I am about to admit to you something that makes me SAD.
I have lived less than 2 hours away from Winston Salem, NC my entire life. Forever. For months and months, I made the 1 hour, 48 minute drive twice a week, down to my doctor, in hopes of getting pregnant, finally.
Twice a week.
I thought Winston Salem was pretty much just the hospital, a few stores, a shopping mall with a JC Penney right in the very center (which is weird because you have to walk THROUGH it to get from one end of the mall to the other), and a pretty good fast food barbeque joint. Oh, and a Krispy Kreme.
So, when I was set up on a fun culinary tour of the state of North Carolina, I’ll be honest…seeing the Winston Salem stop had me at a MEH.
Meh. Been there. Small city, lots of roads, nothing really to see here.
Oh but y’all, I was wrong.
To begin our tour, my girlfriend Melanie and I had our first stop of the morning at Mrs. Hanes cookie factory, where cookies are still entirely hand made AND hand packaged, in true traditional Moravian fashion. The “artists in aprons” here still hand-roll, hand-cut and hand-pack each of the six flavors of Moravian cookies. One of Oprah Winfrey’s “favorites,” Mrs. Hanes’ Cookies rolls out more than 110,000 pounds of cookie dough each year. The operation is part of Winston-Salem’s Moravian Culinary Trail. Mona Hanes (daughter of founders Evva and Travis Hanes) gave us a tour of the facility, from start to finish, where the ONLY machinery we saw was a large mixer. Everything else? Hand done. Ladies with rolling pins and cookie cutters waved at us as they created hundreds of the crispiest, flavorful Moravian cookies, which we later saw wrapped in napkins, by hand, again, and placed lovingly into cookie tins. it was amazing to see this operation done in the old traditional way, and the attention to detail really shows. They are a proud company, and rightly so…they are doing things the best way possible.
After all the cookies we could handle, Melanie and I made our way from Lexington, NC to Winston Salem in time to make lunch in a part of town I had no idea existed – Old Salem. If you’ve ever been to Williamsburg, it’s much like that, but smaller, and much easier to maneuver through. We were treated to an AMAZING lunch at The Tavern, where I had an incredible beet salad and a Chicken Pie that changed my world.
Seriously, I cannot stop thinking about it.
It was made using an historic recipe, no fussy additions like peas or carrots – just chicken in a rich gravy with a simple made pastry (I swear, I think they used full on lard, and I totally hope they did).
After lunch, we got a tour of a working kitchen and fantastic garden, where anyone can visit and learn how life was lived centuries ago, with wood burning ovens and fireplaces, using all local ingredients harvested from right outside your door. Across the street we visited a still working historic bakery, The Winkler Bakery, where daily, bread and sugar cakes are made for purchase. What an ordeal to man these ovens!
After a bit, we made our way to the Reynolda House.
Sure, I knew the R.J. Reynold’s Family existed. Sure, I assumed they had made loads of money back in the day, selling tobacco products. But to see their estate, now a museum versus a residence, was some kind of impressive.
The home is still decorated with furniture from the estate, though works of art from masters around the world now line the walls. A pipe organ, larger than many I have seen in churches, is featured in the main hall, where the young Reynold’s wife and family threw extravagant soirees I imagine were much like those thrown by Gatsby.
You just felt regal here, and yet, so comfortable.
A bowling alley, an indoor carnival style shooting gallery, a chic bar, and indoor pool…all of these things were part of the Reynolds House – along with magnificent gardens that stretched for acres, and a village, created and designed by Mrs. Reynolds, as a young bride.
The house itself is spectacular, even without the history involved, but you owe it to yourself to take a tour and hear the story of this family. It’s lovely, and tragic, and inspiring, all at once. A half a day, a picnic in the yard…it’s worth the visit if you are in town for any reason.
Across from Reynolda stands yet another estate…Graylyn.
Graylyn was once residence to the Bowman Gray family. Bowman Gray, son of Wachovia co-founder James Alexander Gray, was former president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Completed in 1932, the home has since provided lodging for dignitaries including President Carter, President Ford, Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey. The inn and meeting facility are now owned and operated by Wake Forest University.
The large stone home is so stately and breathtaking, each room more magnificent than the last. Again, this home was brought to life by the lady of the house, and she spared no attention to detail. Fanciful dining rooms, spiral staircases, another indoor pool, there was nothing too minute not to care about, and the details show it.
Melanie and I were fortunate enough to be able to call Graylyn home for one evening, and our rooms were over-the-top wonderful. Located away from the main house, in what was dubbed The Mews, where originally the horses were to be kept.
Yes, we slept in the converted stables.
However, the lady of the house didn’t like horses, and therefore, nary a horse ever called those stables home.
The rooms were enchanting, with living rooms and separate bedrooms, 2 bathrooms in mine, and all of the exclusive goodies you can imagine. We were even treated to 24 hour FREE ice cream if we wanted – and I wanted. So I had.
Later in the evening, our butler (yes, I KNOW) drove us into town for a dinner at Mozelle’s, a tiny little restaurant on a quaint yet bustling little street nearby. Our service was very attentive, and the cuisine had a very southern vibe…anyone should find a dish here worth wanting. I had the fried chicken, and it was everything I hoped for…crispy and flavorful, and not a bit fussy. The dessert – a coconut cream pie – was the ideal end to a delightful dinner.
The next morning, after a great night’s sleep at Graylyn, we made our way to Mary’s Gourmet Diner, known for it’s southern style breakfasts and farm to table mentality. The biscuits (drop biscuits versus rolled, in case you need to know the difference) were large and hearty, and taken up a notch with the addition of the house made gravy. There’s a lot on the menu here, so come hungry – but don’t expect your standard fountain sodas. Not here. If soda is what you want, maybe settle for a spicy bottled ginger ale like I did.
There is so much more to Winston Salem than I realized, and I am looking so forward to returning. A new hotel is being built (A Kimpton!) in the historic Reynold’s building downtown, and from what I hear, it’s going to be a stunner. Plus, I really want to spend some more time in Old Salem, taking photos and burying myself in this unusual Moravian history. (And I need more Chicken Pie, for sure.)
If you are ever looking for a long weekend away, a stopping point for a night or so as you make your way up or down the East Coast, definitely give Winston Salem a go. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute!
Disclaimer: A huge thanks to VisitNC.com and DowntownWS.com for setting up this wonderful stay, and to Graylyn, for hosting our lodging. More thanks to Mrs. Hanes, Old Salem Tavern, Reynolda House, Mozelles, and Mary’s for the hospitality. All thoughts and opinions are my own.