Grub at earth's end

A stop at The Classic Cafe means eating well where the highway ends

Roasted garlic with herbed goat cheese topped with roasted red pepper was equally successful. Served warm, the fluffy, tart cheese edged with parsley, basil, and chives played beautifully off the sweet, tender bite of the peppers.

Bruschetta with wild mushrooms, red onion comfit, and roasted peppers topped with Gorgonzola and Gruyere cheeses, seemed bland. Equally disappointing was the oily dinner salad, a mesclun mix topped with shredded carrot in a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

But the entrees kicked the menu back on track. The spicy Asian marinated fresh breast of chicken in a sweet sesame red chili sauce was tender and juicy, with a pepper kick layered with a hint of sweetness and a wisp of nuttiness.

While the meat in the Stilton-crusted bone-in rib-eye wasn't robustly flavorful, the Stilton cheese crust fashioned out of toasted onion bread, chopped shallots, garlic, thyme, chunks of Stilton, and a little Parmesan proved its saving grace. In fact, if this meat had been a cut rich in flavor, the dish would have collapsed under its own weight. Instead, the tangy fullness of the crust integrated well with this juicy, tender, lean-in-flavor cut sophisticated with a bit of sweetness from a port shallot demi-glace.

A side of fluffy basmati rice with sauteed onions, shallots, and garlic finished in chicken stock and a little thyme possessed the delicate texture as well as the depth of flavor to both contrast and stand up to the heartiness of the plate's centerpiece.

But there was considerable slippage in the parsley and garlic orchette pasta in Gruyere-sherry butter. Holding sauteed onions and red bell and poblano peppers and folded with shreds of capacolla ham, the dish was plagued by over-lubrication and dramatically undercooked pasta, which muted all flavors but for the sharp saltiness of the ham.

Lunch-menu offerings successfully nudged things back on track yet again. The massive smoked turkey sandwich with black bean mayonnaise was surprisingly light in both flavor and texture. With cheese, onion, tomato, lettuce, and generous slices of moist smoked turkey between a light, fluffy grain bread, the sandwich layers came to life with the spark of the mayo--a mix of Hellman's, black beans, cilantro, lime juice, garlic, jalapeno, and a little cayenne.

The three-egg omelet, a $12.75 feature entree of the day, was fluffy, tasty, and accessorized with caramelized onions, cheese, mushrooms, and slices of mild, earthy Provencal sausage. A side of oven-baked potato slices proved the perfect sub for hash browns or fried potatoes. The thin slices were crisp on the outside while tender and moist on the inside. I've never more enjoyed breakfast potatoes.

But good or not, the thing was a price gouge. Twelve seventy-five for an omelet? The lack of an appropriate price adjustment on a daily special here is inexcusable.

Sweet stuff kept pace with the overall elevated level of other menu selections. The pear crisp had a light, hearty crunch that wasn't choked off by heavy-handed sweetness, and the pears had a near-perfect resilience--not too firm, not mushy--polished with a surging tartness. Black Forest cake with cherry mousse--layered flourless chocolate cake and white chocolate mousse with kirsch (a clear cherry brandy), chocolate chips, and bing cherry bits blanketed with chocolate ganache--was remarkably light and feathery despite its imposingly rich appearance. Served chilled right out of the refrigerator without the benefit of a freshly broilered caramelized crust, the assembly-line creme brulee had a richly flavored top, but the custard innards were slightly runny.

And all of this came with a respectable wine list featuring mostly California offerings dotted with a few selections from France, New Zealand, Spain, Chile, and even Texas. Some favorites included a Domaine de la Rossignole Sancerre, a lightly rich, crisp white, and the Oregonian King Estate Pinot Noir, a wine flush with silky cherry and spice. The only thing lacking on this list is a small selection of Sauternes and late-harvest dessert wines from California.

Classic Cafe is a true vacation from the urban dining pretentiousness that can suffocate the Dallas dining scene. The food is sincere and genuine, yet cleanly sophisticated. The only flaw in the whole experience was the service, which, though gracious, is jerky and badly paced, with long waits and abrupt server departures. But the experience is conducive to long, leisurely dining, thus making it well worth the drive. Plus, the food and that odd little smell never clash.

The Classic Cafe. 504 N. Oak St., Roanoke; (817) 430-8185. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m Saturday, and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.

The Classic Cafe:
Roasted garlic with herbed goat cheese $6.75
Bruschetta with wild mushrooms $7.75
Honey-glazed smoked salmon $9.25
Spicy Asian chicken $14.25
Stilton-crusted rib-eye $24.00
Smoked turkey sandwich $6.75
Parsley and garlic orchette pasta $10.50

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