Phoenix Asian Cuisine rises above the competition

by Lee Adams

Upon meeting Marie and Tommy Peng, owners of Phoenix Asian Cuisine, I promptly stuck my foot right into my mouth. Marie is so young looking and attractive that I mistook her and her 24-year-old son for husband and wife.

Well, I’m happy to say their food is much better than my foot. In fact, it shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence. But as I dig myself into yet another hole, I digress.

Tommy Peng had the chefs cook up a plentiful portion of Phoenix chicken for me, stir-fried in a spicy Sichuan sweet sauce and served with a side of white rice. I’ve never eaten authentic Asian food before, just buffet style in a Chinese restaurant. The only way I can describe it is that it was kind of like sweet and sour chicken, only the way it is supposed to taste. The sauce had a sweet and mildly spicy flavor and was light orange in color rather than dark red like typical sweet and sour sauce. And there was no heavy breading on the chicken. It was delicious and settled nicely in my stomach, filling me up without leaving that heavy, sluggish feeling I usually get after eating sweet and sour from a buffet.

Given that buffets are usually around eight bucks or so, the price for their freshly made-to-order dishes is incredibly reasonable, ranging between $7 and $16 for most entrees. It’s definitely worth the trip for lunch or dinner since you’ll leave feeling satisfied and these authentic foods are made the way they’re supposed to be, which eliminates a lot of the deep-fried, Americanized stuff we so commonly call Asian.

The atmosphere is one to be appreciated, as well. Bamboo flooring accents the dark clay and mustard-colored walls, which give the restaurant a sense of elegance. Thick wooden tables with a high-gloss varnish make up the seating area and the bar sports a rich, black marble top with large chunks of inlaid mica that pick up hues of blue and green. Waiters and waitresses in black and whites skim the floors serving guests. Tommy himself waits on customers as well, making sure they’re taken care of.

Located in the Garden Creek Center off of New Garden Road at the corner of Horse Pen Creek Road, the dining room just opened in April of this year. But that doesn’t mean the beautiful Marie doesn’t have restaurant experience. For over 20 years she owned Lin’s Garden on E. Bessemer Avenue, a buffet-style restaurant she eventually sold with plans to retire, but the desire for an authentic Asian restaurant, and the need for one in the area, pulled her back into the business. Now she’s cooking up family recipes and traditional dishes from the Orient in her fourth business.

Marie became a partner of Lin’s Garden just three months after starting as a waitress. She bought it three months later. It wasn’t doing too well when she bought it, she says, and she soon turned all that around. But it was a restaurant in Reidsville that she helped run with her American sponsor family in the ’70s that got her going.

Marie came to the states, directly to North Carolina, in 1976 after escaping communist Cambodia with a few close relatives and friends. For several months Marie lived on the border until the time was right and a group of Thai led her through the jungle and into Thailand. After that she found a family in the US that would help her relocate and find a place to live and work. Her first job ever was working at a hosiery mill in Asheboro for $2.34 per hour, minimum wage in 1976.

Since then she has raised her sons in the restaurant business, giving them the same opportunities she had.

‘“In America there’s a lot of opportunity,’” Marie says. ‘“I worked real hard, myself.’”

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