Foodie Travels: The Wood Shed, Stanley, N.C.

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The round chopped steak, baked sweet potato and grilled bread at The Wood Shed

Walking into The Wood Shed in Stanley, N.C., is like entering a fine steakhouse in the American West.

You’ll hear country music. You’ll see the wood accents all around you. There’s even a model train that tracks an oval above the dining area. But the smell, that’s what you’ll experience first, and that’s what you’ll enjoy the most – at least until you taste your dinner.

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Growing up in the Stanley area, I remember many nights driving through town and breathing in the delicious aroma from the grill at The Wood Shed. It’s a steakhouse-style restaurant that serves up some of the tastiest beef, chicken and salmon off the grill that you’ll find anywhere. And whatever your entrée choice, you’ll enjoy it with one of the best salad bars around and delicious grilled bread.

Many people frequent The Wood Shed for the succulent prime rib the eatery’s known for. But I’m not a prime rib kind of guy, so I’m more likely to enjoy a NY strip, the chopped steak or the beef tips. You really can’t go wrong with anything you choose. There’s even a service plate option for diners who want to share a main course with someone else.

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The tender and smoky rib tips at The Wood Shed

The Wood Shed’s been owned by local businessman Bill Withers for decades, and it hasn’t changed all that much, other than the tomato-and-onion sandwiches that used to be complimentary on the salad bar and now come as an appetizer option.

Next time you’re looking for a place to have a nice meal – maybe to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary – check out The Wood Shed on Main Street in Stanley. The intoxicating scent will lead you there, and a happy stomach will lead you home.

Foodie Travels: Webb Custom Kitchen, Gastonia, N.C.

Like many cities across North Carolina, Gastonia has seen the center of its activity move away from its downtown area over the decades. The older west side of town used to be the lifeblood of the community, but over time much of that vitality moved east, closer to the Charlotte metro. Growing up in Gaston County, I watched the economy and entertainment move along Franklin Boulevard, seeing longtime businesses close in the west/downtown and new shops pop up by the dozens toward the east side.

But following and coinciding with all of that movement in Gastonia and other cities throughout the state, there has been a trend toward downtown revitalization. Many cities have made concerted efforts to bring back the importance, the interest and the people to downtown areas and main streets, and that’s certainly been no exception in Gastonia.

Perhaps the grandest example of a desire to revive Gastonia’s downtown is Webb Custom Kitchen, a longtime former theatre that now operates as a first-class American restaurant that beautifully partners the past with the present and the future.

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Stepping inside Webb Custom Kitchen is almost like being in two places at once. You get the feel of the old theatre, with camera and projection equipment throughout the space. Much of the music is from decades past, and you can enjoy Turner Classic Movies films on a large screen viewable from all of the seats. At the same time, there’s a fresh and modern feel to the accents of the place, from the chic dinnerware to the updated lighting to the opportunity to watch all the action in the kitchen. These pieces come together in a classy way that almost makes you feel like you’re dining in a scene straight out of The Great Gatsby.

Of course, we’re talking about a restaurant here, and despite the A+ grade we’d give Webb Custom Kitchen for everything from atmosphere to service, the highest marks of all go to the menu and the food itself. We visited for an early dinner on a Saturday afternoon, and we experienced what was quite possibly the best three-course meal we’ve ever enjoyed anywhere. (And particularly across the South, we’ve sampled our share of fare.)

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For starters, we sampled the Duck Cigar, a spring roll with light and flaky pastry containing savory duck cooked in its own fat and a mixture of fresh vegetables, all served with three flavor-packed, house-made dipping sauces. Molly told me after our dinner that she’s never had a better spring/egg roll. I just wish it was a bottomless appetizer; it’s that good!

Then came the main course. For me, I couldn’t stay away from the cheeseburger on the menu, and that led me to enjoy one of the best gourmet burgers anywhere. The beef was light, juicy, cooked to perfection, and surrounded by mushrooms, bacon, fresh lettuce and tomato, all on a hearty and flavorful brioche bun. I chose to enjoy it with a side of creamy, buttery country potato cakes. (Think mashed potatoes in a compact pancake form.)

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Molly decided to sample a chicken dish (containing three juicy cuts of charbroiled chicken), served alongside a fresh salad of spinach, tomatoes and goat cheese, and drizzled with a delicious sweet sauce with a hint of red-wine vinegar. She’s a big fan of Greek-style chicken dishes, and this one ranked among the best she’s had. For her side, she chose the stone-ground cheese grits, which offered a hearty and creamy accompaniment.

Dessert’s not often on our priority list after a sit-down restaurant meal, but after the first two courses were so grand, how could we not at least hear the options? Just about the time we made that decision, one of Webb Custom Kitchen’s managers stopped by our table to check on our meal experience. He shared some suggestions of his favorite dessert creations– including our eventual choice, a Chocolate Mousse Cake with mousse, chocolate cake, chocolate cheesecake and hints of cocoa. That was the winner, and it was a scrumptious, surprisingly light and not-too-rich closer to a phenomenal meal.

As we soaked in our evening visit to Webb Custom Kitchen, it was fun to imagine the past life of the Webb Theatre. The classic movies on the screen in the restaurant certainly aided that reflection, as did the camera equipment on the steps leading from the upstairs dining area to the front entrance. Webb Custom Kitchen wonderfully incorporates so many pieces of the past in its presence, and in doing so it has brought a vibrant life back to the western end of Gastonia.

 

Webb Custom Kitchen

182 S. South St., Gastonia, N.C.

WebbCustomKitchen.com

Foodie Travels: Grits N Greens, Lowell, N.C.

Molly and I have made a habit of visiting some of the most Southern places we can find, both near home and when we’re traveling. As two native North Carolinians, we have a deep respect and appreciation for the “country” cooking indigenous to our slice of the country.

Simply by name, Grits N Greens Southern Cuisine interested us and, by menu, pulled us in the door. What’s more North Carolina Southern than grits and collard greens?

IMG_8187You can find both of those items on the menu at this restaurant, as well as other “granny” cooking favorites in a meat-and-three-type format of main dishes and vegetables. You can get diner-style food, such as breakfast mainstays, cheeseburgers and other sandwiches with French fries or sides. And you can get unique favorites that you won’t always find on a similar menu—choices such as crab cakes and a shrimp “po boy.”

Molly enjoyed a generously portioned steak melt sandwich with a side of crispy, fresh fried okra. I opted for a pair of crab cakes with sides of broccoli casserole and macaroni and cheese, along with a couple pieces of deliciously seasoned Texas toast.

No, we didn’t enjoy the namesake grits and greens, but it was reassuring to see them on the menu.

The eatery’s digs offer a no-frills atmosphere (plain walls, simple booths) inside a space on the main strip of a revitalizing “downtown” Lowell. There are a few other local shops on the same strip of Main Street, but Grits and Greens is the centerpiece.

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We visited on a Saturday afternoon, right after the typical noon lunch hour. Our server was friendly, the food was tasty and we left full but not overstuffed like we sometimes experience in a greasy-spoon restaurant.

If you like Southern food, give Grits N Greens a try and let me know if it meets your expectations for country cooking.

Grits N Greens, 125 N. Main St., Lowell, N.C.

gritsngreens.com

Foodie Travels: Peace-N-Hominy Q Shack, Belmont, NC

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(By Matthew)

Barbecue is among the most diverse foods in the American South and Midwest. While you will find it from Kansas City to Texas to Memphis to the Carolinas, its form always varies in some way. And so does its serving establishment.

Molly and I live in a county (Cleveland County, N.C.) that prides itself on delicious pork barbecue. We have three barbecue-specific restaurants that all claim ties to the last name Bridges. All three are tasty, but in different ways. One even claims the title of Best Barbecue in America.

Directly to our east sits Gaston County, the hometown county for both Molly and me. It boasts its own set of delicious barbecue restaurants, slightly different from those in Cleveland County and from each other. But I believe my favorite Gaston spot is Peace-N-Hominy Q Shack, a fairly new BBQ establishment in the thriving town of Belmont, N.C. The place combines the perfect feel of both a modern no-fuss eatery and a longtime establishment that knows its regular customers by name.

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At Peace-N-Hominy (what a great name for a Southern restaurant, right?), it starts with the atmosphere. Rolls of paper towel napkins on each table and a sauce rack with four options is always a good sign at a barbecue joint. We also enjoyed the sign on the wall that notes things the restaurant believes in. At the top, above a reference to smoked meats, is: God. There is a faith element to the restaurant, which may be stepping too far for some, but we found it to be a nice indicator of where the owners stand.

Drawing from the old walk-in diner restaurants where you order at the counter, Peace-N-Hominy displays its menu in easy-to-read-from-the-line print that you can survey while you’re waiting to order. The choices are many and quite varied, even at this one Q joint. You can get your barbecue pork, your chicken, your smoked turkey, specialty bacon and other BBQ favorites. Or you can get a burger or hotdog, or a taco, or even breakfast.

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In many local restaurants, I have to make a cheeseburger my first menu sample. In any barbecue restaurant in North Carolina (because in Texas it must be brisket), I go with the chopped pork, either in a sandwich or on a plate. Going with the plate at Peace-N-Hominy was the right choice. I had the chopped pork, and Molly had the turkey. Both came with flavorful sweet hushpuppies, creamy coleslaw and an additional side. Molly had the bourbon baked beans, and I had the macaroni and cheese for a slight upgrade in price. Both were clearly homemade and did not disappoint.

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What really made this place stand apart was its culture, its deep set of menu choices and its location. You usually find those places either in a big-city spot or in a whole-in-the-wall restaurant that’s been in the same place for decades. Peace-N-Hominy is neither.

This place, however, was an incredible find, and I would recommend it to anybody who enjoys barbecue of any variety. And it was a find. The restaurant’s main wall sign doesn’t directly face the road, so you might drive past it if you’re not watching. Try a few things while you’re there (we didn’t sample dessert or specialty sodas but should on our second visit), and let us know what you think.

Peace-N-Hominy Q Shack
403 Catawba Street, Belmont, N.C.
peacenhominy.com