I was in Winston Salem again recently to check out the new Kimpton Cardinal Hotel and to eat my face off as a guest of Winston Salem Chef Tim Grandinetti at his annual Sweet Summer Luv Luv Festival. If you follow the blog, you know that I’m a huge fan of this city. It’s as close to Greenville, SC as they come and a favorite of mine. The city beautifully melds art and food. If it’s not on your travel list, it should be!
Luv Luv Festival
Every year, Winston Salem Chef Tim Grandinetti invites his friends to town for the Sweet Summer Luv Luv Festival. During event, guests enjoy multi-course tasting menus and “hot-off-the-grill” specialties prepared by an all-star line-up of of visiting Chefs.
Chef Tim, aka @docbrownstone, started the festival as an excuse to get together with chef buddies and artisan producers he’s met over the years. “The magnificence of 5 Days of Deliciousness is based upon the special bond of brotherhood, friendship, and respect that has evolved over the years while working in action-packed kitchen environments.” said Chef Grandinetti on his website. “This is our way of gathering together, sharing the love, sharing the magic of fire and smoke…and the delicious foods that result!”
When Chef asked me to come for some sweet summer Winston-Salem Luv Luv, I jumped at the chance! I’ve followed the stream of pictures coming out of this party every year. It’s serious, folks.I was excited to reconnect with my foodie pal, Nikki Miller-Ka for both the Luv Luv Fest and for dinner one night! I loved meeting visiting chefs King of the ‘Cue Ted Reader and Chef Olaf Mertens from Toronto, Canada, Chef Ai Nakamura from Tampa, Chef Kurtis Jantz from West Palm Beach, Chef Fabian DiPaolo from Miami and Wil Pelly from St. Louis (pictured above). These powerhouse chefs created a menu of flavors I’ll never forget. I tried smoked scallop and jerkied scallop muscle for the first time!
Where to stay in Winston-Salem?
If you’re headed to Winston-Salem any time soon, you must stay at the sparkling new Kimpton Cardinal Hotel. It is located in the historic, absolutely immaculate, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company Building at 51 E. Fourth Street in downtown Winston-Salem. The building, affectionately named “Grand Old Lady,” by Winston-Salem Mayor, Allen Joines, was completed in 1929 by architects Shreve & Lamb. This is the same designer behind the Empire State Building. The Reynolds Building was not only the tallest building in the United States south of Baltimore at the time it was complete, it was one of the first examples of Art Deco Architecture in the country.
Fun fact: every Fathers Day, the staff of the Empire State Building send the RJ Reynolds Building a card. Why? The building was the design inspiration for the iconic New York symbol.
Kimpton recently purchased the Reynolds Building, gave her an $60+ million face lift, and reopened the 22 story building as a luxury hotel and mixed use development in April of 2016.The first six floors of the building are luxe guest rooms and suites. The top floors are apartments. The amenities are stacked! Hotel guests and residents can take advantage of valet parking, a fully stocked gym, a game room in the basement with an adult spiral slide, bowling and basketball courts. There’s a happy hour in the comfortable common area every day at 4pm and coffee in the mornings.
The hotel’s restaurant, The Katherine, is named after RJ Reynold’s wife. She was a GirlBoss way before her time. Someone recently told me that RJ Reynolds died before his building or home was complete. Katherine not only ran their homeplace, the Reyholds Mansion and expansive surrounding properties, she made sure the company stayed on track.
I dropped my bags in one of the massive two room suits with a soaking tub.I squeezed in four baths in three days, and seriously didn’t want to leave that tub behind. The bed was massively comfortable, too. Be sure to ask for a corner room when you book your reservation. I loved all of the windows overlooking the city streets. Oh, and don’t forget to sign up for Kimpton Rewards.
The hotel would make a fabulous getaway during the winter months. There’s enough to do in the hotel itself without stepping out the front door. Explore as much of the hotel as possible when you’re there, and pay attention to all of the tiny details.
I can’t wait to go back for a scavenger hunt! I hear there’s a list of 42 different items in the hotel that represent North Carolina.
The folks at Visit Winston-Salem joke that when I come to town, it’s almost like I am hosting them instead of the other way around. My husband’s father traces his family back at least five generations in Winston-Salem. When Grandmother and Grandad Livengood were alive, we spent a lot of time there. That was ten years ago, and so much has changed in a decade. During a three day visit, it’s impossible to see and do it all.
What to do in Winston-Salem?
My list of things to do in Winston-Salem grows all of the time. I’d say popping into Krankie’s Coffee at 211 E. 3rd Street for coffee and a slice of pie is a must. Don’t forget to get your $5 Art-o-Mat token at the counter when you check out.
The Art-o-Mat machines are recycled cigarette machines, from the era when EVERYONE smoked in this part of the country. Winston-Salem was the heart of Carolina tobacco country. It’s hard to throw a stone in Winston without finding someone who either worked in the cigarette factory or knew someone who did. Did you know RJ Reynolds invented the packaged cigarette? Up to that time, most people rolled their own!
There are Art-o-Mat machines scattered around Winston-Salem, and all over the United States! Artists from all over the country create little cigarette-box-size art to fill these re-purposed machines. Each machine holds half a dozen artists or so to choose from. You trade a $5 bill for a gold coin at the register, select your artist and get a little piece of art to take home. I have a growing collection of them. I get just as excited to drop my coin in those as I was to drop by quarter into the charm bracelet machines inside the door of Ingles grocery store when I was a kid. Remember those? (Those charms are back, by the way. I saw them in Michaels this week! $1 each! So tempting…)
If you love Mast General Store, you’ll love Ronnie’s Country Store. The building was once a banana packaging warehouse. Bananas used to come into the country in huge bundles. They’d ship into warehouses where they were separated and repacked to ship out to markets and grocery stores. This neighborhood country store opened in 1925. People would come by wagon and mule to sell or trade items like firewood or hay for items they didn’t grown themselves. In 1994, the White family purchased the store, but continued the legacy of carrying staples for the surrounding community.
When you walk it, it’s like stepping back in time! There are bins of candy, beans, fruits and vegetables, cast iron pans hanging from the ceiling, and cured hams hanging in the back that you can purchase whole or sliced by the pound. I couldn’t leave without country ham for my husband! He used it to make country ham and red eye gravy with grits for breakfast the next morning, as I imagine his grandfather did years back.
You should take a tour.
There are quite a few tours around Winston-Salem. The holidays are coming! See Old Salem come alive with scenes of yesteryear during their Self-Guided Holiday Tour available November 14 through December 31. There’s nothing quite like the delicious smell of fresh baked Moravian Sugar Cake coming out of the Old Salem bakery.
Explore every nook and cranny of historic Winston-Salem with Triad Eco-Adventures e-Bike Excursions or Segway tours! I’ve done both and you learn so much along the way. If the weather is hot, and you want to hit the water, they also have stand up paddle board adventures.
Try these tasty tours:
Black Mountain Chocolate Company factory is located in downtown Winston-Salem and offers behind the scenes tours of the chocolate making process. It’s a fantastic look into bean to bar chocolate. All of their bars and bakery items are handmade, and strikingly delicious. I came home with a box of goodies including their award winning Dark Milk Chocolate Bar made with goat milk, which I immediately chopped up and added to a batch of gluten free chip cookies. I finished off the Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Bar while writing this post.
Right beside Black Mountain Chocolate is Broad Branch Distillery. Distiller Joe Tappe and co-owner John Fragakis gave us a tour of their North Trade Street digs and showed us how they make their whiskey. It definitely is a passion project for the two. Be sure you call ahead to book your tour and tasting.
Where to eat in Winston-Salem?
You cannot leave Winston-Salem without breakfast at Mary’s Gourmet Diner. My blogger buddy, Kristi Maier of Triad Foodies, and I met at Mary’s (in the middle) to catch up on the Winston-Salem food scene.
I’ve met some of the most amazing women in Winston-Salem. I tell people that the town was built on the backs of women, and strong, loving, smart women are still the heart of the city. Winston-Salem’s founding families, the Grays and the Reynolds, were led by strong, entrepreneurial women. When their husbands died, both Katherine Reynolds and Natalie Gray took up the reigns of the family business and continued the legacy of their families.
How do you know you’re in the place to be? When you look around and see the top foodies in town! When we sat down at Mary’s, Winston-Salem podcaster Tim Beeman was two tables down. Three of the guest chefs from the previous night’s Luv Luv festival (pictured below) walked in, and the folks from Luv Luv Fest’s brew provider, Foothills Brewing, walked in right after them. No, this was not a planned gathering of foodie folks. There’s no better place to get a locally sourced, fill-your-belly breakfast in town, and we all know it! The luv feast continued.
(Below left to right: Randy Rubin, CEO of Ciao Imports, Miami,Chef Fabian DiPaolo from Miami, Chef Kurtis Jantz from West Palm Beach) Photo by Kristi Maier.
Luv the Italian fare.
I can’t leave town without eating at one of Chef Tim Grandinetti’s restaurants. Chef Tim and business partner, Lynette Matthews-Murphy opened Spring House serving the best of New American cuisine in 2012, and followed with Italian inspired Quanto Basta last year. Both restaurants are Winston-Salem gems. They are gorgeous, have great service and the food is some of the best in the city.
Yes, you can do Italian when you’re gluten free. I think I squeaked by 99% gluten free with the Shrimp Risotto and a Cannoli (I dug out the middle).
The house wines at Quanto Basta are made by Raffaldini Vineyards, one of my favorite Yadkin Valley wineries.
Visit a winery.
When in Winston, you MUST visit a winery. Less than a half hour drive lands you smack in the middle of Yadkin Valley wine country. Before Prohibition, North Carolina produced more wine than anyone else in the country. They’re climbing their way back to the top with wineries like Childress, Raffaldini, Biltmore Wines and RayLen Vineyards.
I met vitner, Steve Shephard on a previous press trip to Winston-Salem. He’s considered by some as the Godfather of NC wine. I was so excited to get the private tour of his home turf, RayLen Vineyards, during this visit. We walked through the rows of grapes and got a lesson what it takes to go from seed to glass.
Ever wonder why there are rose bushes planted at the end of rows of grapes at wineries? The bushes are like canaries in the coal mines. Rose bushes are indicators for the vines because they prone to the same diseases and bugs, but are more susceptible.
In a city that embraces art in such a magnificent way, it only makes sense that you make something, too, during your visit! Have you heard of Love Locks? Decorate a lock with the one you love before your visit and attach it to the post outside of 6th and Vine on 209 West 6th Street, then head into the wine bar for a toast.
After the hot days of August pass, you can book a glass blowing class at The Olio! It was a scorcher when I was in town, so I made a fused glass ornament instead.
Bring your $5 because there’s an Art-o-Mat machine in the glass studio! Also, there is a kitty. Leave it to me to find the cute little critters.
Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall. There’s never a bad time to visit Winston-Salem. The folks at VisitWinstonSalem.com are more than happy to help you plan the perfect getaway! For more on my Winston-Salem trip and other adventures, check out @gapcreekgourmet on Instagram.