The Big Eat: A reason to go out in January weather

by Robert W. Pacheco

There is a new tradition in Winston-Salem, a six-year dining experience that has become a staple of the winter season. It’s called “the Big Eat.”

Held every Tuesday evening through the month of January, during the winter doldrums of post-holiday revelry, the Big Eat fills a gap in the service industry calendar “January is known as a bad month to be in the service industry,” said Sarah Welch, a bartender from Winston-Salem.

“After everyone has spent their money over the holidays on gifts and traveling, you need extra incentive to entice people out to eat.”

At its heart, the Big Eat is aimed at easing the drought of diners that typically occurs during the normally frigid month of January.

The Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, which organizes the event, encourages restaurants to discount a signature item by 50 percent.

The discount of quality cuisine helps to fill a gap in business while also allowing participating restaurants to introduce their fare to a broader audience.

After scrolling through the offerings of participating restaurants, I chose to head to 6 th and Vine in Winston-Salem’s Downtown Arts District.

The success of the event was apparent upon meeting the host.

“We need to seat you when your entire party arrives,” she said. “We run out of tables very fast once the Big Eat crowd starts arriving.”

6 th and Vine sets an ambiance for the dinner that is reflective of Winston-Salem’s own duality, blending a traditional high-end dining experience with vibrant and youthful art and decor.

Upon entering the establishment you are greeted by an old-world wood bar presenting rows of glistening bottles. A color scheme of earth tones sets a comfortable mood inviting you inside to rest on comfortable antique furniture.

The energetic art that adorns the dining room reflects the varied style and vibrancy of a new generation. Post-modern art hangs alongside graffiti-style paintings casting their brilliant colors upon the patrons.

The signature dish was a Tropical Paradise Salmon. Consisting of brown sugar and chili spice, the rubbed salmon was served with tropical fruit salsa and a coconut lime sauce over a bed of garlic-cream, mashed potatoes and freshly steamed asparagus and carrot shoots.

A helpful wine pairing was offered next to each entrée on the menu, further enhancing the dining experience.

Clearly 6 th and Vine wished to put its best foot forward during the Big Eat. This item is their second most expensive entree, and worth every penny of the normal price.

Our server, Chris Robbins, reflected the perspective of those whose pay is enhanced due to the success of the Big Eat.

“I drive all the way from Charlotte,” he said. “Normally I bartend, but the Big Eat has been so good for business that we all enjoy working the event. It greatly helps our earnings during this slow period, and it’s really fun to meet all the new people who come out and enjoy our restaurant.”

Thanks to Chris our bellies were quickly filled and our heads were swimming in wine.

After enjoying the well-portioned and flavorful meal at 6 th and Vine, we set off for a post-meal beverage at Sweet Potatoes on Trade Street.

The tables were full of gregarious diners enjoying an evening on the town. Long-haired hipsters with taut moustaches sat next to conservative dressed businessmen. Often conversations seemed to spill over from one table to another, leading to new friendships, even if only for a few minutes.

“Tonight’s the kind of night I love,” our bartender said to us at one point as snowflakes danced outside of the plateglass windows. “Normally no one would venture out in this weather except to buy milk, eggs and bread.”

We left both restaurants with positive and lasting impressions, as well as an eagerness for next Tuesday to arrive so that we may enjoy another sampling from the Big Eat.

UNCG hosts the 2014 Atlantic World Foodways Conference from Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 2. The conference brings together noted food scholars and chefs to explore the food cultures of the Carolina Lowcountry, Africa, Italy and Spain and look at how transatlantic contact shaped contemporary cuisine. The chef lineup includes Sean Brock of Husk and McGrady’s in Charleston, SC; Jay Pierce of Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen in Greensboro and Cary; Gabriele Grigolon of New York City; Leigh Hesling of Green Valley Grill and Print Works Bistro in Greensboro; and Timothy Bocholis of Bistro B in Kernersville. !