Having written and reviewed many experiences in this space, giving applause to most, now is the time to offer constructive criticism. It was Sunday morning, stirring in downtown Winston-Salem, the day after experiencing a wonderful, huge wine-tasting: Salute! The North Carolina Wine Celebration.
Hopefully, there would be a neat little morning eatery within walking distance of the Marriott (good choice if you go Salute! next year), something outside the hotel not including the breakfast area at the across-the-street Embassy Suites, to have a morning meal, drink coffee, read the local newspaper and relax the morning away before driving back to Cary, at the most an 80-minute direct drive.
Nothing. After walking a few blocks around the neighborhood, a return to the hotel to check-out was in order. But a quick check of the internet on the Blackberry confirmed the thought of an eatery at the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market, exit 208 on Interstate 40, less than a 15 minute drive from the overnight location and on the way home and halfway across North Carolina on that highway.
The Moose Café is the place, and going there, visiting the Farmers Market, would kill those proverbial two birds with one stop: A hearty country breakfast and a chance to purchase fresh vegetables and fruits. It was the first time at the Café and a return visit to the Triad Market. Disappointment came on two fronts; pleasant-surprise on another.
With visions of the wonderful breakfast offered at the State Farmers Market Restaurant in Raleigh, the Moose Café disappointed. Two eggs over easy; country ham (they only offer center cut, the menu says), grits, a piece of French Toast (had a choice of a Moose Cake which is a pancake), and coffee. The other plate was similar but with hash browns, fruit and a biscuit.
So here’s the letdown: the country ham was very thin, over-cooked and tough. Good country ham has substance to it, is lightly heated through and through, and is tender. The coffee was just fine but the waitress seemed to forget a cup was there and never asked if a refill was desired until it was time to leave, though she added water to those glasses often. The hash browns were somewhat flavorless, and the fruit, which when reading the menu brought to mind a fresh selection of melon and berries, was sweet, stewed apples with a nice taste but a not expected. The homemade apple butter was pretty good as were the biscuits. For the two-person price of $23.00 with a tip, food and the experience were not the want-to-return-to-the-Moose-Café kind.
Next stop was across the parking lot at the Farmers Market where delicious strawberries and blueberries and the season’s early peaches courtesy of an orchard in Candor were found. (On the other hand, the early peaches are still un-cut, requiring a little more ripening.) And there were many other vegetables and lots of flora, especially many beautiful hanging baskets. It was mid-morning on a Sunday, so all the spaces were not set up but there was ample selection.
The disappointment: Smoke! Not fire, but smoke as many farmers were puffing on cigarettes, blowing the results of inhaling onto the items they were selling. It’s a bad habit which maybe can’t be stopped but it’s not good for business. Most were trying to blow the smoke in another direction but one selling his wares seemed not to care. Going in another direction was the decision as well when passing his spot. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture should work with the famers to encourage a smoke free atmosphere at the Farmers Market, even if it’s outside.
The Salute festival itself was more than just sipping and buying wine. Harris-Teeter sponsored a cooking exhibition; there was a four-hour after-party in front of Foothills Brewing, a micro-brewery bar and grill, with music by Absolute 80’s, a high energy group playing music only from, well, the 1980s. Duh!
Visiting the various wine exhibitors, interested in selling bottle and bottles of their fermentations, was like visiting with old friends, even those with who it was a first time conversation. Talk was interesting, informative, light, funny, and serious. Each winery wanted more than to sell a bottle or two to the patrons. The wineries desire winery visitors.
Even one owner, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who knows of my NC State preference, invited us back but misspoke when he said, “We (UNC grads) make really good wine,” he said. After reminding him that NC State offers the agriculture experts, I returned, “NC State makes wine; UNC makes whine.” Good return, he said.
The drive home was interesting as well, as we drove old roads instead of the Interstate, passing through Level Cross and Randleman (Richard Petty wasn’t home; he was in Charlotte for his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame), Worthville and Grays Chapel, Liberty, Snow Camp and Eli Whitney before entering Carrboro and Chapel Hill from the west, leaving the thoughts of over-cooked country ham and smoke covered vegetable behind. Until now.