Roanoke's hot restaurant scene is fueled by a wave of new restaurants coming in from Dallas and Fort Worth, but it has some homegrown spots, too. For example: Roanoke Grill and Tavern, whose friendly, small-town vibe feels a little like Cheers. Staff members say hello when you enter, and you sit wherever you like.
Most people start with a cold beer; it's that kind of place. But there's a kids menu, too, and the atmosphere is family-friendly. The menu is small and consists of burgers, fries, wings and chili, but also a couple of salads that featured good, fresh lettuce, so there's an alternative if you're not in the mood for something meaty or fried.
This used to be a motorcycle shop; before that it was a Mexican restaurant. There's a bar to the right and a dining area to the left, with a few well-positioned flat-screen TVs set to sporting events. The bar is a massive wooden slab that co-owner George Denham retrieved from an old saloon near Ferris. The owners have also preserved a great towering tree out in the back, around which they built a spacious outdoor patio.
The signature Big Tree Burger ($5.99) is named after that tree, and a fine burger it was. The half-pound patty was sprinkled with black pepper and fried on the grill, giving it a homemade personality. The texture was perfect: thick but not overwhelming, a little tender and crumbly, but not falling apart. It was served on a big, soft wheat bun, buttered and toasted on the grill, with toppings of sliced tomato, pickles, a few scattered chopped onions and just the right amount of fresh lettuce.
You can also get the burgers in a slider version, four for $6.99.
Go ahead and get one of the sides ($1.99), because they're good. Onion rings were large, crunchy and sweet, with a mildly thick crust that went soft in parts. Sweet potato fries were a very good version of this increasingly popular item: slightly thin and coated with a seasoning mix that added flavor and crunch.
Chicken-fried steak comes in a sandwich ($7.99) with fries; it was a very soft version, if that's the way you like it. There's also George's chili ($3.99 small, $4.99 large), available with beans or without.
Even better were Brother's beans ($2.99 small, $3.99 large), the beans without the meat, like a spicy bean soup with bits of vegetable floating among the soft, ruddy beans. They came with excellent house-made hushpuppies that were firm and not at all greasy -- good enough to order on their own.