A different kind of party at Mary’s

by Brian Clarey


Theother day, while gathering data for the food calendar, I found myself lingering over a fairly mundane press release from Mary’s Gourmet Diner. That’s when I knew it was time to stop by.

The place has existed in some incarnation for a decade, first as Mary’s Of Course!, then later as Breakfast of Course! over on Trade Street. This newest appellation is perhaps the most accurate.

The new-ish digs on Trade — unlike the old Mary’s Of Course!

location, which looked like the cluttered apartment of an eccentric aunt — are the most functional, too: A split-level dining room lined with booths and tables under high ceilings, with an open kitchen that looks big enough to prepare a Viking wedding banquet.

But the menu still leans heavily towards breakfast foods even as it insists that the best meal of the day need not be enjoyed strictly during the morning hours.

At Mary’s, everything starts with a fabulous cup of coffee; from there, the casual diner can decide to stick with the breakfast dishes, which include just about everything one might expect, like eggs, pork, grits (a house specialty) and fruit, a omelet list and something called “breakfast nachos.”

all backed by a commitment to local and organic ingredients. A lunch menu introduces a level of artistry to the sandwich paradigm with options like sourdough bread, locally sourced meats and produce and really good cheese.

And it’s hard not to be distracted by the brunch offerings, that range from sweet like cinnamon-swirl French toast and giant pancakes to savory as in the burritos, which have a tempeh option, and a slate of funked-out traditional dishes to round them out.

For regular diners, the real money is, in my opinion, on the handdrawn specials boards that are presented to each table: soups, salads and other dishes worthy of special presentation. Some restaurants use the specials board to move overstocked (and deteriorating) merchandise; they don’t do that here. If I still worked in this neighborhood, I would order one of Mary’s specials probably three times a week.

But I don’t, so on my last visit I ordered the kind of thing that, to my knowledge, you can only get here: the Crispy Madame.

It’s basically the best ham-and-cheese sandwich you can get anywhere, on toasted sourdough and absolutely smothered with white cheddar cheese sauce in a sort of rarebit that is then topped with one of the most beautiful fried eggs that’s ever been flipped. Being able to order a side of steamed baby spinach assuages any guilt I could have about my cholesterol intake.

It’s a knife-and-forker, this one, a sandwich that needs to be cut into pieces and swished around in the egg yolk and cheese. The toasty sourdough, when drenched in the cheddar sauce, has a mouthfeel that may be addictive. And when it was all over, I dumped my spinach into what was left of the cheese sauce and swished that around, too.

Right now Mary’s Gourmet Diner is open for breakfast and lunch, with expanded hours during First Friday Gallery Hop. But its location on Trade Street falls within the new entertainment district, and the crew at Mary’s leans more towards the artist faction further south. My server said that the diner’s hours will likely not be changing to accommodate the party crowd that will be moving in with the clubs and bars. The sandwich, she assured me, will remain.


Mary’s Gourmet Diner; 723 N. Trade St., Winston-Salem; 336.723.7239;