Okay, Star City: I’m about to say something that *might* want to make you slap me with a side of bacon, but … When I first began my Search for the Holy Grail of Hamburgers in the ‘Noke, I really, really didn’t want to write about Texas Tavern.
I know. I really do. How could I *not* write about one of Roanoke’s most iconic burgers, the Cheesy Western? After all, it’s almost a local celebrity.
I don’t have much to say for myself except that — and please don’t hit me, here — the Cheesy Western is not exactly your typical foodie’s burger. And besides: I figured everybody who’d ever try this sandwich had already eaten it anyway, and didn’t need to hear what I had to say about it.
Maybe I was just too slick for my britches. 😉
On Friday, my out-of-town father shot me a text to say that he’d be passing through our city over the weekend, and he had a hankering for just one thing.
You guessed it: he was craving Texas Tavern. So it felt like destiny.
That’s how I found myself yesterday in Roanoke’s most famous 24-hour diner, hunched over the beautifully dented stainless steel bar with four of my favorite family members in the world, grubbing on the restaurant’s classic burger topped with a special relish, melty cheese, onions, pickles and, of course, a fried egg — all for under $3.00:
And I have to admit: this sandwich might not be Roanoke’s most glamorous cheeseburger, but it’s still pretty special in its own right … and pretty good, too.
(See those chipmunk cheeks on my husband T? That pretty much says it all.)
But here’s the thing … I feel like I can’t honestly write anything about the “Roanoke Millionaire’s Club” without telling a certain nostalgic story that goes along with it, because frankly, it’s kinda special.
I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled on Texas Tavern.
It was years and years ago — long before I ever imagined I’d call this place home.
My family and I were in town for a wedding, and we’d arrived downtown earlier than anticipated. Dressed to the nines and waiting for the cocktail hour to begin, we parked at the garage and wandered down Church Street. I still remember what I was wearing: a full-skirted chocolate-colored dress with a halter neckline, a la Marilyn Monroe on the sidewalk grate, and high stiletto heels.
Thomas and I were newlyweds.
Somehow, out of the blue, my father must have sniffed the place out. He has a nose for greasy spoons, and even though we were about to eat a fancy plated dinner in about thirty minutes, he made an announcement:
We have to eat here.
He meant it.
So we filed into a tiny brick storefront, our high heels clicking on the linoleum at the door. Inside, the restaurant was no bigger than your average living room: in fact, a vintage sign on the back wall announced in bold block letters: “We Seat 1000 People, 10 at a Time.” And it was true: ten chrome swivel-stools pushed up to a long, stainless steel counter. Behind it, two line cooks in folded paper hats took orders, manned the grill, and kept up a constant stream of sassy conversation. The place looked like not a single thing had changed since the place opened in 1930.
Without a moment’s hesitation, my tiny, sweet mother folded her shimmery taffeta skirt up under her and sat down. Put her elbows on the bar. And then she ordered the Cheesy Western.
It’s been a decade since then, and a lot has changed for me. One of the biggest changes is that I live just ten minutes from Texas Tavern, and every once in awhile, when I’m in the mood for a heart-attack-on-a-plate at two o’clock in the morning, I’ll head downtown, pull up to the bar and make an order. Sometimes, if you go in the middle of the day, you might even find yourself seated between a judge on recess from the courthouse down the street and a homeless man with a long beard.
Yesterday, though, the kitchen was quiet, and the burger was exactly like I remember it: small, piping hot, with that distinctive relish tang soaking into the fried egg, and the fried egg soaking into the beef. It’s the perfect post-midnight burger, the kind you could eat four at a time on the right kind of evening.
It’s not a fancy-pants foodie’s burger … not even a little bit … but it’s got real character, and I can’t argue with that.
So maybe I’m a member of the Millionaire’s Club, after all.
Can’t wait to tell you about today’s burger experience … Catch you tomorrow, Star City food-lovers!