Monday Manger: Faithful to Its Roots

Starting today I will post about something related to food every Monday. If you stopped practicing your French vocabulary you may not remember that Manger means To Eat.

To inaugurate this new series I’m taking you to Roanoke, VA

Local Roots exemplifies, in my humble opinion, the story of an unpretentious neighborhood restaurant that gained national visibility due to excellence from beginning to end.

Located in the historic Grandin neighborhood, minutes away from downtown Roanoke, Local Roots is down-to-earth yet sophisticated, filed with energy without being rambunctious.

The restaurant is large enough to allow parties of eight or ten without being an obstacle to the couples who favor privacy. Looks like most tables are for two but are moved around to accommodate the number of guests. It’s also possible to eat at the bar where a younger crowd gathers around beer, wine, and cocktails.

The patrons are a mix of young professionals, middle-aged couples, and families with kids attending local colleges, and occasional young couples with a baby or toddler in tow. I like that in fact, since I truly believe that you learn about food at an early age. If you eat fresh food at three, chance is you’ll probably favor good food to junk when you grow up.

The staff at Local Roots is friendly/professional not friendly/casual. The waiter or waitress explains the menu with enough details but doesn’t drown you in endless descriptions. You can also check the origin of the produce or meat or fish on the menu. All are coming from local farms and are organically grown.

So what did my husband and I eat there?

I chose the farm spinach salad with pickled quail egg, smoked cauliflower, and crushed peanuts while he had the chilled squash soup with green strawberry, and pickled ramp. At home I’m the green person and loves all kinds of salads. For once, however, I wished I had gone with the soup. Not that my salad wasn’t great. It was excellent, due to the cauliflowers that added flavor and texture to the mixed greens. But the soup was outstanding. My husband makes amazing soups, mostly with seafood. This one was absolutely perfect with a combo of ingredients that complemented each other without killing each other.

I’m not a 100% pescatarian but I eat much more fish than meat and even poultry. My husband loves his steak rare but recently is tagging along. That night we both went for the fish du jour that was a tilefish served with corn grits, roasted ramp,kale kraut, and green strawberry. Now I’m not a grit person at all. Serve me rice, polenta or mashed potatoes. But grits somehow don’t match with me. These grits at Local Roots? Can I have a second helping, please?

Now if I can go without grits for years, I’m a dessert girl as long as it is not overly chocolaty and even more if it includes some fresh fruit. Somehow it turns any dessert into a healthy treat, right? Too often in the US I feel like a misbehaving kid who can’t have dessert, only because the portions are big and I’m full after my entrée. But the trend is changing, as more people like to sample smaller plates and even share them around the table. In most restaurants now I can have my appetizer, entrée AND dessert, even if when I order, my husband jumps in with his famous line, “With two spoons, please.”

At Local Roots I ordered the pound cake served with a scoop of hazelnut ice cream, fresh fruit, and meringue.

When the waitress brought the dessert to our table I told her that it seemed delicious on the menu and looked even yummier in person. She said it was a brand new dessert, only introduced the day before. Almost felt like the baker made it for me.


Although the “two spoons” thing is supposed to limit my husband, it was hard to stop him at Local Roots. Which is the best compliment to the baker.

My verdict remains the same: Life is too complicated to skip dessert. Today I will add especially at Local Roots.

We’ve had dinner three times there. Since the first time the restaurant has been added to the list of the 100 best restaurants for foodies in America 2015. Which is totally earned. An additional important fact: reasonably priced dishes and good selection of wines by the glass, also affordable.

Local Roots is a perfect deal for me, since the bookshop Too Many Books is located on the same sidewalk at the end of the street.

The bookshop sells gently used, rare, and out of print books. I used to favor new books to used ones, but I read so much that I find it more reasonable to purchase second hand books. Besides I often find something interesting inside a book that has already been read: a gas receipt, a grocery list, or more often a sentence underlined or a page dog-eared. Small human tracks that make me wonder who read this book and why this person didn’t keep it. Didn’t like it or wanted to make room on her shelf?

The bookseller at Too Many Books was friendly and we engaged in a lively conversation about children’s books, interrupted at some point when a customer called asking if the store was still open. This is when I realized that it was in fact closing time. How often can we still forget time?

We will more than likely return to Roanoke if we happen to travel through the southern part of Virginia. We may even make a deliberate detour. Eating again at Local Roots would be of course a pleasure. Also, Roanoke is making laudable efforts to revamp its downtown. Which I think deserves an accolade.

We’ve stopped twice there, mid fall and mid spring, which happen to be my favorite seasons. In October the crisp air called for Halloween. Pumpkins welcomed shoppers all over town and the windows made me want to buy scarves and boots. In May the annual community school’s strawberry festival was ending after two days of festivities. At the Elwood Park musicians were packing their instruments while people carried trays of juicy strawberries and splurged on strawberry shortcakes. Residents of all ages were still strolling through the compact downtown where vendors sold jewelry, soaps, honey, paintings, and an assortment of handmade goodies. It’s a hard job to sell craft and I admired their enthusiasm as they engaged conversation with potential buyers

If you and your kids love trains, Roanoke is for you. We didn’t visit the Virginia Museum of Transportation, but I’m sure it’s a treat for train lovers.

As for me, each time I stopped in Roanoke I stretched my neck toward the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround the city. I wanted to linger around and explore more of the state that claims to be for lovers.


See you next week for another Monday Manger!





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