Pound for pound, Winston-Salem is the best food city in the Triad. That’s just an opinion, of course, but one informed by a decade of discriminatory eating in the area. True, the Camel City can’t touch Greensboro when it comes to Latin and southeast Asian fare, but a trip through downtown Winston-Salem reveals dozens of great places to eat, with everything from high-end pub grub to spicy noodle soup to soul food to breakfast.
Problem is, I’ve been to just about all of them. Just last week, while cruising the district, I review my entire culinary history — every pizza joint, sandwich place and locally sourced café — while looking for something new to write about. And then I spot a spill of colored light on the sidewalk of 4th Street. Could it be something new?
It could…. It very well could. King’s Crab Shack, the sign reads, and I go through my mental file to see if I had been there before. Surely I would have remembered a seafood joint downtown — but you never know.
So I go in. And there’s my old friend Mustache Doug behind the bar, his magnificent whiskers trimmed down into substantial muttonchops. It’s late, close to 10 p.m., the time when most kitchens close for the night, especially on weeknights. But Doug tells me I can still eat if I want to; whether this is a courtesy extended to all comers I am unsure, but the place seems friendly enough, with a full bar and plenty of diners still at the tables. There’s a coastal motif at work, with fishnets on the walls trapping brightly colored sea creatures and a mural of twin mermaids high up near the ceiling. Doug tells me the place has been open about three months, so the sizable crowd seems doubly impressive, and ranges from young professionals to professional drinkers, couples enjoying meals and others enjoying giant cocktails. And is that Mayor Allen Joines sitting at the bar with a red basket of seafood set in front of him? Yes. Yes it is.
When you see the mayor sitting at the bar, you know you’ve come to the right place.
A quick glance at the menu confirms this. Yes, there are burgers and steaks and sandwiches and salads and the like, but this place is for the swimmy things, with a specialty in crabs: crab dip, crab cakes, crabstuffed mushrooms, soft-shell crab and crab legs, of both the snow and king variety. There are mussels and shrimp and calamari. But an item near the top grabs my eye. Clams.
You don’t see a lot of clams around here, for whatever reason — perhaps because we’re hundreds of miles from their natural habitat. I keep this in mind when my server asks me if I want my dozen steamed or raw. I haven’t eaten a raw clam in years, though I love them — a bit chewier than oysters and slightly more redolent of the ocean. I err on the side of caution and order them steamed. He brings them out with lemons, drawn butter, good cocktail sauce and extra ground horseradish. Are they the best I’ve ever had? Probably not — I’ve spent most of my life living on the water, after all — but they’re fabulous nonetheless, good enough that when my server asks if I need anything else, I add a dozen fried oysters to my ticket.
They come out hot and crispy. I ignore the remoulade they come with and eat them the same way as the clams: anointed with lemon, graced with butter and blistering-hot cocktail sauce. And for just a few moments I forget that the nearest ocean is three hours away.
King’s Crab Shack; 239 W. 4th St., Winston-Salem