Refined in Roanoke

A stroll through the Chef's Pantry Garden behind the Classic Café in Roanoke gives you a hint as to what is inspiring Chef Charles Youts during any given season.

When we visited in early summer, yellow and zucchini squash were in season. The pristine vegetables were hand-picked to form the foundation of a squash casserole. The home-style side dish incorporated eggs and buttery breadcrumbs, allowing the squash to take center stage. Fresh herbs and greens are also harvested daily.

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The sky-blue siding of this renovated house provides an element of whimsy for passersby. The expansive porch encourages diners to linger. The interior of the reworked home is laid out into its original floor plan, with the exception of the kitchen. What used to be the tiny kitchen now serves as a pass-through and staging area for the restaurant. The burgundy bar area fits snugly by the front door, and other dining rooms are spread throughout.

Appetizers of line-caught Yellow Fin Seared Sashimi Tuna ($14) and House Smoked Salmon ($14) did not disappoint. The tuna was displayed beautifully, lightly seared on all sides. The mild tuna was drizzled with both wasabi aioli and balsamic ginger glaze. The tuna was more of a textural treat with its velvety slices served atop crunchy fried rice noodles.

The House Smoked Salmon was outstanding, served with a simple horseradish cream sauce and complemented by briny capers and red onion. The appropriately seasoned pink salmon was a generous portion for four. Crunchy, thinly sliced baguette toasts were served alongside.

The Mixed Grill ($32) offered a sampling of homemade sausage, bacon-wrapped quail breast and a 5-ounce portion of beef tenderloin. The free-range beef sausage stood out -- expertly spiced, lean and fresh. And the tender quail breast was not overcooked or drowning in bacon fat. The beef tenderloin medallion was served with an interesting huckleberry demi-glace.

 

Two palm-sized Gulf Blue Crab Cakes and Grilled Texas Gulf Shrimp ($29) were served with a sun-dried tomato tartar sauce. The texture was not as crispy as we would have liked; however, the crab cakes had just the right amount of spice to keep them interesting. The night we visited, all entrees were served with a wedge of pan-fried polenta and redcabbage.

The 10-ounce Beef Tenderloin Medallions ($30) were topped with a tantalizing Bleu cheese crust and a port shallot demi-glace. The meat was cooked to my guest’s preference -- well done. When Chef Youts came by to see how our table was doing, he spotted her plate from a distance and jokingly said, “Oh, you were my well-done tonight!”

Grilled Rack of Australian Lamb ($38) was served with an herb crust and a rosemary pomegranate molasses. The four chops were the favorite at our table. The herb crust had notes of mustard, fresh mint, and panko breadcrumbs, and the tender chops were served the perfect medium rare.

The relaxed atmosphere of The Classic Café makes it a place to visit and revisit. The proficient staff will make it well worth your drive to dine in Roanoke. Chef Youts does put an interesting spin on his plates. They are both clever and, yes, classic.