Only a true cad would combine business with pleasure on Valentine’s Day, but that’s exactly what I did on Feb. 14 when I took my beloved to one of Greensboro’s most revered culinary institutions for a romantic lunch.
Dinner on Valentine’s Day can be a frustrating exercise, what with the reservations, the special menus, the harried servers and inexperienced patrons. It took me more than a decade of marriage to realize that lunch was the way to go on days like this, with one caveat: You’ve got to go first-class.
Lucky 32 fits the bill nicely, a clean and elegant eatery with a locally sourced menu and dishes prepared by one of the Triad’s best chefs, Jay Pierce, who came all the way up from New Orleans just to make our mouths water — fitting, because I met my bride in the Crescent City on the best spring day of my life.
The offerings at Lucky 32 changes with the seasons; the Mid-Winter Carnival menu marked our visit, a selection of Creole-inspired dishes to go along with a host of interesting options.
Lamb sliders? Pig Bread? The Carolina Cobb? They all looked tempting, but I could not turn from the carnival menu, which boasted boudin, eggplant creole and jambalaya, among other items. I went simple: Though the oysters served on a bed of creamed spinach tempted me mightily, I went with the fried-oyster salad, , complemented by a cup of gumbo. My date went with the grilled escolar. More on that in a minute.
I make gumbo, you know — it’s taken me years to learn patience with the roux, the uniformity with which the Holy Trinity (celery, onion and bell pepper, bruh) must be chopped, the mix of spices that bring enough heat to wake up the palate without searing it completely numb. I was pretty happy with my gumbo… until I tried Pierce’s.
The darkened roux makes the broth a magnificent chocolate brown, the ingredients pile up above the rim of the cup, the aroma is enough to send one into a full-on swoon. He’s got okra in there, shrimp… and was that a crawfish tail? Maybe so. The flavor is richer, the spicing more nuanced, the overall appearance and taste such that my own gumbo seems closer to actual mud.
The oysters were pretty good too, flash-fried in a cornmeal batter, served atop a bowl of baby spinach with some chopped red onion, a little goat cheese and a simple vinaigrette. A dish like this one relies so much on quality ingredients and the flavors they bring that it needs no flourishes or embellishments.
As for my wife, her escolar made her happy. Escolar — an ugly, deep-water fish — rates very highly on the omega-3 scale, making it a very healthful fish. It’s white, not too fishy and has a steak-like texture which enables it to hold a char very nicely. But those omega-3s make the escolar a dangerous fish to consume if you haven’t the constitution for it. At a seafood restaurant where I used to work, the chef referred to it as “escolax.”
My wife, whose health is unparalleled by any other human I’ve ever met, could probably digest a piece of firewood. She had no problems with it.
Then it was on to dessert. Lucky 32’s dessert menu is a local treasure, all made in house with local goods. We looked at the red-velvet cupcakes, the buttermilk and chocolate chess pies, the scuppernong wine jelly cocktail. But we settled on the bread pudding, with flavors of white chocolate and banana. In honor of our relationship, which began so long ago in the city of New Orleans, it seemed like the right thing to do.
Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen; 1421 Westover Terrace, Greensboro; 336.370.0707; lucky32.com