So I’ll let you in on a little secret that I’ve been learning lately: there’s more than one way to hunt down the best sips in the Star City.
The first method is to follow the buzz: try the drinks that *everyone’s* drinking. Frankie Rowland’s famous pineapple martini might be one.
But there’s a second approach, too, and that’s to sit down at a bar with a solid reputation, talk to a bartender who knows his or her stuff, and say, “Make me something you’re loving right now.”
And then back up and wait for the magic.
That’s what I did a few weeks ago when I stopped by the River and Rail — a South Roanoke restaurant with Appalachian Chic flair. It’s a place famous for its innovative Southern eats, but it’s also a good place to get a drink: quiet and casually classy, with warm low lights and smoky charcoal-colored walls.
Think of it as a cozy cocoon for cocktails and good wine … just right for a night when you want to escape the hum of downtown.
Before I go any further, I should talk up this dining establishment just a little bit, because it’s something special. Chef Aaron Deal knows what he’s doing — and by that, I mean that he’s managed to confidently establish a sense of his own identity as a chef. It’s an identity deeply rooted in Southern, farm-focused cuisine, but global in its influences. Take a bite of his shrimp-and-grits — complete with collard-green kim chi and brothy NOLA sauce — and you’ll understand.
R&R’s menu changes daily, and things at the bar are constantly shifting, too. Those changes are often tied to the season, the weather, and what’s growing well in the fields…which means that the drink I’m crushing on today might not be around tomorrow. It also means that there isn’t a single drink here that I’d consider R&R’s “signature…” And that’s okay.
All the more reason to sit down, make friends with bar manager Shane Lumpp, and order what he’s in the mood to make.
His first choice for me was the Shot Thru the Heart — a drink that straddles the divide between summer and fall. Made with Creme de Fraise and mezcal — a distinctly smoky spirit aromatic of campfires and slow-cooked meals — I’m told this one “tastes like grilled strawberries,” and that sounds right.
It’s your Summer Girl leaning in to steal one last kiss before the leaves turn.
For an after-dinner sip, he whipped up his latest version of the Everett — fig-infused Scotch, House Ginger Syrup, Honey, Lemon Water, Soda & Nutmeg. The drink arrived in a tall glass with a mustache-making head of eggy white foam and a spicy dusting of fresh-ground nutmeg. It finished with a touch of lemon-ginger tang, and I like that.
I’ll note that this cocktail menu trends to the tart side. If you’re someone who likes Goses and sour beers — or the incredible house-made pickles you can order by the jar at R&R — you’ll likely find spirits to suit you, too.
That said, you can confidently order a classic cocktail here, as well.
Or just say, “Surprise me.”
I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
The River and Rail Restaurant is located at 2201 Crystal Spring Avenue. Reservations are strongly recommended for dinner seating — you can arrange them at the website, or by calling (540) 400-6830.
Or drop in to snag a spontaneous seat at the bar, where you can order one of the best burgers in town.
Dining with a friend who prefers to avoid alcohol? R&R serves up a nice selection of coffees and teas, including their own signature roast from Red Rooster out of Floyd, Va. It’s served french-press style and absolutely delicious.