Eleven years ago, when we undertook revamping Lucky 32’s menu and having its flavors turn South, our main culinary inspiration was Edna Lewis’ “The Taste of Country Cooking.”
Edna Lewis grew up in Freetown, Va., a town founded by her grandfather and other freed slaves.
Another guiding light was “Southern Food” by John Egerton, a Nashville-based journalist known for his writings on the civil rights movement. His book was a survey of recipes and foodways from across the South. The dishes we reproduced at the restaurant resonated with the taste memories of many raised in these parts.
In hindsight, we could have just gone to Stephanie’s (2347 Randleman Road; 336-389-1008) and been done with our research.
Stephanie’s drive-through has been a Greensboro institution since 1999, adding a sit-down Stephanie’s II restaurant in 2001. Their fried pork chop is my go-to, perfectly seasoned with a crispy crust and a tender, juicy center. The chop is available in a sandwich or as a large or small plate.
The selection of side dishes is recognizable from any meat-and-three counter across the South, and they are all well-executed. Pinto beans and candied yams are championed by many of my friends.
My favorites are the fried okra, broccoli and cheese and collard greens. The baked chicken leg quarter is fantastic — well-seasoned skin with a juicy interior; ask for a side of the house-made barbecue sauce. The only things I have eaten that were not attuned to my tastes were the hot dogs (chili was on the sweet side) and the creamed potatoes (I wanted more butter in there). I’m sure they have their fans as well.
Each dinner plate also comes with a choice of yeast roll or cornbread, and I definitely recommend the cornbread. It is not as sweet as yellow cake nor as austere as my friend Ronni Lundy, the Appalachian food authority, would prefer, but it succinctly conjures the Cajun cornbread of my youth. As does the sweet tea; sweeter than maybe anywhere else in town, it is old-school and unapologetic. Ask for an “Obama,” and tea is mixed half and half with lemonade. For dessert, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better peach cobbler.
All food has a story. In current restaurant culture, the story of the ingredients and their provenance is often paramount in marketing and presentation, or the reputation of the chef is the reason for your visit. Dining has become an event, or a destination, akin to a night at the theater or a sporting event. But Stephanie’s is a living testament to food’s history and connection to place, providing Proustian moments for folks in the Piedmont and the greater South.