Winston-Salem’s food scene just keeps on growing.
The owners of Sweet Potatoes relocated down the street. Right after their move, chef and restauranteur, Freddy Lee and his business partner, Chef John Tharpe, set their sights on the 529 N. Trade Street address. It was small but pretty much ready to go, with new paint and decor. Though the eatery has a hint of its predecessor, the space is fresh and gleaming for its new journey.
It is comfy and inviting as a diner should be. But you won’t see retro vinyl stools or booths. One of the first things you’ll notice on the far wall is a chalkboard with the day’s specials. There’s a T.V. at the bar to add to the casual vibe.
We asked the server if she could tell the team in the kitchen to “surprise” us. Although we did insist that one of the “surprises” be macaroni and cheese and the other be chicken skins and tuna tartare because that just sounded too awesome. Everything else was totally up to the kitchen (my kids have to eat). Here’s how those surprises rack up. We started out with some appetizers and shareable snacks.
Hushpuppies with Honey Mascarpone
These puppies were fluffy and light. Almost doughnut-like with a light and creamy drizzle. You get a bunch of them too, so plan to share.
Tuna and Crispy Chicken Skin
My little boy calls the skin on fried chicken the good part. It couldn’t be more accurate, in my opinion. When I see fried chicken skins on a menu, I almost always order it, so this evening was no different. The menu name is pretty self-explanatory: fried chicken skins, quite airy, used almost like wontons to scoop up the bright and fresh tuna tartare that’s been dressed with radishes and a lemony vinaigrette. I’d definitely hit up Trade Street Diner just to eat this again.
Macaroni and Cheese
This dish is listed under the Snack & Share portion of the menu, along with the hushpuppies and a few other tempting options, such as pickled beets and fried okra. Think of this section as your extra a la carte side options. You get a generous size macaroni with a great, caramelized and cheesy top. You know what I’m talking about. Fortunately, between the chicken skins and the macaroni and cheese, we had a complete meal for the little ones.
Roasted Pork & Crispy Head with Creamy Green Beans, Brown Butter Apple Glaze
How do I explain this dish? The roasted pork was quite straightforward, perfectly roasted and cooked medium. The toasty flavor of the brown butter really came through in the apple glaze. It added an extraordinary component to the sauce. I actually feel inspired by the glaze for future an applesauce or apple dish. Crispy Head? Lee told me, “It’s a slow-cooked pig’s head. Then we take all the meat out of it and fry it into a croquette.”
Fried Catfish with Dirty Rice, Mustard Greens and Cajun Remoulade
My mother-in-law had hoped this dish would be one of the surprises, and she was elated when it arrived. The catfish was fried to a crisp and arrived piping hot. The skin did a pretty great job hanging on to the meat, and I think that’s important. The dirty rice was laced with sausage and seasonings, which was really tasty. The remoulade definitely belongs with the catfish; it was a great condiment to dip the fish in to get a kick of the spice.
Roasted Chicken with Whipped Potatoes, Local Vegetables, Chicken Jus
The roast chicken is probably the most “diner-like” dish that we tried. This was by far the little boy’s favorite. He ate more than any of us. It’s also one of the best chicken dishes I’ve had at a restaurant (besides fried chicken and hot chicken, of course).
Crispy Salmon with Mushroom Puree, Pickled Mushroom Salad, Butter Braised Cabbage and Truffle Sauce
This salmon was by far…by far the best salmon I’ve ever had. Now, if I’m being honest, I don’t order it often at all. I prefer rare salmon, sushi style. Smoke salmon, brunch style. I’m almost always disappointed by restaurant salmon, and that is troubling because salmon is so good for us. Trade Street Diner’s salmon had a crispy exterior and was just sumptuous and lovely. What set the dish apart, Lee told us, was the truffle sauce, which was cooked in and dressed again. The salmon was placed on a mushroom puree and topped with a pickled mushroom salad. The salad just added to the uniqueness of the dish. The flavor, for me, was just wow. It was truly the winner of the table.
I mean, it’s a diner after all, and you must expect pie.
House-made pecan pie, it doesn’t get any better. Pecan pie can be cloyingly sweet, but the filling was nicely rounded out, and the pecans were crunchy and caramelized, which offset the sweet. A little a la mode never hurt anyone.
We were impressed by the menu and all the dishes that came out. When I went to the back, I was surprised to see that neither Lee nor Tharpe were chef-ing in the kitchen. Instead, they left a Saturday night in the hands of what appears to be a very capable culinary team. Applause to that.
One thing you should know going into Trade Street Diner…it’s a diner, but mostly in name only. How many diners do you know that blend their burger meat with brisket? If you’re looking for something a bit on the chef-inspired side, you might look at the Braised Beef Shin or the Swordfish. There’s a small selection of salads as well. There’s a diner house salad with the usual suspects, but I’m curious about the pickled beet and goat cheese salad with butterbeans and crispy ham. Diners wanting to have a cocktail will not be disappointed in the craft cocktail menu or beer and wine list. The doors are open for the ever-growing lunch crowd downtown and is sure to be a popular brunch spot. Despite such an interesting menu that feels like a departure for such an establishment, It still has the inviting feel that you might expect from a diner.
And you get pie.
Kristi Maier is a food writer, blogger and cheerleader for all things local who even enjoys cooking in her kitchen, though her kidlets seldom appreciate her efforts.