Mozelle’s does it fresh and Southern in the West End

by Brian Clarey

Why not put a soft-shell crab on top of a salad? They do it at Mozelle’s. (photo by Brian Clarey)

Every great neighborhood needs a great neighborhood restaurant, a place friendly and unassuming, but with a menu rich enough to sustain repeat visits.

Winston-Salem’s West End is undoubtedly a great neighborhood, with an eclectic collection of bars and shops and denizens walking the sidewalks. And since it opened in 2008, Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro has been the eatery of choice for discriminating palates in the district.

YES! Weekly readers chose it as runner-up in the Best Bistro category in our Reader’s Choice Poll, and also runner-up in the Best of Winston- Salem category to five-star eatery Bernardin’s.

Mozelle’s is no five-star joint — it’s far too casual and comfortable for that — but it has a degree of funkified class and artful presentation that has created a buzz among the locals.

There’s good reason for this. True to its promise, Mozelle’s relies on fresh, local, seasonal ingredients when it can, combining them in unique and interesting ways resulting in frequent menu changes and artfully designed specials. But it makes it difficult to get a table, especially on beautiful afternoons, when sunlight illuminates the place’s tiny rooms like a benediction.

Which is why, on recent visit for lunch, I arrive well before noon and get my choice of tables in the air-conditioned dining room, the sidewalk café section or the covered patio. That’s one dilemma solved, only to be confronted with another.

Mozelle’s menu is loaded with great items, the type of list that lengthens table times because choosing is so difficult. Starters range from fried pickles to baked brie, both agreeable on a sunny afternoon. Salads are great on a day like this, too. But how to choose between the Thai lobster salad, the Chop Chop chicken salad or the chicken or pork tostada with tomatillo sauce? I’m enticed by three of the sandwiches, as well: the Philly cheesesteak, the traditional Cuban and the California club. And

of the hot entrees, I am grabbed by the fried chicken, the meatloaf, the catfish tacos or, perhaps most alluring, the tomato pie, a vegetarian dish with cheese and creamed succotash.

I’m in agony, and that’s before I hear the special: a soft-shell crab salad on fresh greens with a tomato-avocado relish and creamy lemon vinaigrette.

One, please, with a cup of the Southern Comfort soup to start. Southern Comfort soup is made with yesterday’s pulled pork, along with pinto beans, fresh greens, tomato and rice, seasoned to emphasize smoke and heat. It’s delicious, though perhaps better suited to a different clime that the 85-degree day unfolding outside the patio.

No matter: The soft-shell crab salad is right on time. Soft-shell crabs run April through September, the months when blue crabs shed their old shells and grow new ones. And this one was cleaned, corn-breaded and flash-fried just for me.

Not everybody loves soft-shell crabs — the prospect of eating an entire animal, exoskeleton and all, does not appeal to all gastronomes — but I surely do. When properly sautéed or corn-fried, they retain their magical, ocean juiciness with a textured crunch I have eaten them on po-boys, from baskets atop mounds of fries, with haute and haughty sides and as lavish seafood stews.

I had never thought to put one on a salad, but paired with fresh greens and lemony dressing, I saw the soft-shell crab in a new light.

Mozelle’s dinner menu is just as intriguing, with items like the lobster sloppy Joe, sautéed mussels, sashimi tuna and the veal chop peppered into an already lush menu, one that begs for return visits.

wanna go?

Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro 878 W. 4th St. Winston-Salem, 336.703.5400