Old Salem, not the haunted, witchy Salem up North, but the Salem attached by a dash to Winston.
That’s right, the Salem part of Winston-Salem, NC is actually Old Salem (facebook.com/OldSalemInc) “a living history museum (operated by the non-profit Old Salem Museums & Gardens) that interprets the restored Moravian community.”
This September I had the good fortune to be included in a tour of Old Salem gardens and kitchens led by Martha Hartley, head of Horticulture Outreach. We took a break for lunch (more on lunch later) at the Tavern in Old Salem (facebook.com/TheTavernInOldSalemNC) where we were joined by Margaret Norfleet Neff and Salem Norfleet Neff (mother & daughter), founders of Cobblestone Farmer’s Market (facebook.com/CobblestoneFarmersMarket), named by US News & World Report as one of the best farmer’s markets in America.
Old Salem gardens are presented in an educational way in that each garden is planted with what was grown during the time its associated building or home was built. These earliest documented gardens in the US were all about sustenance while later gardens included edible and ornamental plants. Moravians of Old Salem were meticulous note-takers who recorded in great detail and precision the what, when and how of their gardens. Those very notes are being used by Salem’s horticulture team.
“The Horticulture program remains focused on creating a landscape reminiscent of early Salem where utility, practicality and beauty united. The gardens today feature open-pollinated heirlooms, with seed saving a core mission. From the Miksch family backyard garden to the expansive Single Brothers’ Garden, Old Salem’s award-winning restorations will inspire ideas for your own garden.”
What’s impressive to me is how the horticultural team has taken it way beyond pretty gardens. They host Workshops (everything from wild-life friendly landscape design to cooking with various herbs), an annual Slow Food Piedmont sponsored Seed Swap/Potluck. Heirloom plants believed to have been grown in Salem, or the area, before 1850 are grown and maintained, many allowed to go to seed so their seeds can be saved and banked for preservation as part of Salem’s Seed Saving program.
Garden tours can be schedued here. Tickets are $8, or $6 if included in an All in One Ticket.
We didn’t get to all the kitchens, but those we did see were all functioning. I’ve been to more historic villages than you can shake a fire poker at, but I hadn’t seen a few of the things being used in Salem. Take the “Sugar Nipper“, a device used to break small chunks of sugar off of a large cone-shaped sugar “loaf” (pictured in the album below, wrapped in blue paper). Moment of most control? When that luscious apple pie (also in the album below) was held in front of my nose!
C. Winkler Bakery
Built in 1800, the C. Winkler Bakery turns out baked goods that are so popular, they’ve added an additional off-site bakery to meet demand. We watched the baker putting loaf after loaf onto sheets for wood-fired baking on site. Next point of control, browsing the store shop. I was strong, figuring if I really wanted something later, I could order it online here.
The Tavern in Old Salem
Now we come to lunch at The Tavern in Old Salem. It was such a nice day, our large group sat outside.
It’s under new ownership, and I reassured the father of the family operation I’d let everyone know they were open, contrary to what Yelp says.
We were all so pleased with the fare and company. I mentioned before that Margaret and Salem Neff met us for lunch. Margaret started the Slow Food Piedmont group and also got the Cobblestone Farmers Market off the ground. She and daughter, Salem, are working on a way to provide cover for the market in out-of-season months so it can function year-round. They were both such a wealth of information and so enthusiastic about what they’re doing.
I’m going to begin with my choice – Grilled Peach and Fig Salad ($8). Made with fresh garden greens, local goat cheese, candied pecans, then drizzled with a house fig vinaigrette. I loved it as served, but one or two others thought it would have been better to bring the vinaigrette on the side. preserving crispness.
Pretzel Bread held up beautifully to this Pot Roast Sandwich ($8.75). Not your ordinary pot roast, this was made with Horseradish au jus, Muenster cheese and Tobacco Onions. For you curious minded folks, tobacco onions (according to my limited research) were first created in the 1980’s by chef Dean Fearing of The Mansion, Turtle Creek, Dallas. TX. After cooked, it’s said they look a like tobacco. What do you think? The house-made chips were pretty tasty, too.
Star of the meal, Moravian Chicken Pie ($8.75) resulted in calls for the recipe and crust cooking tips. And just look at those fresh beans! Yum!
I’m not sure what kind of sandwich this was (poor note taking), but wanted to show you the Sweet Potato Fries. They were perfect: lightly seasoned, crunchy on the outside, soft inside. All sandwiches are served with a choice of one side. Many are served on pieces of slate. Tavern owners told us they love serving on slate. It’s goes through the dishwasher and has held up well.
More slacking on my part – I think this was a daily special that I failed to document. Enjoy the photo ~
Talk about comfort food. Take a Rowan Corned Beef Ruben with a side of German Potato Salad ($8.50) and you have love like you’d get in your Oma’s (Grandma’s) kitchen. Made with Corned Beef, Swiss cheese, German mustard and sauerkraut, grilled between slices of marbled rye bread, the sandwich had great flavor and was easy to bite through. No tearing at the beef to break off a bite.
It was in Charleston when Tomato Pie first crossed my radar. I know, I know. Southern staples weren’t common anywhere I lived prior to embracing life in North Carolina, birthplace of my father. The Tavern’s take on the classic, Tomato and Goat Cheese Pie ($7.50) was lovely. Fresh green beans set it off in color, texture and flavor.
Salmagundi ($9), originated in early 17th century England. Follow the linked dish name to read about its interesting history as a “dish that aims to produce a wide range of flavours and colours and textures on a single plate.” The mark was hit with this one that only a hearty appetite can manage.
If you’ve been to The Tavern in Old Salem, owned by the previous keeper for years and years, you must go back. This family of food service veterans, including chefs, has definitely notched up the menu. Haven’t been? Put it on your list for next time in Winston-Salem.
The Tavern in Old Salem
736 South Main Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Ticket information for visiting Old Salem Museums and Gardens can be found here.