Come for dessert, stay for the beef

by Brian Clarey

I began this project with full intentions on writing about dessert: cakes, pies, cookies… you know — the sweet stuff. That’s what I assumed, anyway, after undertaking to write about Winston- Salem’s Midtown Cafe & Dessertery. After all, this place made its bones on homemade desserts and fragrant goodies from the kitchen. But you’ve got to sit up and pay attention when a place emphasizes its house-roasted beef prime rib, and there it is, right on the menu, available in a wrap, in a cold sandwich or, my preferred beef delivery method, a French dip. Yeah, that’s a good one: paper-thin slices of roasted beef piled high on a hoagie roll with a layer of gooey melted cheese and a ramekin of steaming au jus for dipping. I could write a thousand words on this type of sandwich… how you cut the bread at an angle so you can dip the corners, how to properly administer horseradish sauce (spread with a knife on each individual bite, after dipping), why there should never be any lettuce, tomato or mayonnaise, but why ketchup or steak sauce is okay. At any rate, Midtown Cafe’s French Dip was everything it should be, with succulent layers of prime rib and a generous portion of hand-cut fries. The rest of the menu looks wonderful as well, a sampling of soups, salads and sandwiches that runs from lunch through dinner. Of interest are the taco stew, which seems to be some form of chili, and the Big Dipper burger, grilled with Swiss and cheddar on rye bread. Also enticing are a couple hot entrees: a slab of either lasagna or meatloaf. Another claim to fame at Midtown Cafe is the all-day breakfast menu, which includes all the staples like eggs, bacon, grits and hash browns, but also serves topped waffles and a creative slew of pancake choices. Cornmeal pancakes with syrup and whipped cream. Rolled pancakes filled with fruit, cheese or compote. Banana crunch pancakes filled with fruit and macadamia nuts. Sweet potato pancakes with a touch of spice. And seriously: With a menu like this, how can you expect people to take advantage of the desserts? Not everybody can eat that much. The dessert list gets full treatment on the menu, cakes and pies, cookies and bars, cheesecakes and seasonal items like pumpkin pie and strawberry shortcake. Several items catch my eye. A traditional German chocolate cake is always tasty. Italian cream cake is described as “dense white cake laden with pecans and coconut and spread with cream cheese icing.” And who doesn’t like brownies? I love ’em, so I order a seasonal creme de menthe brownie, and also a slice of the notorious five-flavor pound cake. And to solve the glutton’s dilemma, I get them to go, so I can pig out in the relative privacy of my office. The pound cake is wonderful — moist and springy with the proper crunch to the top. And though the menu boasts that the five flavors are a secret, I’ll take my shot here: lemon, orange, almond, vanilla and… is butter a flavor? If not, I’ll say coconut. As for the brownie, well, I’m very particular when it comes to these little guys. I like them dense and a bit chewy, and I’m not much of one for frosting or icing on my brownie. But the creme de menthe brownie is more cake-like in its texture, and it is absolutely loaded with green mint icing and shards of chocolate on top. Still, I devoured both desserts in their entirety while sitting at my desk with a large cup of coffee.

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The Midtown Cafe & Dessertery is not just for cakes and pies.The French dip (above) is based on house-roasted beef. If you eat thewhole thing, you can have a creme de menthe brownie (right). (photos by Brian Clarey)

Midtown Cafe & Dessertery 151 S. Stratford Road, W-S 336.724.9800