Related: Not just for breweries: In the spirit of sampling, restaurants across North Carolina have taken the concept of tasting flights to creative new heights. Visiting Mema on weekends always
Related: Not just for breweries: In the spirit of sampling, restaurants across North Carolina have taken the concept of tasting flights to creative new heights.
Visiting Mema on weekends always meant arriving to a similar scene. After the car pulled up to her farmhouse, surrounded by tobacco fields and pecan trees, the boys would pile out to find Mema in her flour-dusted apron. Often, she’d have started cooking the day before, especially if it was a holiday or there was a church function that week. Her feet would glide across the kitchen’s yellow linoleum floor, her hands moving with the practiced skill of someone who no longer needed a recipe.
Decades later, Jason Brand can still picture the spreads that his Mema, Josephine Rabon, whipped up, and he can practically taste her deviled eggs. On special occasions like Easter, she’d cart them over to her church, just up the street from her home outside Whiteville, and place them on a folding table next to other women’s deviled egg plates. The dishes weren’t labeled, but the skilled home cooks always knew whose tray emptied first.
Brand’s Mema died years ago, and when he wanted to re-create her deviled eggs, he had to do it from memory. Eventually, with some help, he managed to mimic her style relatively closely — with a little mayo, a little mustard, and some seasonings. After modernizing the recipe with bacon, caramelized onions, pepper jelly, and microgreens, he added it to the menu at his brewery in Mebane and, eventually, affixed Josephine’s name to it.
Now, it’s one of almost a dozen deviled egg varieties included in the “Grandma’s Eggs” section of Bright Penny Brewing’s menu. And with the option to order three types of eggs at once in a single “flight,” the deviled eggs have become a top seller.
“My grandmother never would’ve put bacon on eggs, but bacon seems to go on everything now,” Brand says with a laugh. “But the base mix, I would say, is pretty similar to what she did. I think she would smile at her deviled eggs being talked about across the region, and that she got the last word over her friends.”
• • •
Putting deviled eggs on Bright Penny’s menu didn’t sound like a good idea at first, at least not to Tory Williams. Four years ago, in the bright-eyed early days of the brewery, Williams had nailed down a menu as the fledgling business’s executive chef and general manager. He had never been a deviled egg person, and when Brand casually tossed out the idea, Williams didn’t think that they would sell.
“I was pretty much against it,” he admits now. “Being a chef, I didn’t really think that deviled eggs had a place on the menu. To me, it’s more of a holiday meal, like your grandma makes.”
That’s exactly why Brand wanted to do it. “Growing up in North Carolina, I remember very vividly Sunday church socials,” he says. “All the grandmamas had their different deviled eggs. As a kid, you don’t realize how personal and emotional Southern food can be to the people who make it.”
The brewery — which stands in the heart of Mebane inside a former rice flour mill — recently won several awards at the North Carolina Brewers Cup, but it’s known for its food almost as much as its beer. And it’s safe to say that Brand was right about the appeal of deviled eggs. Patrons are eager to be transported to childhood holidays and family gatherings.
“The base of the deviled eggs is what takes them back to Grandma,” Williams says. “Everything else is a chef thing.”
That’s why each deviled egg recipe is named after a Bright Penny team member’s grandmother. For the most part, the recipes are more experimental than what their namesakes would have made, but the homage is touching nonetheless.
At first, customers went for the more traditional offerings, but they soon came to embrace options like Edith’s, prepared with shaved Angus steak on top and completed with horseradish aioli, caramelized onion, and fresh arugula. That isn’t the kind of thing you’d expect to find at a family reunion, but Williams loves how the peppery and spicy arugula and horseradish balance the creaminess of the egg and the heft of the steak. Karen’s is topped with lobster seafood dip, Old Bay, and red pepper, while Lorraine’s is almost reminiscent of a pizza, with its tomato sauce, pepperoni, capers, and basil.
It’s hard for most newcomers to choose from the dazzling assortment of deviled eggs. That’s where the flights come in. People regularly arrive in groups and mix and match flavors in multiple flights, Williams says, allowing them to work their way through half a dozen varieties or more.
“We get people that traveled here because they heard about them,” he says. “It definitely draws people in. When we tell people we have 10 different kinds, their eyes kind of pop out of their heads.”
One of those people has been Williams’s own grandmother. Doreen’s egg — topped with dill weed, dill relish, and a dash of paprika — doesn’t follow her exact recipe, but the parallels to her preparation are obvious, Williams says. It’s a popular choice, and it has Doreen’s own stamp of approval.
“She was blown away that her name was on the menu,” Williams says with a smile. “She really liked it. I think what she enjoyed most was that she didn’t have to cook it.”