In 1930, just 4 short months removed from Black Thursday, Ringling Brothers advance man Nick Bullington did the unthinkable. Not afraid of a gamble, Nick opened a little short order restaurant in downtown Roanoke, Virginia. Armed with recipes collected during his travels he'd "Seat a thousand customers ten at a time." A particular chile (their own unique spelling) recipe he got in San Antonio was tweaked and became the signature dish when he founded the Texas Tavern, a local landmark.
The tiny eatery on Church Street would become known as the "Roanoke Millionaires Club" and served chile, hamburgers and hot dogs to the depression ravaged area. Since then it's become a magnet for the elite, the down trodden and late night bar hopper. It's a place you can count on any time of day or night. In fact, it's only closed for Christmas day. While time has marched on around it the only things to have changed at the tiny eatery are the prices. The Bullington family still owns and runs it but it's now great grandson Matt at the controls. There's a certain charm associated with that kind of history that just can't be bought. And when I say it's tiny, I mean it. To take a picture of the inside, I had to step outside. It's cozy, cramped and full of character. This was also noted by John T. Edge in his book, Southern Belly. The Ultimate Food Lovers Guide to the South.
You get friendly with the person on the stool next to you and with the employees. Regulars don't even have to order. They walk in and their lunch is presented to them. On wax paper no less. (Love that). There are also a few little unwritten rules. Women get straws for their drinks, men do not. Guys, don't ask for one or you'd get a "Sissy stick." The chile is mild and asking for some hot sauce to kick it up a bit is also begging for derision. It's cash only so don't go trying to pay buy cheque as the sign says. One other thing about this place. There is a grill right in the front window. If you ever walk by a place and they're cooking in the front window, you can almost rest assured the food will be first rate.
While all this character is fine, Nick knew that it doesn't sell. Good food does. So without further adieu.....
In his book, Hamburger America author George Motz singled out the Cheesy Western and claimed the Tavern to be one of the 100 best places to get a burger. It's a burger with egg, cheese, pickle, onion and a house made, cabbage based relish. Not exactly the western that I grew up on but I could live the rest of my life on these. It was very tasty and was definitely cheesy.
If a place has a secret recipe chili you just have to try it. Chile by the bowl is bean laden and very mild. Mrs. Sippi described the taste as "Smooth" and I can't think of a better word. The predominant taste is the beans.
I washed my western and chile down with a cheese burger. A simple burger done on the flat top it's very thin and came with the relish, onion and pickle. It had a taste that reminded me very much of a Krystal burger. The two main differences are that Krystal's uses mustard instead of relish and the tavern's beef has a better taste.
Two "All the way" was Mrs. Sippi's order. She heard someone else say it and when in Rome, right?? Two dogs with onion, relish and hot dog chili. A different chili than comes by the bowl. This one is pretty much pure meat and spices and is quite tight. The dogs were superb.
With all that food and two drinks we were out for just over ten bucks. Great food at very reasonable prices in beautiful downtown Roanoke.
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Bd, Bd, Bd, that's all folks.