“We thought we’d scared you away!” No, not quite. In fact, the tiny diner was quite welcoming, complete with candlelight.
Mayberry, which calls its niche “grassroots American food,” has been open for just over a month for breakfast and lunch. It’s in a great location, right between Hamburger Mary’s and Scotti’s on Vine Street, but is so small that it’s easy to overlook. I walked in on a chilly mid-day right after they opened, just curious to see what they had to offer, and fell for the magic words: “macaroni and cheese.” It was definitely fancy — no gooey orange cheddar (which happens to be something I love). But the mix of sharp white cheddar, parmesan reggiano and crumbled gorgonzola was tasty enough that I returned the following week for pot roast and parsnips.
The new dinner menu is a fantastic value. There are six small courses featured, priced at $8 each or three for $20. The dishes, which will change often, aren’t fullsized entrees, but they are generous enough to share.
We could have gotten by easily on four, but for you, our faithful readers, we decided to taste the rainbow, and we let the chef determine the order of the dishes
Our next happy surprise was a Buffalo Slider, topped with a well-poached quail egg and spicy tomato jam. Anyone who has ever eaten breakfast with me knows that I quake at the sight of runny egg yolk, but this was just firm enough that I decided to give it a go — and it was so good. Nice and rich, a perfect complement to the excellent burger.
The only quibble I had with some of our dishes was over- and under-doneness. While the slider was cooked perfectly, I felt that our next beef course, Slow Cooked Short Rib, was a little dry from overcooking. I had noticed the same issue with my lunchtime pot roast. Both were flavorful, but I’d have preferred them less done. The accompaniments to the short rib were wonderful, though — homemade creamed corn and bourbon gravy so homey that, as I said to my friend, “Your mind fills in the mashed potatoes.”
Mayberry was filling up as we lingered over our fun dinner, but the staff never made us feel rushed. They opened our Cline Cellars Cashmere wine without charging a corkage fee and kept our water glasses filled. In contrast to the daytime efficiency of counter service, evening features table service with cloth napkins in hammered silver napkin rings. The tables were set for four, so we took a back counter seat that was an excellent vantage point that made conversation — and sharing dishes — easy.
I loved the zing of the Frank’s Red Hot sauce in the buttery grits that came with our next course: braised pork belly. The pork was juicy and tender and while my virtuous friend trimmed the fat from his bite, I couldn’t resist. Our last two courses were just as rich. I loved the tiny, sweet diced beets with the Rock Cornish Game Hen and preferred the feta-stuffed duck leg to the too-rare breast.
Maybe the quote of the night from our visit to Mayberry was my friend’s as he bit into the Oreo truffle dessert ($5) with the chef looming overhead, awaiting his reaction.
“It’s hard not to drool,” he said. Indeed. And while the truffle was the most drool-worthy moment of the meal, it wasn’t the only one.
Joni Mitchell said that no one ever said to Van Gogh, “Hey, paint A Starry Night again, man,” but a chef has to create art on a plate many times every day. He or she has to bring skill and talent and inspiration to something that will be devoured and, if all goes well, never forgotten. A young chef like World Food Bar/Mayberry’s Josh Campbell has a million chances ahead of him to cook a masterpiece. I hope he keeps his enthusiasm and makes the experience a success.
Go: 915 Vine St., Downtown
Surf: Menu updated weekly at facebook.com/worldfoodbarrestaurantgroup
Hours: Lunch 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday; brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $8 each or three for $20
Red Meat Alternatives: Varied
Accessibility: There are stairs to get to the bathroom