The tired trope about real estate — location, location, location — is every bit as true when it comes to restaurants. After a recent retooling, one local restaurateur observed that what works in one area of the city doesn’t necessarily work in another, even a mere 5 miles apart. On the other hand, most concepts can find eager customers in an underserved area.
Deep Run Roadhouse in western Henrico County is miles from the popular Alamo BBQ in Church Hill, both literally and figuratively. That’s relevant because Roadhouse’s owner, Paul Hubbard, was a founding co-owner of Alamo. For the past several months his brand of barbecue, Tex Mex and Southern comfort food has made an impact on suburbia.
The restaurant’s website warns that this isn’t your typical roadhouse, so Patrick Swayze won’t be breaking up any fights among drunks. Besides, there’s no beer or liquor license, although plans are in the works to add a bar, possibly by winter. A large chalkboard and spacious counter greet guests, with the rest of the room given over to tables and booths adorned with paper-towel holders shaped like steer horns. Colorful photographs of roadhouses, barbecue joints and the Alamo remind you why you’re here while classic rock sets the mood.
Obviously, meat is king, with the menu broken down into snacks, sandwiches, bison burgers, burritos and platters. Cards sit on every table thanking guests and touting “all fresh ingredients … neither freezing our food nor using canned products.” It’s a worthy goal. Fish tacos ($3.50) are made with the fish of the day — catfish on a recent Sunday, covered in black beans, cheese and corn relish. Despite the card’s promise, the corn tastes straight out of a can, a shame because the catfish is delicious. A pulled pork taco ($3.25) benefits from a dousing of sauce, labeled “spicy Carolina style.”
Barbecue sandwiches can be topped with slaw, Southwest slaw or grilled peppers and onions. We order the latter with a rope sausage sandwich ($5.95), getting a flavorful, mildly spicy sausage that scores on all points. With the beef brisket ($6.50) we choose slaw to add some crunch, but the brisket is dry and disappointing. The card also warns us that “Fresh ingredients can vary in consistency, that is, no two ribs, brisket slices, or any type of vegetables are exactly the same, you may experience slight differences when you dine with us,” so we assume the brisket is having an off day. The best is yet to come with a fried, bone-in pork chop sandwich with spicy lemon mayo, which can also be ordered blackened ($6.95). When it’s delivered, the server points out the separately fried bone next to the sandwich. That’s a wonderfully unexpected treat, albeit difficult for two to share, but we manage because neither of us is willing to relinquish it.
Of the grilled burritos, we opt for the train wreck ($7.25), an unlikely sounding combination of mac and cheese, cowboy beans, corn bread, onions, jalapeños and a choice of barbecue, our pick being pulled chicken. The combination works, but it’s so overloaded with jalapeños that it’s difficult to appreciate the other ingredients through the mouth fire. A half rack of spare ribs ($12.95 with two sides, $14.70 with three) is full of dry-rub flavor, but also very dry meat. Like the table card says, “It’s possible that both humans and ingredients may have less than perfect days,” and perhaps this is one of them.
Twelve sides ($1.75) vary in execution. Mac and cheese tastes pre-made and mushy, tangy collard greens deliver vinegar and spice, but it’s the seasonal veggies — crisp and tender green beans with bacon — that leave us wishing we’d ordered a half pint ($2.49).
Made in-house, desserts ($3.50) are worth a try if you can save room. Four-layer chocolate cake is moist and generously frosted. But the strawberry tres leches cake with meringue, an unexpected roadhouse offering, is attacked by competing forks vying for its delicate flavors.
While we finish on one visit, a man comes over to inquire how we like our desserts. A regular customer who lives and works within a 3 miles of Deep Run Roadhouse, he’s soon raving about his good fortune. “I love this place,” he says. “I don’t need any other restaurants anymore.” I can’t say the same because I’m 15-plus miles from my epicenter, but I’ll bet he isn’t the only one.
Deep Run Roadhouse
12379 Gayton Road
Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.