Willow’s Bistro had me at soft-shell crab

by Charles Womack

Steak and shrimp stir-fry in a huge bowl at Willow’s Bistro. (photo by Charles Womack)

I recently made the re-acquaintance of Will Kingery the head chef and owner of Willow’s Bistro in Winston-Salem. The reason I say re-acquaintance is that as we talked food and I quizzed him about his years in the kitchen, some places were mentioned and I realized I had tasted his work before.

The man knows what he’s doing. After being drawn in from a Facebook post he’d put up about a recent food delivery and some menu items, I reached out to Will with the reply of, “You had me a soft shell crabs.”

As we talked more I made a point to set up a lunch date to visit his establishment and give it a try.

Willow’s Bistro is a warm, quaint and inviting place. Upon sitting down, you first notice the big chalkboard with the fresh daily specials and then you’re given the wonderful opportunity of seeing into the kitchen and watching Willow’s culinary team moving in sync, building each meal to order. It’s a dance.

As I looked over the menu and the specials, the homemade chips with bleu cheese, scallions and sea salt slowed me down for a bit and almost got the nod, but I had to jump on the appetizer special of the day, one of the reaosns I came there in the first place:soft-shell crab with cole slaw.

The dish came out with two huge soft-shells breaded and fried in a crunchy, mildly sweet coating. The crunch was there as was the warmth from just coming out of the fryer. As I was enjoying the taste of my first bites of the crab, I was a bit surprised and intrigued at the pairing with cole slaw. Once I mixed the two taste together, it all made sense. The sweet, cold slaw and the crunchy, warm crab were joined in holy matrimony. As I had already nearly completed the first crab before I discovered how wonderful the two paired, I made a point to actually cut up the second crab in smaller bites so I could get a bit of coleslaw and a piece of crab in every bite.

For my entrée, I again went with the specials board and ordered steak and shrimp stir-fry. This dish came out in a nice sized bowl and was filled with pieces of steak, shrimp, cabbage, snap peas, onions, carrots and fresh basil. I also ordered a house specialty of sweet-potato fries.

The freshness of the vegetables and the tender shrimp made my entrée a treat. The snow peas popped in my mouth and the steak was juicy and flavorful. I also enjoyed the fries, freshly cut and seasoned with sea salt.

For dessert, my waiter recommended the maple mango cheesecake which I had to try. The taste mix of the mango and maple is wonderful — the fresh tart of the mango cuts back the overage of sweetness that usually arrives with a maple-flavored dish. These two pair well and the cheesecake is very easy to enjoy.

During my meal I had the opportunity to find out that every day Willow’s changes the specials board which includes a soup of the day, a wrap, a salad, a sandwich and a surf and turf.

“We work with what’s fresh and what we can get at the local markets,” explained my server.

Some of the favorites appetizer include pan-seared colossal diver scallops, a house-made hummas, grilled asparagus and shrimp ceviche. Favorite salads include fried goat cheese salad, grilled hanger steak salad and the house roasted organic turkey salad. Favorite sandwiches include black and blue chicken, fried green tomato BLT and the grilled shrimp BLT. Top half-pound burgers are the certified Black Angus burger and the pancetta fontina burger. Favorite entrees include hanger steak, roasted salmon, Japanses Kurobuto pork ribs, and roasted duck.

There is also a children’s menu and fresh homemade desserts, and they are open for Sunday brunch.

wanna go?

Willow’s Bistro 300 S. Liberty St. Suite 125 Winston-Salem