Food on the fly

by Brian Clarey

Let’s face it: The Triad culinary scene is a little bit behind the curve. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of wonderful chefs doing amazing things around here — there are — but the trends are a bit slow in coming to this area. Case in point: There’s no real dim sum restaurant in the entire Triad as far as I know, and the cupcake craze that the Wall Street Journal declared dead last month started picking up steam around here just in the last year or so.

Still, some things are worth the wait, like this year’s delayed trend: the walking food tour.

I took one in downtown Winston-Salem just a few weeks ago. And last week the people at Dishcrawl, invited me to take another one in Greensboro.

A walking food tour is exactly what it sounds like: a group of eaters on a mission to taste and sample from a select group of restaurants. Sometimes there’s a theme or common thread, but the most important thing is that the places are close to one another, because after eating all night people don’t always fell like taking long walks back to their cars.

The Greensboro run began at Fincastle’s, where about a dozen of us ate sample plates loaded with Magnolia sliders, fried green tomatillos and shrimp and grits. It was a fine display of the restaurant’s breadth — while it’s known primarily as a burger joint, Chef Jody Morphis is not shy about flexing his Gulf Coast muscle. The shrimp and grits had a tasso and Andouille sauce with a flash of heat, and the tomatillos, which held their shape much better than actual green tomatoes, benefited from a dollop of chow chow and a schmear of pimiento cheese.

From there we moved north; half our party went to the Hibachi Café to taste the wares of this fast-casual, pan-Asian place known more for its lunch specials and take-out proficiency than any pretensions of fine dining. The food was solid — I noted that the last time I wrote about the place, in particular the walnut shrimp, not exactly the kind of dish you’d expect from a small grill like this. They also plated up two different kinds of spring rolls and an excellent version of crab Rangoon, light and crispy, not greasy at all.

At Table 16 we learn about Chef Graham Heaton’s food philosophy, which basically boils don to local, fresh and artistic. The food changes every month here, and they have the best tasting menu in town. We each get a half a soft-shell crab with roasted seasonal vegetables, fresh pea shoots and a chimichurri sauce that was so good I’m pretty sure I could eat a whole bowl of it with a spoon.

Afterwards we headed to the Sweet Shop, the bakery at the corner of Elm and Lee streets that has fast become legendary for its pound cakes. As the story goes, Chef Margaret Elaine had been using her family’s lemon poundcake recipe that dates back to 1945, mostly for small sales through her church and other community facilities. She opened the store to meet demand for the cakes, and still she’s generally sold out by the end of the day.

Upon our arrival, we chose from several varieties of pound cake, including the classic lemon, pineapple and maple walnut — the full menu boasts more than 200 varieties. I chose the coffee pound cake, with a light espresso flavor, but also got a taste of the pineapple version, much sweeter and with a cherry on top of each slice. This is the one I’ll bring home next time I stop by the shop.

In all, the Dishcrawl took perhaps a couple of hours and encompassed nine dishes — a fantastic culinary outing for those who want to try several places in one evening or just want to shake up the appetizer-entrée-dessert paradigm. Tours like this have been popular in other cities for years now. It’s about time we had something like this here.


Dishcrawl, Fincastle’s Downtown; 215 S. Elm. St; 336.272.8968; Hibachi Café, 362 S. Elm St.; 336.272.3005; Table 16; 600 S. Elm St.; 336.279.8525; The Sweet Shop; 631 S. Elm St.; 336.790.0242;