Ramblings around Roanoke: Firefly Fare

So I’ve debated how to break down a post about my recent culinary mini-adventures in Roanoke. Thanks to my recent freelance assignment, I’ve had the fortune of traveling to the Star City to try out a few new places/meet a few new faces. I’ve wanted to cover each because I think they deserve their fair share of praise for incorporating local and sustainable foods into their “practices.”

Since I’m already long-winded enough, I decided to break each adventure down into separate posts. So, first up: Firefly Fare.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Parkhurst, owner and chef of Firefly, for my assignment. And yeah, I had to do some important research into what the restaurant serves, right? Even if that means a 35-minute drive, which probably negated the sustainability endeavor (hint hint, New River Valley; we seriously need some restaurants that are similarly minded and all about local, but that’s a bone I’ll pick later).

Stepping off my soapbox…Firefly Fare has some outstanding, quick food that Chris sources from farmers at the Roanoke City Market and other local vendors. As with establishments that highlight regional fare, the menu changes somewhat depending on what’s available (to get an idea of what’s frequently available, go here). To stay competitive price-wise with fellow vendors in the renovated Roanoke City Market Building, Chris focuses on vegetarian meals (the meat that is on the menu, thank god, is local as well; sometimes seafood is available via Local Seafood Delivery).

I went with the Indonesian tofu bowl the day I made my visit, fully intending to eat half and save the rest for lunch the next day. I kinda ended up scarfing down the entire bowl, which was full of mixed rice, veggies, tofu, and an amazing sauce that I now wake up most mornings craving. I’m not sure what spices were utilized (I thought about forcing Chris to give up his recipe, but I’m not really trained in such tactics–or any tactics for that matter–so it was a lost cause from the start), but they were perfection with a bit of heat. The meal was an amalgam of everything I love in a properly sauced/spiced dish: sweet, savory, spicy.

I don’t eat tofu on a regular basis because some people can’t get it right, and that includes me (not that I’m an expert cook by any stretch of the imagination). But the tofu (my, what big chunks of it there were!) at Firefly was meaty with a spot-on texture. By that I mean it was substantial; not dry, not soggy, but just right. I ended up going back to order a side of grilled corn/white beans for my husband to try later. I’m told they were a great side dish; unfortunately, I didn’t get to try any of it.

I was happy to see quite a line forming at Firefly the day I went, mostly businessmen. The price for my sizeable tofu bowl was $9, which I think is totally reasonable. Then again, I like to think I have my priorities in line. I’m much more willing to spend money on a place that features locally sourced foods. Quite frankly, the number of people who bitch to me about the price of local foods when I say I choose to eat that way while carrying around their iPhones and plunking down the same amount on a processed, inedible burger and greasy, limp fries just galls me. I have nothing against iPhones and am looking into getting one myself (I do have lots of things against processed foods, obviously). But I’m also aware of the price of my health, and foods sourced by local farmers who employ humane and environmentally conscious methods are important to my lifestyle. Plus? Eating locally sourced foods makes a direct impact on the local economy. It’s simple math. Plus plus? Local, fresh food just tastes better.

Roanokers are lucky to have myriad choices for local foods and the amount of time in which they are served. For the more leisurely meals, there’s obviously River and Rail, Lucky, and Local Roots (more on the latter two later; and if there are others, send a girl a suggestion!). But there’s also the quicker option in Firefly Fare, which has been open for about nine months. Not that Firefly can’t do leisurely, either. Dinner is served almost everyday (check out the Facebook site for a listing of hours, keywords: Firefly Fare). And yes, they serve beer and wine, with some lovely outdoor seating/waiter service available for those dwindling days of summer. Firefly also features a juice bar, which takes full advantage of local produce in season (unfortunately, the juicer was broken the day I was there, but I’m using that as an excuse to make another trip soon).   

I hope Firefly Fare is here to stay. The food is (gasp) healthy but still feels decadent and richly flavored. It has the mark of a chef who is doing what he set out to do: providing quick, fresh food that highlights what regional farmers and producers have to offer. If you’re going out during your lunch break for a quick bite to eat, I’d strongly recommend skipping the usual and giving Firefly a shot. I’m willing to bet you’ll leave completely sated but still feel good about what you ate. Plus, you’ll help support small farmers who bust their ass to do what they do everyday, to make a living not to get rich but because they have a passion for truly good food. You can thank them for their efforts by supporting a place like Firefly Fare. And if someone could shake Chris down to get the recipe for that sauce used in the Indonesian tofu bowl, consider a few rounds of juice on me.

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