Christina’s anonymous eats

by Brian Clarey

It’s a fish-fry Friday at Christina’s Restaurant in northeast High Point, and the thickest wave of the lunchtime crowd has already receded, leaving two women at a window-side table discussing designs for the new menu and a latecomer to the midday meal who isn’t sure if he’d come to the right place.

“Can I still eat?” he asks.

“Yeah you can eat,” the elder of the two women says as she moves behind the counter. She wears an apron and a shower cap, and she will not give her name.

“The name of the place is Christina’s,” she keeps saying.

Outside the front windows the intersection is alive with cars and pedestrians and a line has formed at the Cash Points ATM across the street, stranded like an island in the parking lot of a strip mall anchored by a Goodwill, a Food Lion, a dollar store and a Rent-A-Center.

It’s a busy neighborhood, and this place gets its share of traffic, particularly in the mornings for a breakfast menu loaded with staples like fatback, corn beef gravy, a cut-rate sorm of Spam called “Treet” and, for those with a morning sweet tooth, Pop Tarts.

Other menus that hang on the walls describe a cuisine that has stubbornly hung on, even in these times of carb counting and fear of cholesterol: ribs, Salisbury steak, smothered pork chops, pigs feet and neckbones.

But she doesn’t have any of that today. It’s Friday, and that means the oil is hot in the fryer, there’s fish on ice and there’s an open box of cornmeal somewhere back in that kitchen.

Popcorn shrimp. Onion rings. Fried okra. No fear of frying.

Alongside the hanging menu signs, an oversized sheet with fanciful font spells out the house rules: no cursing or fighting, no weapons, no shirt no shoes no service, maintain control of children and guests and if asked to leave, “please do so quickly without dispute.”

Tough room? Not really. It’s a family joint and they aim to keep it that way. It’s the kind of place where you can get a vodka drink for six bucks – the good stuff for a dollar more – and watch the game on the big screen that’s in the lounge off the dining room. You can give the kids a handful of quarters and let them run loose in the game room, a converted garage at the end of the building. And you can bring the whole family in after church for the Sunday buffet: chicken, ribs, hog chitlins, green beans, rice and gravy, pie, biscuits and more.

The woman in the shower cap makes everything from scratch – except for a few fried goods like the onion rings and okra. She describes the process of making pie crust – “Just a little flour; you want it thin” – and filling it with a buttermilk and lemon custard, or some sweet potatoes, and then offers a short boast of her own kitchen prowess to the other woman.

“Them biscuits? Get you some of that buttermilk, girl, grease up a hot pan…. Mm. And I do that corn beef gravy? A lot of people don’t know about that corn beef gravy. Corn beef gravy make you hurt yourself.”

The lone customer enjoys his meal, that fried platter of shrimp, okra and onion rings, with a few shakes of Texas Pete’s in the cocktail sauce. But after listening to the women speak, what he really wants is a biscuit and some corn beef gravy, maybe a slice of that buttermilk pie.

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