Skip to content

Some recent eats

Egg foo yung with stir-fried sweet-potato leaves

I buy good eggs from pastured chickens and then forget that I have eggs. I think it’s because I’m so content on a plants-only diet, until I start to worry that I might not be getting enough B-12. Then I remember how good egg foo yung can be.

You don’t need Chinese vegetables such as bean sprouts. Plain old cabbage (with a bit of onion) works great. The key to good egg foo yung is umami, and that means brown. The umami is partly in the sauce, with some Better Than Bouillon and soy sauce. But the cabbage and onion also need to be browned. I’ve written here in the past about how I think monosodium glutamate is not harmful in small quantities. It’s made from yeast. Study after study has tried to prove MSG guilty of something, anything, and have mostly come up short. After all, our own bodies make glutamic acid, and it’s found naturally in many foods such as tomatoes and cheese. Like salt, it’s something that should be used sparingly. But its ability to add umani is a kind of miracle. When MSG comes into contact with hot oil, it immediately turns a beautiful brown, revealing what it truly is — pure brown umami (though it’s as white as salt) stabilized with a sodium molecule. Oil and heat transform it back into something brown.

Monday morning, because the day was cloudy and somewhat cooler, I made my periodic trip to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in Winston-Salem. I feel pinned down by the weather of July and August, and I don’t get out much. As a kind of mini-vacation, I went to Reynolda Village, where there is a Village Tavern. Reynolda Village is adjacent to the campus of Wake Forest University. The place was built in 1916 as a mansion and working dairy farm for the R.J. Reynolds family (think tobacco, and Winston and Salem cigarettes). But since 1965 it has belonged to Wake Forest University. The house is a museum. The grounds and gardens are a park. All the many outbuildings, all of which have a lot of charm, have been turned into little eateries and boutiques. At 11 a.m., Village Tavern had just opened for lunch. The large patio was empty, with big yellow umbrellas and twinkle lights, overhung by enormous oak trees. The waitress assigned to the patio had no one to accommodate but me. How could I resist a nicely cooked lunch, since I rarely eat out?

Incidentally, what is the appeal of fast food other than that it’s (somewhat) fast? It’s not even cheap. A few months ago, I went to a Chick-fil-A for the first time because I was curious about their cauliflower sandwich (a temporary offering; they no longer have it). As I recall, that sandwich cost more than $11. And yet the grilled salmon plate with healthy fixin’s at Village Tavern didn’t cost that much more — $18 — and in a far more pleasant setting. I might eat out more often but for the fact that Winston-Salem, about 45 minutes away on winding roads, is the nearest place with civilized eateries and trained cooks. Here in the sticks, it’s all country cookin’ with shockingly sorry ingredients, cooked by cooks who couldn’t cook their way out of a ham biscuit.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I esteem country cookin’. One of my grandmothers was a master chef of provincial Southern cookin’, by any standard (and she had a big farm to supply her). But these days few people know how to do it or have even tasted anything that meets the standard. And rural restaurant food is always inferior because of the necessity of sorry ingredients, stingily deployed by untrained low-wage cooks, to keep prices low. Southern provincial cookin’ is like a dying language that a few native speakers are trying to keep alive.

I started out talking about egg foo yung, didn’t I? But of course there are many methods that all good cookin’ has in common.

Grilled salmon at the Village Tavern, Reynolda Village in Winston-Salem


  1. Henry Sandigo wrote:

    I think string beans always got well with grilled salmon. What are the other fixin’s?

    Wednesday, August 30, 2023 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Henry: It’s garlic mashed potatoes and two tiny rolls! It all would have gone nicely with a few sloshes of wine, but at noon an hour from home, I had only water. 🙂

    Wednesday, August 30, 2023 at 5:58 pm | Permalink
  3. MHK wrote:

    Agree with your comments on “country” cooking. Locally it’s all about quantity….fill up a plate with dubious food and the restaurant will be packed. Village Tavern is a favorite, love the outdoor seating. I have found another place in Winston-Salem that has become our favorite spot. The Powder Room has a limited menu yet hits all the right notes. It is small yet mighty. A lovely covered outdoor area for dining, inventive food with emphasis on veggies, excellent staff as well as terrific coffee and a good, although limited, beer and wine list.

    Thursday, August 31, 2023 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  4. daltoni wrote:

    Hi MHK: Thanks for letting me know about the Powder Room. I rarely get to Burke Street anymore and wasn’t aware that it’s there. Small menus are almost always the best. When I saw how vast the menu is at Village Tavern, I was a touch suspicious, because that almost always means that a place uses a lot of food service setups. But Village Tavern say that they cook everything from scratch. I don’t know whether they have Culinary Institute of America cooks in the kitchen at every location, but the waitress said that their main chef (Mary Grace Viado, who was trained at the CIA) rules the entire establishment. I have at times watched CIA cooks at work (there’s a counter behind the grill at The Lighthouse, Sausalito, CA; also Avatar’s in Sausalito) and they are extremely good, not to mention fun to watch.

    Thursday, August 31, 2023 at 10:57 am | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *