Pho Hien Vuong Aboard the Triad Touring Tasters Express

Scallops at Willows Bistro

I wrote on Monday that Stephanie and I would be going on a little journey and that I would write about it this week. Today is that day.

We started out at our home base, Willows Bistro, and met up with Mary Lacklen and Deanna Watson, both from Triad Local First and Triad Touring Tasters. We had a fantastic appetizer of scallops with roasted red peppers and oddly enough, lima beans. Stephanie even ate the lima beans, which isn’t something she usually does. And, we also were treated to a lovely beverage of our choice and we both chose the sangrias because they are the best in town.

After the warm-up, we jumped on a beautiful bus with horseshoed seats, lights and a great stereo system. It looked new. The bus was provided by Matt Logan, Inc. and I — The Man Who Ate the Town — recommend them for your business transfers or “party bus” situations.

Group photo @Mary Lacklen

The bus took us to Greensboro to Pho Hien Vuong where we met co-owner Trang Trinh (she along with her brother, Ben own this lovely culinary palace) and several friends and fans of the Triad Touring Tasters. Pho Hien Vuong has been around for a while and has become a favorite among Greensboro diners as well as Winston-Salemites willing to cross the dreaded “Sandy Ridge Line” to get their Pho “eat on.” I can see why it has become so popular.

Trang made sure we were comfortable and took wonderful care of us.

Appetizers from Pho Hien Vuong

The tasting adventure included a round of appetizers featuring “The Appetizer Tray” including a few different styles of wings like Spicy Buffalo and Thai Style Basil, fried and fresh spring rolls, shrimp rolls and fried tofu. I had never had tofu and I tried it. I don’t really care for it but Stephanie does and she said it was good. So, if you’re into tofu, absolutely this is a great place to get it. But, the introduction wasn’t finished there. The rest of the appetizers were delicious. I’m a sucker for peanut sauce and the sauce at Pho Hien Vuong was very good.

We all got what Stephanie and I thought were full bowls of their meatball Pho. Turns out this was a smaller portion than the full bowl. The Pho alone could have been a full meal. Most of the dinner guests had to get to go boxes at the end of the evening. The Pho was so deep in flavor with a cinnamony broth that wasn’t too thick but it wasn’t watery, either. The meatballs were flavorful and seasoned and the clear noodles were so tender. The onions and scallions were a magic touch. This was so good. I am craving more as I type this.

Pad Thai with Seafood

But, wait, there’s more!

Caramelized Chicken w/Ginger

Then came the entrees. Stephanie ordered the Caramelized Chicken with Ginger. This is boneless dark meat chicken slowly simmered in traditional Vietnamese caramel sauce. Pho Hien Vuong uses white meat chicken almost exclusively. The only exception is this dish which uses dark meat. It’s cooked in a caramel sauce and you should know that Vietnamese caramel sauce isn’t the same as American dessert caramel. It’s still a little sweet but is known more for its smokey flavor. The dish was really good.

I was going to order something else, but Trang talked me out of it only because it wasn’t “Thai” but “Hawaiian” and I wanted to try more Asian-style. So, instead, I ordered the Veggie Pad Thai and added seafood to it. This pad thai featured stir-fried noodles with sprouts, scallions, and eggs. Now, I didn’t find a lot of sprouts in mine, which is okay. But, the flavors were slightly salty, sweet, sour and slightly spicy. Topped with ground peanuts added that nutty flavor that I think Thai food should have. Someone asked me about it and I said it was “fantastic.” They said they most they figure from pad thai is that it’s “good” but “fantastic?” I ate all of it, even after all the apps and Pho.

Sticky Rice & Banana

For dessert, we had a sticky rice with banana pudding. Sweet and sticky, just how it was supposed to be. It was in a banana leaf “bowl.”

We were at Pho Hien Vuong on a tour, but we will definitely go back again. The staff was polite and friendly. The ownership was amazing. The company vibrant and fun. And, they had real chopsticks, not bamboo sticks that leave splinters in your mouth.

Triad Touring Tasters (TTT) is part of the Triad Local First concept. The folks in Greensboro don’t want to come to Winston-Salem. Winston-Salemites don’t travel to High Point. Asheboro folks don’t travel far to eat. At least that’s what the overall consensus is. TTT is hoping to at least blur that “Sandy Ridge Line” if not eliminate it altogether. To be clear, the Sandy Ridge Line isn’t just between Winston-Salem and Greensboro, it’s the imaginary magnet that repels all the other culinary magnets in the Piedmont/Triad area.

Winston-Salem talks about having such a great culinary scene, and I agree with “them.” But, our idea of “ethnic” food is Mexican, Italian and “Asian Fusion.” I love all that, but it’s overdone. There are a few places here that have Pho but, it’s not very exciting. Greensboro has a reputation for having a lot of ethnic options but their overall culinary scene is lacking. That may be a myth, it may be a fact. But, we each need to meet one another in the middle while meeting each other on our own turf when it comes to our culinary scenes. We have a lot to learn from each other and what better way to do that than actually get out and try it.

I get it, I don’t feel like driving to Greensboro, High Point and especially not Asheboro to eat, have an adult beverage or two and then have to drive back. But, I don’t mind when there are others with me and we are having good conversations and none of us have to concentrate on the road or worry about getting pulled for intoxicated driving. That’s where TTT comes in.

For one price, you get your gathering location apps and/or beverages and then you transfer via a bus to a place in another city where you’ll try something different than where you started. Your alcoholic beverages are generally extra. There may be other charges but you’ll be informed of those ahead of time. The idea is to introduce the residents of one place to the culinary scenes that surround them that they may never have known about.

So, I’m glad that my first foray into this experience tour was to Pho Hien Vuong because I know this is a place that I can actually frequent when I decide to cross the SRL. Why? Because it is amazing. And, Stephanie works in Greensboro, so she can go there when she wants.

Triad Local First is a non-profit membership organization based in Greensboro, North Carolina, with over 360 members – retail shops, real estate agents, insurance brokers, marketing and advertising firms, accountants, dentists, restaurants, farmers, breweries, and more.

The Mission of Triad Local First, a network of locally owned and independent businesses in North Carolina’s Triad, is to share a commitment to building a strong local economy and a vibrant, unique community.

Pho Hien Vuong is located at 4109 Spring Garden Street in Greensboro.

Willows Bistro is located at 300 S Liberty Street in Winston-Salem.

The Man Who Ate the Town Featured in Winston-Salem Monthly Magazine

So, I’ve known about this for a while but I’ve held off on saying anything until I had actual “proof” of it.

©Jay Sinclair

I was featured in the Winston-Salem Monthly Magazine this month, which is “unofficially” their food issue.

Michael Breedlove contacted me to put my two cents in about meals/dishes/etc in Winston-Salem that I just couldn’t live without. They contacted a few of my foodie friends/blogger friends and asked them the same things. Chef Travis Myers and Willows Bistro got my vote (well several of them did, but this was the one that was highlighted as “mine.”). But, that wasn’t the end of it.

Michael also interviewed me about this blog and the podcast that goes with it. So, instead of me doing a lot of “self-horn-honking” I’m just going to point you over that way, for those who aren’t subscribers to Winston-Salem Monthly, which, unfortunately, I am not. But, you should be! It’s a great little publication.

I’ve gotten a few shoutouts because of it. I’m proud of it, I must say. And, I got a Kelly Bone mention in, too!

Here’s the article. Thanks, Michael, Suzy, Jay and all others over at Winston-Salem Monthly!

Biscuitville’s 2018 Bake-Off Championship

Two weeks ago, I was privileged to attend the Biscuitville 2018 Bake-Off Championship Finals (for Management) at Biscuitville’s headquarters.

©Biscuitville

Now, when I’ve thought of biscuits in the past, I didn’t think of anything exciting or outstanding or really even interesting. Before I got into the “food blogging” business, I didn’t think about biscuits at all, really. But, now that I’m fascinated with food and the food process (not to be confused with processed food), I totally rethink everything food. Even down to basics.

I was invited down and there and enjoyed watching the management finalists do their thing. I know what you’re thinking. Biscuits are flour, shortening, and milk, right? Yes, this is true. But, in that room, where we were all watching a big screen connected to a webcam that was showing us everything going on in this kitchen, all eyes were glued to the “action” happening.

It truly was fascinating.

So, what was going on, here, you may ask? You see, Biscuitville has “certified biscuit makers.” This means that biscuit that you get at Biscuitville isn’t made from any ol’ joe. It’s made from people with extensive training and, well, certification. From what I understand it’s a bit of a rigorous process that takes time and dedication. You don’t just get up to the counter and start making biscuits. And, once a year the company holds a bake-off competition, both with regular employees and with management which includes shift leaders and “operators,” which is Biscuitville’s name for the managers of their restaurants.

The science behind the making of these biscuits kind of goes unnoticed until you realize that they’re all doing it the same way and that the techniques are all identical. But, each person does add their own little twists and flair. It was interesting to watch all the contestants watching the others closely. They’re all friends and were cheering each other on, but it was played off as “ribbing.” They were supportive of each other but each wanted to win.

Contestant Amie Cook on the screen we observed from

There were six entrants and to watch them set up the station to their preferred, personal, comfortable workflow status was actually very interesting. While they were all doing the same thing, some put their sifter in a different spot or placed their shortening in a little corner that made them comfortable. Then, we watched them measure their flour (the timer started with the flour hit the scale), add the shortening, mix the two before adding the milk, all the way to flouring the work surface and rolling out the dough, it was truly a spectacle. Again, each identical but each different in their own ways. Then the contestants that were observing from the meeting room would count how many biscuit discs were cut out from the dough, then reworked and then recut until all but a small ball of dough was left.

“She got 22 on that first cut, wow!” I heard.

Claps and applause were given after each contestant came from the kitchen, so yes it is a competition but there was plenty of professional courtesy going on.

What were the stakes, you may ask? Well, first there’s bragging rights. These biscuit makers take this really seriously. The contestant, along with the restaurant they’re representing gets to say, “look we did this!” It also lets the customer know their “home store’s” biscuit makers are top notch.

Another thing is the prestige. Biscuitville makes sure that their certified biscuit makers are recognized, even if they don’t win the competition.

And, there’s money. The winner gets cash money. I won’t say how much but it’s substantial. Actually, being as this was the finals, each of the contestants was already winners. They had won the semifinals to reach this spot and each finalist also got cash prizes just for getting through to this round.

Winner, Maria Cabrera with Tim

The winner was Maria Cabrera who just became a US citizen a few months before and also was starting her vacation on that day. She was rated on speed, efficiency and who got closest to the “ideal biscuit,” which included, height, weight, a flat bottom and a ridged top. The flavor should speak for itself, as the same ingredients go into each, but the biscuit itself was the grading standard. This was Maria’s first time participating in the competition at all. According to her bio, she has been a part of the Biscuitville FRESH SOUTHERN® family since 2013. Starting as a Shift Manager in Mebane, she later transferred to Maple Avenue where she became an Assistant Manager. Maria then continued in that role at Alamance Road for almost a year before becoming Operator there. She says that Michael, her husband of 16 years, and their three children are what brought her to Biscuitville. Her family keeps her motivated, and there’s nothing she enjoys more than seeing happy customers and motivating people to their full potential.

Second place was Amie Cook. Amie is the operator of the Riverside Road in Danville restaurant (past Management Champion in 2011 and 2012; finalist in 2016, 2017).

Third place was James Cline.  James is the operator of the West Market Street in Greensboro restaurant (past Management finalist in 2017).

The other three contestants were: Ruben Negron, the operator at the Walkertown restaurant. This was his first year as a finalist.

Velma Hailey, the operator of the Aberdeen restaurant and past Management finalist in 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017.

Heather Mabe, the operator of the English Road restaurant in High Point restaurant and this was her first year as a finalist.

I have to say that what impressed me the most was the passion by with all of the contestants showed in their skills. It’s not just biscuit making to them. It’s a way of life and I don’t feel that any of that is too cliche. They poured their soul into making those biscuits, not just the ingredients. They busted their tails to get there and they take their jobs seriously. Even beyond the competition, the finalists want, collectively, for your Biscuitville experience to be a remarkable experience.

I apologize for not taking pictures of the actual event (other than to show what our perspective was), but while I was given an opportunity to glance into this remarkable event, I am going to leave some things to the imagination. You can watch the biscuits being made at your local Bicuitville.

I appreciate the opportunity to be able to observe and talk about it on this blog (and the podcast this week). Thank you, Kelly, at Biscuitville and Scott, Steve and Rebecca at Capture.

Dewey’s Goes National with Deliciousness

Dewey’s Bakery has been a landmark in Winston-Salem since 1930. It’s one of those things that is ingrained in your mind as are other local brands that make doughnuts, hot sauce, tobacco products or services like grocery stores and banks that have been around for generations. Winston-Salem “staples,” all. All of the companies in these prior categories have all found regional, national and even international success and now, it’s time for Dewey’s Bakery to do the same thing.

Earlier this week, I was privy to a sneak peek of a new line of Southern, bakery-inspired cookies and crackers that Dewey’s Bakery is getting ready to launch, not just locally, but nationally early next month. Now, you may be asking, Tim, doesn’t Dewey’s already make Moravian Cookies? and the answer to that is, yes. But, this isn’t that. Sure, those are delicious and famous, but now is the time for a new chapter in the Dewey’s Bakery chronicle. 

All in all, there are six new cookie flavors and five new cracker flavors. Let’s talk cookies first.

The new cookies range from soft to crispy and the flavors are:

The Crispy

  • Brown Butter with Sea Salt. This was my favorite cookie even though the name was a slight bit offputting. I think with the exception of brown sugar and hash browns, things that have “brown” in their name sometimes have a negative connotation and I think that could potentially be a problem with this cookie and that would be a shame because it tasted so good! But, they browned, or “toasted” the butter and added coarse sea salt, dark brown sugar and pure vanilla sea salt to it to make the cookie taste more like a toffee. In fact, Kristen Daukas and I stayed behind and talked with Dewey’s marketing folks about it and “toffee” was an alternative we suggested. But, this cookie was really good.
  • Pecan Praline. Dewey’s came really close to the classic shortbread confection we call pralines or sometimes a “sandie.” They have been using the praline pecans for generations. The cookie was buttery and just the right balance of the creaminess expected in a praline and the right crispy consistency; not too crispy.
  • Caramel Popcorn. This was weird for me at first but each successive bite brought a new appreciation to the concoction. It’s a soft and crispy treat all in one. It’s sweet and salty, starting with the sweetness and delivering buttery goodness in a lightly crispy cookie and then the saltiness of the caramel popcorn provides that finish. As I said, if you weren’t expecting it to be dually-based (sweet and salty) then you may be in for a shock initially, but stick with it as you’ll enjoy the outcome. Very good cookie. It tastes kind of like a Cracker Jack in cookie form.

The Soft

  • Banana Pudding. Dewey’s, being Southern, knows about some banana pudding. They’ve been doing it for a long time. So, when I saw this cookie, I knew it would be good. It has a soft, pull-apart texture and a comforting blend of real bananas and pure vanilla. The body of the cookie is airy, light, fluffy and, yes, banana-y. It was indulgent, true, but you didn’t feel decadent for eating it. At least I didn’t.
  • Triple Chocolate Brownie. So, full disclosure, here. I love chocolate when it comes in dark, milk, semisweet and in chip, truffle or bar form. I am not a fan of chocolate cake, ice cream, brownies or other chocolate flavored things. So, I can only say that I thought it was a good representation of what it was supposed to be, it just wasn’t my favorite. In the product description, Dewey’s says you feel as though you’re savoring one of their treasured brownies fresh from their bakery ovens. They do use semi-sweet chocolate morsels and a blend of two premium dark cocoa powders.
  • Lemon Bar. My other favorite of the cookies mainly because I love anything lemon. Dewey’s uses cold-pressed Meyer Lemon Oil, lemon zest and brown sugar for a sublimely tart treat bursting with citrus flavor. To top it off, literally, they give each lemony batch with a dusting of powdered sugar, making this that classic lemon bar flavor. Delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crackers

  • Carolina Style Barbeque. I’ll be honest, I didn’t taste the “Lexington style” BBQ in this, but it did have a slight vinegarish tang and smokey, savory flavor. I could have used a little more BBQ flavor and not the BBQ potato kind. That being said, I enjoyed eating it.
  • Sharp Aged Cheddar. Dewey’s describes this as being like a cheese straw and that is exactly what it tastes like. Just enough of the cheddar to offer that tangy-yet-savory bite that it is supposed to deliver but the cracker isn’t a “crisp” as much as a softer cracker, which is fine with me. That was, again, more in the realm of the cheese straw. This was probably my second favorite cracker flavor.
  • Chipotle Cheddar Cornbread. Because this is made with cornmeal and sweet corn, and you mix the savory spice of the smoked Chipotle peppers, throwing in a bit of the Extra Sharp Cheddar, the finish of this cracker really does taste like the jalapeno or other hot pepper cornbread my family used to make. Chipotle is just a dried jalapeno that is smoked so, that makes sense to me. The cracker is crispy but the flavor is more spongy like a true cornbread. I’d go with my third favorite of the crackers on this one.
  • Sweet Potato with Cinnamon and Brown Sugar. As with the chocolate cookies, I don’t particularly care for sweet potatoes, no matter how they’re prepared. I would rather just have white potatoes. Dewey’s says this was “inspired by sweet potato casserole baked fresh for Sunday supper.” The crackers are made with North Carolina sweet potatoes grown on farms not far from Winston-Salem. There are also touches of cinnamon and brown sugar, too. I did try it and I will say that I thought it tasted good, it is just that sweet potatoes are not my thing.
  • Low Country Boil. This was my favorite of the cracker flavors. You can really taste the Old Bay in the cracker. Low Country Boil is generally made with shellfish, corn on the cob, Kielbasa or some other Polish sausage style, red potatoes and sometimes ham. Now, granted you’re not tasting shrimp, corn on the cob or the rest of that, but you do get a savoriness that is kicked over the top with the “old bay-like” seasoning. I would love to try this with some very good crab or lobster dip. I think it would be the perfect pairing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mentioned Dewey’s Bakery going nationwide with these new creations. In fact, they have partnered with The Fresh Market to start the ball rolling. They are going to be on other grocers’ shelves, as well, but they’re starting with The Fresh Market. The crackers and cookies will be available starting in October. If you live outside of Winston-Salem, you may not be familiar with Dewey’s Bakery, but you soon will. If your grocery store carries them, grab some and sample them. If the grocers don’t carry them, ask for them. You won’t be sorry.

Winston-Salem folk can sample these lovely treats on October 1 by visiting one of the area’s Dewey’s Bakery locations (262 South Stratford Road and 2876 Reynolda Road). Tell them that The Man Who Ate the Town sent you!

All Pictures Courtesy of Dewey’s Bakery and All Rights Are Assumed