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.
My friend and fellow food writer, Eric Ginsburg of Triad City Beat had written about El Rancho Taqueria and their tacos in the last week or so. He speculated that “these might be the best tacos in the Triad” about them in that article. I’d like to think that as a good “foodie” that I take suggestions from my peers and run with them… or taste them. So, when my son Trey said that he wanted tacos, I thought, well, now’s the time.
We went in and it was nothing remarkable. It was just a restaurant space with run-of-the-mill furniture and very plain interior. But, the ambiance isn’t the star here. That would be the food. They have tacos, burritos, gordita, ACP, Carne Asada, quesadilla and all the usual fare you’d expect at a typical Mexican restaurant.
This isn’t your strip mall chain Mexican, though. You know the stuff. You sit down and get your free chips and salsa, order whatever it is you want and have it “piping hot” and “freshly made” within five minutes. The food is fairly decent, definitely hot, and you go home full. I’ll admit, I like that, but this…?
This is fresh stuff that is truly authentic. All of it. Lots of limes, cilantro and onions. Yes, I said onions. There’s a good bit to choose from, too. Lots of meat choices. Carne Asada (beef), Pollo (chicken) chorizo, al pastor (usually lamb), barbacoa (barbecued meat), Cabeza (usually from roasted heads of beef), Lengua (tongue) and tripa (tripe – stomach of beef). There may be a few more, but I think that covers it; you get the picture. I have had tongue before, but don’t remember if I liked it so I opted out of that tonight, only because I wanted to try some of the other stuff.
In my four taco plate, I got one each of the chorizo, barbacoa, al pastor and tripa. Yes, tripe. I had never had tripe before and definitely wanted to try it. When they brought out the plate, about 15 minutes later (meaning it was cooked fresh and they took the time to do it right), it was covered with cilantro and onions (light, as I requested), sliced radishes, five or six limes and a roasted jalapeno. In this bed of green, white and red sat four tacos. I asked which was which of the server who laughed nervously and indicated she didn’t really know. She pointed at what I thought looked like chorizo and said it was the tripe. Turns out it wasn’t. The tripe was next to it and I had already gone through that before I realized it. I asked another server about it and she brought me out a small plate with a good bit of tripe on it for Trey and me to try. It was pretty good. Lots of flavor. Kind of like chicken liver but without the foulness that comes with it and also without the grittiness that liver has. I don’t like liver, but I liked this; beef-like in its flavor.
The barbacoa had a tanginess to it that went well with the meat beneath the sauce. The chorizo was a little dry but that’s the way it is most of the places I’ve had it. I fixed that with the ranchero and Rojas sauces. Just a bit, I wanted to taste the tacos. The al pastor was probably my least favorite but was still pretty good. I liked the tripe taco and, as I said, I didn’t realize what it was until it was gone. A little crispy but beefy in flavor so I think that’s why I mistook it after being shown the chorizo one to be it. No worries, it was still delicious. The onions and cilantro were nothing more than accent. Cilantro, to me, creates a very vibrant, crisp and fresh flavor to everything. I cook with it often because of this. But, they didn’t overtake the flavor of the meat within the fluffy corn folds of the tortillas. I did sprinkle a bit of lime juice over the tacos to add that acid, but again, not too much. These are some darned fine tacos. Next time I go, I’ll try some of the other items on the list but tonight we were there, specifically, for the tacos.
The place was jam-packed with people and it was truly a very diverse crowd. All of them noshing, waiting or just enjoying the afterglow of fantastic tacos, having great conversation and loving life. I left there loving life. I think, though, my elation was mostly that I had tripe and liked it. But, the tacos were really that good. I can’t wait to take Stephanie for her first time and Trey back again.
El Rancho Taqueria is located at 613 E Sprague St in the Waughtown neighborhood of Winston-Salem. You can find more about them on their Facebook page. I highly recommend trying this great place if you’re into more authentic Mexican food and especially if you’re not so much “Americanized” Mexican food. Just go try it. Let me know what you think.
The Triad is no stranger to Lowes Foods, the little grocery chain that seemingly reinvents itself with every up fit, remodel or in this case, new builds. Afterall, Lowes Foods started in Wilkesboro, just west of here and is now headquartered in Winston-Salem with a little over 80 stores under that brand. Its newest and perhaps coolest store opened Wednesday at 240 Market View Drive in Kernersville. This store is unlike any other store in North Carolina, as we were told by company President, Tim Lowe, on our walking tour, it is “the first of its kind in North Carolina.”
I, along with a few other food folks, got to tour the new facility on Tuesday and let me tell you, it was like walking into a magical land of food, fun, and frolic. The moment I walked in the door, the shopper is met with a waft of smoking meat. For meat lovers such as myself, it was alluring, like in the cartoons where a character is picked up and carried toward the source of the smell by whispered fragrance trails. But, I digress, more on that shortly.
I was introduced to something that just a few years ago I would not have been interested in, at all. Before me there stood a tomato bar. What makes a tomato bar unique? I did not care for tomatoes until just a few years ago. We all have seen many “olive bars” in grocery stores where you can mix-and-match your olives. This is the first time I have seen a tomato mix-and-match station. Cherry, grape, Conchita and so on. Put what you want together and off you go. But, there was more to it than that. There was a great variety of larger tomatoes to choose from as well. To top all of that off, there was a potato and onion bar to match.
A clip your own herb garden is there for the home chef wanting only the freshest herbs possible. Rosemary, oregano, mint, parsley, and thyme. Ready to be clipped and taken home. Let me tell you it smelled amazing over there. A lot of time, we are sold “fresh” herbs that have been delivered from who-knows-where and labeled “fresh” when in reality it is not.
Up next on the tour is a station that was one of the things I was most drawn to in this wonderland: Cheese. There is a “cheese shop” right past the veggies. Where does this cheese shop reside? Why, right by the wine, of course. Whole wheels, large wedges, mass quantities. I do not know if I have ever seen such a selection outside of the cheese shop in Brussels we visited a few years back. There are plenty of cracker options and even sun-dried tomatoes there as well. The shop is surrounded on all four sides by cheese. I was offered a chunk of Vermont white cheddar that had been aged for two years. My mouth waters now, days later, thinking of it. Rich, creamy and sharp, just the way you’d want it to be.
We then went through the Spice Bazaar. Unlike the regular spice area in grocery stores (and Lowes has that, too), the Spice Bazaar makes it easier for you to put together special blends of spices for mixes or dips. Featured are five categories of herbs and spices: leaves; seeds; flowers and fruit; roots; bulbs and bark. It smelled great there, as well. There you will also find a large selection of dried fruits and veggies along with a variety of nuts and other dried foods. Plus, an olive oil bar. Who knew? Remember when I said I was being carried away by the olfactory enticement of smoked meats?
Two concepts right next to each other in the back corner of the store are the SausageWorks and the Smokehouse. SausageWorks features locally made pork, beef and poultry sausages in a vast variety of flavor options. As Lowes says: “from the familiar crowd-pleasers to the ‘are they insane?’ combinations.” I did not ask but I wonder if they can custom make sausage for me?
The Smokehouse offers plenty of wood-smoked meats, again, including beef, pork, chicken and salmon, using a variety of woods to infuse flavor; rotated daily. You can grab them ready to eat or take home and cook yourself. I will say that my mouth watered the entire time we were in that area. There were many prepackaged sausages and smoked meats, as well. And, of course, there’s the regular butcher shop so you can still get your steaks, pork and other meats the way you need them cut.
Another concept is the bakery or “Cakery.” This is almost like a scene out of a movie. The people working in that area were having way too much fun. We tasted icings. We got little spoons handed to us with cream cheese, chocolate and vanilla icings that go on top of cupcakes, cake squares and probably things we were not even privy to. After our samples were done, we were told to make wishes and dispose of the spoons in a depository made specifically for that. Then we blew out “candles” that were located on top of the Cakery. Again, this was surreal but so very fun. It was more than just cakes and spongy things. It was fruit tarts and pastries as well. Delightful stuff. Then, next to that is the Blue Ridge Bakery where you have cookies (which we all got one to try), muffins and other bakery items. The cookies were chewy and fantastic.
But, in addition to the bakery, there is the Bread Crumb. It features fresh-baked artisanal bread that is hand- crafted, all natural and have no preservatives. Lowes Foods’ signature Cobblestone loaves of bread are baked fresh throughout the day. There are savory breads, muffuletta-style breads, and cheesy breads. Have I mentioned that I think cheese is one of nature’s perfect foods? Lowes Foods’ Hot Fresh Bread program offers fresh loaves from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm every day. That is just the right time for dinner. There is also a bicycle that has a real bread basket on it and someone will ride around the store offering bread to shoppers.
The Kernersville Deli has all your fresh cut deli meats and cheeses, just as you’d expect but they also have a sushi bar with premade (on site) or rolls made to order.
The Chicken Kitchen includes a variety of prepared chicken that is fresh and never frozen, locally sourced and raised organically without antibiotics. When the chicken comes out of the rotisserie, there is an animated chandelier with a chicken on it that cranks up and the “hosts” (what Lowes Foods calls its employees) come out from whatever they are doing to do a special version of the “Chicken Dance.”And, there is a humongous box that will hold up to 50 pieces of chicken. FIFTY! The price of the box will also include the sides and fixin’s.
Sammy’s is a sandwich shop, but it is not your typical sandwich shop. You can custom order sandwiches using ingredients from Smokehouse, SausageWorks and the Chicken Kitchen or have one of their original selections. They have pizzas and paninis that can be heated and ready to eat in just 90 seconds. That’s great for those “I worked late and need something quick for dinner” meals.
There is a Community Table which is a place where shoppers can gather and be inspired to try something new. The table is made of reclaimed wood from local barns and it serves as a place for recipe sampling, activities for children and workshops for lifestyles such as gluten-free eating and so on. There is also a Pick & Prep offering for shoppers. Pick what you need for your recipes and the fine folks at Lowes Food will chop, cut, slice, dice, mince and cube your fruits and veggies the way you want or need. Do it while you shop or pick up some veggies that have been cut throughout the day, always fresh. That is a great option for someone like my wife, Stephanie, who does not care for the prep. She would rather just cook. I like to prep, but I am not always around. This would be great for her.
Then, right across from a wall of beer, there is The Beer Den. Craft drafts, a “growler station” and expert knowledge of craft brews. That is what you find here. They have seasonal offerings of unique beers, special events and have “tap takeovers.” Lowes Foods is a “sip and shop” where you can go straight to The Beer Den, get your pint of beer (or a cup of wine) and imbibe as you shop. I do not think you can beat that. In fact, I know you cannot. The Beer Den has been one of my favorite parts of Lowes Foods offerings since it became “a thing.” In addition to all that I have written about, Lowes Foods offers its very popular “Lowes Foods-To-Go” personal shopping service.
All of this is fine and good, well… wonderful. And, it makes the shopping experience more of just that: an experience. But, the important thing to remember about Lowes Foods is its commitment to everything local. As Tim Lowe says, “like all of our Lowes Foods stores, our new Kernersville store will be very focused on supporting all things local. Our commitment to local includes offering produce sourced through our partnership with more than 200 local farmers and featuring a wide assortment of unique local products found throughout the store.”
This is the new flagship store for Lowes Foods and will be a benefit to the town of Kernersville and the Triad. When are we getting one in Winston-Salem like this? Bring it!
I talked about this in this week’s The Man Who Ate the Town Podcast.
Stephanie, along with 5 other friends and myself went out on Saturday to celebrate my birthday. The restaurant that I chose was HakkaChow. I had eaten there a few times but, I’ll admit, it’s not in my area of frequency, meaning I don’t get over that way often. I had done an interview with Jonathan Chung, owner, sous chef and business developer of HakkaChow. To be sure, this is Asian. But, don’t jump into the cliché of calling this Asian Fusion. I think they prefer Chinese with a little bit of Thai and other Asian cuisine thrown in. Jonathan came out of the kitchen to say hey to me and his mother, Caroline, made sure that everyone at the table was well taken care of. It was easy to get rezzies as I just hit Jonathan up and informed him that I was coming with a small group. He took care of the rest.
I didn’t really take inventory of what everyone else was having, just Stephanie and me, so I’ll go over that a little.
We ordered the egg rolls as an appetizer and they were very good. Crispy with marinated pork and vegetables, served with a hot mustard and a vietnamese dipping sauce. That hot mustard sauce, man! It clears your sinuses, and fast. That was spicy stuff. I advise you to barely dip in unless you want to burn your septum. You’re not really burning anything but it’s potent and powerful stuff, to be sure; it’s a slow and delicious burn. Lots of flavor in those egg rolls, too. They were perfectly cooked.
Stephanie ordered the Xo Crispy Boneless Duck which is Lightly battered crispy duck on a bed of stir-fried mushroom, onions, celery, zucchini, and carrots with xo sauce. It comes served like fajitas in a Mexican restaurant: sizzling. I didn’t try it but she said it was really good. She is a fan of duck and this looked amazing. Pinkish duck in that light deep-fried shell? Yep, it looked fantastic and she said it was.
I ordered the General Tso Chicken. Now, I know that it’s not traditionally Chinese and was created, mostly likely, anyway, in the USA by a Chinese American chef. General Tso is battered chicken breast in a mild tangy sauce with green bell peppers, onions, broccoli. The sauce was thick and very flavorful. It was slightly spicy but, really, only slightly so. The tang was just right and I love thick sauces, I don’t like my food swimming in liquid as much as I do seeing it wade in the murk and this was just the right consistency for my taste. It comes with a side of rice (your choice white or brown – I went white). Great dish.
I also ordered the surf and turf sushi roll (it was created by Jonathan, by the way). It’s an inside-out roll filled with kani, asparagus, and cucumber. Topped with premium tuna, yellow tail, and Korean BBQ beef. It was drizzled with Korean hot sauce, eel sauce, and spicy aioli. I asked for the asparagus to be left off. I find that I can tolerate onions a little better now and asparagus, even the smell starts to turn my stomach. I tell you what about this roll, though… that Korean BBQ beef on the top? It was amazingly delicious! And, it’s not often that I eat sushi without soy sauce and wasabi. There was wasabi on the plate but I didn’t need it or the soy. I ate each piece as it was and it was quite a fine treat without the extra sodium.
I also had one of their signature cocktails: the spicy mango margarita. I somehow managed to not get the recipe but I can tell you that it was sweet and salty as a good margarita should be and there was a slight heat that snuck up on you, in your throat, after you drank it. I recommend that if you like sweet and spicy together.
And, they gave me a creme brulee for dessert to celebrate my birthday! Excellent experience. The only hitch was something went wrong with their draft system so we were relegated to bottled beer, no worries, we went with Tsingtao and Singha and there’s nothing wrong with that for flavor with Chinese/Asian food.
HakkaChow is located at 615 St. George Square Ct. and it is right behind the Carmax on Hanes Mall Blvd. You can find more about them, including making rezzies by visiting their website. I highly recommend it, especially if you like Chinese food, but don’t want the mainstream junk that is offered at other “chinese” restaurants. I think all at the table thought it was delicious and I can’t wait to go back. Thanks to Jonathan, Andrew, Hai-fang and Caroline for making us all feel welcome and for the great food!