Cheesecakes by Alex announced today that both its Greensboro and Winston-Salem locations would close temporarily after a WSNC employee tested positive for the coronavirus, COVID-19. The following picture is from their Facebook page.
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.
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.
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.
But, wait, there’s more!
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.
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.
Two weeks ago, I was privileged to attend the Biscuitville 2018 Bake-Off Championship Finals (for Management) at Biscuitville’s headquarters.
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.
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.
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.
I know I mostly focus on Winston-Salem establishments but I feel this is worth driving past the Sandy Ridge Line to be part of…
Last week, I was invited to attend a social media/blogger event at the newly named WP Kitchen + Bar in Greensboro. Starting as Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar about four years ago, the restaurant started serving more traditional restaurant fare and Chef Puck and company decided to make a change. One of only three WP Kitchen + Bar locations in the world (the others being in Palm Desert, California and Charlotte, North Carolina), the Greensboro location is an elegant, yet casual place to eat. And, I’ll go ahead and spoil it… delicious.
I’ve been to a few blogger events, a few “get to know us” events, if you will, but this was a top-notch tour of food, drink and friendly ambiance. I, along with fellow food bloggers Kristi Maier, also known as Triad Foodies and food writer for Yes! Weekly, Kristen Daukas, Nikki Miller-Ka of NikSnacks and Amanda Clark of Cuisine and Screen, were given a cocktail demonstration that included a pomegranate bellini, and an eggnog martini (made with a raw egg, simple syrup, Myers Rum and Hennessey). We then took a tour of the kitchen with Chef Matt Culpepper, where he demonstrated their 750° pizza oven and made a pizza for us to have and share between us. After that we returned to the bar and were served a Cherry Sour, it’s made with bourbon, Campari and amaretto, and you can’t go wrong with that, right?
We were then seated and were served a plethora of fantastic food. I don’t know that I’ve eaten this much food, even on Thanksgiving.
First up, the Crispy Calamari. Rings and tentacles are marinated in buttermilk then dusted in flour and deep fried until golden-light brown. It’s seasoned with salt, pepper and parsley. It’s tossed, then, with pickled pepperoncini peppers and served with a pepperoncini aioli and WP’s TBG (which is tomato, basil and garlic). The peppers that were tossed with the calamari gave it a heated tang and I thought the seasoning along with that made it near perfect. I tried both sauces, which were both good, but the calamari was so flavorful, I didn’t need a lot of the sauce.
Served at the same time was the Truffle Potato Chips. Yukon Gold chips topped with a blue cheese fondue, truffle oil, chives and buttermilk blue cheese crumbles. I am a huge fan of blue cheese and to get a double dose of it with the crumbles and the fondue? Holy smokes. You could really taste the truffle oil, too. After most of the other stuff had been taken away, we asked them to leave the chips, we all liked it that well.
Next up was the “Pizza Course.” First was the Goat Lady Goat Cheese Pizza with pesto, Goat Lady Dairy goat cheese, overnight tomatoes and picked basil. Overnight tomatoes are roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. I love Goat Lady Dairy and I loved this pizza. Great tang from the cheese and the tomatoes were caramelized nicely being roasted.
The next pizza was Giacomo’s Pepperoni Pizza. Giacomo’s is a local salami and sausage company in Greensboro that makes great sausages, salamis and other meat products. I have tried their products in several other Triad restaurants and love their stuff. The fact that WP takes the local ingredients and puts them in their culinary creations is a wonderful thing and when it’s delicious? That’s even better. The pizza had a red sauce, mozzarella, oven roasted tomatoes, red onion (yes, I ate that), oregano and, of course, Giacomo’s pepperoni. Great combination of the meat and sauce. Sauce and tomatoes was an acidic dream. Good stuff, that.
We were then served the Squash Soup. I’m not a fan of butternut and other orange squash, so much. But, I must say that this soup was heavenly. Kabocha and butternut squash was braised with water, oranges, cinnamon, cardamom, maple syrup, sage and rosemary and then cooked with yellow onions, butter, a braising liquid and heavy cream. The soup was thick and creamy. I prefer my soup and sauces to be a little thicker and this was great. It was garnished with a cardamom cream, which is cardamom infused cream whipped with honey, roasted kabocha squash, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil. The soup is vegetarian and served at lunch in either a cup or bowl and by the bowl for dinner, although you can request a cup. I get the feeling you can request a whole lot at WP Kitchen + Bar. They are very accommodating.
Up next, the Baby Kale Salad. Baby kale, cherry tomatoes, radish, marinated cukes, toasted quinoa and goat cheese, all tossed in a citrus vinaigrette on top of a fantastically creamy green goddess puree and garnished with more goat cheese. Crunchy and refreshing, I’m not usually one to eat kale but I will say this was perfectly matched with the tomatoes and cukes, where the radish added a little spice and we all remarked how good the toasted quinoa tasted. Before we were informed as to what it was, we all made guesses. I guessed quinoa. I guess I won. What? Well, to eat more of the salad. All that with the creamy green goddess? Tang all around. And dang it was good.
Next was the Bolognese Rigatoni Mezze. Browned beef and pork (yum), mirepoix, tomato paste, garlic, chili flake, cayenne, red wine-picked up with garlic, basil, the TBG sauce, butter and finished with an herb ricotta, olive oil and torn basil. Now, I have to say with this dish there was a yin and yang aspect. I thought the pasta itself was a little tough; chewy, perhaps under cooked. That threw me off a little bit, however, the flavor of the bolognese was some of the best flavor of the night, and there were many great flavors that night. So, if the pasta had been more on point for me, this may have been the best course of the evening for me. The flavor was acidic, tomatoey, and spicy. There was a burn, but the herb ricotta made a great balancing agent in the descriptor base. A very good dish overall.
Fish was up next. North Carolina Mountain Trout. The trout was split, stuffed with oregano, parsley and thyme and grilled on both sides before being finished in the oven. It was served with a creamy cauliflower puree, made with shallots, cauliflower, white wine, heavy cream and thyme, all on top of the fish, then served with bacon-roasted Brussels sprouts. It was garnished with petite greens (you know I love me some microgreens) and drizzled with olive oil. The fish was tender, well seasoned and well prepared. Sometimes, to me, trout can be rubbery but not in this case. The puree was the perfect topping for the fish.
Pan Seared Salmon. Atlantic Salmon seared in olive oil and placed in the oven. On top of the fish is an olive tapenade made from nicoise and castelvetrano olives, parsley, oregano, garlic, orange zest, red wine vinegar and olive oil. That is all served with a shaved fennel and crunchy green salad, all finished with basil oil. My two favorite fish to eat are tuna and salmon. This was cooked properly, was seasoned well and the tapenade made it even more delicious. I really liked the flavors on this.
Springer Mountain Farms Half Chicken. We got a bit of the Springer Mountain Farms chicken, which is rubbed (under the skin) with herb compound butter. It was served with crispy potatoes that were tossed in roesemary chili garlic butter and seasoned with steak salt and then covered with a bit of bourbon chicken jus, which is mirepoix, white wine, sherry vinegar, bourbon (of course), chicken demi and finished with butter. I am one of the weirdos and like white meat chicken a little better. I’m not a dark meat bird fan, all around. I thought the jus and the potatoes were fantastic and the chicken was good, but it was dark meat and not my thing. However, if you’re into dark meat chicken, add to a well-done bird the jus and potatoes and you’ve got a perfect meal right there.
Grilled Flat Iron “Steak Frites.” Medium rare prime Flat Iron steak marinated in black pepper, thyme and extra virgin olive oil. It’s seasoned with steak salt and grilled. It was topped with a garlic herb butter. A very creamy butter that wasn’t needed but well worth having. The steak was perfect, to me, on it’s own and the butter just made it decadent, which, I love. I am a fan of butter anyway, but this was bonus. It comes with WP french fries. They included their own house made steak sauce and I tasted it but I believe a good, or in this case, great steak, needs no steak sauce. If you’re a steak sauce kind of person, though, definitely try this, there’s less preservatives in the house made version than in the bottle and it’s fresh. I really loved the steak, it wasn’t gristly and the seasoning and marinating was superb. Nice outer crust, great tender inside.
Also, we had the mac n cheese, which was quite creamy and delicious, topped with truffled bread crumbs. I could have eaten more of that, but I was getting very full. In addition, we had the roasted cauliflower. The florets were tossed in brown butter and roasted in the pizza oven with pepperoncinis and seasoned with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Again, it was very good, but I was getting quite full. I do love how the restaurant infuses pepperoncini peppers in their creations. I think that pepper gets a bad rap because it’s associated with a pizza chain. They do great work with an under appreciated ingredient.
The final piece of this culinary puzzle was the dessert sampler plate we were given. It was a beignet that was delightfully sugary and moist on the inside; an espresso semifreddo which means half frozen, it was like a frozen mousse and very creamy; and the salted caramel pudding with a whipped cream topping made of creme fraiche and topped with cookie crumbles. The pudding was definitely my favorite part. I love salted caramel and here it was in all its glory in a delicious pudding form.
Throughout the night we sipped on WP house wines; their WP Cabernet Sauvignon and WP Chardonnay. Wolfgang Puck donates a portion of procedes from these wines (all of their line of wines) to the “Keep Memory Alive” which is committed to improving the lives of patients and their families as they navigate the extraordinary challenges of brain disorders. I had the pleasure of meeting Klaus Puck, Chef Wolfgang’s brother, and he said that their mother suffered with Alzheimer’s and they are doing this in her honor. Klaus is a fantastic guy, too. All of the staff that we dealt with from Paul Cloninger, our server, who has been at this particular location longer than anyone else, to Rick Berger the general manager to the bar staff and kitchen staff, are fantastic people.
There’s so much more to WP Kitchen + Bar than just these dishes. They have a full brunch menu, even more on their dinner menu and they are open for lunch. There are event facilities for private dining available, customizable catering options for your functions and special themed dinners that happen throughout the year. I am highly recommending that everyone take that leap across the “Sandy Ridge Line” and visit WP Kitchen + Bar. They’re located at 607 Green Valley Road in Greensboro. If you live in Greensboro, you can order online by visiting their website, wolfgangpuck.com.