New and old on the edge of downtown
Most of downtown Greensboro’s food milieu lands somewhere between fine dining and comfort. The recent addition of the Worx, with that exact mixture, presents a quandary: Do the denizens of Greensboro need another restaurant and bar if it will only serve the same purpose as Natty Greene’s or Gray’s Tavern?
Fortunately, the Worx does not further dilute the downtown scene.
This restaurant only makes it stronger.
Positioned off Elm Street on the railroad tracks, the place does not look like much as you pull in. The unfinished parking lot — a workin-progress until April — provides some bumpy terrain. The restored 122-year-old building creates a haunted house-like atmosphere from the outside. The massive deck leading into the dining area looks more Cracker Barrel than seafood and burgers.
Once the doors open, however, the expectation heightens. The redbrick fa’ade meshes with a deep red hue throughout the restaurant.
The pristine bar, inviting and well stocked, has a good draft-beer selection along with surprising foreign bottled choices.
The televisions on the wall belie the purpose. The Worx is not a sports bar. It provides atmosphere beyond tying one on and watching the game while welcoming those who want to do just that.
I came for lunch and dinner over the span of three days, encouraged by the online menu.
Their lunch choices range from mozzarella to fried chicken sandwiches, burgers and bratwurst. They also have an array of fancy grilled cheeses.
I had their signature burger, the Barnhardt, and homemade chips while watching the ACC Tournament. Cooked at the right temperature and served on a buttermilk bun with arugula and bleu cheese (I subbed mozzarella), the Worx did not disappoint. They cooked everything perfectly and served the meal with flair. The prices are reasonable, especially for the amount and quality of food.
The staff’s attentive but not overbearing nature helped the flow of both meals. So many downtown restaurants are designed to cram people in and create a large patron-to-server ratio, but the Worx is spacious. Customers get one attentive server and quick turnaround without feeling hurried.
In fact, my dinner experience far surpassed lunch. After a delicious ale cheese dip with pita chips, I asked the server for their best dish. She recommended, without any hesitation, two seafood dishes: the not yet on the menu Maryland-style crab cakes and the seafood mac. I chose the latter.
I won’t know if I made the right decision until I go back for the crab cakes, but I had never had anything quite like this dish. Mac and cheese with pan-seared shrimp and scallops sounded strange, though not exotic. The dish provided that perfect mix of aforementioned comfort food and upscale dining — something restaurants in the area have been trying to master for years.
No part of the meal was overpowering though each part was memorable.
The cheese sauce held solid without being stringy or soupy while covering the pasta and seafood.
Scallops and shrimp can be a delicate mix with other foods. Often, I employ a “stand alone” policy for anything oceanic. In this case, I was surprised when I noticed I had not even thought about the mixture. Everything blended together without tasting like an experiment or an oddity.
My dinner group lingered over a round of Warsteiners with no fuss.
After a large meal, I normally curl into a ball and watch TV until bedtime. After leaving The Worx, though, and bumping over the railroad terrain, I began listing the people in my head that I would tell: “You gotta try this place.”
The outside of the joint needs work, but the inside’s fluidity proves more important. As I told my friends, I feel like the search for the middle ground of downtown Greensboro’s food may not be over, but we’ve got the best candidate yet sitting just on the other side of the tracks.
106 Barnhard St., Greensboro, theworxrestaurant.com