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A simple taste from old Moravia

by Brian Clarey

SALEM KITCHEN CAFE 126 S. Main St. — Kernersville 50 Miller St. — Winston-Salem 336.992.9902

At 2:35 p.m., driving through the streets of Kernersville in the rain, a deep hunger settles in my gut. Sometimes I forget to eat lunch, or it just seems awfully inconvenient. This is one of those days. Like I say, it’s drizzly, and there’s an early-fall chill settling into the air. I want comfort food, something that will stick to the ribs. There’s plenty of good eating in K-Vegas, but it hits me that there are an awful lot of fast-food joints on Main Street.

The cafeteria in the strip mall closed for lunch at 2:30, and roadwork in the center of town blocks off the heart of the district. Then I see a sign for Salem Kitchen Caf’, tucked into a tiny outdoor pedestrian mall in the shadow of K’rner’s Folly, the strangest house in America. It’s a bistro-style place — the caf’, not the house — with a hot and cold menu, a section of small tables and a cooler stocked with take-and-bake entrees. A quick glance at the menu tell s me I’m in the right place, but alas: Lunch service ends at 2:30. In Kernersville, apparently, the midday meal is a rigorously structured thing. Still… I’m out here, and I’ve got to make dinner for the kids when I get home. I pick up a chicken pot pie made fresh that day and head back to the ’Boro. The chicken pie… it’s a Moravian specialty, and in its purest form is a masterstroke of simplicity and wholesomeness: chicken, gravy, crust and maybe a little salt and pepper. The best examples still come out of the Moravian churches in the North Carolina foothills, and they’re still often made the way they were 400 years ago, using one hen per pie, preferably one that has stopped laying eggs. It was chicken pies that built most of these churches, sold by the armful at benefits and fairs, and chicken pies that dominated the tables at potluck suppers, chicken pies that cemented the bonds of community — if a member of your family died, there was a pretty good chance someone would bring you a chicken pie. And so this chicken pie came home with me — a variation, really, with peas and carrots cooked into the filling. The oven goes to 350 degrees. The pie goes in. Thirty-five minutes on the timer. The kids are curious about the prospect of pie for dinner. “Can I help cook the pie?” asks the 6-year-old. “There’s nothing else to do, pal.” He says he’s pretty sure he won’t like it. As the pie cooks, I make lunches for school tomorrow, take a telephone pitch for a cover story, break up two fights and find a crystal pie dish in the cabinets that we never, ever use. The honest smell of the pie fills the house. When I pull it out, it’s golden brown, steam rising from its uneven surface that the baker has perforated with a four-tined household fork. My daughter gasps. “The pie!” she says. They’re perched at the table like vultures as I dish it out, and while they tear in I sample the pie, savor its gentle flavors and marvel over the absolutely perfect crust. It’s plain and simple, and it’s exactly what I was looking for. Salem Kitchen Caf’ uses only white meat in its pies, cubed, and the baby carrots and peas have stewed to the yielding point. The crust is a thing of beauty, buttery and flaky and positively homemade. The kids don’t think they will like the crust, equating it with the pizza crusts they toss away like bones. But they do like it. “I think this is my favorite pie,” the 8-year-old says. “It’s right up there with apple pie.”

To comment on this story e-mail Brian Clarey at editor@ yesweekly.com.

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