I really do not like eating with my fingers.
I have many conversations with principals in the Winston-Salem culinary community as well as others who have notions that they would like to own their own eateries. They talk about “fast casual ” as the key to fame and fortune — and perhaps even riches — but rarely mention a white-tablecloth restaurant as a possibility. It’s as if we have hit a glass ceiling in Winston-Salem when it comes to what we used to call “fine dining.”
I keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best when a new restaurant opens. I want them all to succeed while knowing the business is high risk and the odds are iffy. I am particularly prayerful — that’s a figure of speech, mind you — on the rare occasion that someone ventures into the realm of upscale dining that requires excellent food, presentation and service, flatware that feels right in the hand and, God forbid, a tablecloth and napkin that won’t be thrown away afterward.
My fear is that if a venture into fine dining fails, the voices on the street will not blame faulty vision and mission, the menu, the chef or whatever other genuine pitfalls a new place will face, but conclude simply that, as is often said, Winston-Salem in the 21st Century will not support a restaurant that provides an upscale dining experience. The implication is that we are solely devoted to spots that provide quick eats while customers dawdle on their cell phones with sticky, taco- or burger-soiled fingers.
I grieved over the untimely demise of Honey Pot on Fourth which was a welcome change in Winston-Salem culinary direction: a chef-driven downtown restaurant with excellent food, in an intimate bistro-style environment.
And I was all for the Katharine. Ah. There was my great hope.
It defied the odds — a beautiful dining venue in a hotel, of all places, that sought to attract a devoted following of local gourmands with disposable income. In my mind, I envisioned a chef-driven restaurant where one could enjoy the company of friends with total assurance of a perfect evening out.
However, enthusiasm waned for the “French with a Southern twist” concept, while corporate minders afar failed to correct course. My friends say they simply don’t like the food.
The last successful venture into fine dining in Winston-Salem, unless I am overlooking someone, is Spring House. Its impressive real estate and all else required to get it up and running required deep pockets beyond the capacity of a young chef full of vim, vigor and creative talent who is looking for a modest spot to generate a following and make a mark.
We have a robust dining scene here and have every reason to be proud of this fact. I applaud risk-takers and eateries of whatever stripe that make money for investors and create jobs.
Pardon me if this sounds like gastronomic snobbery from one who does not enjoy eating with his fingers, but in my opinion things are a bit out of kilter. Fast casual is fine, but serious chefs will emerge and amaze us only if we have more serious dining spots to nurture them.
Until then, remember to lick fingers before using cell phones.
Carroll Leggett is a retired attorney who can often be found at the liveliest tables in any number of Triad restaurants.