The Rebirth of Roanoke
It was the 1880s when the Texas and Pacific Railroad came down the tracks stirring up the dust along the dirt roads of nearby Roanoke. The quiet frontier town quickly became a popular stop for cattlemen and railroad workers. Not long after the railroad came along so did the Silver Spur Saloon building sitting grandly on Oak Street in the heart of town. The building was home to a bustling saloon and dance hall with a notorious upstairs that offered the local and travelling gentleman a bit of “entertainment” via a separate, outdoor staircase. After the Silver Spur closed the building was home to various businesses throughout the years housing a grocery store, doctors’ offices, a Southwestern Bell switchboard center, even a private residence. Sadly, by the 1980s the building seemed to have outlived its usefulness and was a crumbling shadow of its former glory, sitting abandoned, gutted, without a roof, and in danger of being torn down. Much of Roanoke’s “Old Town” was falling into disrepair.
Today, 125 years later, the dust still rises from Roanoke’s downtown but it’s because of the construction and redevelopment acting as a testament to good planning and a dedicated city government with foresight and vision. Debra Wallace, Roanoke Assistant City Manager, said, “The Mayor and city council held numerous strategic planning sessions and everyone agreed that one of our goals was to make Roanoke a destination city.” In December of 2003 the City Council approved a contract for the first phase of the Roanoke Downtown plan with the Gateway Planning Group that would allow for economic development and city growth, but maintain their historic charm. Wallace emphasized, “Everyone agreed that Roanoke should retain our hometown feel.”
The published plan cleverly created a strategy “allowing the downtown to continue to grow as a vibrant and sustainable place of destination which, while attracting increased tourist and business activity to the area, would also enhance and preserve the essence of Original Town.” With the addition of a City Marketing Manager in 2004 the City of Roanoke was steadily working toward creating a viable and vibrant downtown community.
A trip down Oak Street today is evidence enough that the redevelopment of Oak Street and the surrounding area was a major success. In 2008, the City received two awards for their historic renovation of the Rock Building back to its former 1886 glory as the Silver Spur Saloon, earning Best Renovation from Preservation Texas, and the Texas Downtown Association. Special care was taken during renovation to remain true to the building’s roots using old photos and historic construction methods. In it’s heyday, the former house of “entertainment” was likely the last place you wanted to be seen entering. Now the Rock Building houses the Roanoke Visitor Center and Museum and is often the first place visitors go, earning a recent designation as a Texas Recorded Historic Landmark.
The accolades don’t stop there for this city of innovative leaders and residents; downtown Roanoke itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In June of 2009 the Texas House of Representatives paid tribute to Roanoke with the honor of being appointed “the Unique Dining Capital of Texas.”
The lively, eclectic mix of restaurants gracing Oak Street and the surrounding area offer visitors a wide variety of places to gather and a wide assortment of food guaranteed to please everyone no matter what they’re craving. Debra Wallace said, “Once we got a couple of restaurants, it got the ball rolling and it just kept going faster and faster.”
Forefathers of the restaurant revival
It was 1993 when Brothers Curtis and Chris Wells opened the doors of The Classic Café in a small bungalow on North Oak Street complete with a homey wrap-around porch. Long before the complete re-development of the downtown area these brothers and co-owners knew Roanoke was a great location for creating a fine dining experience. Today, the five star restaurant still operates out of the same location and diners come from miles around to experience the culinary creations of Chef Charles Youts.
Known for world class cuisine, the Classic Café still retains a casual, friendly atmosphere where people gather to enjoy an entire staff that treats you like family. On weekends the brothers offer live music on the patio making the restaurant a perfect place for friends to linger after a great meal.
One of the special features that make The Classic Café stand out is the Chef’s garden maintained to constantly produce fresh ingredients for Chef Youts. Using organic growth conditions, Chef Youts often turns to what is fresh and ripe from his own garden to inspire a unique recipe. Much of the protein on the menu also comes from free-range ranching offering diners a healthy choice and environmentally friendly dining.
Being environmentally responsible is important to the Wells’ and that care is evident even in making their wine selections, choosing wineries that use agricultural practices that
Babe’s Chicken Dinner House
Another longtime resident on Oak Street is Babe’s where the line forms early and stays long on any given night but the food is definitely worth the wait. Paul and Mary Beth Vinyard opened their first restaurant in a circa 1908 warehouse building in the spring of 1993 gracing it with Mary Beth’s nickname, “Babe.” Today there are nine Babe’s Chicken Dinner Houses each with their own personality but all serving the home-style food from Mary Beth’s own recipes.
When you walk into Babe’s don’t expect fancy dining tables and elaborate menus. None of the tables or chairs match and the menus are non-existent. The walls and ceiling are completely covered with old metal signs, photographs, taxidermy, and assorted paraphernalia that looks like a proud display of family memories giving the place a cozy, homey atmosphere.
The wait staff treats you like family from the moment you sit down and they serve up the mashed potatoes and cream corn in big white bowls just like your Grandma did at home. Your choice of entrée, fried chicken or chicken-fried steak are heaped high on a platter just like the biscuits, ready to share. A trip to Roanoke to feast with the family at Babe’s is always a gastronomic delight.
Restaurant Revival Act II
Twisted Root Burger Company
Three trained culinary chefs with thirty-three years of experience between them found a new home for two very different restaurants along the sidewalk on Oak Street. Jason Boso, Proprietor, Chef, and self-proclaimed bartender and busboy brought a dream shared by fellow chef Quincy Hart to life when they opened their first Twisted Root Burger Company. Pastry chef, Steve Thompson, joins the two to bring in creating a very unique burger experience.
Custom burgers are ordered at the counter with every imaginable topping available and you can even give a buffalo burger a try if you’re feeling brave. Definitely not your Grandma’s burgers try the Frito Bandito, which has Texas chili on top along with guacamole, cheddar and Fritos or maybe you’d like the Spicy Goat with chipotle sauce, goat cheese and bacon. You walk away with a celebrity name card and the friendly wait staff hollers your name when your food is ready to pick up, complete with some sort of accent or quick-witted line guaranteed to make you laugh.
Right next door to Twisted Root is their sister restaurant, Cowboy Chow, another location that makes dining in Old Town Roanoke a truly unique adventure. The chefs prepare all the meat using the same methods from chuck wagon cooking in the old west when cowboys travelled with a wagon full of cooking equipment and food. The meats used back then were the tougher cuts and the cooks would cook the meat long and slow in some flavor of liquid to make it tender. Not only do the chefs at Cowboy Chow use the same braising method but also they add a wide variety of flavorful liquids from jalapeno juice to beef broth to a good Texas beer.
What makes Cowboy Chow fit right in to the flavor of Roanoke is the way the chefs present the food. For example, a big favorite is the mashed tater parfait that consists of beef brisker, mashed potatoes, cowboy caviar, cheddar cheese and tortilla chips all layered up in a mason jar like an ice cream sundae. Now that’s good eating, Texas out on the trail style.
A recent addition to the distinctive restaurants along Oak Street is Hard-Eight Pit BBQ, which opened in February of this year. Another perfect match for Roanoke, the Hard Eight is family-owned and full of great food and fun. Named for an 8-point buck that became the ranch mascot and rolling a hard eight (both dice land on 4) in Vegas the Roanoke restaurant is the third location to be opened joining places in but you can buy as much or as little as you like so feel free to create your own masterpiece. Live music is available out on the patio on the weekends so you can truly make a night out of your visit to Roanoke.
Manny Hernandez, Roanoke Restaurant Manager said the company had been studying the area for quite a while watching it grow. He told us, “We noticed at our Coppell location that people were driving there from all over. We decided to bring ourselves to the customers instead of the customer having to drive to us.” Hard Eight feels right at home in Roanoke. Manny commented, “We’re thrilled to be here, we love it. The people are so warm and friendly.”
Roanoke continues to grow and change while still holding on to their hometown charm and if you haven’t visited lately there are more than 40 restaurants awaiting you in this appealing city of the old blended with the new. The forward thinking citizens and government officials of this lively city continue to bring businesses, shopping, events, and yes, more restaurants, to Roanoke guaranteeing continued growth and making the city a destination for tourists as well as locals as for years to come. Visit once and you’ll keep coming back for seconds. Bring your family, your friends, and your appetite.