by Gus Lubin

High Point is quiet in February. Showrooms of living room and dining room sets wait through the season, lit only by light from the window. Signs hang from every lamppost advertising the furniture market: Welcome Taiwan; Welcome Kuwait; Welcome Russia; Welcome Switzerland. The grand hotels and bus terminals are empty.

I parked at one end of downtown and explored by foot. It was early — five o’clock — but I was hungry. The first restaurant I came to was Jimmy’s Pizza. I kept walking, as I was enjoying a warm dusk in a strange town. The second restaurant, four blocks from Jimmy’s and right at the end of the historic strip, was Plaza Caf’. The blue diner stood in the corner of a parking lot, in front of a glowing orange sunset, beneath a white and blue sign. Nothing against Jimmy’s, but I decided to cash my chips at Plaza. That kind of diner flourishes around 5:30 p.m. The Plaza is a homey little diner, where the waitress calls everyone “Friend.” I sat in a booth, near the door, facing the coffee bar and the TV behind it, and took out my latest issue of YES! Weekly. I jotted notes on the diners around me — not many; two silent men, a construction worker picking up an order and an old couple — and my dinner. I ate a comfort-food countryfried steak, with minced coleslaw, gooey caramel yams, okra poppers and buttered sesame seed toast. The $7 meal came with fresh-brewed sweet tea — I watched as the waitress mixed in half a pound of sugar. As soon as I demolished the large plate of food, I felt sorry that the meal was over. Plaza Caf’ would be a good place to hang around. Or rather, it’d be a good place to visit regularly, every Wednesday night, or every Sunday after church. Can one appreciate a neighborhood restaurant while just passing through? Glumly, I ordered a slice of cheesecake. But as fate would have it, I was forced to leave Plaza Caf’ and come back a second time. It was around six, and the waitress had just brought out a white and yellow fluffy cube of cheesecake, when I realized I didn’t have any cash. I asked if the restaurant took credit cards, and they did not. So I left my jacket, notebook and cheesecake, and walked out to find an ATM. There was a Wachovia near where I parked the car. I walked in the cold up those still, empty streets, darker now. On the far side of town, Jimmy’s Pizza was packed with its own crowd. I got some money and returned, back to my haven for the evening. Twenty-five minutes later, I entered the warm Plaza Caf’. “Hi, Friend,” the waitress said, smiling, looking up from a conversation with a woman in a booth. “I didn’t realize you were walking! It’s a good thing I didn’t tell you to go that way,” she said, pointing south, “That’s a bad neighborhood.” They were waiting for me. So was the cheesecake. Since the intermission of my meal, the white and yellow fluff had hardened and expanded. I ate it anyway. The cake was immense and delicious.

The Plaza Caf’ 336 S. Main St. High Point; 336.886.5271

High Point’s Plaza Caf’ (below) offers no-frills Southern cooking. in a non-descript locale. Right:Country-fried steak with gravy, okra poppers, yams, slaw and a slice ofwhite toast. Also: Sweet tea. (photo by Gus Lubin)