February 2018

Daniel M. Walker, Contributing Columnist

One of the things I most enjoy about this job is unexpectedly coming across little gourmet gems. Nothing fancy, just good eatin’!

That’s exactly what happened recently while traveling through South Hill, Virginia, on historic U.S. Route 1. I drove past the Horseshoe Restaurant and suggested to my traveling companion we turn around, go back and have lunch. I’d passed the restaurant many times, but never stopped. I had, however, noticed that there were always a lot of cars in the parking lot, often the sign of a good place to eat.

On entering the restaurant, I got a great big “hello” from Vicki behind the counter. “Anybody can provide service, but it takes a special place to make you feel welcome,” said Scott Rogers, owner of the Horseshoe Restaurant. “I want this to be a classic country diner with great food and good cheer.”

Lunch-counter area located where the old blacksmith shop served area farmers.

Lunch-counter area located where the old blacksmith shop served area farmers.

The restaurant building was originally a blacksmith shop, built around the turn of the century. It became a diner in the 1930s. The U-shaped lunch counter was where the blacksmith had his fire pit and you can still see the original beams that supported the octagonal roof.

Small towns are often witness to noteworthy historic events, as I quickly learned. On Dec. 31, 1938, the notorious outlaw, Roy Kelly, was apprehended by local authorities while having breakfast at the Horseshoe Restaurant. The good news for the public is the bank robber and murderer, Kelly, was identified by a local resident and captured. The bad news for Kelly, I am told, is that he didn’t get to finish his breakfast. Local lore also has it that the legendary comedy team of Laurel & Hardy once visited the Horseshoe to partake of its delightful cuisine and hospitality.

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The Horseshoe Restaurant menu has many comfort-food favorites like fried green tomatoes, maple-bacon dates, deviled eggs and onion rings. Scott suggested that one of the lunchtime favorites is a burger topped with homemade pimento cheese, a house specialty. When I was a lad, I had summer jobs picking tobacco and cotton not too far from South Hill. Famished at the end of the day, I often celebrated with this same dish, but this time I added the onion rings and fried green tomatoes as described on the menu. What a treat! The crispy coating on the tomatoes and onions was light and very tasty.

Scott added that both the bison chili and bison burger are very popular. The bison is sourced from a farm in Gladys, Virginia. The menu also featured a number of signature sandwiches with ingredients such as sliced Granny Smith apples with white cheddar, crisp bacon, which was drizzled with caramel sauce … yum, yum.

Another sandwich that caught my eye was the Pilgrim Sandwich, which had roasted turkey topped with mom’s homemade dressing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce on a bun smothered in gravy. Where can you find these delights in the big city?

For those who have a “dinner” appetite, the Horseshoe offers herb-grilled chicken breast, hamburger steak, grilled ribeye steak, porterhouse pork chop, and one of my favorites, a fried catfish dinner.

A true country diner must also have a selection of homemade pies. The Horseshoe has an extensive array of chocolate walnut, chocolate chess, lemon chess, coconut, peanut butter, brown sugar and buttermilk pies. Several of these recipes have been handed down from past generations.

My visit to South Hill left me wistfully considering how lucky I was to grow up in a small town.

The Horseshoe Restaurant is a true “blue plate special.” Now … “Y’all come and be of good cheer!”

Let me know a special place you have found at [email protected]