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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Restaurant review: SoRo is chill, tidy, friendly

You can't go wrong with most of the dishes at this South Roanoke restaurant.

SoRo Chill & Grille opened in September in Piccadilly Square on Franklin Road.

LINDSEY NAIR The Roanoke Times

SoRo Chill & Grille opened in September in Piccadilly Square on Franklin Road.

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The vibe

SoRo Chill & Grille lives up to its name on all levels. It's a place that is relaxing and fun, with affordable prices. The restaurant opened in Piccadilly Square on Franklin Road in September and is named for its proximity to the South Roanoke neighborhood.

Legions of patrons crowd the up-front bar area for lunch and to unwind after work in the evening. A little after 6 p.m., when the bar throng leaves, the dining room begins to fill with families and couples eager to enjoy a pleasant dinner in the unpretentious, spacious surroundings.

Credit goes to owners Ron Revia and Angela Drinkard and manager Claire King, who keep the place tidy and the service friendly.

The menu

The lunch and dinner menus at SoRo mesh, creating a variety of starters, entrees, salads, sandwiches and burgers for whenever you feel inclined to enjoy them.

Starters range from simple spinach and artichoke dip to Irish nachos, which are homemade potato chips covered with cheddar cheese, tomatoes, onions and fresh jalapenos. They also serve a variety of shrimp dishes and a spice-crusted, seared "everything tuna," a riff on the "everything bagel."

Salads, some of the most generously portioned in the city, encompass the Caesar, Greek, a grilled or Southern fried chicken salad, black and blue (blackened sirloin or tuna served with blue cheese), Buffalo chicken and California cobb.

SoRo's 10 sandwiches include turkey and sirloin burgers, a turkey and bacon club, crab cake, Philly steak and cheese, grilled chicken and fried catfish, shrimp or oyster po'boys.

Entrees are served with a choice of a regular side (fries, onion rings, rice pilaf, etc.) or a premium side (baked sweet or white potato, asparagus, vegetables, red beans and rice) for an extra $2.50. They are nicely presented, well-portioned meals.

Consider shrimp and grits, surf and turf, salmon, dry-aged rib-eye, ribs or the pasta Mardi Gras, an unusual treat of blackened chicken served atop fettuccine dressed with a Cajun sauce of crawfish and andouille sausage.

Sunday brunch brings an array of luscious eye-openers. These include the classic Low Country shrimp and grits, fluffy sweet potato pancakes topped with candied walnuts and sliced bacon, and an imaginative South-of-the-Border dish featuring blackened shrimp with fresh tomatillo salsa in a flour quesadilla topped with fried eggs, guacamole and sour cream.

I would go for the corned beef hash crowned with two eggs. A variety of filled omelettes served with your choice of a side, accompanied with toast, rounds out the brunch offerings.

What I tried

For lunch, I went for the Buffalo shrimp as a starter. This dish featured 12 lightly fried, medium-sized shrimp tossed in a delicious sauce -- the spicy Buffalo part. My partner had creamy red pepper hummus served with crispy pita points. This velvety, flavorful hummus would have subbed magnificently for butter on toast or as a sandwich spread.

I followed the shrimp with a California cobb salad with grilled chicken, which was plated on an oval dish. An abundance of greens, crisp bacon, tomato wedges, sliced hard-cooked eggs, avocado and chunky blue cheese crumbles gave me awkward moments: I couldn't cut the chicken or anything else that required cutting without lettuce and whatnot spilling off the plate onto the table. Consequently, I barely touched this promising salad.

My dining partner thoroughly enjoyed the well-seasoned turkey burger on a toasted roll with lettuce and tomato.

I love salmon, especially when it's grilled, so that was my choice for dinner. With it, I ordered premium sides of a baked sweet potato and the vegetable medley. Alas, this salmon was overcooked to dryness and couldn't be saved even by piling the vegetables on it.

My guest ordered the evening special, flounder Francaise with pasta. The large piece of fresh, tasty flounder sat atop the bed of pasta, which missed its share of sauce. Its boiled plainness left him speechless.

Finding myself in Roanoke one evening, I went to SoRo alone and had a plate of New Orleans BBQ shrimp in a spunky sauce I mopped up with French bread.

My entree, a chicken salad croissant, turned out to be the best I've had in ages. Not only neatly made, its thick layer of chicken salad on a great, flaky croissant left me content.

Not to be picky, but ...

Much needs to be done in timing and pacing dishes at SoRo Chill & Grille. On every occasion, within moments of starting the appetizers, our entrees arrived and the table became clogged with dishes, leaving us exasperated because we couldn't complete our meals.

Also, I understand the casual attire approach, and I think it's wonderful as long as it's neat, clean and appropriate for the occasion. But I cannot tolerate the expanse of flesh showing between the bottom of a shirt and the waistband of slacks worn by servers in a restaurant.

The bottom line

SoRo Chill & Grille has a special hospitality to offer its patrons, and it knows how to convey this message by providing a relaxed environment. You can't go wrong ordering any of the Cajun, New Orleans-style or Southern dishes, which are outstanding. Work to improve some of the other entrees would be welcomed, as would the plating of salads on large enough dishes or even soup plates.

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