A personality conveyed through her cuisine

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20140523_133248by Brian Clarey

I have never met Mary Haglund, proprietor of Mary’s Gourmet Diner. But she’s family.

She runs what may be my favorite restaurant in the entire Triad, with a curated menu of local delicacies that changes with the seasons and also her whims, which can be powerful as they build up steam.

I’ve been eating her food for years, going back to the funky Mary’s of Course that created something of a legacy.

And we’re social-media cohorts in the growing Triad foodie presence on Facebook and Twitter.

I always knew there was a Mary — there’s a Mary at all great restaurants, I find — and I gleaned from her menus her commitment to quality and sustainability, her passion for the foods that come from our backyards.

Then, on a Facebook thread a couple years ago, through photographs I watched her turn a big, orange pumpkin into a restaurant batch of biscuits, step by step.

For foodies like me, that is the equivalent of porn.

And it neatly demonstrates that if Mary is going to serve pumpkin biscuits, at some point she is going to have her hands on an actual pumpkin, fresh from the patch.

The current menu reflects this aesthetic: a slew of perfect breakfast items — a signature since the Breakfast of Course days — both savory and sweet, making it a go-to for the morning meal; and burgers and sandwiches made with care, right down to the bread.

I should mention here that a signature sandwich — the Crispy Madame, basically a Monte Cristo drowned in a white-cheddar rarebit — is one of those sandwiches that I think about all the time.

The menu reinforces Mary’s disciplined approach. She makes her own granola, and will not have her dishes sullied by substitutions: “Bust the meal, break the deal!”

On my most recent visit, I once again missed the opportunity to meet one of my real-world culinary heroes. I also tore myself from the urge to once again knife-and-fork a Crispy Madame down to a smear of sauce on my plate. And I veered away from a daily special breakfast dish, the New Mexican Brunch, with chili, eggs, sausage, sour cream and such. The daily burger, the Swisshroom, spoke for itself.

I went for the daily special grilled cheese: brie, with local blueberries, on sourdough, with some asparagus on the side.

Asparagus on the side! Who does that at lunch?

The sandwich was beautiful — toasty and gooey in all the right places, with the blueberries cooked down in the cheese just a little bit. The bread reinforced my belief that sourdough’s highest purpose is to be greased up and dropped on the griddle.

And the entire meal — simple but tasteful, sourced within a few miles of where I ate it, memorable on several levels — made me proud to know Mary Haglund, even though I don’t actually know her.

But I know her food; I know the spirit in which she makes it. And I know I’ll keep eating there whenever I’m in the ’hood, even if it’s just for a brownie — man, what a brownie! I’ll be thinking about that one for a long time too.