By Miranda Allan – 2014
On the day my team arrived in Lenoir, we were joined by hundreds of others who make the weekly pilgrimage to the Cruise-In antique car show. For a town that frequently hosts such a massive event, Lenoir has only a few staple restaurants that receive almost as much traffic as Highway 64. My team followed the crowd to the cozy 1841 Café. We did not have far to walk, as the restaurant is conveniently located on Main Street in a central area that is blocked off for the car show.
I was immediately charmed by the building’s up-cycled warehouse feel. The distressed brick walls, cathedral ceilings, worn wood floors, and exposed piping lent an aesthetic of industrialism that was paired nicely with the enormous, colorful paintings by local artists. The furniture was mismatching in a quirky, modern way. Our table was created from an antique door that had been covered by a sheet of glass. I could see the 1841 Café fitting nicely in a trendy Northern town, but at the same time, I appreciated that the restaurant was clearly embedded in local culture.
The menu was no exception. Loaded with southern flair, it offered many tantalizing options for dinner. As a vegetarian, I always expect to find only a handful of options to choose from, but if there is some variety I can manage. 1841 Café was special because though it featured the typical amount of vegetarian options, these were more unique and exciting than that of most restaurants. I found myself deliberating at length between the portabella sandwich on a house-made croissant, or the vegetarian grits. I settled eventually on the latter, given that I was in a southern town aiming to experience a genuine southern lifestyle. To top it off, I ordered a side of fried okra. In hindsight, I suppose I was only missing the sweet tea.
Honestly, I was dubious of grits but I ordered them on principle. My meal put these worries to rest. I enjoyed that the smoky cream sauce balanced the mild sweetness of the grits. The soft, grainy texture of the grits complemented the crunch of the vegetables. My fried okra was exactly what I wanted fried okra to be: crispy, crunchy, and perhaps a little slimy to my northern palate. I ate the entire dish, and brought home the rest of my grits. I enjoyed my meal enough to eat cold vegetables and grits the next morning, as my microwave was broken. 1841 Café fully satisfied my hunger for a genuine southern experience.