july 16th, 2015 | 3 hours ahead
We stayed in Roanoke one night to make the drive from Nashville to Virginia a little less terrible, and we found a food tour that we thought would give us a feel for the town. This was the starting point of the 7 meal tour. A beautiful historic hotel in the english tudor revival style.
We sampled 7 different restaurants in the town, and learned about the history of this old town. About the only thing I can tell you about this place is that it’s such a small place that almost everyone knows each other and as a result, those people have a tremendous and misplaced sense of city-pride. The food was alright — nothing special — and the town was quaint. My grandpa really liked it here, but my problem with it is that there’s nothing defining here. Despite its old age, the town lacks a sturdy identity. Lost among shrouds of industry, commerce, and settlement, Roanoke has no unique characteristics. Almost every one of their tourist attractions are bested by another place like New York or San Fransisco.
A surprising theme throughout the tour was Lebanese influence. Apparently, many of the town’s greatest shops and restaurants were created and run by Lebanese immigrants. Roanoke was supposedly a very racially diverse place, as it was at the connection of the north and south railroads.
We started with classic southern pub food: draft beer and shrimp and grits. The beer was way better than that crap frat boys provide in their “establishments.”
We ate a lot of other stuff that I forgot to photograph, but the shrimp and grits was the best anyway. So it’s safe to say:
Goodbye, Roanoke…I think.
There’s this spouting fountain in downtown Roanoke that has one trough for horses or “tall dogs” and one spout for people. The myth is that if you take a drink from this fountain, you’ll return to Roanoke. I took a sip from the fountain, and it sounds like a challenge to me. You never know though. After George’s first road trip, he said he would never do a trip like that again. He’s done one every year since then.
The Inn at Little Washington was the real attraction for the day. Around 20 years ago, my parents lived in Virginia, and a lot of our family came to visit them. They had dinner at this place, and almost eveyone who was there claims it was the best dinner they’ve ever had. My grandpa gets severe “hay fever,” and apparently, it’s even worse in Virginia. He went over there, but it was so bad that he had to get on the first plane out of there back home, so he missed the dinner. After that dinner, my grandma always teases him that he didn’t get to go the best dinner of their lives…until now.
What began 30 years ago as a two room inn tucked away in the rolling green hills of rural Virginia, the Inn at Little Washington has become one of the US’ least-known escapes. We drove into the driveway of a beautiful navy blue colonial house and were greeted by a man in time-period appropriate attire: classic european hat, vest, and khaki slacks. We snapped the same picture that my parents probably took 20 years before, and we entered the inn.
We were suddenly taken by the entrance’s ornate interior.
It was a choice of 3 possible tasting menus: the classic, the nouveax, and vegetarian. I opted for the classic, and I was not disappointed.
That second thing is below is boba, but not your typical boba. That’s watermelon tequila boba. Tequila by itself tastes pretty nasty, but that drink was something of the gods. I’ve never had alcohol that’s 1. palatable and 2. interesting. This was both. They explained how to drink it, so it occurred to me that to Virginians, bubble tea was a relatively exotic phenomenon.
Another notable dish was the other drink pictured below. That’s a basil mocktail with black pepper, black cherry, lime, and lemon. It was out of this world. Pretty much every dish was fantastic, and mind bogglingly pleasurable, but the drinks were the most surprising to me because I haven’t really explored that particular niche of cuisine.
Probably the most spectacular sin of the “7 sins” dessert was the mint ice cream which literally tasted like a fresh mint leaf. It was brilliant.
Perhaps the most surprising and notable part of the meal was the guy pictured below, on my left. He was not our waiter, but when George got up to go to the bathroom or something, this guy came over to fold up his napkin. I noticed immediately that he had an astounding 4 pins on his jacket. No one else had four pins, so I was getting ready to inquire about his seemingly elevated status when I noted the tag immediately below the pins. It read “Tea Master.” I could barely contain my excitement. Of all the places you might expect to find a tea master, the rural countryside of Washington, Virginia was not one of them.
I asked him rather smoothly, “so you like tea?”
He replied, immediately intrigued, “why yes, and you?”
I had just recovered from the disappointment of having no better options than to order Earl Grey — my go to easy tea when restaurants don’t have a good tea selection. I quickly told him this and asked him what I should drink. He said that they had a pu’erh, and almost in an explosion of overwhelming emotion, I said, “yes! get me some of that! What kind do you have? Tell the waiter to rescind my Earl Grey.”
I miss my pu’erh tea. This tea was not as good as my friend Alex’s tea, but it was good enough for being almost 4,000 miles away.
My trip is almost coming to a close. Really there will only be 7 more posts after this one. I think one of the most important things to take away by the end of a trip is why you personally travel. I didn’t really know before this trip, and on the day 1 post, I said that I thought “I was finally mature enough to travel, and that this trip was going to be way more valuable than I had ever anticipated.” But I think I’ve finally done enough traveling to understand why I need to travel.
Travel is perpetual love. Every place I go, I’m entranced. The people and scenes that I don’t know captivate me; they draw me to new experiences, to new ways to look at the world. They lure me in, and steal me from the bay area boy that I am. They take the essence of me and bend and twist it until it’s barely recognizable except to those who have gotten to see and understand every abrasion, every nook. Each of these places gives me something and instill a long-lost awe at us and the world. This is something I could get used to. This is what love is, and I’ve had it over and over again. Never let me stay in one place too long.
Originally published on from sea to shining sea by Aaron Yih on Medium.com. For more travel blog posts, go to travel section of my blog. Find more up to date info on my Instagram and video-based content on my Youtube.