Jimmy Sardines – Roanoke
I meant to write this post seven or eight months ago. I’d taken pictures of the pizza, planned on trying the pasta and subs, was excited about it all. Then I completely forgot. Which is good, since the photos where shot during winter and were pretty darn dark and hard to edit. Now, with summer-lit dinners, I’ve managed to finally write a full review of a restaurant I’ve enjoyed for well over a year now (and a restaurant that takes the title of “most visited in Roanoke by Jes & G”).
First off, a disclaimer: I’m a sucker for a restaurant that’s 2 blocks away from me that offers specials. You know, that good value stuff. Normally I don’t care (and openly make fun of “good values”, but, for reals, when a place offers 2 for 1 pizza or pasta three times a week, you have to view it as a legitimate back-up to cooking. And you know me, I like beer (or wine or liquor or …), so I end up spending the same amount on booze as I do on food those nights. Oh, and if it’s football season? Even more the reason! Game + drinks + solid food = a winning combination in my book.
Oh, right, the name of the place—Jimmy Sardines. When the restaurant opened a year and a half ago (two years by now? Anyone know?) in Grandin, I was stoked to check it out. I’d been following the Facebook page and was blown away by the pizza combinations Jimmy, the owner, was planning on cranking out. By the time I actually tried a pie, I was sold: quality toppings, a tasty, tangy sauce, and a beer list that was better than any other casual restaurant in the neighborhood (Allagash and local Virginia brews are always on tap—none of that Shocktop crap). With the Thursday evening buy-one-get-one-12” deal, G & I (and most of our friends) have worked through a good chunk of the menu and have unearthed a few favorites.
The Blue Horseshoe, a pie featuring pancetta, bleu cheese, caramelized onions, tomatoes, and a balsamic reduction is hands-down my favorite pizza on the menu. The savory, salty blend of pancetta mixed with the pungent chunks of bleu cheese with balsamic vinegar drizzled on top is the main reason I think you ought to check the place out. Even my friend, J, who doesn’t like bleu cheese, fell in love with the pizza. It’s not overly flavored with the cheese, but each bite gives gets a hint, if not a chunk, of the bleu, and the balsamic, while playing a minor role, really ties it all together.
Another favorite is our modified Bridge Town— sopressata, meatballs, capicola, feta, and spinach. (The original calls for onions and green peppers but no spinach.) A classic red sauce pizza, this combination is more traditionally American and I love that the restaurant makes its own meatballs. Slightly spicy with a hint of herbs (oregano, parsley?) , the meatballs compliment the more salty sopressata and capicola. And then the feta and spinach give a nice lighter dash. As for the red sauce, no complaints: tangy with enough seasoning that you can really taste the tomatoes,. It’s not a sauce with a lot of depth, but one that is comforting and classic.
Outstanding toppings and sauces aside, my only complaint about the pizzas are their crust. I’ve heard (note: heard—I haven’t confirmed with Jimmy) that the pizza dough is shipped in. I’m inclined to believe it because, from day one, I’ve never liked or been impressed by it. Not crispy thin nor soft nor with a good chew, the crust is thin on the bottom (and doesn’t blacken or bubble) and the on top is rolled over to give it girth, but it lacks anything reminiscent of NY Style or Neapolitan (or any other style). It’s just there. And I find that sad, being a crust girl. Given the chefs’ attention to ingredients and flavors, I’d really love to see homemade dough. Something with a little more flavor that cardboard and a little more chew. If the restaurant worked on that one thing, I’d be there at least three times a week instead of my usual one. You wouldn’t be able to keep me away.
But what else does the restaurant offer, you ask? How about some crazy good hot sandwiches. I’ve only tried a few, but they’re all winners in my book. G is fond of the Meatball Sub which is made with their giant in-house meatballs, red sauce, provolone, and Parmesan. As I mentioned before, the meatballs at Jimmy Sardines are incredibly good, so you can’t go wrong with this sandwich.
The one I’ve liked the most is the Chicken Caprese which features seared chicken, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and balsamic vinaigrette. It’s a little lighter than the meatball sub, but no less flavorful, and I love the fresh tomatoes and basil in summer. A heartier alternative to a caprese salad, no doubt, but one that I’d love to enjoy for lunch (speaking of which, I really wish the restaurant were open for lunch). (Though, I must admit, I really really really wish there were a vegetarian version of this sandwich on the menu–hint, hint.)
Other than the pizza, the other dishes we’ve eaten the most of are the pasta dishes. Not only does the restaurant now offer buy-one-get-one for pizza on Monday and Thursday, it also offers buy-one-get-one on pasta for Wednesday. And you know what blows my mind? I hardly see anyone order the pasta! It’s a crazy deal—two giant bowls of pasta served with crust triangles for $9-11. Really. That’s all. And why the hell would anyone go to Olive Garden when you can have local, independent, delicious, cheap pasta here in Grandin?
I almost always go for the Veggie Pasta and, unfortunately, this picture doesn’t really show the way it normally is. 9 out of 10 times the pasta features a smorgasbord of mushrooms, artichokes, peppers, occasionally spinach, tomatoes, occasionally broccoli, etc. It changes weekly, but on average, there are more vegetables than you can shake your stick at. The week I took my camera, though, the pasta was a little weak with only a few peppers and mushrooms. Definitely a disappointment. But you can’t go wrong with the dish most days.
G often orders the Baked Spaghetti and Meatballs which is just as it sounds—those amazing meatballs (wow, I didn’t realize over the course of our meals there that we always ordered the meatballs…), the red sauce, and plenty of cheese baked on top. While you’d expect spaghetti noodles, sometimes it’s ziti or penne or some other shaped noodle. It all depends on what the chefs decide for the day. But the flavors are always spot on.
Oh! And if you’re gluten-free, guess what: Jimmy Sardines offers gluten-free pizza crusts and gluten-free pasta! I’ve even heard there might be gluten-free bread for sandwiches. Killer, no? And the kitchen is separated to eliminate cross-contamination from the regular items. So, if you’re gluten-free, definitely go check it out to get your restaurant fix in Roanoke. I can’t think of any other restaurants catering to the gluten-free crowd–it’s fantastic!!
There’s a reason why we always end up at Jimmy Sardines—it’s close, it’s cheap, and it’s really solidly good food. It’s not gourmet or blow-your-mind delicious, but it’s really really good, and sometimes that’s more than enough for me to love a place. The vibe is great—laid back, family friendly, but fin for a couple or some friends to hang out at with beers—and the always fantastic tapped beer selection. I’m happy to see the restaurant often busy (though I’m not surprised) and I look forward to seeing how it evolves over time. The menu has changed once or twice since it opened and I’m looking forward to the changes to come—just don’t take my Blue Horseshoe off the menu. That one’s a keeper.
1820 Memorial Ave
Roanoke, Virginia 24015