When Lamar told our server that we came for the kind of food he could get at his grandmother’s house, I immediately agreed, despite never having met her or trying her food. But I recognized the sentiment in his remark — a desire for comfort food, the kind of home cooking and Southern, soul goodness that isn’t easily replicated.
I grew up near one set of my grandparents, but my Jewish grandmother’s cooking in Massachusetts is legions away from what my friend experienced growing up in a Southern, black family in Greensboro. I gleaned some of the cultural differences first hand when Lamar and I lived together for a year, him moving effortlessly in the kitchen as he perfectly seasoned and fried various cuts of meat.
And I owe much of what I know about Southern food to Lamar, too — he introduced me to Stephanie’s, Boss Hogs, United House of Prayer and other local touchstones of the black-owned restaurant scene. So when he told me that we should try Prime Tyme — a soul-food restaurant in Winston-Salem — and told our server he wanted grandma-style food, I didn’t need to hesitate.
Even when we started with an order of gizzards.
If you’ve never had chicken gizzards, they can be pretty off-putting — tough, incredibly chewy muscle tissue deep fried and dipped in hot sauce isn’t exactly something I grew up seeing on menus. I’m pretty sure I first had them at Lamar’s; he’d picked up an order at KFC and insisted I eat half of them while we played video games at his place a few months back. This time, a little more prepared, I enjoyed them more, but I still wouldn’t count myself among the converted.
Lamar prefaced our meal by saying that everything he’d had at Prime Tyme was good. Our server prefaced the meal by asking for our drink orders and then, before we could respond, offered: “Two teas?” Lamar asked for tea mixed with lemonade and I followed suit, and when they arrived he commented that the fact that the two substances didn’t separate in the glass proved its legitimacy.
The restaurant is unassuming from the outside. At the edge of a strip mall along University Boulevard just south of Wake Forest University, Prime Tyme opened in 1996 and claims to be “the bess [sic] soul food in town.” I can’t say any different, but I trust Lamar’s endorsement, especially after eating there.
Prime Tyme is often slammed on weekend nights Lamar told me as we looked around the relatively empty lunch room on a Wednesday, surveying the long bar with a limited liquor selection and noticing the banners for NC A&T, Winston-Salem State and Wake Forest on the ceiling. Televisions turned to sports channels flashed quietly as slow, gentle music played and air a little too cold swept through. Some people dined outside on the front patio, and we noticed a covered outdoor smoking area along the side of the restaurant. It echoed a sports bar more than it recalled Stephanie’s, which brings in a considerable after-church crowd in south Greensboro.
We both ordered soul-food plates (because duh), him picking the pork chops — opting for one grilled and one fried — with potato salad, fried okra and fried cornbread and me selecting the baked chicken, the mac & cheese and the potatoes & onions with fried cornbread.
We could’ve added fatback, and I imagine we would’ve liked it, but as it was we’d already ordered more food than we could finish.
Surprisingly, we both preferred the grilled pork chop to the fried alternative. Though both were satisfying and we’d typically pick the other, the grilled chop retained more of its mouthwatering flavor. I’d chosen the baked chicken because I figured I should have a little chill, and the first bite briefly overwhelmed me and caused me forget what we were talking about.
Baked chicken may not be flashy or even all that associated with Southern cuisine or soul food, at least not like other combo options like the croaker, beef liver or fried chicken. I scoffed when Lamar turned up his nose at a sample, disinterested in my allegedly basic choice. That’s his loss, because I’d easily rank it as the best thing we ate.
Not that I don’t like more quintessential Southern food — I made fried chicken for dinner tonight, actually, celebrate macaroni & cheese like it’s my beloved pet that ran away and just came home, jump at every opportunity to go to my Southern girlfriend’s family cookouts and fish fries, and sometimes feel cheated that I grew up in Yankee territory. But I passed on Lamar’s potato salad, prefer grilled and seasoned okra and favor regular cornbread to the pancake-shaped fried version.
I’m no heretic — I’d order the $3 fatback sandwich at Prime Tyme before the Philly cheesesteak — but I’m also not obsessed with some strange and mistaken idea of soul-food purity. Neither is Lamar, who tried to convince me to split the mozzarella sticks before I pushed for chicken livers or gizzards, but that doesn’t mean we don’t arrive with high standards.
And when we left, exhaling deeply and self satisfied, we agreed that Prime Tyme had done right by us.
Visit Prime Tyme Soul Food Café at 2730 University Parkway (W-S) or at primetymesoulcafe.com.
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