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JEANNA DUERSCHERL | The Roanoke Times
Waitress Carly Taylor talks with guests at First & Sixth.
JEANNA DUERSCHERL | The Roanoke Times
First & Sixth restaurant located at the Patrick Henry Hotel.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
I recently had the opportunity to visit First & Sixth, a swank new purveyor of upscale Southern cuisine located in the rejuvenated splendor of the Patrick Henry in Roanoke. The name honors Patrick Henry’s status as both the first and sixth post-Colonial governor of Virginia.
Given the grandeur of its location and the history of its namesake, I had lofty expectations.
The restaurant is smaller than I expected; the soft yellow palette and understated decor create a cozy atmosphere, though I found the lighting a little too dim. Jazz plays softly in the background, and a nice-sized and well-appointed bar inside the restaurant offers pre-dinner cocktails. In addition, the Penny Deux lounge in the building’s lobby offers ample space for customers to enjoy cocktails and appetizers.
I took my children for brunch, but the restaurant is really better suited for quiet dinners with adults.
My first visit, for Sunday brunch after church, was a last-minute decision. It was this winter’s only snow day and, having perused the menu online, I couldn’t shake the thought of eggs Benedict smothered in warm, rich hollandaise sauce. At the last minute, however, I switched to the Chesapeake Benedict ($14), a lump crab cake resting on an English muffin and topped with an over-easy egg and hollandaise. I don’t know how anyone eats anything Benedict without an oozing egg yolk, but the server did ask how I wanted the egg cooked.
The star of the brunch was my wife’s pimento cheese and bacon omelet ($10), which I have never before encountered. The surprising combination of egg, melted pimento cheese, chives and applewood smoked bacon resulted in a creamy mound of deliciousness.
Although a few of the hash brown potatoes were lukewarm, they were among the best I’ve had — crispy, golden brown and perfectly seasoned. My wife and I both thought the fruit bowl, a few slices each of cantaloupe, honeydew melon and pineapple, was richly priced at $4.
A weeknight dinner with a friend gave me a chance to try a few of the restaurant’s Southern specialties.
A plate of three scallops surrounded by a decadent saffron beurre blanc ($15) might have been too rich if the scallops had not been dusted in local H&C coffee and brown sugar. The bitterness of the coffee and the accompanying wilted leeks tempered the sweetness of the scallops, which were beautifully presented.
A thick, especially crispy crust coated the Southern fried chicken ($15). It was not greasy, and the meat was tender. Unlike some fried chicken, the batter was not sweet. The sides of rich macaroni and cheese and collard greens were superb.
My dining companion’s “small” plate of hearty gumbo with smoked duck and andouille sausage ($10) left little room for the main course. Gratefully, the delicious sausage was not particularly spicy, and I loved the slices of okra, which my friend noted were not too slimy.
I salivated as I considered ordering the Dr Pepper glazed pork tenderloin ($20), but I eventually selected a Southern classic — shrimp and grits with tasso gravy — as my entree ($18). Instead of the thinner broth found in some versions of this dish, First & Sixth opts for a true, satisfying gravy that includes not only large, tail-on shrimp but also andouille sausage.
The artful arrangement of food, such as the browned scallops and contrasting yellow beurre blanc, illustrates the importance of presentation at First & Sixth. The use of unassuming, white dinnerware places even more emphasis on the items on the plate. At brunch, even the sugar cubes, cream and other sweeteners arrived neatly arranged on their own dish.
We received excellent service at brunch. The staff had no trouble setting places at a booth, instead of the table we had been shown, so that we could corral the children. No kids menu was offered, but our waitress happily brought us plain pancakes ($7), omitting the bananas and pecans mentioned on the menu.
There were a few minor snags in the otherwise attentive service. After we were seated at dinner, we had to wait a little too long to get our drinks from the bar, but it appeared our server was pulling double duty as bartender. Also, the empty plates from our first course remained on the table longer than they should have.
The bottom line
First & Sixth is an elegant complement to one of the Star City’s most revered structures. Perhaps the most welcome addition to downtown dining, however, is the Sunday brunch.
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