Wednesday, June 18, 2008
A little bit country
A new owner is breathing new life into Averill's County Store in Alleghany County.
Photos by STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS The Roanoke Times
The Company Store & Iron Company Restaurant in Low Moor has a much broader, more varied menu than Averill's Country Store. A recent lunch special (above) consisted of catfish filet over home fries with black beans, corn and broccoli..
Photos by STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS The Roanoke Times
Alpha "Granny" Averill, 101, may have retired from her country store, but she still gets attention from former employees like Susanne Okumura and Karen Patterson, who now work for the new owner at The Company Store & Iron Company Restaurant. Below, Executive Chef Michael Neutelings has a chat behind the kitchen counter with cook Dustin Seymour.
Food writer Lindsey Nair
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LOW MOOR -- The first difference is the entrance.
A set of double doors with clean, glass panels and crisp white paint, it looks nothing like the old one.
But when I walked into The Company Store & Iron Company Restaurant, formerly Averill's Country Store in Alleghany County, I swear I could still hear that rusty screen door slam shut behind me.
As customer Danny Keene said, the spirit of Alpha "Granny" Averill, who retired from the store last year at age 100, will always be there.
"I guess you'll always see Ms. Averill, and you'll still hear that piano playing," he said.
As a kid, I used to love stopping at Granny's store. I attended elementary school across the street and my father, an electrician, has been eating breakfast or lunch there for more than 20 years.
When Louise Belmont, a wealthy entrepreneur from Kentucky, bought the 1800s-era building, I worried about what would happen to it. But Belmont, who lives in Low Moor, has striven to update the store and restaurant with a French country feel while retaining elements of that old-timey community hub.
"I didn't know how pretty it would look," she said.
Building updates, new menu enhance the old
As a lover of antiques, Belmont said, she can't bear to erase every glimmer of the building's original purpose as the commissary and administrative offices for the Low Moor Iron Co.
Still, it needed a little updating.
Before, the tiny lunch counter was wedged into a back corner where state troopers, teachers, nurses and maintenance guys sat elbow-to-elbow, eating their hot dog or hamburger specials.
Now, the kitchen stretches across the entire back wall of the main room, gleaming with stainless steel ovens, fryers and grills. Diners may still belly up to the counter, which is much larger and faces all the action in the kitchen.
The entire interior, which consists of one main room and several separate dining rooms, has been painted spicy orange and warm yellow. The dark paneling on one wall was stripped away to reveal two graceful, brick archways that now serve as entrances to the cocktail lounge.
One of the biggest changes is to the kitchen staff. Belmont hired former Homestead sous chef Michel Neutelings, 52, to be the executive chef at Iron Company Restaurant. Neutelings' new sous chef is Matt Mueller, a 24-year-old Bath County native who apprenticed at the Homestead.
Neutelings eagerly accepted the challenge of taking simple, country-style breakfast and lunch fare and upgrading it with a French-American bistro twist.
He took care to leave some of the old classics, such as the "From the Past" fried bologna sandwich, chicken salad and BLT, on the menu while adding dishes such as gourmet burgers, a herb ciabatta Reuben and eggs Benedict.
"All in the same building," he said, "you can have biscuits and gravy, a souffleed omelet with tomato and asparagus or sea bass and halibut."
Neutelings likes to get creative with daily specials, which range from a loaded foot-long to salmon on mixed greens. When I visited, the board advertised a cheeseburger omelet and a catfish filet served over a mound of home fries with corn, black beans and onions.
Averill's was always known for its affordability. It was the kind of place where middle-class folks could eat lunch every day without breaking the bank.
Belmont had to raise her prices some, but you can still get a hamburger and chips for $3.09 or a BLT for $3.19. The most expensive sandwich on the menu, a cheese steak, goes for $6.49, and the catfish special was less than $8.
Dinner, which was not served at Averill's in the past, is a bit more upscale. Customers choose from options such as steaks, pork chops, mushroom-stuffed chicken breast and grilled fish for $14 to $24, on average.
Those entrees can be paired with beer or wine, and Belmont is working on securing a license for mixed drinks.
She also has visions of open mike nights and bluegrass or piano performances at the restaurant. For that, she built a small stage in one room and hopes to add a large deck out back.
Old charm is still there
Karen Patterson, who used to work for Averill and is now a waitress at the Iron Company, said she doesn't think the changes have driven many regulars away.
"I see a lot of the same faces and I see a lot of new ones," she said.
Those familiar faces include Granny Averill herself, now 101, who stopped in recently for a little lunch and a lot of admiration.
Perhaps the regulars keep coming because they still detect whispers of the past, like the creaky wooden floor and the freezer stocked with Nutty Buddies and Eskimo Pies.
And even though one wall is now lined with gourmet foods, the counter where Granny Averill used to tally up every order on a brown paper bag is still there.
Behind it, so are the old necessities such as pickles, pork and beans and Manwich.
"We have all kinds of people here and everybody blends together and enjoys eating together," Neutelings said. "We kept the old, but now we are introducing them to new things."
In case you missed it, Roanoke.com has an interactive guide to local food producers, which has been updated with more farm information since it premiered June 8.
Whether you're looking for fresh vegetables, meat, eggs or more, you can find it in the guide!
WANT TO GO?
The Company Store & Iron Company Restaurant
Address: 100 Old Church Road, Low Moor
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served Thursday through Saturday, 6 to 9:30 p.m. Brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Phone: (540) 862-0098
"We have all kinds of people here and everybody blends together and enjoys eating together."
Executive Chef Michel Neutelings