Photographs by Sam Froelich
A Bowlful of Wonderful for Breakfast in Winston-Salem
It’s a chilly spring morn and Serial Eater needs to get hoppin.’ When we hear the strains of “Let’s Go to the Hop” waft out into the Arts District’s Trade Street from a beloved institution, Mary’s Gourmet Diner, we’ve found our breakfast stop. Follow the red brick floor, past the mural of a fantastical jungle whose inhabitants include, among others, a nymph and a dinosaur, past the city’s very first Art-o-Mat, to a little perch under yet more fantastical murals featuring figures wearing animal masks. Serial Eater plops down directly under Mr. Fox, while Mr. Ram looks enviously at our order: one of Mary’s signature Gritz Bowls featuring yellow stone-ground grits and two fried eggs. The toppings vary widely and S.E. is torn between Downhome Gritz, with jalapeño pimiento cheese and country ham, and Gritz & Greens, with seasonal greens, tomato and feta. We’re feeling heart-healthy this a.m. and choose the latter. When it comes with a spinach leaf smothered in warm, gooey grittiness and a soup spoon to scoop up every mouthful, we know we’ve made the right choice. A dash of another Twin City fave, Texas Pete hot sauce, and breakfast is a feta-compli!
Mary’s Gourmet Diner, 723 North Trade St., Winston-Salem. Info: (336) 723-7239 or marysgourmetdiner.net
Billy Bob Speaks in Jamestown
The Serial Eater is awfully proud of his — or is it her? — Southern roots, particularly as expressed in the art of eating. Proper pronouns notwithstanding, this may explain why we were so excited to finally check out popular Southern Roots Restaurant on Main Street in Jamestown, a place we’ve been eager to try since hearing tales of chef-owner Lisa Hawley’s authentic culinary magic. What better place to begin our discovery than lunch — and with a sandwich, no less, that speaks directly to our cotton-picking heritage, aka. the Billy Bob sandwich, a monumental cultural achievement involving grilled Gouda-pimiento cheese, applewood-smoked bacon and fried green tomatoes on sourdough. To complement the affair, we ordered a side of fresh okra, artfully split and tenderly sautéd with caramelized onions and roasted romas with mozzarella, a unique style (like many of the dishes, we learned) chef Lisa learned at the elbow of her Southern grandmother. After our outstanding encounter with Billy Bob, we kicked ourselves (gently) for taking so long to investigate Southern Roots — probably because we feared it might be about as authentic (and as annoying) as Paula Dean’s absurdly stagey “y’aaaaaw.” Brother, were we ever wrong. Lisa Hawley and her staff are the real deal, the best of Southern-style cooking, which means we’re headed back for supper when the SE will try to decide whether to order buttermilk fried oysters or bourbon-glazed Angus flat-iron steak.
Southern Roots, 119 East Main, Jamestown, (336) 882-5570.
Dinner for Two in Burlington
Standards, the Serial Eater believes, are vitally important — especially in a favorite restaurant. Frankly, we hadn’t eaten at The Original Prego’s Trattoria on South Church Street in Burlington in quite some time. Long an anchor of the Alamance dining scene, Prego’s left a highly favorable impression when we first dined there seven or eight years ago with our eager Elon University freshman. Then as now, we were pleasantly surprised by the authenticity of the robust Italian cooking and the reasonable prices, a circumstance far more common to Boston’s North End than small cities of the Old North State. If we properly recall the evening — never easy at the SE’s advancing age — the chicken breast piccata and a highly suitable cab from a modest but well-formed wine list sent this parental authority away singing an small aria of contentment. Which explains why a second visit to confirm or revise that first impression was long overdue. Restaurants, like second presidential terms, after all, sometimes tend to lose their mojo in terms of quality, originality and service. Happily, we can report that things are just fine at the cozily atmospheric eatery situated in the shadow of Holly Hill Mall at South Main and Church. For a Monday night, the place was full of diners and the service was beyond impeccable — attentive and genuinely graceful, in fact. Best of all, the food was even better than we remembered. Our dining companion — a self-proclaimed world expert on gnocci — swears Prego’s is the best she’s eaten this side of the River Charles, while the SE was wooed by an honest, simple lasagna dish richly layered with eggplant and sausage, an Italian classic that’s so easy to get wrong. With warm fried squares of polenta to start and an equally reasonable cabernet sauvignon, the total for two was a very companionable $55 with tip, making a third trip a must. The word “prego” has multiple meanings, in italian, but the ones we prefer translate to “Thank you” or simply “You’re welcome” — the perfect name for a true standard.
The Original Prego’s Trattoria, 2740 South Church St., Burlington (336) 586-0292. Reservations accepted but not mandatory.