Best dishes I’ve had this year

by Brian Clarey

Hey folks! It’s arbitrary awards season! As such, I will list the best dining experiences I’ve had this year as I’ve compiled the Chow section of YES! Weekly during 2007. Some great new restaurants opened in the Triad this year, some old reliable joints showed they can still cut it, and some meals were more about the experiences than the food. But space and time are short, so let’s get started.

Best steak: The Chop House

I didn’t eat a lot of steaks during my year at the helm of Chow, but I did get my fork on a big piece of prime rib at the Chop House, served with horseradish sauce and au jus, that I enjoyed immensely.

Best Burger: Twin City Diner/Five Guys

At Winston-Salem’s Twin City Diner I came upon a small piece of genius – a meatloaf burger with tender, seasoned meat on a soft bun. Five Guys, which I visited in Charlotte because they have yet to open any Triad locations, served an excellent burger as well as providing the most pleasant fast-food experience I had all year.

Best soup: 6th & Vine

The chicken Florentine soup at 6th & Vine in Winston-Salem keeps coming back to me. I remember how it looked, how it tasted, how it felt in my mouth even six weeks later. That is the sign of a good dish.

Best home cooking: Big Tiny

When my old friend Big Tiny (who my kids call “Uncle Yucky”) comes up from New Orleans to visit his mother in Durham, he always cooks up a big spread. This year we had pastichio and braim, with nary a gyro in sight.

Best old standby: Cincy’s Chili

This downtown Greensboro restaurant serves the only Cincinnati-style chili I’ve ever had, with cinnamon, cloves and chocolate served with beans, onions and cheese over spaghetti. I don’t feel the need to every find a better interpretation of the dish.

Best Dessert: Kernel Kustard

This new joint in Winston-Salem has great hot dogs, sure, but its frozen custard is the best NC has to offer. Frozen custard, as you well know, is served a few degrees warmer than ice cream, which allows the taste buds to get a fuller flavor profile. But all you need to know is how chocolatey and smooth it is.

Best new dish: Rim

I read about the culinary trend of lamb ribs – where else? – in the New York Times Dining & Wine section, and I figured I’d have to wait a couple years, or at least until my next trip to New York, to get them, But I got a heaping plate of them at Rim, the newest tapas restaurant in downtown Greensboro. They were succulent; I wanted to gnaw the bones but my wife wouldn’t let me.

Best lunch spot: Zaytoon’s/Mary’s of Course

Straddling the biggest cities of the Triad – Zaytoon’s in Greensboro and Mary’s of Course in Winston-Salem – these two lunch places both have great locations, adventurous and affordable menus and a commitment to quality ingredients that makes them a good bet for lunch any day of the week.

Best retro experience: Bell Brothers Cafeteria

This place, which has been serving Winston-Salem for like 50 years, is the best cafeteria I have ever been to. Also, they have the biggest iced tea urn I’ve ever seen.

Best lunch date: Rosaleen Clarey

One week when I was out of ideas, I took my then 2-year-old daughter to Carvel for a huge dish of ice cream. Watching her devour it was so damn sweet I almost cried.

And that’s it for 2007, but I plan to widen my culinary horizons even more in the coming year – new restaurants, new dishes and ingredients, maybe an eating competition. I’m even thinking of eating a haggis as a stunt. If you know where to get one let me know.

To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at