Northeast Texas foodies have 18-year-old Inge Strydom to thank for a unique South African-influenced dining opportunity. Inge's parents, Phillip and Jackie, are the owners of Liefie le Vine, a unique shop and restaurant at 302 North Main Street in Winnsboro, but it was Inge's idea to move from the Metroplex to Wood County.
“In 2009, we made a trip to Winnsboro to visit a friend,” Jackie explained. “We had come to Dallas in 1999 from Johannesburg, South Africa, to work for a real estate company.”
The couple, who have been married for 20 years, brought their kids, Inge and Jett, now 13, with them for the weekend.
“Our friend has a farm close to town,” Strydom explained. “While he was finishing off some hay bailing, we walked around downtown and visited the city auditorium where the local churches were having their annual 'Holiday in the Park' sale.”
The family was impressed by the “amazing people” who seemed so full of love.
“On our way back to Dallas, Inge suggested that we should move here,” Strydom remembered. “I argued that it would not be possible, because Phillip and I both are in real estate and it would be difficult in a small town to do the same business.”
Inge replied, “Mom, we just need to follow our hearts and God will provide.”
Out of the mouth of babes, so Jesus said.
Phillip and Jackie grew up on farms in South Africa, she in the Kalahari and he in the Karoo. They met and married in Johannesburg and lived there for seven years before an international real estate company made them an offer they couldn't refuse. They decided to relocate their young family, Inge, 4, and Jet, 4 months, to Dallas. Their travel agent booked them as far as New York City, explaining that the trip to Dallas would be easy to arrange.
“It was May, 28, 1999,” Strydom noted. “We didn't know it was Memorial Day here. Last minute tickets cost a fortune, so we came on a Greyhound bus. It took us two days and two nights and it is an adventure I will never forget.”
The family liked Texas, but wanted to live in a rural area. They purchased a building on Main Street and opened an “eclectic mall” named Liefie's (South African for sweetheart) where some of Canton's top vendors rented space and where Jackie could operate her real estate business.
The decision to add a kitchen to the back of the building was born out of necessity.
“When you crave the South African flavored foods here in America, you learn to make your own sausages and chutney,” she confessed. “We do not like eating out a whole lot and always cooked homemade meals. Plus, we are picky eaters.”
Although they had no experience in owning a restaurant, the couple had a friend, Genevere Calame, who had first-hand knowledge.
“She was part owner of Javier's Gourmet Mexicano in Dallas for 20 years,” Strydom noted. “We tapped into all her experience and knowledge.”
The pair had also won South African Potjie (Dutch oven) cookoffs.
It was Phillip who suggested the kitchen as a way to have homemade meals for the family.
“We had this little space at the back,” Jackie remembered. “We could cook and bake while we have the store open.”
Jackie liked her husband's plan. She thought maybe some friends would like to join them.
“One day, I walked out the back door onto the parking area and there was this wonderful cool breeze and I thought we could put tables and chairs there and overlook Market Street,” she said. “Then one thing led to another and before long we were dreaming about a roof over the parking area with a fireplace and a water feature and many plants.”
The result of Phillip's idea and Jackie's daydream is a wonderful oasis that offers simple, fresh South African food paired with delicious Texas wine. For the past four months, Liefie le Vine has been surprising everyone with their fabulous food, wine, reasonable pricing and absolutely top notch customer service.
The extensive Texas wine list includes offerings from Kiepersol, Los Pinos, Dixie Wine Company, Texas Roads, Enoch Stomp and Lou Viney's. They have also created a speciality drinks menu that includes their now-famous Liefie-Rita ($3) - just like a margarita, but made with wine instead of tequila, spritzers ($6) and Shaka Zula Juice ($7), which is your choice of sweet or dry white wine, Sprite or soda water and lime.
I want to try their Gluhwein ($7), a warm drink made of red wine, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and honey, but according to the menu, I'll have to wait until the thermometer dips below 55 degrees.
Smoked chicken features predominantly on Liefie le Vine's menu. I'm not sure what Phillip does to it before it goes into the smoker, but it will be a long time before I tire of its rich, moist flavor.
Their Panini sandwiches ($8) are made with freshly baked bread, with your choice of the chicken, salami, tuna or vegetarian options.
Chicken also comes on a Ciabatta sandwich ($6), with baby lettuce, tomato, cranberries, cheddar cheese and a delicious onion vinaigrette house dressing that is not to be missed.
One of the most delightful things about Liefie's is their fresh salad greens. Forget that tasteless, bagged stuff most restaurants use. Liefie's serves only “organic baby greens,” and man, are they something.
The chicken salad ($8) is more than one person can comfortably eat in one sitting, but that's okay, because the leftovers taste even better the next day.
Along with the greens comes tomato, carrots, cucumber, cranberries and – you guessed it – the onion vinaigrette. Of course, they offer other dressings options, but you'll be sorry if you don't at least try a sample of this tart, tangy concoction.
My favorite entrée – so far – the smoked chicken ($11 or $14, depending on whether you order the calorie count or the hungry daddy size) takes the ribbon for deliciousness. It's a full breast, smoked over pecan wood right on the patio, served with those fabulous potatoes and a side salad. It's been a long time since I've had such a flavorful, moist piece of white meat.
A close second on my list of Liefie favorites is the beef curry ($11). It's actually a South African pot roast served in a hollowed out piece of bread. I'm not sure what spices they use - it's a house secret - but I love the flavor. The hearty dish should become a favorite over the winter months.
According to Strydom, Lifefie's most popular entree item is the Bunny Chow ($11) - no relation to rabbits - that is a huge homemade roll, hollowed out and filled with smoked chicken drizzled with white wine sauce. It's served with their wonderful side salad and vinaigrette.
“The Bunny Chow was the favorite, but now that people know we are serving steak, the flat iron ($18) is getting very popular,” Strydom noted.
The flat iron is 10 ounces of prime cut and hand trimmed beef, served with the most fabulous smothered red potatoes and a splash of monkey sauce.
Last Thursday, the special was a smoked brisket ($11). Again, not sure what they use for the dry rub, but the flavor is deep and the meat is “plastic fork tender,” as my friend Melinda Hitt, a fabulous home cook, says. Again, the portions are so generous, you will have enough to enjoy for lunch the next day. Call ahead to find out if it's brisket day, as it's not on the regular menu. When it's the special, you'll need to get there early, as it usually sells out.
In addition to chicken and beef, Liefie's serves mussels ($12). I haven't tried them, but they sound fabulous. They're served on the shell in an exotic butter, garlic, wine sauce with a freshly baked baguette. They'll be on my order next trip.
Desserts come in a variety at Liefie's, too. They have homemade vanilla ice cream served with South African marula fruit cream ($4), fresh pie of the day (On one visit, we had the Key Lime and it was yummy) and my favorite, the perfect parfait ($3).
During the summer months, I prefer sitting inside, but since the evenings are cooler, the patio is the place I want to be. Jackie or Inge are always available to answer every question, including what the foreign phrases are on the massive blackboard in the dining area. Guests are invited to leave a message on the board, making it a conversation piece while waiting for your order.
I'm not a wine aficionado, but I have a great deal of experience with Margaritas and let me tell you, it really is hard to tell the difference between a Liefie-Rita and the real frozen concoction made famous by Jimmy Buffett. And, at $3, what do you have to lose?
Liefie's has quickly become one of my favorite spots. It's only blocks from my house, the food is fresh and full of flavor, and the atmosphere is amazingly upbeat and friendly. I haven't tried everything on the menu, but give me time. I'll get there and I'll file updates on the website, www.mySSnews.com.
Strydom says she's learned a lot in the four months since the restaurant opened.
“I learned that my daughter was right that day she said God will provide because He is truly blessing us overly, abundantly and above what we could have ever prayed for.
I learned that there are so many people who also enjoy our approach to fresh food.
I learned that there is always a great Texas wine that pairs fabulously with any of our exotic South African flavors.
I learned that Phillip is a master chef and that is a fact!
I learned that there are so many angels surrounding Liefie, showering it with goodwill.
I learned that this is an amazing experience.”
Liefie le Vine is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. unitl 11 p.m. They will also open for private parties of 20 or more on Monday and Tuesday. They also offer convenient take out. Call 903-347-1111 for reservations, which are suggested for large parties. Visit them at www.liefie.us or their Facebook page, *L I E F I E* the mall.
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