Kitchenware store delights foodies

by Brian Clarey

I looked forward to the grand opening of Sur la Table with the same antsy, squirming anticipation a bespectacled nerd has for the first day of school.

Sur la Table, in case you don’t know, is a national chain specializing in kitchenware, gadgets and hard-to-find specialty cooking utensils which took root in Seattle in 1972 and has since grown to encompass more than 50 stores that peddle thousands of items. Thousands.

And at the much-anticipated grand opening last Wednesday I dodged the Jaguars, BMWs and cartoonish SUVs in the Shops at Friendly parking lot – many of them jockeying for a good parking spot in front of PF Chang’s so their passengers could start up the late-afternoon queue – to get a look at the goods for myself. And also to get a free tote bag.

Let me tell you what I found.

The aisles were not exactly teeming with bodies, which was to be expected, I figured, in a town that sometimes brags about the popularity of its Olive Garden franchise. There are not a lot of foodies here, I mean to say, when compared to places like San Francisco or New York, Charleston or even Charlotte, which I’ve heard is developing a pretty robust little restaurant scene.

But there are some foodies here. And sooner or later the ones who love to cook will find their way into this shop.

They’ll come because of the utensils section: gleaming rows of stainless steel and aluminum tools that hold three sizes of locking tongs; six or seven types of potato mashers; a dozen sizes of whisks; an entire display of rubber, metal and plastic spatulas; a cutlery case that looks like a ninja’s (or, I suppose, a cannibalistic serial killer’s) war chest.

There’s more.

An entire shelf of teakettles, for example, in hues ranging through blue, red, green, white, pale yellow and sunburst orange. There are 13 types of kitchen scales and a handful of forms of apothecary. There is a sushi section with chopsticks, sauce bowls, display plates and still more teakettles. A lobster section sits by the front window with big pots, tiny forks, ramekins and butter melters and shell crackers that look like shears. To the side lives an espresso section – not to be confused with the French press section – with many variations on the form. There are stovetop smokers, mortars with pestles, an herb processor with a ripcord, seasoned kebab skewers and, over in baking, a rose-shaped Bundt pan and an eight-tiered lazy Susan filled with cookie cutters, giving lie to the old idiom.

Here are the items which gave me the “gots-to-haves.”

I gots to have the silicone collapsible strainer and the pizza cutter with two wheels, ditto the appetizer plates that look like flip-flops and the silicone oven mitt that looks like an alligator hand puppet. I need the cherry pitter and the avocado slicer, and I don’t know how I’ve survived this long without that mango splitter. And the Vertichoke, a small wire stand that allows you to cook artichokes upside down… why do I not have one of those?

“You need a citrus zester, too,” said Beth Davis, the store manager. “Every kitchen needs one.”

I don’t do much baking, but she’s probably right. Davis came to this store from the Richmond, Va. branch and has been with the company four years.

“[The opening]’s going fantastic,” she said to me, and then went on to describe the newest model of espresso maker which grinds, tamps and brews individual espresso charges and will add steamed milk automatically for cappuccinos.

She’s confident that Greensboro foodies will discover the store and become regulars. She also said that in the coming weeks she will entice local chefs to come in for cooking demonstrations and to try new products.

Also, she added, they’ll come in for the professional discount, which is 15 percent. Culinary students are allowed a 10 percent discount.

And I will be back, too, if only to add to my wish list, which now includes a duck press (even though my wife refuses to eat Daffy), a pâté terrine (she won’t eat that, either) and a tutove pin, which is a grooved rolling pin used to distribute butter throughout light, flaky pastry dough.

When I get that last one, I’m finally gonna try my hand at croissants.

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