Don't Attend Church
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a few people at 24 Church Avenue Italian Sideboard & Spirits in downtown Roanoke. Having previously checked out the restaurant's website, I was intrigued by their $5.99 Italian lunch buffet and their famous giant slices of pizza. I mentioned this to my dad and he rounded up some people from his office and we decided to make our way over to Church Avenue to give it a try.
I should have known we were making a mistake when we walked in the door. First, there was a sign on the door saying they could only accept cash - which isn't too strange but did seem rather weird for a place that also serves as a bar at night. Next, the decor and layout of the place was terrible. There is a pool table as you enter and a dimly lit dining area with basic chairs and tables, and on one side of the room is a bar that looks like it was thrown together with scrap pieces of wood from a construction project. As if these weren't strong enough hints, there was NO ONE eating in the restaurant when we walked in at a little after 12pm, which is the prime hour for lunch spots downtown. Again, it was stupid of me to not pick up on the warning signs but I told myself, "maybe the atmosphere is terrible but the food makes up for it."
Our group picked out a table and then made our way to the "buffet." It's difficult to describe the layout of everything because it was so ridiculous, but one side featured salad, the middle area featured "entrees," and the other side featured pizza. The salad was probably the highlight of the meal. It was just mixed greens, like the kind you'd get in a container at the grocery store, and the staff at 24 Church managed to get something right in just getting those into dishes for people to serve themselves.
The "entree" portion of the buffet was a disgrace. First, everything is protected by an enclosure - so you have to hand your plate over to a wonderfully friendly (NOT!) server who tells you what everything is and asks you what you'd like. At an ITALIAN buffet, he told me my choices were: lasagna, spaghetti, chicken parmesan, macaroni & cheese, beef & broccoli, roasted potatoes, and hot wings. Yes, beef & broccoli and hot wings.
Although nothing looked appetizing, I tried the lasagna and chicken parmesan. Another mistake. The lasagna tasted crusty, old, and dry - I would say it was clearly frozen lasagna but that would be an insult to all frozen lasagna dishes. I'm really not sure how 24 Church managed to get it to taste so bad. As for the chicken parmesan, I'm still not sure what the meat was, but there's no way it was chicken and the marinara sauce was non-existent.
And I'm sure this is no surprise, but the pizza was another huge disappointment. The crust was paper thin - too thin to be able to hold any toppings, so the chef avoids this problem by not putting any toppings on the pizza. No sauce. Barely any cheese (or what seemed to be dried cheese powder). And toppings that fall off as soon as you try to pick up a slice. Of course, it had no flavor other than a slight hint of wax paper, which might have been used in the making of the crust. By the end of the meal, I was angry with myself for having stayed in this restaurant for longer than three seconds and really felt like throwing up.
I wanted to write a review about this place to get the word out, but it really is difficult to describe how bad it truly was. I've seen more appetizing food on the streets of Haiti. However, one of my favorite moments came from the people I was eating with who were also grossed out. At one point, one girl said, "I think that's a live wire that's just dangling over the buffet." She was right. And later we heard one of the servers get visibly angry when other people walked into the restaurant, which forced him to yell into the back, "WE NEED TO MAKE MORE FOOD!" I guess they only had one microwave available in the kitchen.
I've never said this about a restaurant, but I believe this place should be investigated. Promoting themselves as a restaurant that makes everything from scratch is a lie. They can't honestly be trying to make it as a dining establishment, because that's just unbelievable. There might be a lot more going on behind their black curtain to the kitchen other than serving up disgusting food. This is, by far, the worst restaurant I've ever been to in Roanoke. I don't care what your religion is, don't ever go to 24 Church!