Cafe without the accent in Ardmore

by Brian Clarey

The appellation of “café” covers a lot of ground. The word itself is French for “coffee,” and in Europe, café society revolves around the drink and the places that serve it at sidewalk tables with overflowing ashtrays.

In the States, cafés have taken an upscale turn of late, the word connoting class, bohemianism and the sort of artistic fare that ventures way beyond the simple salad and sandwich, let alone the standard cup of java.

But in the Ardmore neighborhood of Winston-Salem, the term “café” harkens back to the word’s etymological roots — at least when it’s applied to Cafe Arthur’s, a simple coffee shop in the traditional sense that looks like it’s sat on South Hawthorne Road roughly forever.

This is a diner, with red Naugahyde booths along big picture windows, hand-written checks that get rung up at a register near the door and no shortage of waitresses who strive to keep the plates clear and the coffee cups full. Clientele at lunchtime runs from healthcare workers in scrubs from nearby Wake Baptist Medical Center to hipsters living on the downtown fringe to gray-hairs who have been coming here for years as a matter of course.

It’s telling that Cafe Arthur’s doesn’t use an accent over the “e” on its sign or its menu. The frills and flourishes associated with the modern American café never made it to this place, as pure an example of the form as exists in the Triad.

The menu runs the usual gamut of burgers, sandwiches and “four star” salads, with a breakfast based on pancakes and omelets, a smattering of Italian dishes like spaghetti and lasagne, kabobs and gyros. Fish is shrimp or flounder. Steak is chopped or stripped. Chicken is “tender”ized. Desserts are largely homemade.

And as in many places like it, the gems at Cafe Arthur’s live in the daily specials.

Today it’s pork loin with gravy, and I order mine with green beans and creamed potatoes — even the description of the potatoes is old school. Food comes out fast and hot, and in generous portions. My $7 lunch entrée consists of three nice slabs of pork loin alone on the white plate with plenty of gravy.

How old school is this place? This place is so old school I can taste the fatback in the green beans. This place is so old school they still believe in the bottomless coffee cup. This place is so old school I can see black pepper flakes in the gravy, meaning it was made in this very kitchen in the same pan the pork roast was cooked in.

It is worth mentioning that the pork loin is actual pork loin and not some processed, pressed product popular among corner-cutters and disrespecters of the swine everywhere.

And while the meat-and-two-veg formula is time-tested as a satisfactory lunch, it wouldn’t seem right to leave without having some dessert, especially with all this coffee. Some of the pies, like the deep-dish apple and the French silk, are outsourced, my server tells me. She says the red velvet cake, the lemon cake and her favorite, chocolate cake, are created in their own kitchen, along with the blueberry bread pudding.

I opt for the pudding, which comes in a healthy chunk with what might be described in a fancier setting as a “semi freddo” but here is just a nameless, sugary, white sauce. It’s warm and sweet and laced with real blueberries, and after I finish it I have just one more cup of coffee before I head back to the modern world.

wanna go?

Cafe Arthur’s 336.725.4548 1416 S. Hawthorne Road, Winston-Salem