drugstore, which opened in 1910. The drugstore’s original counter and soda fountain remain.
Milby and Passmore have transformed Galax into a barbecue hot spot. Around 12,000 people attend the Smoke on the Mountain Barbecue Championship, sanctioned by the Memphis in May organization, in mid-July every year.
Milby and Passmore were once told that Virginia wasn’t a barbecue state. They’re doing their smokin’ best to dispel that myth.
The Galax Smokehouse, 101 North Main Street, Galax, Va., 276-236-1000. thegalaxsmokehouse.com.
In our next issue, it’s on to North Carolina!
More Dining Options
We asked chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus and other organizations from the counties featured in the accompanying article to share dining recommendations for their area in 10 categories.
Chateau Morrisette Winery & Restaurant (Best Dinner for Two, Best Scenic View)
287 Winery Road, Floyd
Historic Pine Tavern (Best Family Dining)
611 Floyd Highway North, Floyd
Floyd Country Store (Best Virginia/Regional Cuisine)
206 South Locust St., Floyd
Mickey G’s Bistro & Pizzeria (Best Ethnic Restaurant)
113 Parkview Road, Floyd
Blue Ridge Restaurant (Best Breakfast)
13 East Main Street, Floyd
Natasha’s Market Café (Best Business Lunch)
227B Locust Street, Floyd
Oddfella’s Cantina (Best Downtown Dining)
110A North Locust Street, Floyd
Tuggles Gap Restaurant (Best Little Roadhouse)
3351 Parkway Lane South, Floyd
Mabry Mill Restaurant (Best Place to Take Visitors)
266 Mabry Mill Road SE, Floyd
Jonathan’s Restaurant (Best Dinner for Two)
50 First Watch Drive #101, Moneta
Chopstick’s Chinese Restaurant (Best Scenic View)
16440 Booker T Washington Hwy # 203, Moneta
Two by Two BBQ (Best Family Dining)
370 Tanyard Road, Rocky Mount
The Hub Restaurant (Best Virginia/Regional Cuisine)
245 North Main Street, Rocky Mount
El Rodeo Mexican Grille (Best Ethnic Restaurant)
35 Meadow View Avenue, Rocky Mount
Dudley’s Truck Stop (Best Breakfast)
18151 Virgil H Goode Highway, Rocky Mount
Ippy’s Restaurant & Lounge (Best Business Lunch)
1760 North Main Street, Rocky Mount
Hema’s Italian Restaurant and Pizza (Best Downtown Dining)
115 Franklin Street, Rocky Mount
77 Restaurant (Best Little Roadhouse)
77 Main Street, Ferrum
Dairy Queen* (Best Place to Take Visitors)
995 Franklin Street, Rocky Mount
* During breakfast hours, April through November, the Crooked Road’s DQ Band performs for patrons.
Roanoke County and Roanoke City
202 Market (Best Dinner for Two)
202 Market Square, Roanoke
Carlos Brazilian International Cuisine (Best Scenic View)
4167 Electric Road, Roanoke
The Homeplace Restaurant (Best Family Dining, Best Virginia/Regional Cuisine)
4968 Catawba Valley Drive, Catawba
Café Asia (Best Ethnic Restaurant)
3940 Valley Gateway Blvd, #B1, Roanoke
Thelma’s Chicken and Waffles (Best Breakfast)
315 Market St., Roanoke
Blues BBQ Co. (Best Business Lunch)
107 Market St. SW, Roanoke
Frankie Rowland’s Steakhouse (Best Downtown Dining)
104 N. Jefferson St., Roanoke
Fork in the Alley (Best Little Roadhouse)
2123 Crystal Springs Ave., Roanoke
Metro! (Best Place to Take Visitors)
14 E. Campbell Ave., Roanoke
Good Fillas (Best Dinner for Two)
103 Stonewall Court, Stuart
Mill House Pizza (Best Scenic View)
4037 JEB Stuart Highway, Meadows of Dan
El Rancho (Best Family Dining, Best Ethnic Restaurant)
119 North Main Street, Stuart
Slates (Best Virginia/Regional Cuisine)
312 Patrick Avenue, Stuart
The Coffee Break (Best Breakfast)
111-A North Main Street, Stuart
Elements at Primland (Best Business Lunch)
2000 Busted Road, Meadows of Dan
Honduras Coffee Company (Best Downtown Dining)
314 North Main Street, Stuart
Dry Pond Café (Best Little Roadhouse)
2156 Dry Pond Hwy, Stuart
Poor Farmers Market (Best Place to Take Visitors)
2616 JEB Stuart Highway, Meadows of Dan
Kanawha Valley Arena (Best Place to Take Visitors)
121 Kanawha Ridge Lane, Dugspur
Elements at Primland Resort (Best Dinner for Two)
2000 Busted Rock Road, Meadows of Dan
19th Pub at Primland Resort (Best Scenic View)
2000 Busted Rock Road, Meadows of Dan
Hillsville Diner (Best Little Roadhouse)
5525 North Main Street, Hillsville
Rio Grande (Best Scenic View, Best Ethnic Restaurant)
335 Firehouse Dr., Fries
LogHouse Restaurant (Best Virginia/Regional Cuisine)
4013 Troutdale Highway, Mouth of Wilson
Aunt Bea’s (Best Breakfast)
529 East Main Street, Independence
Pizza Plus (Best Business Lunch)
106 Grayson Avenue, Independence
Paul’s Restaurant (Best Downtown Dining)
333 East Main Street, Independence
Ogles Deli and Restaurant (Best Little Roadhouse)
129 S. Independence Avenue, Independence
Davis-Bourne Inn (Best Place to Take Visitors)
109 Davis Street, Independence
Vote for Your Favorite Parkway County for Dining
For this issue’s set of Blue Ridge Parkway counties and for each of the next two issues’ sets of counties, we are seeking reader input to select a favorite culinary county for each edition. Those four winning counties (voting for the first set of counties has already ended) will then become the Parkway Foodie Tour Final Four, and after voting in the fall, we will present the overall winner in our January/February 2013 issue.
To vote for your favorite dining county for this issue’s six Virginia counties – Roanoke, Franklin, Floyd, Patrick, Carroll, Grayson – visit BlueRidgeCountry.com/foodieballot. Your vote will also put you in the running for a $250 gift card to be awarded to one voter. The winner will be announced at the end of the Foodie Tour series.
And the Winner is...
Congratulations to Rockbridge County, Va., our winning culinary county for Part 1 of this series. Rockbridge is now in the running to win a feature article in our Jan/Feb 2013 issue. Final Four voting begins Sept. 24.
About This Four-Part Parkway Foodie Series
Our four-part Blue Ridge Parkway Foodie Tour features an installment in each issue from March/April through September/October, with each highlighting a food stop in six or seven of the 29 counties the parkway touches.
March/April covered parkway milepost 0-105 and visited the Virginia counties of Nelson, Augusta, Rockbridge, Amherst, Bedford, Botetourt.
This issue covers miles 106-219 in the Virginia counties of Roanoke, Franklin,Floyd, Patrick, Carroll, Grayson.
July/August: MP 220-355. North Carolina counties of Surry, Alleghany,Wilkes, Ashe, Watauga, Caldwell, Avery, Burke, McDowell, Mitchell,Yancey.
Sept/Oct: MP 356-469. North Carolina counties of Buncombe,Henderson, Transylvania, Haywood, Jackson, Swain.
The writer for our series, Fred Sauceman, is head of the Division of University Relations at East Tennessee State University, where he teaches a course entitled The Foodways of Appalachia. He writes a monthly food column, “Potluck,” for the Johnson City Press and authors the “Flavors” page for Blue Ridge Country. His stories about food and Southern culture are heard on “Inside Appalachia,” a radio program produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “Food with Fred” appears monthly on WJHL-TV, the CBS affiliate in Johnson City, Tenn. Sauceman is the author of a three-volume book series, “The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, from Bright Hope to Frog Level,” about the foodways of Appalachia. A member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, he is the editor of that organization’s book “Cornbread Nation 5: The Best of Southern Food Writing,” published by the University of Georgia Press in 2010. He has directed four documentary films, on subjects ranging from red hot dogs to soup beans to barbecue.