Many of you might be able to relate to childhood summer trips to small towns while visiting relatives.
Small towns where nothing ever seemed to happen. Small towns where the grown-ups had people to visit and things to see, but for the schlepped-along kid, there was nothing to do but hang out at the Dairy Queen or cruise the aisles of local stores, trying to stay in air-conditioning.
My Mom’s hometown of Winnsboro, Texas was like that – it was a nice place, but I didn’t know anybody there, and so spent a lot of time reading my mother’s Nancy Drew detective novels in her old bedroom, and wondering how else to amuse myself.
Fast forward a few decades. It was time for some Driving Miss Daisy….taking my Mom home to East Texas for a high school reunion, and seeing the town through a traveler’s eyes instead of as a bored 12-year-old.
We arrived a little after dark, and I knew what that usually meant in a small town: everything closed up tight downtown, and no place to eat but, well, the Dairy Queen.
Instead, to our surprise and delight, we saw lights on everywhere and multiple restaurants open on Winnsboro’s Main Street. I gaped into the front window of one of them, noting the fancy black-clad waitstaff and someone spinning pizza dough in the air near what appeared to be a wood-fired clay oven. A guitarist was playing on a small stage.
What rabbit hole had we fallen through?!
Mom joked that amazing things seem to happen when you allow liquor licensing in what was for decades a dry (no alcohol sales allowed) county.
Nearby was a brightly-colored place called Liefie Li Vine. It looked appealing too, so we walked in.
I had just experienced what would become my favorite restaurant in town, run by South African couple Jackie and Phillip Strydom.
Whenever we return to Winnsboro, we make sure to stop there for a meal. It’s down-home food with a bit of an African twist, plus a beautiful back patio for outdoor dining that’s accompanied by live music in the evenings.
Finding this in small town America in the face of our current U.S. urban-rural divide puts a huge smile on my face. A lot of people have worked very hard over the years to make Winnsboro a center for the arts, culture, and live music, so this is not some sort of overnight success story. They did the work that it takes to turn a vision into reality.
The fact that local patronage, and not just occasional or weekend visitors, keeps Liefie’s in business makes me smile as well. Fear of immigrants, “the other,” or the unknown in general often goes away when people have a chance to learn for themselves what another culture is like, and one way to do that is through food. I never thought that Winnsboro would be a place to learn about African cuisine, but it is and I am thrilled.
This can happen anywhere when towns support a rich tapestry of experiences.
“Liefie” is roughly translated from Afrikaans as “sweetie/sweetheart” or “dear.”
Wonderful Liefie Li Vine, thank you for taking a chance on a small Texas town, and becoming part of the reason that I always look forward to returning.
If you like this post, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS feed or by email – the email signup box is toward the top of the right sidebar. Thanks!