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Posted on Sun. Feb. 03, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

Surf to turf, tavern will hook you

Roanoke Village Inn


Out of a possible five


It was a place I fell in love with, but which I could seldom visit.

The Roanoke Village Inn was a great small-town tavern with the perfect homey atmosphere, fabulous steaks and friendly service. But it did not take credit cards and was not family-friendly, which made it hard to frequent on the spur of the moment.

But owners Jay and Jodie Geiger, who took over the restaurant in 2006, started taking plastic and remodeled the upstairs to be a full-time family room in 2010. So, finally, it is a place I can and will visit much more often.

This tavern is kind of a legendary place in Roanoke. It has been around seemingly forever and was well-known for its Friday fish fries, which, I have been told by a Roanoke-native relative, had a line down the block on most Fridays when she was a kid.

And people still come there for the fish, specifically the broiled haddock, which is probably the restaurant’s best-seller. It is easy to see why.

This large fillet arrived on a sizzling stainless-steel broiling tray swimming in butter. It was browned on top and perfectly seasoned, and the meat was flaky, moist and delicious.

And that broiler did a good job on the BBQ Rib Tickler, too.

This half slab of ribs was nicely browned on the outside to have sort of a bark, but the meat still fell off the bone with ease. It was a big portion, too – tips still attached – and it was drenched in an orange, zesty barbecue sauce that was simply perfect with the fatty pork. The sauce tasted familiar and, sure enough, when I asked a server what kind the Village Inn used, I was told Open Pit.

The steak I had was also confirmation that the place still knew how to perfectly cook a piece of beef. The 10-ounce rib-eye looked as good as it tasted. The Inn cuts all its steaks on site from beef purchased at Tim Didier Meats in Fort Wayne.

The rib-eye was thick, and it had the beautiful crisscross grill marks you hope to see on your steak. It was well seasoned with salt and pepper, tender, juicy and, although a little chewy in some places, was worth going back for.

To go with that steak, be sure to get a side of sautéed mushrooms. Heck, even if you aren’t getting a steak, get those mushrooms. Big, thick slices of meaty fungi were swimming in a brown broth that packed a huge punch of flavor. I had my rib-eye topped with them, and the restaurant inadvertently gave me an extra side cup of them. I was happy they did, because I did not let any of them go to waste.

The best thing I had at the Village Inn, however, was a sandwich. A pork sandwich that is a deep-fried Indiana tradition – the tenderloin.

I was not even considering ordering one until I heard a few gents at a neighboring table ordering them, one of whom joked around with the waitress, saying, “I was all ready to get something else this time, but I couldn’t not get the tenderloin again.”

The Village Inn hand-breads its loin, which was thick and not overly pounded out, so it was still meaty. It was battered similar to the Inn’s fried fish, but a little different, Jodie said. It was crispy and a little coarse, and worked beautifully to seal in the juices of the pork.

Not everything was perfect at the Village Inn. There were a few missteps when it came to the food. There was no soup du jour on one Friday night, which was odd because the menu lists an offering other than chili daily. A server told me that, “they just don’t like making soup on Fridays.”

The soup du jour I had on a night when they actually made one had potential but fell short. The shrimp and corn chowder was creamy and a little sweet and had a decent amount of diced potatoes and red peppers. It was made with salad shrimp, which was a little disappointing, but even more disappointing was that there were only four of those tiny prawns in my bowl. For $3.75, I should have gotten more.

The Inn’s hot wings were a flop. These medium-sized chicken wings were sort of leathery on the outside and, although there was a puddle of a runny, butter-infused hot sauce on the plate, that sauce did not cling to the wings well, so they were bland.

The best appetizer was the basket of complimentary yeast rolls, which were fresh and a little doughy and quite enjoyable.

The steak sandwich looked fantastic and could have been fantastic had I been asked how I wanted my steak cooked. The sandwich is made using the leftovers when steaks are cut, Jodie said, and mine were well done and dry. But the sandwich was still respectable, thanks to the big pile of those tasty mushrooms and sweet, caramelized onions that were also sandwiched between the high-quality hoagie roll it was served on.

There were no issues with service. The folks there are friendly and they did their best to make sure my needs were met. During one visit, the lady waiting on me was, in fact, Patti Ratcliff, who had owned the restaurant with her husband, Kay, and sold it to the Geigers. I asked her whether it was still as good as it was when she ran it.

“It’s all the same,” she said. “We even have some of the same cooks. Everything is the same.”

I guess that is why I still loved the Village Inn. And that family room is why I will now go back more often.

Restaurant: Roanoke Village Inn

Address: 190 N. Main St., Roanoke

Phone: 260-672-3707

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes, accessible entrance in rear

Alcohol: Full bar

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Hot wings ($7.45), shrimp cocktail ($9.95), rib-eye ($20.95), broiled haddock ($18.25), Rib Tickler ($17.95), breaded tenderloin ($6.75), steak sandwich ($7.25), soup ($3.75), cheesecake ($5)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

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