by Gus Lubin

Mozelle’s is some cute cookin’

There’s a funny little spot on the corner of West 4 th Street. It has been host to a parade of restaurants, all of which either moved — like Camel City Caf’ and West End Caf’ — or failed — like Bella Capri Pizzeria. The space has been too small, too narrow and too dark. But new owners Patrick and Jennifer Manner have renovated the building to create a stylish, homey wonder. Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro fits perfectly. The corner restaurant was originally a Toddle House back in the 1940s. Each Toddle House looked the same: a short counter with a row of 10 stools, and a few small booths. Customers packed in for breakfast, or stopped by for takeout, or lingered late in the night over coffee and pie. Since changing over to a restaurant, the Toddle House bar was diminished to make room for a tight dozen tables. Mozelle’s prime magic is to make it look beautiful. Decorated in shades of blue, green, yellow and white, the boxy restaurant is minimalistcute, a cubist dream. Rectangular green trim over the wall of windows matches sunflower yellow mats on the little square tables. Spherical hanging lamps in the main dining room are chic, although Chinese lanterns in the adjacent porch room have a cottage feel. The three-tone minimalism is contrasted by patches of grandmother kitsch, like a flowery embroidering on the kitchen divider, an ornate rose painted on the white wall and, indeed, a black-and-white photo over the bar of Jennifer Manner’s grandmother, a High Point belle. Jennifer Manner joked to her husband at Mozelle’s opening in September: “If we fail, it won’t be because we’re not cute.” But one step in the door, a glance at the thoughtful menu and a smile from the charming chef, Patrick Manner, are enough to win total confidence in the menu. The food does not disappoint. For dinner I ordered the night special, pan-fried mahi mahi on a bed of Swiss chard with a side of collard greens. When the plate came out — a pink filet and two mounds of dark greens — I realized that I really should have asked for a side of asiago grits. Never mind. It is a compliment to the chef that the greens tasted remarkably different. The collard greens came in a pile of savory matted leaves, cut with chili peppers and slab bacon. The Swiss chard was tender and succulent, soaked in buttered runoff from the fish.

Returning for lunch, I tried Miss Anne’s Tomato Pie and Succotash. With crust by local piemaker Miss Anne, San Marzano tomatoes, parmigiano reggiano and Wisconsin cheddar, the lush dish puts apple and pumpkin pies to shame. Same goes for the Suckerin’ Succotash, a creamy side of white corn and lima beans. For dessert, try the Toddle House Chocolate Pie ($5) — made with, you guessed it, Toddle House’s original recipe. The eclectic menu at Mozelle’s comes out of the wide-ranging roots of Chef Patrick Manner. Manner grew up in Philadelphia — ”Around great Italian food,” he says; Virginia — ”Great Southern food”; and Hawaii — ”All sorts of Asian cooking.” He also was also influenced by the cooking style of his Japanese grandmother. “Just don’t call it ‘fusion.’ That term is overused,” Manner said. “We just try to use good healthful food ingredients in unique ways to make food that tastes good.” Manner’s diverse influences come together through his holistic restaurant philosophy. The chef is quick to point out their predominant use of local ingredients and made-from-scratch items, like salad dressings and even duck compote. In addition to the pie crust by Miss Anne, Mozelle’s uses coffee from Krankies Coffee and bread from Ollie’s Bakery. The result is an intrinsically local restaurant — a distinctly Southern restaurant — with an inimitable worldly style.

You can still get Toddle House chocolate pie here, made from Toddle House’s original recipe.

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

Mozelle’s was once a Toddle House, and owners Patrick and Jennifer Manner wanted to retain the cozy feel. (photos by Gus Lubin)