Small Adventures

Finding Character(s) at a Greasy Spoon: Day Thirty-Nine

(Sometimes it’s tough to feel at home in your own city.  Which is why I’ve given myself a challenge:  each day, for forty days, I’m going to find *one* thing I love about this place.  And then I’m going to tell you about it.  If you want to follow my journey, start here.  Today is Day Thirty-Nine). 

A number of locals have informed me that if I finish out my 40-day project without a post on Roanoke’s most well-known culinary landmark, Texas Tavern, that would be an unforgivable travesty.

If you’re one of those people, take note:  this post is for you.

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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 in 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.

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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, Ten 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 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 — that’s a burger with a fried egg on top, in case you were wondering.

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It’s been almost eight years 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 down in the middle of the day, you’ll find yourself seated between a judge on recess from the courthouse down the street and a homeless man with a long beard.

On nights like last Tuesday, when Thomas and I showed up at 11:00 p.m. on a whim, you’ll find yourself suddenly drawn into a reeling political discussion between whatever random ten persons have arrived at the bar at the same time.

If you’re a veteran, you’ll order in Texas Tavern line-cook language:

A bowl with.

Two hots, without.

If you’re still a sojourner, like me, you’ll sit with your palms cupped around a mug of H&C coffee, your eyes wide, just listening.

Either way, if you’re here, you’re Home.

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