"Something's Brewing at Blue Ridge"
by gayla mills
Blue Ridge Brewing Co. is in a turn-of-the-century building on Main Street across from the Southern Railroad Station. It's been renovated with tall mirrors and a long open bar to increase the feeling of depth, while retaining the old tin ceiling and weathered brick walls. Muted earth tones blend with maroon tablecloths and subdued lighting to create a relaxed daytime setting. The late hours transform the room into an arena for the clinking beer glasses, excited night talk, and booming music.
When I heard this was Virginia's first brewery-restaurant, I imagined pot-bellied men wearing white aprons and tall rubber boots, wading through the spilled brew and laughing heartily in the darkened rooms. This image was dispelled as soon as I peered through the gleaming windows at the ceiling-high tanks of fermenting brew. There wasn't a drop of ale on the floor, and a collegiate-looking lad was monitoring the operation. This is no working class pub.
For those of you interested in the intricacies of brewing, a diagram by the observation window takes you through step by step. Your intellectual appetites satisfied, you can then sample the results at your table. Their beers include lagers, ales, and stout and go for $1.75 a glass. The lager and stout that I sampled were both smooth and flavorful, though light-bodied for their types (the stout runs considerably lighter than a Guinness, for example.)
While drinking you can sample a wide selection of snacks. Popular favorites include the wontons with trout and cheese. With a creamy filling and mild fish flavor, these six luscious eggrolls sit on their plate like plump cherubs on a picnic, a pot of homemade mustard in their midst.
When I was there for lunch, discreet strands of Tracy Chapman could be heard, making it easy to talk or enjoy the music. The service was prompt and attentive, the lunch selection varied, from pork chops and country ham biscuits to tuna salad and lasagna. I had chicken smothered in a nicely seasoned sauce of mushrooms and onions. In addition to the three pieces of chicken, juicy and flavorful, the plate came with a generous helping of herbed potatoes and a side salad. Best of all, it fit well within the budget: the entrees run from $4.50 to $4.95. Regretfully, I hadn't a square centimeter left for the homemade desserts, which included an enticing bourbon pecan pie and a mocha chocolate cheesecake.
Their dinners feature a similar variety of food prepared in different ethnic traditions, from a Cajun blackened redfish (at $9.95) and Caribbean marinated chicken ($8.25) to grilled shrimp wrapped with basil and proscuitto ($11.95).
My favorite meal is their Sunday brunch. Although they serve numerous specials, the buffet at $8.95 is the way to go. More modest in selection and price than the grandiose hotel buffets around town, the Brewery's brunch focuses on fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch. The most recent buffet had quiche and lamb stew, homemade biscuits and cream chipped beef, sausage and bacon, hash browns and sliced meats, carrot cake with cream cheese icing, fresh apple slices baked with cinnamon, fruit salad and peach cobbler, and a bottomless cup of coffee or tea. Since there are plenty of tables, you can relax over your Sunday paper without feeling the press of the crowd.
Because the Brewery's foods and atmosphere vary so much with the time of day, you may want to sample more than one meal to see which suits you best. The Brewery is a chameleon, with shifting moods and crowds to match. But whatever time you go, you can feel confident that the food will be prepared with fresh ingredients and care.