Ronnie’s Country Store on the corner on the corner of Cherry and 6th streets in downtown Winston-Salem is closed on this Saturday afternoon, the green-carpeted, sidewalk risers picked clean of produce that morning, the last of the infamous country ham doled out for the day.
Lisa Schurr notes the storefront as she guides her tour past it on the way to the District Rooftop Bar & Grille, a couple blocks over. And then she tells the story about the ham.
In 1999, a new state law threatened to put Ronnie’s out of the country ham business with a slate of public-health laws that would make illegal the process that the familyowned business had used for generations to make the hometown favorite.
But, she says, NC Sen. Hamilton “Ham” Horton of District 31 interceded.
Ham Nolan had been eating Ronnie’s country ham his whole life, and he couldn’t bear the thought of losing the neighborhood staple. So he crafted SL 130A-250, a loophole that exempted from the health code “markets that sell uncooked cured country ham or uncooked cured salted pork and that engage in minimal preparation… when this minimal preparation is the only activity that would otherwise subject these markets to regulation….”
So Ronnie’s famous country ham tastes the same as it did when Ham Nolan was a boy, and you can still get it at this downtown market.
But not today. Today Schurr leads her group from Wolfie’s Frozen Custard on 4 th Street to Bib’s Downtown for barbecue and hushpuppies, then to the District for a bit of salad and NY strip with a spicy bleu-cheese crust, 6th & Vine for fondue and wine, butternut tortalachi at Artisan, another bite of beef with a tenderloin at Jeffrey Adams, each stop complete with a tour of the place and a few words about the food.
Jonathan and Courtney Tucker live here in town. They’re familiar with the local restaurant scene — they’ve already been to many of the places on the tour. Courtney likes to take pictures of her food. They’ve got the afternoon to themselves, and thought this would be a fine way to spend it.
Outside Bib’s, Schurr talks about the magnificent home of RJ Reynolds that once stood where the library is now, how RJ would walk to work with the factorymen down 5th Street, how on weekends the locals would come to barter on Trade Street.
She’s got a bit about the Reynolds Building as well — how the staff at the Empire State Building in New York City sends a Father’s Day card every year.
She’s been doing these tours in Charlotte since 2012, and brought the concept to Winston-Salem in November. She runs two tours a month — the next one is Feb. 23 — with stops at all the best downtown spots for small plates. It’s like eating a five-course dinner with a good walk mixed in and some storytelling along the way.
As we head towards the District, Schurr points to one of the iconic coffeepots stanchioned to a low brick wall and explains their significance to the Moravian Love Feast.
“Everyone gets these china cups of coffee,” she says, “everyone in the whole church. You really should go.”
I totally should.
Tour de Food, Winston-Salem; tourdefood.net; 336.406.6294