Hometown Eats: Texas Tavern

Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 5:05 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - When you hear “hot with” or “bowl with,” what comes to mind? Don’t know? Then you’re likely not from Roanoke. If you do, you know we’re headed to the OG! I’ll save you a stool at the Texas Tavern for this week’s Hometown Eats.

“White collar, blue collar, no collar, saints, sinners, preachers, prostitutes, everyone in between. Leave your status outside, when you come in here, we’ll treat you like a millionaire,” said 4th generation Texas Tavern owner Matt Bullington.

It’s the most exclusive, inclusive club in all of Roanoke, the millionaires club and you’ll only find it at the Texas Tavern.

“We’re part of the social fabric of Roanoke, Virginia and we don’t take that lightly. It’s something we’re very proud of,” said Bullington.

Pride that goes back four generations of owner Matt Bullington’s family to his great grandfather Nick who worked with the Ringling Brothers’ Circus, traveling the country in the early 1900s. During his travels he came across a chili recipe in San Antonio, Texas. He put his spin on it and the Tavern was born, but Roanoke wasn’t the original destination.

“The first Texas Tavern was opened in 1926 by my great grandfather outside Indianapolis. If you look at that whole cabinet, all that right there actually came from the original one in Indiana so that even pre-dates this building which was built in 1930. All that stuff was 1926,” explained Bullington.

The arch out front is a nod to The Alamo and putting Texas in the name because that’s where the chili recipe comes from. Most of the aesthetics of the Tavern haven’t changed, like the panels on the walls to the metal foot rail.

“When it was put in there were no holes in it. Shoe leather put those holes in it,” said Bullington.

Bullington says taking people down memory lane is just as important as the food they serve.

“In the next 10 minutes I could have someone who came in here for the first time in 1940,” said Bullington.

One of the most memorable stories was from a woman in her 90s who walked in a few years ago.

“We have a photo of the day we opened, and my grandfather got a bunch of young boys who were in here and they all went outside and took photo and her husband was one of the boys in that photo,” said Bullington.

Now that the history lesson is over, it’s lunch time! Much like the décor, the menu runs on the same motto, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“Try to keep it simple and do what we do well. We don’t try to be things that we’re not so you’re not going to see a Caesar salad on the menu anytime,” said Bullington.

Humor is high on the menu at the Tavern and has been since day one. From the tongue and cheek signs around this joint even to what they call ketchup.

“We’ll keep ketchup, but we keep it hidden. We’re kind of ashamed of it and we call it sissy sauce. You don’t put ketchup on a hamburger, you put mustard on a hamburger,” said Bullington.

Familiarity with a side of fun is what has turned this 10 stool diner into a rite of passage for Roanokers like Bird Man.

“Park my car in the same spot everyday and I usually bring my birds in and they eat some crackers and chili, they love it as much as I do and I usually get a Dirty Travis because it’s the sloppiest thing on the menu,” said regular customer ‘Bird Man’’

This bad boy is on the secret menu, which they do have at the TT, but we’re going with the classics a double meat cheesy, a hot dog with and a bowl of chili with. When you say “with” that means onions and don’t forget the famous tavern relish which is a cabbage base instead of pickles.

The Tavern is here 24 hours a day, 364 days a year with a familiar staff who tells it how it is, and Bird Man says you can’t find that anywhere else.

“Here, they can be real with you. Anywhere else it’s the same story every day, ‘Can I take your order? Can I help you sir?’ You get your bang for your buck,” joked ‘Bird Man.’

Just make sure you have an actual buck, cash only in this joint. No worries if you forgot, the ATM is waiting right next to a 1950s coke bottle machine.

“It’s the millionaire’s club for a reason, there’s a reason this place gets flooded all the time,” said ‘Bird Man.’

“People crave things that are authentic and don’t change and that’s really one of our strong points. We’re nothing if we’re not real Americana,” said Bullington.

Texas Tavern, the original hometown eat.

You can find Texas Tavern at 114 Church Ave SW, Roanoke, VA 24011.