McDonald's might have become a popular choice for families because of its clean restrooms and Chicken McNuggets, but when you head out on a family vacation in the months ahead, give your kids the gift of trying new foods. You'll discover most restaurants pay close attention to their restrooms, and often you'll come across a small town where a tiny eatery is the center of things. Not only will you find the owner's family favorites there, but you'll likely be seated amid the townsfolk.
On Sunday you'll be able to read about Roanoke in the Travel section. A wonderful Southern city prettily poised in a valley just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, it's also quite close to the Appalachian Trail. So folks who are hiking or meandering by car over the crests of those beautiful mountains often come into town for refreshment.
Roanoke was bursting into spring during my visit a couple weeks back. Greening roadsides and hillsides were lacy with blooming pink and white trees while Ohio still was slumbering in the gray grip of a much cooler spring.
We stopped for breakfast at The Roanoker, a gathering place for folks from this small city since 1941. During World War II its owners packed up food to take to troop trains coming through Roanoke.
It began as a lunch counter and has changed locations a couple of times, before achieving its 300-seat size 27 years ago. Its classic Southern biscuits are part of what's made it a favorite, and they roll out of the oven from breakfast straight through dinner. Owner Renee Craft, who worked as a server there for more than 30 years before she bought the place, told me the recipe hasn't changed since the beginning.
Craft said she was blown away last year when Southern Living magazine named The Roanoker one of the top 10 places in all of Virginia to have breakfast. And now the restaurant and its biscuit recipe is included in "Off the Eaten Path," a just-published cookbook that explores some of the South's best eating towns and gives readers the recipes.
Craft said she didn't know if it was the self-rising flour or the buttermilk responsible for the biscuits' wonderful taste - light and white on the inside and salty and buttery brown on the outside. Try them yourself with today's recipe.
Most of my group ate their biscuits smothered with sausage gravy, and after I tasted my own I wished I'd ordered it that way, too.
Find this story at www.News-Herald.com/Life to meet Renee and see her take a batch of biscuits from the oven in a video. You'll also see a video about the grand old Hotel Roanoke, which made my short list for wonderful Southern dishes.
I'm sharing the recipes for both peanut soup and spoonbread given to me by the Hotel Roanoke's chef, who also has built up a fine network of local growers who provide his kitchens with produce.
The railroads built Roanoke when east-west and north-south rail lines converged there late in the 1800s. An early rail magnate planned the Hotel Roanoke as the center of a community built to house the Norfolk & Western rail employees who stopped before changing to another train or worked in the rail yards building giant steam engines.
The Tudor-style Hotel Roanoke, on a knoll, stands as a landmark over downtown. In 1989, Norfolk Southern Corp., direct descendant of the Norfolk & Western Railroad, closed the Hotel it had owned and operated for 107 years and gave it to the Virginia Tech Real Estate Foundation.
The college still owns the hotel and often houses its sports teams there, but it's operated by Hilton's Doubletree brand and has been rehabbed to its glory years.
If you go:
The Roanoker Restaurant
2522 Colonial Ave.
7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center
110 Shenandoah Ave. N.E.
THE ROANOKER'S BUTTERMILK BISCUITS
3-1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1-1/4 cups buttermilk
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine first three ingredients in large bowl. Stir well. Cut shortening into flour mixture with a fork until crumbly. Add buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead lightly 3 or 4 times. Don't overwork the dough. Pat dough to 1-inch thickness. Cut out biscuits with a 3-inch round cutter and place on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Brush tops with melted butter.
HOTEL ROANOKE PEANUT SOUP
1/4 pound butter (1 stick)
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 Tablespoons flour
2 quarts chicken broth, heated
1 pint peanut butter
1/2 cup ground peanuts
1/3 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
Melt butter in large pot and add diced onion and celery. Saute for five minutes but don't brown. Add flour and mix well. Add hot chicken broth and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from stove and strain. Add peanut butter, celery salt, salt and lemon juice. Sprinkle ground peanuts on soup just before serving.
HOTEL ROANOKE SPOONBREAD
1-1/2 cups cornmeal
1-1/3 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1-1/2 cups boiling water
1/8 pound (half stick) butter, melted
5 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix cornmeal, salt and sugar together and scald with boiling water. Add melted butter. In separate bowl, beat eggs and add milk. Combine two mixtures and add baking powder, stirring well. Pour into baking pan and bake 30 to 40 minutes.
In it to win it?
"Off the Eaten Path" ($21.95, Oxmoor House) takes readers to eateries in 17 southern states and includes the recipes that have made them worth a stop. Food festivals and fairs throughout the south are also listed. For a chance to win this cookbook, first "Like" us on Facebook and then look for following details there. Don't delay!