Here’s a well-kept secret of North Carolina travel: The prettiest time of the year isn’t fall. It’s spring. Let leaf-peepers crowd the roads in October. You’re missing a real sight if you skip a road trip in April or May, when fields are flush with emerald-green grass and the dogwoods bloom so heavily in the woods that it looks like a late snow. That’s my favorite time to roam the N.C. wine country, when new vintages are hitting the tasting rooms. But one thing that has lagged behind for wine travelers is a good stop for lunch or dinner. Flint Hill Vineyards in East Bend has answered the call with Century Kitchen, in the Doub family’s 1870s farmhouse. East Bend is northeast of Winston-Salem and an easy two-hour drive from Charlotte. It’s right in the middle of the Yadkin Valley, with access to more than a dozen wineries. To run the kitchen, co-owners Tim and Brenda Doub found a promising chef in Sean Wehr, who became a 50 percent owner. Wehr apprenticed at the Greenbrier in West Virginia and worked at Windsor Court in New Orleans and the Roaring Gap Country Club near Lake Louise. Wehr has a fun setting for his plates. The house is one of those lovely farmhouses that inspire fantasies of giving up the city and moving to the remote countryside. With a wrap-around porch lined with rockers, a picturesque garden and a restored downstairs with fireplaces, dark wood paneling and deep windows, it’s a restful setting for lunch or dinner. On Thursday nights, you can sign up for Community Table – three courses and a glass of wine served family-style, for $35. There’s also brunch on the first Sunday of the month. Wehr changes the menu every few months, aiming for a seasonal feel. But some things are constants, including the Cast Iron Seared Filet Mignon with buttermilk mashed potatoes, served with a wine-based marchand du vin sauce. When I was there, a new menu had just arrived, giving a taste of what Wehr might do when spring brings more variety. He was featuring Potato and Leek Soup With Truffle Creme Fraiche, Pan-Seared Scallops with Cauliflower and Pan-Seared Crab Cakes With Sauteed Winter Greens and Wild Rice Pilaf. It’s nice that the menu is seasonal, but it was a shame it wasn’t more local. Although my server said Century Kitchen is working with local producers, there were no grower names cited on the menu, so it was hard to tell, and some items were notably served out of season.With grapevines in view outside the restaurant windows, pairing wine and food is one of the reasons to stop. Flint Hill was established in 2002, and grows cabernet sauvignon, syrah, chambourcin, chardonnay and viognier. The wine list mostly features their own wines, although RayLen was on the white-wine list when I was there. It’s one of the better-established N.C. wineries. A glass of RayLen chardonnay, lemony and refreshing, had plenty of acidity to handle a rich first-course of meaty Mushrooms in Sage Cream over Toasted Brioche. You can bring your own bottle for a $10 corkage fee, in case you find something promising while visiting the local tasting rooms. Desserts are made in-house, including the Chocolate Torte topped with a rich, smooth ganache made with Flint Hill’s Crushed Velvet wine. With 100 wineries now open in North Carolina, it’s just a matter of time before winery restaurants pop up all over the state. Century Kitchen is a good place to start.
If you’re going Century Kitchen At Flint Hill Vineyards: 2133 Flint Hill Road, East Bend; 336-699-4455, or www.flinthillvineyards.com. Reservations suggested for dinner and for Thursday night Community Table dinners. Hours: Noon-3:30 p.m. for lunch Friday-Sunday; 5-9:30 p.m. for dinner Thursday-Saturday; brunch on the first Sunday of every month. Prices: $6 to $10 for lunch (salads and sandwiches). Dinner: $6 to $9 for starters; $21 to $25 for entrees. Brunch: $5.50 to $11. Thursday night Community Table: $35 for three courses and a glass of wine. Seating capacity: 80 to 90.