In Troutville, Pomegranate Restaurant and Gathering Place lives up to the tradition of the name, with a lush, imaginative dining room.
Throughout ancient history, the pomegranate has symbolized fruitfulness, abundance, and wisdom. It stands to reason, then, that pomegranate would be Diana Dixon’s ideal name for her lush, imaginative, farm-to-table restaurant in Troutville.
Dixon began contemplating the restaurant after her daughter and son-in-law complained about the lack of quality dining in the area. Alejandro Rivera and DeAnn Bishop spent years in the southwest, where they were steeped in the world of fine dining—DeAnn in service and Alejandro as executive chef at Ovens in Tucson and chef at several restaurants throughout Santa Fe. Dixon agreed, citing cramped seating, rushed service and mediocre food as her personal dining nemeses. With retirement from education looming and a chef son-in-law who desired to open his own restaurant (though not as chef), Dixon decided to become a restaurateur.
“We opened on November 20, 2008. It was the day the recession hit,” laugh Dixon and Rivera as they describe pomegranate’s early challenges that included dwindling corporate functions and a local economy struggling to value fresh epicurean fare over chain restaurant dining. The hardships proved a benefit, however, carving a niche for Pomegranate as a destination and special events venue.“We are very popular with travelers and people who have moved here from out of town,” explains Dixon. “It gives me chills when [customers] walk in and tell me they changed their itinerary so they can stay in Troutville and eat here.”
“We are very popular with travelers and people who have moved here from out of town,” explains Dixon. “It gives me chills when [customers] walk in and tell me they changed their itinerary so they can stay in Troutville and eat here.”
Pomegranate’s vibe is best described as lush creativity in a casual atmosphere. There is art everywhere: stained glass, local artisan jewelry, glass sculptures and an entire bar counter covered in collage (located in the back room—a must see!). True to Dixon’s vision, pomegranate’s dining area is spacious. A casual seating arrangement is centered near the front, and a baby grand piano is positioned further back. The color scheme embodies the fruit: deep burgundy tones with bursts of color throughout.
Rivera’s role at pomegranate involves food, wine and service. After years in the kitchen, Rivera prefers to write menus and share his passion for wine. “[Alejandro] knows as much as anyone in the valley about wine,” says Dixon, praising her son-in-law’s vino expertise. “He was in a contest once where he was blindfolded and had to give the vintage and source of the wine, and he could do it.”
Rivera changes pomegranate’s wine selections seasonally, and the menu twice a year, capitalizing on his chef’s strengths. Pomegranate’s current chef, Marcus Averill’s influence is cajun, a point well reflected in the menu. Rivera is careful to keep pomegranate’s “casual fare” items consistent—soft tacos, chicken tenders, pom burger and the like—proving that theirs is a place for good, inexpensive eating any night of the week.
On our visit to pomegranate, my husband and I tried both Cajun and classic dinner fare. I ordered the filet mignon, my husband ordered New Orleans-style crab cakes. Both dishes came with shaved brussel sprouts and potato. We shared the crab-stuffed mushroom appetizer, and carrot cake for dessert. All of it captured pomegranate’s essence: delicious, fresh, simple.
“Our mission statement says, ‘We serve high-quality, upscale food in a casual, comfortable atmosphere,’” says Rivera. “I think food doesn’t have to be so complicated. The longer we operate the more I realize, you know, don’t complicate it. If you bring good product in the back door and you treat it with respect, you don’t have to do a lot to it.”
Pomegranate is open Tuesday thru Sunday.; 4 p.m. for the Wine Bar, 5 p.m. for dinner. Full menu online: pomegranateva.com. They offer gluten-, grain-, and dairy-free options; as well as vegetarian choices. Pomegranate has excellent special-events spaces. They also cater. Call them at 540-966-6052 or visit pomegranateva.com.