by Eric Ginsburg
In many ways, the evolution of the space occupied by Krankies at the eastern edge of downtown Winston-Salem marks the various modern eras of this city since big tobacco took a plunge.
It began with the Werehouse, as some townies and scenesters love to tell you. And the latest remodel, a phase that began with the displacement of the Electric Moustache artist space in the building, coincides with a larger rebirth of the city’s core, and this quadrant in particular.
New floors, improved seating, a relocated stage, a torn-down wall, and most importantly food set this iteration apart from earlier ones. And this likely won’t be the last facelift for the cultural outpost.
Krankies the café is not unrecognizable to those who grew used to Krankies the coffeeshop. Counter service is replaced with a fast-casual approach, with orders and payment still taking place at the register but dishes brought out to tables. But the culture and vibe prevail; despite a relatively extensive food menu, it’s more accurate to call Krankies a coffeehouse that serves food than a restaurant with an obsession with the black gold.
I ran into former Krankies employee Eric Weyer — the red-bearded Eric behind Hoots brewery and bar (as opposed to his more closely-cropped business partner Eric Swaim) — on my way into the newly transformed café. Without a clue of what the menu might entail, I solicited his advice and took it, ordering the Hoppin’ John Plate.
Weyer knows what he’s talking about. The Southern-style vegetarian meal of rice and beans with satisfying cooked greens, a wedge of cornbread and a scoop of chow chow might not sound like much, but it’s tasty and filling. There are other vegetarian choices here too, including the $5 toast with ricotta and honey or avocado and radish, the daily vegetable plate, or more popularly, the griddled cheese hero.
The provolone cheese itself is cooked, rather than melted by proxy between bread in a typical grilled cheese. Protruding from the sides of the puffy hero bread, the cheese is visibly browned and topped with cold crisp vegetables (think of a raw slaw) oregano, mayo, red wine vinegar and tomato. Weyer’s heard good things about this one too, and a Krankies server on shift recommended it to my friend Emily, who enjoyed it. I finagled a bite for myself, and while I liked it, I’d pick the Hoppin’ John over it again.
Later that week, Krankies Coffee posted a mouthwatering photo of another vegetarian dish, served during dinner — a wild mushroom spätzle with cultured cream and rosemary — which apparently became a bestseller. Spätzle, I learned from a few cooking websites, is a kind of soft, egg noodle common in central European nations, and its now the No. 1 reason I’d want to travel to Hungary or Austria.
The menu at Krankies isn’t dominated by food for herbivores though, nor European cuisine. Lunch options also include a meatloaf sandwich, a chopped salad with bacon and a turkey Reuben, among others. There’s a Cheesy Western with a quarter-pound patty and fried egg served all day, and a Southern cast-iron fried chicken sandwich that bests some of its counterparts with slaw and pickles. When the chicken entrée arrived in front of my friend Bethany, it made me wish I hadn’t opted for the healthier meal.
But this is just the beginning of Krankies’ new configuration, the latest evolutionary step on central fringe, and there’s plenty of time to come back for some fried bird or the wild mushroom spätzle.
Visit Krankies Coffee at 211 E. Third St. (W-S) or at krankiescoffee.com.