Most restaurants have little-secrets known only to the few and the lucky: the absolute best dish to get, the server whose station you must sit in, the bartender whose pours are a bit more generous.
At the newly opened Craft & Vine Taproom and Eatery in Roanoke, the only insider tip worth seeking out is this: When can you go when it’s not a madhouse. Since opening last month, on the third floor of a new building along the Denton Highway, the restaurant has been besieged by Roanoke diners with appetites for upscale American cuisine and craft beer and wine.
During peak times, you might have to wait a good hour or so for a table. That is, unless you go early on a Sunday, like we did, when we practically had the place to ourselves — at least for about 30 minutes; by noon, it was packed.
The vibe: Part of the restaurant’s appeal is its multifaceted dining area. It’s almost as if the owners held a focus group about what the dining room should look like and took everyone’s advice. Walk in and you can immediately sit right down at the bar. Go a little to the right and have a seat at a comfortable couch, with coffee tables and end tables serving as your dining space, with a fireplace flickering in the background. Community pub tables to the right, banquet booths to the left.
The restaurant’s centerpiece is an enclosed deck whose westward sightlines will make any Instagrammer feel like she’s hit the sunset-view jackpot.
The food: At the helm of the kitchen is Bill Trevino, who once led the kitchen at the upscale Café Pacific in Dallas. His menu is made up primarily of dishes meant to be shared, from charcuterie boards to massive plates of chicken and waffles to sliders and salads. A definite plus: Many of the dishes come in half-portions, good news for those who don’t like to waste money or food.
Everything I tried was top-notch. Especially good was the chicken and waffles ($8) — a cool take on what’s becoming a tired dish. Two chicken tenders with a crisp, slightly spicy batter and tender meat came atop a quartet of oblong-shaped jalapeño-cheddar waffles. It was a lot of savory, but a housemade agave syrup added just the right amount of sweetness.
Garlic truffle fries ($5) reminded me of Smashburger’s, and that’s a compliment. They were thin and crisp, perfectly cooked, and doused in Parmesan cheese, truffle oil and bits of garlic. Their only problem: Some were cut into absurdly small pieces.
Sliders ($3-$6) are served individually, a nice perk if you want to mix and match among the half-dozen options. A good choice is the lobster roll slider, jammed full of rich, sweet lobster and served on buttery, toasted bread. A Nashville Hot slider wasn’t as spicy as we were hoping but the chicken tender was well-cooked and nicely seasoned. It was the housemade bread-and-butter pickles that forced me to order a second.
The booze: In addition to a full bar, the restaurant serves close to 100 tap beers and wines. You can learn about each one via a touch-screen station. You can also try the tap drinks inexpensively — four-ounce servings cost only $1.50 to $2.
The service: Our servers were tentative but thorough, a little unsure about the menu but quick and friendly otherwise.