Winston-Salem’s not-so-secret ‘Garden’
*Editor’s note: The executive chef, Joel Cashel’s name was misspelled in the print version of this article. It has been corrected online.
New craft tavern opens downtown with rave reviews
I first heard about the new restaurant and bar that opened in what used to be Dynasty on Spruce Street on Facebook. After reading the glowing reviews of Spruce Street Garden my interest was piqued, especially when I heard they had waffle fries.
I wanted to give it a try back in December, but with the holidays, I didn’t make it there until last week.
The decor of the space has a modern industrial feel with exposed brick walls and accents of soft blue and green hues. There is a bar section that is open and bright, and then there is a dining room area that seems more quiet and peaceful. I decided to sit at the bar because they were playing good music. I was promptly greeted by the friendly bartender who was also tending to three other tables. She was attentive, kind, and recommended the best cider I think I have had so far called The Spice Merchant, which comes from the Asheville-based Noble Cider. I ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes and the 4th Street Fries. The Fried Green Tomatoes came out first, and as I took the first bite, I didn’t want to stop. The horseradish aioli really pulls the dish together and brought out the tart taste that paired amazingly with the breading and tomatoes. The 4th Street Fries were waffle fries covered in shredded chicken and smothered in buffalo sauce, blue cheese crumbles and cheese. Usually, I am not a big fan of blue cheese, but adding some ranch to the dish made it undetectable- which was a good thing for me. After scarfing down these delicious treats, I had to take home a box full of waffle fries that may or may not have made it into my fridge by the time I got home. (Spoiler alert: They did not. Those fries were so good; I finished them during my 10-minute drive home.)
I decided I needed to talk to the owners of this delicious little spot to get some more information about it.
Spruce Street Garden is owned by two veterans of the service industry and partners Georgia Kontos and Alex Hollowell.
Being a small business owner is new to both Kontos and Hollowell, but the restaurant industry is not. Kontos has a Master’s degree in immunohematology and biotechnology from George Washington University, and she works nights at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. Hollowell has a degree in music, specifically cello, from Winston-Salem State University, “but I needed something to pay the bills,” he joked. He said he came to a crossroads: either he could be a gig-based musician, studio musician, or start his own business.
“My first gig was a busboy, washing dishes, did a little bit of prep work, then started doing front of house stuff,” he continued. “Through college, I was doing that whole thing at Outwest and Porterhouse; I helped them get established. I took a lot from [Outwest]; they do it right. Everything is from scratch; everything is local.”
Hollowell also worked at B. Christopher’s in Greensboro, and he attributes his knowledge of fine dining and craft cocktails to his time there. He said working in the service industry through restaurants was a “natural segway” to him co-owning his own place.
“I am Greek and grew up in the restaurant business (my father owns Coronet Seafood in Rural Hall), so while I love science, I think restaurants will always be a comfort,” Kontos wrote in an email. “Alex and I actually met while working at Outwest Steakhouse, and before we dated, would joke about opening a restaurant.”
That joke became a reality on Dec. 2, 2019, when the engaged couple opened Spruce Street Garden, located at 134 Spruce St. N. in Winston-Salem. “Luckily, this all happened at a good time, and we were able to open this place,” Kontos continued. “It’s been amazing seeing Alex flourish and grow. He’s been a huge asset and doing the heavy lifting in getting this place to where we want it to be since I have been finishing the Master’s degree and working full-time at the hospital to make ends meet.”
Kontos gives kudos to her fiance, writing that “he’s the reason this was all possible.”
Since opening, Hollowell said business has been “crazy but good.” He said opening his first restaurant has in no way been an easy feat. “It was a really tough opening process, the city has been kind of tough on me, and a number of things as my first time opening a business I didn’t know about,” he said. “It is going good, we are slowly picking up, and it is getting better every day.”
The couple described the Garden as a craft tavern sans the pretentiousness that usually comes with the “craft” moniker.
“Nice, elegant food…really supporting local. We have been working a lot with Fair Share Farms here recently,” Hollowell said. “But I also don’t want you to feel like you have to dress up to come here. I want it to feel casual crafty. As far as the overall feel, I want it to feel welcoming. And I know that is what everyone says, but when you walk in, you should feel like you are having a good time already, and you should feel the positive energy.”
(I totally felt that chill energy when I first went in.)
“We fell into the name since it’s on Spruce Street, and we wanted to make it sort of an American beer garden,” Kontos wrote. “I would describe it as a crafty American beer garden; it’s a casual environment with quality good food at a reasonable price.”
Hollowell said he helped come up with the menu, but he said they are now in the process of reprinting and redoing the menu as the new executive chef, Joel Cashel, has taken over the helm.
“It’ll be the same thing we have already, but we are thinking about adding a duck confit flatbread to the menu,” Hollowell said. “And now our veggie burger is going to be vegan. Just little things we are tightening up, and diving into a late-night menu.” There will be three menus: lunch, dinner and late-night. Hollowell said he plans on “doing cool stuff with the late-night menu by adding things like filet sliders, bao buns, and duck wings instead of chicken wings. Just quirky stuff like that.”
Hollowell said his favorite menu item would be “anything braised lamb.”
“I love all the food honestly, but since we are getting married on Oct. 10 later this year, I find myself frequenting the arugula and pecan salad with chicken, and extra goat cheese, of course,” Kontos wrote regarding her favorite menu item. “I’m also a huge proponent of all of our desserts and love the creativity we have in our staff to come up with amazing dessert features.”
Kontos wrote that she has a big sweet tooth, and she wanted a menu that gave numerous dessert options, even late-night, “which is usually when I get a craving for a sweet treat.”
(Girl, same. Could this be the place I have been dreaming of— a dessert bar in the Triad!?)
Kontos and Hollowell are still coming up with an event calendar, but Kontos wrote that they would be participating in the Big Eat event every Tuesday until Feb. 18. Hollowell said he is also looking to get live music, such as local musicians Ryan Sizemore (the lead singer/guitarist of Hollowell’s punk rock ban, the Camel City Blackouts) lined up as well as a special Valentine’s Day event.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. Her alter egos include The Grimberlyn Reaper, skater/public relations board chair for Greensboro Roller Derby, and Roy Fahrenheit, drag entertainer and self-proclaimed King of Glamp.
Spruce Street Garden is located at 134 Spruce St N. in Winston-Salem and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. until midnight. For more information, call (336) 999-7300 or check out the Facebook page.