Chefs from around the state have already competed in regional competitions during other times of the year and are now gathering to decide who will “reign supreme?” Yes, this competition is much like one of our favorite old foodie shows, “Iron Chef.”
This year’s competition will be held November 11 – 20 in Raleigh, featuring full-service, six-course meals.
The six chef teams competing in the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series Battle of Champions each won their local series to earn a place in the championship. The bracket includes:
o Team Sedgefield Culinary Crushers from Greensboro: James R. Patterson III, Sedgefield Country Club executive chef; Isaac Spencer, Sedgefield Country Club chef; and Tim Alston Sedgefield Country Club lead cook.
Saturday, Nov. 12 Dinner
o Team Ceviche’s from Wilmington: Sam Cahoon, executive chef of Ceviche’s in Wrightsville Beach; and Edson Juarez and Eric Smith, sous chefs at Ceviche’s.
o Team Vidalia Boom from Winston-Salem: Sam Ratchford, co-owner and executive chef at Vidalia Restaurant in Boone; Julius Kalman, Vidalia Restaurant co-owner; and Jason Walsh, Vidalia Restaurant chef.
o Nov. 11 winning team versus Nov. 12 winning team
Sunday, Nov. 20 Grand Finale Dinner
13 winning team versus Nov. 18 winning team
Each team of chefs will serve three courses centered on a featured North Carolina ingredient that is revealed only an hour before they start cooking that day. Unlike any other cooking competition, attendees vote on each dish using their smart devices, and ultimately help determine who moves on to the next round and who goes home.
New to the competition this year, the creation of All-Star Dream Teams allows chefs from different restaurants to partner together for the three-person teams, upping the potential caliber and creating a more fun and competitive atmosphere for all.
The teams will all compete for bragging rights and a grand prize of $4,000 in cash and prizes. Each winning team member will also take home a handcrafted chef knife by Ironman Forge and a 40-quart Grizzly cooler, compliments of Joyce Farms. All Battle of Champions events are held at NC State’s Dorothy & Roy Park Alumni Center located at 2450 Alumni Dr. in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Tickets for the Nov. 11, 12, 13 and 18 battles are $119 each, and tickets for the grand finale battle, Nov. 20, are $139 each. The tickets are already being sold and tend to sell out fast, so go to www.competitiondining.com/events/battle-of-champions to buy them now!
One of the benefits of having gone through a course at Leadership Triangle is that you can join the Alumni Network and have access to many interesting leaders from around the Research Triangle area.
The other day, I attended the Leadership Triangle Over Lunch event, where Chef Scott Howell spoke. Most people in the Triangle know that Chef Howell is owner of Nana’s, one of the most iconic “white tablecloth” restaurants in the Triangle (located in Durham), along with a series of other restaurants, including Nanataco, Nanasteak, and Bar Virgile, and the former Pop’s, all located in Durham.
The event began with a brief video featuring Howell. What really struck me about the video was the reminder of how many other chefs and restaurant owners he has influenced over the years. The list includes Brian Wiles and Tom Ferguson, both who now run Rise Biscuits & Donuts; Laureano Cortez-Hernandez, from Durham Catering; Seth Kingsbury from Pazzo!, Daniel Ferguson from The Original QShack, and Seth Gross from Bull City Burger, to name a few. I am sure there were more, I just couldn’t write them down fast enough.
In 2013, Howell was hit with a 1,200-pound piece of equipment that fell off a delivery truck and severely broke his leg, making the self-sufficient chef realize he needed to rely on his friends, family and his staff to endure. I think we all had tears in our eyes watching the end of the video as the various friends talked about his accident and how he persevered through adversity. Certainly, it was a time that his real leadership was shining.
Howell started Nana’s with just $23,000 in his pocket in 1992, after working for Ben and Karen Barker at Magnolia Grill. He borrowed $10,000 from a friend and $5,000 from his parents. “The first liquor bill I had was $1,700 to fill the shelves, which I put on my personal credit card,” said Howell. He slept on his friends couch for four months just to make ends meet. “If I came to work at 8 or 8:30, that was late, and if I left at midnight, that was early.”
Howell proudly talked about the success of Rise Biscuit & Donuts strategy to franchise its business. He worked with them as a consultant/mentor and was happy to say they now have 75 stores sold. That is truly amazing.
The Leadership Triangle alumni were all fascinated to hear about Howell’s excursions in New York City and Pasadena, California early in his career. After graduating from Appalachian State, he moved to New York and worked for Jonathan Waxman. “I go for an interview at this place(Jams), and I don’t know who this guy is (it was Jonathan Waxman) and it’s this Californian restaurant and there’s nothing on the tables….so I tell him, ‘I want to work for you,’ and he says, ‘why don’t we see what you’ve got,’ so he tells me to gut these organic chickens. So I gut the chickens and he tells me to take them over to one of his other restaurants across town, and then I need you to clean these chickens like you did the other ones you did here. I had just gotten to New York and I don’t know the city at all. So, here I am, carrying at least 50 pounds of chickens out the door with my chef’s hat on, getting chicken juice all over me and I ask him how am I going to get across town? He says, ‘here’s the money for your taxi.’ So I get a taxi, open the trunk, throw the chickens in there, cut across Central Park, go to the other place and I get out and cut the chickens up there.”
Howell described what the food scene was back when he worked at Magnolia Grill. “That was about 25 years ago. We were working with the farmers and we were getting people to grow things that they had never thought about growing before. At that time, they were growing only the things that they knew they could sell, so what we had to do was guarantee them case sales. For example, I am going to buy a case, so you sell me a case of fennel and I’m going to buy it from you, I don’t care if I don’t need it or not. Back then, we were doing something groovy, but they had not quite taken it to the groovy place yet. They (Magnolia Grill) had different meats and fish dishes and they were executed very well, but they would serve the same side vegetables with all the meals. So I said, ‘hey man, why not serve different vegetables on different plates?’ ”
Someone asked Howell why he picked Durham to open his first restaurant and his subsequent restaurants. He said that Durham has a really thriving business environment with Duke University, lots of entrepreneurial offices and big businesses in RTP. “I love being in a white tablecloth environment,” said Howell. People still like to go to a fine dining establishment in this area. They were astounded to find out that people wanted to spend more money than they were charging for a steak at Nanasteak.
He also talked about how hard it is for someone to make it today. Back when he went to culinary school, it might cost $17,000, now it’s more like $60,000. It would be really hard for someone to get out of debt and make it today.
He also greatly praised his wife, Aubrey, for all the hard work she puts in running several businesses every day. “It would take three people to replace her. She is really dedicated and does so much for us.”
A few weeks ago, my husband and I visited a few of the local farms during the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) Piedmont Farm tour. We decided to check out Peaceful River Farm, as a few friends had told us about the great classes and farm dinners that are held there.
After traveling down a long, narrow gravel road, one comes to a beautiful house with two high tunnel greenhouses. This is the home of Lee and Larry Newlin, owners of the Peaceful River Farm. I immediately felt right at home with Lee, who is very warm and friendly. She told me the philosophy behind the farm dinners and classes are to help teach people about eating vegan, or at least more healthy. She was inspired to be much more conscious about what she ate after battling Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
In 2011, she and Larry moved from Greensboro, where they had a landscaping business and started the farm, so they could raise their own food and sell to others who wanted food that was sustainably grown, using organic practices (they are not organic certified at the moment, but follow organic protocols).
The 18-acre farm has gentle rolling hills that meander down to the Haw River. In the two high tunnels, they are currently growing cucumbers, which Larry explained are one of the highest yielding cash crops, and tomatoes, the second highest cash crop, along with carrots, some kale, and assorted vegetables. The couple has some apple trees, Asian pears, blueberries, blackberries and a few other fruits. In one field, Larry is growing onions, garlic and leeks. Next year, he will rotate the onion family to another field. This helps keep the soil healthy. He also grows cover crops, such as crimson clover.
Down the hillside from the house is a large garden with asparagus, assorted lettuces, peas, bok choy and many other vegetables. Across the creek is a newer field where his son-in-law is growing hops to help support the hundreds of breweries that have established businesses in North Carolina.
We decided after taking the tour to sign up for a farm dinner (organized by their daughter). Fast forward to May 22, when there was a cool breeze blowing in the air. As we were driving to the farm, dark, ominous clouds appeared. “I’m afraid it’s going to rain when we get there,” I said to my husband. Just after we arrived, and went into the educational barn for appetizers, it began to rain. We all thought we were going to have to eat inside. After meeting several of the other diners, we enjoyed the delightful fried green tomatoes, which were coated with “vegan cheese” and little cakes made from quinoa, kale, sweet potatoes and flax seeds. They were both delicious, as well as the “Agua de Jamaica” beverage that was made with hibiscus flowers. It had a nice, tangy yet sweet flavor.
Just as everyone had their fill of the appetizers, the sun reappeared, so we took a tour of the farm. This was our second tour, since we had come a few weeks before, but it was nice to get reacquainted with the story about this farm. It was also great to see how much the plants had grown in just a month. By the time the tour was over, the fantastic volunteer staff had moved the tables, centerpieces and silverware back outside.
Scott and I may have had the best view as we were in the center of the table looking out at the beautiful vegetable garden.
We started our vegan and gluten-free meal with a beet salad that featured wonderful dark red beets and light orange beets that were roasted in virgin olive oil and just a little salt and pepper, served with mixed with lettuces from the garden. The salad dressing had some lemon and olive oil and was very light and refreshing. I also tried the vegan cheese, which, of course, is not cheese at all, but was a mixture of nutritional yeast, pistachios, cashews, pumpkin seeds and garlic. It was really good!
Next, we had the Springtime watercress soup, which was like a vegan pho. It had a vegetable broth with julienned radishes and carrots, along with some chopped celery and the watercress and nice, soft chunks of a locally sourced tofu. What a delight to have some watercress! This vegetable always reminds me of my mother who loved to pick it from the stream behind her sister’s house in West Virginia.
I loved the sugar snap, radish and cucumber salad. The radishes were sliced razor thin, while the cucumbers were lined around the edge of the bowl and there were these dark red, almost purple colored sugar snap peas chopped up in the salad. The salad was dressed in a rice wine and maple syrup dressing, which was very light and had a little bit of an Asian flavor to it. It was a refreshing salad.
I also loved the fennel, which was chopped up and fried with some onions. It had that slightly licorice flavor to it. They were sweet and really featured the fennel in its own state.
My least favorite dish was the roasted broccoli. It was supposedly made with lemon and garlic. I really didn’t taste either the lemon or the garlic and the broccoli was served cold. I would have preferred it to be hot.
However, the buckwheat risotto with the same Royal Frost sugar snap peas as the cucumber salad and mushroom dish was delightful. It was served warm and was, in fact, the only warm dish we had other than the soup. The buckwheat grouts were cooked with a roasted mushroom broth and white wine, giving it a rich and robust flavor. I sprinkled some of the Manchango cheese on it (yes, that made my meal not be completely vegan!), but the cheese really added some sharpness and saltiness to the dish and made it all the better.
The night capped off with the most incredible vegan lemon curd. It was made using extra virgin olive oil instead of butter. This was served with sliced strawberries and a coconut whipped cream. Wow, it was really fantastic!
Chef Cate Smith from Meriwether Godsey did an extraordinary job honoring the ingredients and highlighting their flavor and textures.
If you are interested in attending a farm dinner, save your pennies. This is not a cheap dinner by any means, but is worth a try for a special occasion.
Imagine how nice it would be if you could find a respite in the country, just minutes away from the city, where you could rest and relax and have a cup of warm tea. You could breathe in the fresh country air and take in the beauty of the outdoors. There is a place just like that. It’s called the Honeysuckle Tea House.
The tea house opened last year and is the brain child of developer/entrepreneur Tim Toben and his wife, Megan Toben, along with support from the Abundance Foundation and Pickards Mountain (also owned by the Tobens). The tea house is located on their property, off of Pickards Meadow Road.
I have to say, the tea houses I have visited in the past included hiking several miles up a mountain to get to the tea house, so they have always been a welcome sight for my aching body! The last one I went to was the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house in Lake Louise. I knew this tea house could not match that one, but my expectations were still high. I was not disappointed!
This open air cafe features free wi-fi, so people can come and work or check their email while at the tea house. There’s a playground for children as well. The only negative I can think of is to say I wish the tea house was located further into the property and away from the road and the neighbors. I also was not a big fan of the live music the night we came as it was rockabilly, not exactly calming music. Luckily, he did not play the whole time.
In addition to a myriad of tea, they offer coffee, kumbucha and homemade soda flavors. They also offer an assortment of snacks and baked goods, many of them are either vegan and/or gluten-free.
When we visited the Honeysuckle Tea House, we came with friends, one of whom cannot have dairy and is gluten intolerant, so it was really nice to be at a place where she could have food with her tea and not worry about her allergies.
I first tried the Lapsang Souchong, which is a smoky black tea. It was perfect for a cool Spring evening. The flavor comes from real smoke that is used in drying the tea leaves. After the second cup, I wanted something sweet to go with it, so I ordered a chocolate chip cookie. And my husband had a coconut macaroon and one of our friends had a blueberry muffin. All were quite delicious. I learned later that the baked goods come from the Ninth Street Bakery and the Village Baker.
The Tea House also sells loose teas, herbs and tinctures. They hold many classes on the weekends there as well, so check their website for details.
Later, I tried a cup of the Soothing Blooms tea, which I didn’t see originally because it was on the back of the menu. This was a wonderful tea made from lavender flowers, chamomile, apple mint leaves, rose petals and lemon balm leaves. The lemon balm gave it a nice tart flavor, while the lavender and rose gave some floral notes to the brew. It was a perfect drink to cap off the night.
I am sure I will come back some time to walk around the splendid gardens where the herbs are grown (just outside of the tea house) or to just sit and relax with a wonderful cup of tea.
Honeysuckle Tea House is located at 8871 Pickards Meadow Road near Chapel Hill. It is open Sun-Thurs 9am-9pm and from Fri & Sat 9am-10pm. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
We were greeted by Nicole Accordino, Program Coordinator for the community farm. Thirty two Burmese families are sharing the land, which is owned by Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC). About five acres are used for farming out of the 269-acre preserve. Some families just farm enough to feed their own families and save some money while adapting to a new life in North Carolina, while others are producing enough to participate in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, or they sell at one of the local farmer’s markets.
The farm was started in 2010 when many of the refugees first arrived in Carrboro. The Orange County Partnership for Young Children and TLC are supporting partners of the program.
Many of the Burmese speak Karen, and about 25 percent of them speak Burmese and are part of the Chen tribe, so there are interpreters who speak Karen and Burmese to help instruct the farmers on techniques, and give them advise on what to grow, when to grow it. Weekly workshops are held at the farm to help the farmers. The Burmese immigrants also have taught their American counterparts some of their own traditional methods of growing various crops.
Some of the families grow medicinal herbs. At this farm, you will see more Asian crops such as ginger, lemon grass, water spinach, turmeric, bitter melon and rice. Many grow an herb called pennywort, that helps the mind stay strong and also is good for digestion and help alleviate diarrhea.
The farm also has about 200 chickens and many of the farmers either use the eggs or sell the eggs.
The farm typically has a dinner fundraising event in the Fall. I am hoping to attend this year, so stay tuned for an update!
Sometimes you have to break the rules, even the rules you made up for yourself. Today was such a day. I don’t usually go on media tours and get comped meals, and I don’t usually review chain restaurants, but I did today. So, keep that in mind when you read the following (media tour – meal was free).
I was invited to visit Burger Bach, a New Zealand-inspired gastro pub that opened about a year ago in Durham’s Erwin Square, where George’s Garage used to be. James Foley, Carolinas Director for Burger Bach (Bach is pronounced like “bachelor” ) was our gracious host. I told him I made an exception for this chain because it is still small, just a couple of restaurants in Richmond, Virginia and one here in Durham. He asked me how I defined a chain. We agreed that most chains are not very original, the quality is sub par and ingredients are not always that fresh. However, at Burger Bach, nothing is frozen at all, in fact they don’t even have a freezer, just some coolers. And while the burgers and lamb come from New Zealand, the chicken comes from an American Humane certified farm in the U.S. from Georgia called Springer Farms. Twenty of the thirty beers are local, and many of the other ingredients come from the local farmer’s market.
Burger Bach was started three and a half years ago in Richmond by Michael Ripp, who sadly died from bladder cancer a few years ago. The Durham branch opened last year and the restaurant is about to open a place in Charlottesville and one in Midlothian, both in Virginia, later this year, making a total of five locations.
James gave us an exclusive, behind the scenes tour of the kitchen. I was impressed to see a very clean operation. All the bins in the cooler were marked and clearly dated, so anything beyond five days was thrown out. All the meat is hand ground daily in the meat grinder. And the fries are hand cut each day as well. All the sauces are homemade, including the ketchup, with fresh, and when available, locally sourced ingredients.
We started our meal with a cocktail. I had the Brooklyn Sour, which was made with bourbon and fresh lemon juice that was muddled into the cocktail, along with some simple syrup, some bitters, a little wine and an egg white to give the drink some froth. It was very good! Unfortunately, the three photos I took of the drink all came out blurry! Too bad, because it was a pretty drink.
We tasted the vast array of dipping sauces while trying some of the thick, hand-cut fries. The fries were crisp on the outside with a bit of skin on them, while the insides were soft and chewy. My favorite sauce was the blueberry barbecue sauce (2nd to the bottom on the left). The blueberry flavor was very prominent and it was sweet, but not over powering. I also really enjoyed the garlic aioli sauce (bottom right), the Manuka honey mustard sauce (more on that in a minute), which and the chipotle barbecue sauce (middle row on the bottom), which was rich and tangy. Manuka honey is imported from New Zealand. The bees gather pollen from the Manuka trees, which are known to have many enzymes that help with digestion.
We tried the South Lamb burger, which had a thick slice of goat cheese, and baby spinach. It was topped with the Manuka Honey Dijon vinaigrette and a cilantro sauce. These burgers are very thick. Be prepared to eat them with a knife and fork. This was my favorite of the three burgers we tried.
Next we had the French Chick, which featured the free-range chicken from Georgia, topped with the Manuka Honey mustard sauce, a green apple, turkey bacon (sulfite-free), triple brie cheese and caramelized onions. The triple brie cheese was very tangy and tasted almost like blue cheese.
The beef burger we tried was the Aucklander. It had avocado, bacon, Egmont cheese, greens, tomato, mayonnaise and dijonnaise sauce. The meat was very fresh and delicious. James told us the meat is so lean they actually have to buy some fat to put back into the meat to give it a little more flavor.
The burgers are reasonably priced between $8.99 – $12.99 for a burger and side salad. And, if that’s not enough to keep you satisfied, if you come in the evening, there is a whole seafood section!
Yes, fresh oysters flown in 6-8 times a week with four to six varieties offered each day, muscles and shrimp dishes as well. We had the spicy shrimp, which was in a sauce that was absolutely to die for. The sauce had chipotle peppers, jalapenos, olive oil, cilantro, garlic and shallots with a generous dose of fresh cream. Yum!
For vegetarians, they have a freshly made black bean burger that looked really good. We didn’t taste this, but I might order it next time I go, though it will be hard to resist having another lamb burger.
The buns are all made from Neomonde Bakery, just down the road in Morrisville. And, if you are gluten intolerant, they have gluten-free buns from Udi’s. You also have the option of ordering any burger in a lettuce wrap.
I highly doubt anyone would leave Burger Bach feeling hungry for dessert, but if you do, it will be time to go somewhere on Ninth Street for your sweets, or have a dessert wine from the bar. There are no desserts at the restaurant. I know I didn’t think about or miss having a dessert.
Burger Bach is located at 737 9th Street in Durham and is open Sunday – Thursday from 11am-10pm and Friday and Saturday from 11am-11pm. You can follow them on Twitter, or like their Facebook page to hear about specials and events.
The only impression I ever had of ramen was of the cheap instant noodles we used to eat as poor college students. It was something that was quick and inexpensive and very loaded with salt, MSG and a lot of ingredients I would hate to know about now.
Enter Dashi, a ramen noodle restaurant that makes homemade ramen noodles. You know, the kind that is actually good for you!
My friend, Kent, and I decided to go to downtown Durham to try it out recently. It is a very small restaurant located just a couple doors down from Rue Cler.
The exposed duct work and wood beams make the place have a modern, industrial feel to it. There is an open kitchen, so you can watch the chef prepare your ramen noodle dish.
I am trying to tone down my intake of meat and soy, so I decided to try the vegetarian version. The mushrooms in this soup were absolutely incredible and this comes from someone who normally is not a fan of mushrooms (it’s a texture thing for me). The noodles were soft and very fresh and it was not overly salty like the nasty instant noodles. The broth was also a mushroom-based broth, which gave it some heartiness. It also had kobucha squash, which tastes kind of like acorn squash, and added a touch of sweetness to the dish. And, for a crunch element, it had fresh bean sprouts. Yum!
I was full before I finished mine, so I was able to make two meals from one big bowl of ramen.
Kent tried the Shoyu ramen, which was pork and catfish kamboko, which almost looked like a sliced radish, with a soy-based broth. It also had some Nappa cabbage, and sliced turnips in it and was topped with a soft egg. I tried a sip and it was delicious!
I will definitely come back to Dashi for more ramen. And, sometime in the evening, I want to go upstairs to its other restaurant, where they serve small plates and cocktails!
Dashi is located on 415 East Chapel Hill Street in downtown Durham, NC. They are open from 10:30 – 2:30 and from 5pm – 10:30pm every day except Sunday. Follow them on Twitter.
Many people have developed an intolerance for gluten, but it is hard to find a restaurant that caters to people who want to eat gluten-free. Luckily Chef/Owner Tim Lyons at Primal Food and Spirits has done just that. He is focused on providing a safe environment for people with gluten sensitivities.
The first thing I noticed when we entered Primal Food and Spirits was all of the stacked wood, used as walls to divide the room up and to absorb some of the noise. The restaurant has a vibe of industrial mixed with earthiness. It has a live plant wall behind the hostess’ counter and exposed duct work in the ceiling. The wood and the smell of wood burning in the stove was enticing.
This is a special menu, one that is perfect for someone who is gluten intolerant, or for someone who is trying to follow a Paleo diet. Most of the dishes are protein-based with vegetables. There are many different salads to choose from as well as several enticing main courses. The lunch menu is a bit more limited than the dinner menu, but I appreciate that as it makes it easier on the chef and makes it easier to decide what to select.
As with many of the restaurants I write about, this one features many locally-sourced ingredients, working with farms such as First Hand Foods in Durham, Elodie Farms in Rougemont, and Bean Trader’s in Durham, to name a few.
I decided to try the wood-grilled chicken stir fry. It was served with rice noodles and a mix of carrots, mushrooms, onions and broccoli. The chicken was amazing! It had a nice char on it and had that smokey, wood flavor in it.
My friends both had the meatloaf as that was the special of the day. I tried a bite and it was also very good. The meat was lean, but not too dry and had a good mix of herbs in the chopped meat. It also came with either mixed vegetables or a side of potatoes, and had a great au jus to dip the meatloaf in. I would recommend either of these dishes.
Primal Food and Spirits has an extensive list of cocktails. I was wishing I had come in the evening so I could try one. I will have to come back some other time. The restaurant also had a really nice looking bar with comfortable leather couches and chairs, so I could easily imaging hanging out to have a drink there some evening.
Primal Food and Spirits is located at 202 West Highway 54, Suite 107 in Durham, NC. You can follow them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
The Bull City continues to be the Mecca of the best restaurants and bars in the Triangle region, and Bull City Ciderworks is no exception. This hipster hangout has been tucked into a less developed part of downtown Durham, on the east side of downtown on Elizabeth Street. But forget about that location, because it will soon be moving. The police department, which was adjacent to Bull City Ciderworks, needs to expand and is taking over its current location.
The Ciderworks had a very successful Kickstarter campaign to help pay for moving to a new location. Actually, the company will now have two new locations. The brewing will now take place in Lexington, NC, where the owners of the business grew up. The Lexington location, I believe, is already in operation.
This month, Bull City Ciderworks will move its tasting room from Elizabeth Street to 305 Roxboro Street in downtown Durham. So, all of us hard cider lovers can still enjoy the many varieties of this great cidery.
But, I will truly miss the industrial, hipster vibe that has been the essence of the Elizabeth Street location. When you first arrive, you are not sure if you in the right place or not. It looks like the back side of some old brick buildings. And, that is where it is located.
We each ordered a flight of ciders. I started with the Off Main, which is one of the standard ciders. It was crisp and clean tasting, very pleasant.
We also tried the Spruce Bringsteen, (love the node to Bruce!) which was by far, the strangest cider I have ever tasted. At first, I was put off by the pine notes, but after a few sips it started to grow on me. My husband and I friend were not fans though. This is a seasonal brew, appropriate for the winter when you are sitting in front of your own Spruce tree.
My favorite cider, by far, is the Rhiz Up cider, which is a blend of apples and ginger. It has the dryness and spice from the ginger and sweetness of the apples. It reminds me of drinking either a really dry, bubbly white wine.
The Smooth Hopperator was as promised, quite hoppy. It felt hops in cider don’t work as well as they do in beer, but that may just be me.
All in all, these guys know what they are doing and have created some really interesting blends of hard cider. I am a huge fan!
I remember seeing a strange combo of German food meets Mexican food when my husband and I were driving in a remote section of Colorado in the early 2000’s. But the food was really good! So, when I heard that Chapel Hill had a restaurant that combined Mexican with Asian, I figured, “why not?”
Lucha Tigre is located in the old Flying Burrito building on Martin Luther King Road, just north of downtown Chapel Hill. The contemporary wrestling and karate-themed, red, black and white cartoon drawings line the walls. Black leather cushions line the walls with wood tables and wood chairs. The place has a nice, upscale feel to it.
I started my meal with a pineapple margarita, made with fresh pineapple juice, and some habanero peppers. It was very good.
We had the fried green beans for an appetizer. They had a wonderful soy flavor with plenty of garlic. The beans were nice and crunchy. They really needed to give us a serving spoon to share them with though.
For the main course, I had a chimichurri filet. It was served with a side of mashed sweet potatoes, and a marinated beef tenderloin and served with some fried Brussels sprouts. It was good, but I wouldn’t call the dish a real memorable one.
My husband had the spicy chicken and noodles which kind of resembled a Pad Thai to me in some ways. The noodles were a thicker egg noodle. There were plenty of nice pieces of white chicken with sliced green bell peppers, onions, carrots all served with a nice topping of a black bean sauce, giving the dish a bit of spice. I would recommend this dish.
My friend had the taco plate, with General Tso’s tofu and broccoli. The tofu was fried to a nice, golden brown tone. He said he enjoyed it.
We were too full for dessert, but the choices seemed intriguing. I would consider coming back to try one sometime.
Lucha Tigre is located at 746 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Chapel Hill. It is open Monday – Friday from 11:30 – 2:30 for lunch, Saturday – Sunday from noon – 4pm for brunch and everyday from 5pm to midnight for dinner. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Instagram for more information on specials.
Michael’s Seafood is located off of Highway 421 in Carolina Beach. The intersection to get to the restaurant, which is in a little strip mall, is quite confusing because it is off of a service road, but once you get to the place, you will be rewarded with a great meal.
The interior of the restaurant is average. There’s wood paneling on the walls, various painted chairs and nice, roomy booths. A cut, tiki-looking thatched roof perches over the bar, giving the place a beachy feel. A roll of paper towels is on each table, along with the usual condiments.
We started our meal with some cocktails and a bucket of fresh, locally-sourced, steamed oysters. They were really smooth and sweet. No grit to speak of with these oysters. I’m not usually a big oyster fan, but even I liked eating these. Most opened easily with a little twist of the knife, but a few others were harder to open. We didn’t leave any unopened though!
I had a key lime margarita, which tasted just like a key lime pie. The drink was foamy and creamy and very sweet. Not a bad way to start a weekend at the beach. My friend’s husband had the loaded bloody mary, which was spicy and had a crushed bacon rim on it with pickled okra and olives and a nice, spicy bloody mary mix.
My husband had a bowl of the seafood chowder, which was very thick and creamy and had chunks of potatoes, clams, fish, scallops, carrots, green beans and more. This chowder won the Schweppes Great Chowder Cook-off in 2009, 2010 and 2011, so you know it has to be good!
My friend’s husband and I both had one of the $10 special dinners of the night which was a blackened Mahi Mahi with chopped honey pecans over mashed pumpkin and a side of steamed broccoli. The Mahi Mahi flaked off on my fork, but still had a bit of firmness to the sweet and delicate meat.
My friend had the tuna with black beans and onions. The tuna was rare and sliced very thinly and had a nice crust of sesame seeds on it. My friend said it was delicious.
After eating here and loving the meal, I was trying to find out about the chef and found out that the chef/owner, Michael McGowan, sadly died in 2012 from cystic fibrosis as the young age of 46, but fortunately, his legacy lives on. His wife, Shelly, has been able to hire people to keep the great quality food and service going to honor her husband. Michael’s Seafood is located at 1206 N Lake Park Boulevard in Carolina Beach. It is open year-round, seven days a week for lunch and dinner. You can follow their Facebook page for more information about special events happening at the restaurant.
The following was written by Shelby Kinnard, who is also known as “The Diabetic Foodie“. Travel with her, as the Tar Heel Eater hits the road to Phoenix, Arizona.
After feasting our way through Phoenix, Arizona for several days, on our last night in town my husband and I landed at Beckett’s Table. Eventually.
We trusted our GPS and found ourselves wandering through the huge parking lot of a strip mall. We saw a sign on the corner with the words “Beckett’s Table,” but after circling the building twice, we were bewildered. Then we noticed a smaller strip mall in front of the larger one. The restaurant was on the end furthest away from us. We snaked through the small parking lot in front of the restaurant and thought we’d found a space only to discover it was for customers of the adjacent dry cleaning establishment. We pulled into the lot on the far side of the building to find it full and, once in, we realized there was no way out without backing up. And there was a line of cars behind us. At this point, I was really beginning to wonder if the meal was going to be worth the effort. I was not in a good mood when the hostess greeted us.
Fortunately, things started to improve. The house-made sangria helped.
Award-winning Chef Justin Beckett has created a cozy restaurant with exceptional food that is appropriate for family groups and more sophisticated palates. The nicest thing about Beckett’s Table is that while the food is elegant, the atmosphere isn’t snooty in the least.
The servers really know their stuff too. We asked a lot of questions about the menu and couldn’t stump them, not that we were trying. They also avoided answering “everything” when we asked what was good. Instead, they helped us figure out what we were in the mood to eat and steered us in the appropriate direction.
To start, I was torn between the Brussels Sprouts with pickled chili and lemon vinaigrette and the Wood Oven Roasted Beets with apples and black pepper honey. Then we learned of the special that evening – an Artichoke Dip with Rainbow Chard and sliced tomatoes. We decided to share the dip. It was creamy and perfect and I would have been content to stop eating at that point. But, of course, I didn’t.
The entrée course brought another agonizing decision: Green Chile Pork Stew or Shrimp and Grits? I was very curious what shrimp and grits would be like in a place that wasn’t on a coast and wasn’t in the South. I ultimately decided to go with the local Southwestern flavors and ordered the stew which was topped with cotija cheese and served with fry bread (something we don’t see out East). Every bite was spicy, but not overly hot, and the flavors screamed “wake up!” It was a great dish.
Our server suggested the “signature fork-tender” Short Ribs to my husband. He was polite, but as soon as he saw the menu, he knew he was going to order the Pork Osso Buco Confit. In fact, I’m not sure he could focus on anything else because he was so excited. The pork was served with spaetzle (tiny dumplings), tasso (Cajun ham), and braised greens. He described his first bite this way:
“You know in the movies where they are trying to show a special moment? That moment where the world drops away and the camera pans on the actor as the room swirls around them out of focus and the sound fades and everything but the actor is a blur as they have that revelatory moment? Yeah, that’s what that first bite of Osso Buco was like. Or pretty close.”
He gave me a tiny taste, but inhaled the rest before I could ask for a second bite.
I declared I was too stuffed for dessert but my husband, the fig whisperer, needed the award-winning Fig and Pecan Pie. It was served with the most perfectly round scoop of ice cream I’ve ever seen. The ice cream contained cream cheese and citrus zest. The first bite surprised him because it wasn’t as sweet as he expected, but the pie itself made up for that.
How would I describe Beckett’s Table? It’s comfortable and sophisticated, a hard combination to pull off. It’s worth a visit if you’re ever in Phoenix.
Beckett’s Table is located at 3717 E. Indian School Road in Phoenix. It is open for dinner and drinks from 5 pm to 10 pm Tuesday through Saturday nights and 5 pm to 9 pm on Sundays. Reservations are not required, but are accepted. You can find them on Facebook and Instagram.
Usually when I go to the mall, I’m thinking that I will have to resort to some boring, not very good lunch at the fast food court, so imagine my surprise when I went to Streets at Southpoint the other day and saw one of our more popular Triangle area food trucks has opened up a spot in the food court!
I was ecstatic! American Meltdown features grilled cheese sandwiches made from fresh ingredients, mainly locally sourced. Like a greedy girl in a candy store, I quickly studied the menu and wanted one of each. But, I couldn’t possibly eat all those sandwiches, so I picked the “Pigs ‘N’ Figs” which was a sandwich made on a nice, sourdough bread with black mission figs, goat cheese that was sourced locally and speck, which is a cured pork meat from Northern Italy that is a little like bacon. The ingredients were served with a nice drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar. The figs gave the sandwich a nice sweetness while the goat cheese and speck offered saltiness and the balsamic vinegar gave a punch of flavor that balanced the whole sandwich off well. It was a real winner.
My shopping companion had the “Orchard” which was made with cheddar cheese, sliced green apples and ham with a touch of fresh rosemary all served on some Guglhupf Bakery bread. The blend of flavors again had a blend of saltiness and sweetness with a bit of sour in it. It is obvious these sandwiches were created by a chef that knows how to blend flavors well.
I also ordered a side of fried Brussels sprouts because I love them. However, I felt this was not a real successful dish because the Brussels sprouts were too oily and had just a hint of salt. They were served with a really nice garlic and lime aioli sauce which was very good. I think these would be much better if they were roasted in an oven to make them crispy and not so oily. But, they probably don’t have an oven in the kitchen.
Next time you find yourself at the mall, go check out American Meltdown! Happy shopping!
I wanted to do something fun with my sister and brother-in-law for Christmas and I know they love making interesting cocktails, so I sprung for some tickets to a cocktail class at Crude Bitters in Raleigh. My sister has made her own bitters and infused liquors, so I knew she would enjoy meeting someone who actually turned his passion into a business.
Craig Rudewicz is the owner and operator of Crude Bitters, located in the ABV building on 517 West Cabarrus Street in downtown Raleigh. The nondescript building on the outside is festooned with a holiday glow on the inside. There is a nice wooden bar along the back of the front room, an old Ford pickup tailgate adorns the wall where the taps are located – very clever!
Craig started Crude Bitters three years ago. This past year, he decided to to it full-time, after giving up his bar tending job at Little Hen in Holly Springs, NC. He is not only making bitters, but also making flavor bases for sodas.
He told us he had to go through the whole North Carolina alcohol and tobacco statute to find out that, indeed, he did not have to sell his product through the ABC stores. That is, I am sure, a huge relief! And, one of the nice parts about not having to sell through the ABC store is that you can buy his products at his shop!
On to the cocktail class! We went to the Winter and Holiday Cocktail Class. Craig hosts several classes throughout the year and features many locally made spirits. He pointed out several of my favorites, such as TOPO, Krupnikas, and Fair Game Beverage to name a few.
We all admired his very creepy Christmas sweater featuring the twin sisters from “The Shining,” or at least that is what we all thought, including his wife who bought the sweater for him.
I asked him what bitters were and he explained that bitters came about as various concoctions people made as medicines back in the day, claiming they cured everything from a common cold to a broken leg. Bitters are made with a spirit as a base (such as grain alcohol) that is infused with spices and barks. They are sold in small bottles with a dropper. Just a few drops will greatly enhance any cocktail one may make.
We started by tasting the Gin Spice, a drink he made with something I had never heard of before – a barrel rested gin. Yes, it is gin that is aged in a bourbon barrel, so it takes on some of the bourbon flavor and has a pretty, golden hue. Craig used the Cardinal Barrel Rested gin, which is distilled in King’s Mountain, North Carolina. The gin has more of a minty flavor to it, than a traditional gin. Craig added the Crude Apple and Spice shrub (a shrub is an apple cider vinegar mixed with fruit – in this case, apples and spices – with simple syrup. It is used with soda water, or tonic water to make a refreshing and healthy beverage) and a little vermouth with some cranberry juice, and then shook this with ice. He explained that you want the ice crystals to break up and will fully integrate all of the ingredients together by shaking it. Most of these drinks started as punches, when people were gathering together and using whatever ingredients were available at that time of year. He explained something like this gin drink would have been made hot first, so that the cranberries, apples, etc. would cook and exude their flavors. After we tried the drink, he made another batch and added some drops of the Crude Lindsay bitters, which had notes of pecan, habañero and magnolia. I mainly tasted the flowery magnolia in the drink. Adding the bitters really enhanced the cocktail.
The second drink we tried was the Bourbon Milk Punch. It was much like a thin eggnog, or a thin Bailey’s Irish Cream drink. (See the recipe below) Craig said that milk punches were made as a hangover cure back in the day. What a very tasty way to get over a hangover! He added fresh nutmeg after we tasted it and it really added a good punch of spice to the drink. Actually, it overpowered the drink a bit, so if you use the fresh nutmeg, make sure you use just a small pinch of it.
We ended the class with a nice, warm Hot Toddy. This is something I usually make when I have a sore throat. He used some whiskey with local honey from Heavenly Beez, and a few squeezes of fresh lemon with hot water and several drops of “Bitterless Marriage” bitters (gotta love the name!). It was warm and soothing, and the bitters had oak (the oak flavor comes from adding a stave from an oak barrel), and had lavender and hibiscus notes to it. But I really liked it when he added the “Pooter” smoke and salt bitters. It gave the whiskey a peaty taste. I am thinking I will add this to my next Manhattan!
Recipe for Bourbon Milk Punch (recipe from Crude Bitters)
In a shaker with ice, add:
1/2 oz dark rum
2 oz whole milk
1/2 oz. simple syrup
Add one dropper of Crude “Big Bear” bitters and shake everything together for 10 seconds. Strain into rocks glass with ice. Grate fresh nutmeg on top.
Go check out Crude Bitters in Raleigh next time you are shopping downtown. You can follow their Facebook page or their Twitter feed to find out about new classes and other special events. Stop by on December 29 and try the new Tobago Pepper infused vodka from Fair Game Beverage.
Strolling along Wilmington’s Front Street, my friends and I were on the hunt for another great dining experience. And, luckily, Wilmington has a lot of wonderful options to choose from! One place that jumped out was Saigon Bistro. Anywhere there is Pho is a place my husband will love.
We sat in a booth and quickly discovered that these booths have very narrow seats and very straight, wooden backs on them, so they are not the most comfortable place to sit. I would recommend sitting at a regular table if one is available.
The dining room is not real big, and has an exposed ceiling. Pieces of bamboo stick up from the side of the booth, giving the decor a little bit of an Asian feel to it.
The food is Asian fusion, mainly focusing on Vietnamese dishes. The chef sent over a complimentary house salad, which, on first glance, looked like just lettuce topped with a dressing. It ended up being really refreshing. The dressing was a citrus-based dressing with ginger and had finely chopped peanuts tossed on top of baby mixed greens. We knew the rest of the meal was going to be good!
The men had a soup that was called Bun Bo Hue, which was recommended by the waiter and was one we did not see on the menu. It starts with a base of pork and beef broth, and has annatto chile paste and shrimp paste, which gives it the heat. The soup also has lemongrass and noodles that are thicker then the rice noodles you traditionally get in a Pho. It was topped with thin slices of pork that were in a round shape and brought with the sides you traditionally get with Pho, so they had bean sprouts, jalapenos, basil leaves and lime wedges. I tried a couple of sips and it was spicy, but to the point where you would probably jazz up a Pho with a little Saracha sauce. This soup doesn’t need the extra spice added.
I had the rib eye that was sauteed in lemon grass and curry. The meat was nice sized chunks that were in this amazing curry sauce that had picked up all the smoke from the grilled meat. It has slices of onion, red and yellow peppers and very small fried onions and diced peanuts sprinkled on top. I had this served with a side of brown rice. It was a very soul-satisfying dish. I loved it!
My friend had the shrimp and curry dish. Her curry was a coconut-based yellow curry and had nice, big pieces of shrimp, slices of onion, bamboo shoots and green and red peppers topped with basil leaves, and lemon grass. She said it was fantastic. Saigon Bistro is located at 21 North Front Street in downtown Wilmington. It is open from Mon-Thu:11:00 am-2:30 pm & 5:00 pm-9:30 pm, Fri:11:00 am-2:30 pm & 5:00 pm-10:00 pm, Sat:11:00 am-10:00 pm and Sun:11:00 am-9:00 pm. You can follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook.
Every time we go see our friends at Carolina Beach, we pass by Havana Fresh Island Restaurant and keep thinking, “We need to try this place some time.” We walked by the other day, and saw they have a Sunday brunch and decided to go.
The restaurant in located in the Loughlin House, a bungalow-styled house which was built in 1916 for Joseph L. Loughlin, secretary of the New Hanover Transit Company and his wife.
We were greeted by Mary, a very friendly and fun waitress who made us feel right at home. We felt like we were instant friends with her. She got us coffee and drinks and gave us several excellent suggestions about the food options. You can tell the chef is creative by the interesting descriptions for brunch.
I had the breakfast quesadilla, which was not mentioned by Mary, but I wanted to have some bacon in my dish, so that is what I ordered. I had the least favorite of all the dishes we ordered, but it was still good – just not as great as the others. The tortillas were filled with cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs with chunks of bacon, onions and mushrooms which I asked to have them hold the mushrooms (not in the mood that day). It came with a nice side of some kind of apple streusel coffee cake. I also ordered a side of the Havana hash, which is one of the best potato hashes I’ve had in awhile, because the pieces of potato were fried to a deep brown, but not burnt. It has crumbles of sausage, bacon, peppers and onions. Yum!
My husband and my friend’s husband had the Blue Crab Benedict. Oh my word, was that a great dish! It’s a crab cake on top of an English muffin, topped with a poached egg and served with a Hollandaise sauce and a side of the Havana hash. I will get this next time!
My friend had the Mayan breakfast, which was a nice-sized burrito stuffed with scrambled eggs, cheese, scallions and bacon and a red bean sausage gravy that gave the whole dish a really great flavor. It was topped with sour cream and pico de gallo, to give it more of a Mexican flavor too. Wow, it was also a real winner!
We will definitely come back for brunch and try dinner here sometime as well!
Havana’s is open at 11am Monday – Saturday and from 9am-2pm for Sunday brunch. It is located at 1 North Lake Park Boulevard in Carolina Beach and is open year-round. You can like them on Facebook to see what is happening at the restaurant.
There is nothing more exciting than digging into a bag of a dozen freshly baked Britt’s glazed donuts. It is one of the things I most look forward to when visiting Carolina Beach! And, I know I am not alone! These amazing donuts have been on many people’s “must have” lists when they visit.
The business has been around since 1939. The original owners, the Britt’s, sold the business several years ago to the Nivens, and the tradition continues. And there’s one item – the donuts. Oh, you can also buy a drink, but that’s about it.
When you walk down the boardwalk at Carolina Beach, you can hardly miss it because there’s usually a line that snakes around the building, or down the boardwalk. Remember to bring cash, because no credit cards are accepted here.
It is fun to look through the window and watch the bakers gently pat each donut into place and dunk them into the steaming hot oil. Then, watch the bakers use long, wooden sticks to turn the donuts and then line them all up on the stick to get them out of the oil and dunked into the sugar glaze. Lastly, the stick is put into a bag and the donuts slide off the stick into the bag and given to the lucky diner.
I recommend that you eat these as soon as you can, because half the experience is to eat them while they are still hot. The dough is fluffy and a little chewy and the sugar glaze is a little syrupy. The one danger is that you might eat the whole dozen and forget to share them with your family or friends! And, make sure you bring some wipes with you, because your fingers will get very sticky from all the sugary goodness!
Britt’s is open from April (check their website for the opening day) until just after Labor Day. Sadly, they are not open during the off season, which is usually when we come visit the beach. Hours also vary, so please check the website.
Britt’s Donut Shop is located at 11 N. Carolina Beach Avenue on the boardwalk. You can like Britt’s on Facebook to find out when they are open.
Back in the day, my friends and I used to frequent the Greenwood Shopping Center to go to the Park Diner, a cafeteria-style lunch place that almost everyone in RTP used to go to for lunch. Sadly, the Park Diner closed in the early 2000s, but just around the corner from the old Park Diner is a new little diner called True Flavors.
The interior is really cute. Black and white checkered flooring, tin around the tables and the lunch counter, with some contemporary touches and black wainscoting with some cute wallpaper give this place the feel of a hipster diner.
The waitress came by with warm biscuits that had lots of butter already on them and were served with a side of jam. They were so good, that I could have easily eaten these and been done for the day, but this was just the beginning of a big meal.
This place is amazing! Be prepared to eat heartily, as this place is going to tempt you will all kinds of goodies! The first time I came, I had the duck confit hash. Oh my word, was it good! The duck was shredded and was extremely tender, but was not too greasy, as duck sometimes can get. The potatoes were fried to a nice, golden brown and had a crunchy texture on the surface and were soft on the inside. A fried egg was served on top, so the yolk oozed into the potatoes and the duck. The whole thing was also topped with white cheddar cheese. Yum!
One of my friends had the root beer float and it’s just how you may remember it. A dark, frothy brew with the vanilla ice cream making lots of extra bubbles in the soda. I had a sip and it was heavenly. Just forget about trying to count calories when you go here!
The second time I dined here, I had a veggie burger made from black beans. The patty was firm and didn’t fall apart as some do. It had a nice spice to it and was topped with some roasted red peppers and shredded lettuce. It had a nice, avocado sauce on it. I would get this again!
Hats off to executive chef/founder/owner Sidney Coves for his fun and creative menu of great comfort foods. I know I will be back especially when I need a little extra TLC.
True Flavors is located in the Greenwood Shopping Center, 5410 Highway 55, Suite AJ AK, in Durham. They are open Monday, Tuesday-Saturday from 7:30am – 2:30pm, and for Sunday brunch from 9am – 3pm. They are closed on Tuesdays. You can follow them on Twitter, or like their Facebook page to hear about specials.
A good rule of thumb whenever you are seeking out a seafood restaurant is to always go where the locals go. So, when we heard about the Cape Fear Seafood restaurant in Wilmington from so local folks, we decided to check it out.
The restaurant is tucked into a strip mall off of Monkey Junction, an intersection of several streets in a large retail section, just off Route 132, near Highway 421. From the outside, you could easily miss this place. While it may not have the ambiance of some of the other seafood restaurants that are located near the water, Cape Fear Seafood Company makes up for in its food.
Even though we came after the high tourist season, the place was packed! We had a reservation, but couldn’t get one until after 8pm, but we were really hungry, so we took our chances and went earlier and were told we could be seated at the bar. Eating in the bar area was actually quite pleasant. Our bartender/waitress Katie, was very friendly and knowledgeable. She gave us suggestions on items to order.
We started with cocktails. I had the cucumber cooler, which was a gin (or you could have vodka) drink with cucumbers, basil, lime and some jalapeno and soda. It was very refreshing.
My husband and I split a bowl of the clam corn chowder – a mix of clam chowder and corn chowder. It was creamy, thick and unctuous soup with a slight smoky flavor from the pieces of bacon, There were nice sized chunks of clams, carrots, potatoes and lots of corn kernels in the soup. This would be a great dish on its own in the winter.
Our friends had the roasted pepper crab bisque, which was a tomato-based soup with chunks of crab meat and peppers. It was also quite delicious.
I had the special of the day, which was a Triggerfish, that had a nice crust on this very fresh, flaky fish. It was on top of a wonderful butternut squash risotto and served with roasted asparagus, peppers and a condensed balsamic sauce, that added a nice sweetness to the dish. It was really lovely. My plate was cleaned!
My husband had the Diablo shrimp with pasta, which featured sautéed shrimp, with sliced mushrooms and spinach served over a penne pasta with a red pepper cream sauce and parmesan cheese. It had just a bit of spice to it, but was not overwhelming.
My friends’ had a dish with mussels and shrimp. I am not sure what the dish was actually called, but he really liked it.
Our other friend had the broiled scallops, which were very delicate, light and flaky and were broiled in a lemon, beurre blanc (butter adn white wine) sauce. She thought they were wonderful.
Chef Ricky Martin (yes, that’s really his name!) is a North Carolina native and has worked previously at Roy’s Riverboat Landing and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse amongst other places in his 20+ years of work. He has a good eye for presentation and combining interesting flavors, keeping a more contemporary flair to his seafood dishes.
Cape Fear Seafood Company is located at 5226 South College Road, #5 in Wilmington. It is open Monday – Thursday from 11:30 am – 9pm, Friday and Saturday from 11:30am – 10pm and Sunday from 11:30am – 8:30pm. Call for reservations: 910-799-7077. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and more.
There’s nothing better than getting a great barbecue sandwich when you are craving some comfort food. So, when my friend and I were stressing about work, we headed over to Smokey’s BBQ Shack.
This place is, in a word, a real “dive.” The building is where the Deli Box used to be for many years. And that place was always jammed. So is Smokey’s. RTPers from near and far come to this dive to get a decent barbecue sandwich.
The place has lots of signs with funny sayings, such as “Anti-stress kit: Bang head here” on the drink machine, and “Sarcasm, just one of the many services I offer”. Reading all the signs helped to pass the time while waiting in line.
First things first, for you Eastern “I only like my barbecue if it has vinegar on it” people, this is not the place for you. The barbecue sauce is more Lexington-style with some ketchup in it. It has some vinegar, but is thicker than the sauces you usually see around here.
I decided to have the brisket sandwich and boy am I glad I picked that as my option. The brisket was really tender and had a nice, smoky flavor to it. And the hush puppies were great! Fried to a nice, golden brown and tender and mushy on the inside. Yum! I also had the fried okra, which is something I really think you can’t mess up. It was wonderful.
My friend had a barbecue sandwich with the pulled pork and slaw, which also had a nice flavor to it. The pork was a little on the dry side, but seemed pretty good. I would probably go for the brisket again if I come back though.
It is a decent barbecue joint, though I still think Allen and Sons is better and Lewis Barbecue on Highway 55 is also better. But, when you are at work, this is a pretty good place to have lunch and get a little comfort food!
Smokey’s BBQ Shack is located at 10800 Chapel Hill Road (Highway 54) in Morrisville, near RTP. It is open Monday – Wednesday from 11am – 2pm, Thursday and Friday from 11am – 7:30pm and Saturday from 11am – 7pm. You can follow them on Twitter @smokeysbbqshack or like their Facebook page.
I don’t know about you, but I love to watch food competition shows, like “Top Chef” and “Chopped.” So, I am really jazzed that we are having our very own competition of the top chefs in the state!
Throughout this year, each region had its own competition – the Triangle, Charlotte area, Triad and first-ever South Carolina based tournament in Greenville. Now the final Fire competition, called Battle of the Champions, is about to commence.
Each evening, two chefs from the various regions will duke it out. The chefs will have a featured ingredient that must be used in each course of the meal and they will not know what the ingredient is until that evening. The guests will get to eat a six-course meal, as each chef will make an appetizer, main course and dessert. Diners will judge the food on presentation, aroma, flavor and creativity.
Saturday, Oct. 31: Oct. 29 winner vs. Oct. 30 winner
The winner of the Battle of Champions, in addition to getting bragging rights, will receive a grand prize of $4,000, two handmade chef knives by Ironman Forge and a trip to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, California, compliments of Kikkoman and the Pro Chef Program. All Battle of Champions events are held at Renaissance North Hills Raleigh, located at 4100 Main at North Hills Street. Tickets to attend the first three battles are $129 each excluding beverage, tax and service fee. Tickets for the final championship battle are $149 each excluding beverage, tax and service fee.
Tickets to these interactive battles go on sale Thursday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at www.competitiondining.com and are guaranteed to sell out quickly.
Don’t let the outside of All’s Souls Pizza in Asheville fool you. When you first drive by it in the River Arts District, you might think it was an old diner, or some unobscure white brick building. But when you walk inside, you will quickly realize this is a great hipster hangout!
Tattooed waiters and waitresses with assorted colors of hair and piercings abound. A long bar runs across one side of the dining room with an open kitchen, so you can watch the pizzas entering and exiting the wood-fired brick oven.
I should have known that behind the scenes was Brendon Reusing, Andrea Reusing’s brother (She is the owner/executive chef/James Beard Award winner of the Lantern in Chapel Hill).
Plan to be adventurous when you eat here as the fun of having an All Soul’s Pizza is the toppings. We started our meal off with the special, which was an asparagus pizza with garlic and oregano on a wonderful cream sauce and Taleggio cheese. Though the cheese had a strong odor (we said it smelled like feet!), it was very smooth tasting and the asparagus gave the pizza a fresh taste. I really liked this pizza.
We also tried a pizza with slices of sausage, kale topped with a generous portion of garlic, basil and mozzarella cheese. It was also quite tasty. I really liked the little bits of char to the crust as well. The star ingredient was the kale. It was crisp and yummy, as well as being healthy.
As you can imagine, All Soul’s Pizza tries to locally source as many ingredients as possible. The bread hails from Farm and Sparrow Bakery, also owned by Brendon Reusing. I definitely need to make another trip to Asheville soon to check out the bakery!
All Souls Pizza also has a dog friendly patio on the side of the building outside with lots of tables and chairs. On Wednesdays, they hold a farmer’s market in the yard as well.
All Soul’s Pizza is located at 175 Clingman Avenue in Asheville. They are open Tuesday – Saturday from 11:30 – 5pm for lunch and from Tuesday – Sunday from 5 – 10 pm for dinner. Follow them on Facebook, or Twitter.
I first heard of Calavera’s from my sister who raved about this place. She and her husband frequent the downtown Raleigh location. I never made it to the Raleigh store, but they recently opened a second location in Carrboro. So, she and I headed there a few weeks ago.
The interior of the restaurant is festive with Day of the Dead images and twinkling lights all around. It’s a small restaurant, located on the bottom of the new Hampton Inn.
I tried two empanadas: the Al Pastor, which consisted of shredded pork that had been slowly smoked; black beans, queso cheese, chopped scallions and slivers of jalapeño peppers topped with a dollop of sour cream. The crust was crunchy and flaky. It was a perfect consistency and fried to a nice golden brown. It was really good!
The second empanada I tried was the Picadillo. This is a dish I make at home regularly, so I expect to have a decent picadillo. The empanada was stuffed with ground beef, sliced potatoes, chopped onions, tomatoes and green chili. OK, so where’s the olives and raisins? Two key ingredients of picadillo, folks! I’d rate this one OK, but not as good at the Al Pastor.
I returned with other friends and my husband a little later and tried the mango habanero guacamole. Yum! It had some sweetness from the mangos and a big bite from the habanero. The guacamole was nice and chunky, the way I like it. I could have made a meal just on this guac!
I also had the Pineapple jalapeno margarita. It was sweet with a nice zing from the jalapenos and just the right amount of tequilla. I really liked this drink and would definitely order it again!
This time I tried the Holy Frijoles empanada. This one was stuffed with black beans, sweet potatoes, onions and some Oxacala cheese. It was very good, but the Al Pastor remains my favorite of the bunch.
We also split a King of Kong dessert empanada which is filled with Nutella and fried bananas, and topped with fresh whipped cream. Wow, was this a delight! I loved it!
Calavera’s is open seven days a week and the kitchen is open until 2am. You can follow them on Facebook to learn about specials.
When I heard that Gregorio’s had closed for good, I was sad because I thought it was one of the few places in town that actually served decent Cuban food, and, as some of you may know, I consider myself a little bit of a snob when it comes to Cuban food. That’s because I lived in the Tampa Bay area for several years and was exposed to all kinds of fantastic Cuban food. But, luckily, the owners of Gregorio’s decided to reinvent themselves and open up a new restaurant that expands beyond Cuban food and enters into many different Latin cuisines. The new place is the Mesa Latin Kitchen, and is a tapas restaurant.
The owners of Mesa Latin Kitchen held a special preview for the food writers in the Triangle the other night and it was pretty spectacular. I like to mention this up front because the five-course meal was comped. But I will do my best to tell you just what I thought, regardless of whom was paying the bill.
We started with drinks. I ordered the cucumber basil martini and it was delightful. The cucumber is light and refreshing and was served with fresh lemon juice, ginger and gin. The basil was very finely chopped.
Our first course included Malanga fritters, which were cute, little balls of fried goat cheese, served with a garlic aioli sauce. They were served on a stick, which was a little awkward to handle. But it tasted good. We also had a bowl of Spanish olives.
Instead of describing every single dish we tried, I’m going to tell you what I thought were my favorite dishes followed by the less successful dishes (in my mind, you may disagree!). First was the Cuban sandwich sticks. As I said earlier, I’m a stickler when it comes to Cuban food, especially Cuban sandwiches. Every place I’ve reviewed in the Carolinas comes with the phrase, but it’s not real Cuban bread. And, yes, that’s the case again with these, but the Cuban sandwich sticks captured the essence of the Cuban sandwich to a tee! It had the ham, smoked pork, the Swiss cheese and the pickles. The pastry they used was pressed and slightly charred, giving the crunchy goodness you would get if you were biting into Cuban bread. And the whole stick was drizzled in a honey mustard sauce. I would get these again next time I am craving a Cuban sandwich.
I loved the grilled asparagus. It was topped with something quite unusual – fried slices of lemon. The lemon was actually sweet and paired really well with the asparagus.
I also was very impressed with the Carolina trout. The presentation, as with almost all the dishes, was beautiful. The trout was cooked very well and was flaky and light. It was topped with small slices of Peruvian purple potatoes, a mojo, which is a vinegar-based sauce with parsley, that had raisins and capers in it, and a chipotle mayo sauce.
I loved the pork belly. It was so crispy and crunchy on the top with a right amount of saltiness, and the fat was very buttery. It was served with carrots that had been infused with Colombian coffee beans, giving it a really interesting taste, and served over spinach quinoa.
I also loved the crispy rice cakes that were served with cherry tomatoes, grilled asparagus. It was sweet and had a bit of sourness at the same time. The cakes were fried well, so you got that crispy, fried goodness we all crave.
I loved two desserts the most, though they were all good. The first was the coconut tapioca pudding, which was served in a coconut, which was very clever. The pudding was so fresh tasting and not too sweet. The owner, Fares Hanna, told us to be sure to scrape our spoons on the bottom, which I did, and sure enough, you get some of the actual coconut. Wow, it was really good!
The other was the flan. Now, I have to step back and tell you when I reviewed Gregorio’s back when the restaurant was in the old house, I told you all that the flan was one of the worst I had. So, I am really happy to say this one is one of the better ones I have had in quite awhile! It had a base of goat cheese, but the goat cheese taste was very subtle. The flan was soft and silky, but not slimy. The caramelized sauce was neither too sweet nor bitter as it sometimes gets if its overcooked. I would definitely get this again!
OK, on to the less successful dishes in my mind. I was not thrilled with the smoked tuna taquitos. While the presentation was spot on, the tuna was too mushy. The taste was fine, but the consistency lacked in my mind. I think if it was served in chunks with something crispy, it might work, or, if another food blogger had suggested, maybe if it was slices of fresh tuna, that would have been much better.
I also really wanted to like the guacamole, because the manager told us about this incredible smoked pineapple they put in it that was smoked in house. It sounded spectacular, but again, I think the guacamole got too much time in the food processor and was not very chunky. When you are touting something like smoked pineapple, I want to see big chunks of it, along with some chunks of red pepper, tomato, etc. in my guacamole.
And, the Argentine beef empanadas were way too salty. The crust was nice, but it was overwhelmed by the salt. I’m sure this and the other dishes will be tweaked and perfected over the next few weeks, because really all the dishes were decent.
You can try the Mesa Latin Kitchen for yourself starting on July 17. I would also recommend that if the weather is nice, to sit in their patio area. It is really beautiful and peaceful. They also have a nice stage where there will be live music on the weekends outside.
Kudos to Chef Douglas Rodriguez for an innovative menu featuring so many great delights! I’ll be back again with friends!
Mesa Latin Kitchen is located at 2701 Hillsborough Road in Durham. It is open Tuesday – Saturday from 4 – 10 pm for dinner and on Sunday from11 am – 2:30pm for brunch, and 4 – 9pm for dinner. Like their Facebook page, or follow their Twitter account for specials and more.
Many friends have recommended Cholanad in the past, so the other day, we went to dinner there. Cholanad is in its own little building on West Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill, near Vespa. It’s narrow dining room is simple with white walls, exposed duct work and back lighting from the line of windows along the main dining wall. This restaurant features upscale Southern Indian cuisine.
It was busy when we arrived, and we ended up waiting quite a while before we even got water and menus. We ordered some drinks that did not arrive until after our dinner was served, and the drinks were some of the worst I have ever had, but we later learned that the bartender was not there that evening so a friend had filled in who obviously didn’t know how to mix drinks. I am not even sure mine had any alcohol in it. And our appetizer came out when our main entrees came out, another mistake. I’m chalking all of this up to a rough night in the restaurant. I don’t think this is their typical service, but I feel I need to report what our experience was.
But luckily, the food made up for the earlier mishaps. The appetizer was the Medhu Vadai, which was fried lentil fritters with a couple of dips, including one that was with a tomato base and had some small chunks of potato in it, and the other was a yogurt based sauce. The fritters were like mini savory donuts. They were soft and fluffy on the inside with just a little fried crunchiness on the outside.
I had the brussel sprouts served in a tikki masala sauce. It was served in a bowl with a hue piece of naan bread, which I used to sop up the wonderful sauce. The brussel sprouts were first roasted in the oven so they had a nice char on them. They were served in the sauce, so they softened up. It is a good choice of dish for a vegetarian.
My friend had the crab and lentil cutlets with a dosa roll up, also called the Kandal Nadu Paruppu vadai. The sauce was rather spicy, but very complex. Tender chunks of crab meat were in the sauce and lentils. The crispy dosa roll was very impressive looking and taste great. It is necessary to have this to help cool off your tongue. But, what’s Indian food without some spice?
My husband had the chicken tikki masala. The chicken pieces were nice and tender. It was served in the same tikki masala sauce that I had. It also was served with a giant piece of naan. We also ordered a side of white rice to soak up some of the sauce.
Another friend of ours had the scallops, which looked very plump and were grilled to perfection. He said he really enjoyed them and they were very tender. I can’t eat them as I am allergic to scallops, so I will have to take his word for it.
We tried three desserts, the rice pudding, which was too pureed and didn’t have a lot of flavor. We also had the carrots with honey sauce and carrots, which was good, but also pureed. I like this better minced. And, we had a side of the Gulab Jamun, which are like doughnut balls served in a honey sauce. It needed a little more flavor.
Cholanad’s is located at 308 West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. It is open 11:30 – 2:30 for lunch Monday – Friday, and 5 – 9:30pm for dinner; from 11:30 am – 11 pm Fridays and Saturday and from 11:30 – 9:30pm on Sundays. You can like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter for specials and news from the restaurant.
Right in the midst of Asheville’s booming craft brewing scene is a newer brewery on the South Slope called Twin Leaf Brewery. The brewery opened in March 2014 and is doing quite well. Co-owners Stephanie Estela and Tim Weber have put a lot of money and love into this place.
I always like to be up front that while I drink beer on occasion, I am not a big beer drinker, so this is just what I personally think of the beers and if you are a beer connoisseur, you will probably have a much better, and different opinion than I, so please add your comments below!
The inside of the tasting room is a quaint room with a cement floor, and long picnic tables, so you sit with other people as you drink your pint. It was a friendly atmosphere and very comfortable. There were not a lot of people when we got there so we had a table to ourselves. I’m sure later at night you would be sharing a table here. It is also dog friendly, which gets major kudos from me! I like dog friendly places. Big, stainless steel beer vats line the windows along the front of the brewery.
We were with friends and got a flight of beers. I’m sorry that my husband did not take a photo of the flight, so you’ll just have to visit yourself to see what these beers look like!
We started with the I44 Juicy Fruit. It was a hoppy beer with a floral bouquet and had a pretty, straw color. I wanted to like this beer more than I did, because I liked the name of it. It was good, but not my favorite.
Next we tried the Luminosity, which was a Belgian style Triple. Of course, I loved this one! I seem to have a love affair with Triples lately. The beer was orange in color and was sweet and malty. It would be good with a piece of fruit, such as a slice of orange in it. This was my favorite of the five beers.
The Surachi was next. We tasted a little bit of coconut in it and it had the highest alcohol content in it, coming in at 9%. I thought it had a bitter back taste, so it was not one I would probably order.
Next, we tried the White Noise, a Belgian-style Wit beer. It was nice and mild and had some orange notes to it. I could see myself drinking this on a hot summer’s day. I also liked the name of the beer.
The last beer we tried was the Uproot, which was a Bitter beer. Actually, their website describes it as an extra bitter. It was a dark beer that I thought had that malty (almost like bread) taste to it. I also tasted some chocolate in it. I thought it was decent for a dark beer.
Twin Leaf Brewery is located at 144 Coxe Avenue in Asheville. You can like them on Facebook or follow their Twitter feed to find out about events and specials.
While on a recent trip to Asheville (one of my favorite North Carolina cities) we went out for dinner with some friends to a restaurant in Biltmore Village called Rezaz Mediterranean Cuisine. This spot has been around for many years, lead by owner/chef Reza Setayesh.
The main dining room is a narrow, intimate spot with a big back room for private parties, which is where we dined. We started our meal with an appetizer of manchego cheese, which is a wonderful Spanish hard cheese. This was fried and served with a drizzle of honey sauce with just a hint of rosemary in it. The cheese had a mild, nutty flavor to it yet is a little tangy. I had never eaten it hot and melted before, but it was very good in this form.
Next, I had a taste of my husband’s pea soup. The soup was served cold and was topped with sunflower seeds, and radishes and had a beautiful soft-shelled crab on top. The peas were incredibly fresh and reminded me of Spring. The crab was sweet and mildly fried.
I had the smoked duck breast. It was tender, juicy and had almost a peat taste to the meat. There was a strawberry sauce served next to the duck, giving it a little sweetness. It was served with a potato beignet that was fried in duck fat, and some duck cracklin’ and a side of spinach greens.
I tried a few bites of my husband’s gnocchi, which was small nuggets of pasta served with fresh baby asparagus, peas, small slices of leeks, spinach and tomatoes in a goat cheese crema sauce. Wow, was it good! Very fresh tasting and again, reminded me of Spring.
Another friend of mine allowed me to taste her grouper, which was extremely tender. It was served with a spicy tomato sauce.
We all left feeling happy and satiated by our wonderful meals. This was a wonderful place to celebrate our friend’s birthday!
Rezaz is located at 8 Hendersonville Road in Biltmore Village and is open from 10 am – 10 pm Monday – Saturday and from 5pm to 10pm on Sunday. You can like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter to find out about special occasions and specials of the day.
We are very happy to have another guest blogger! John E. Batchelor is sharing an excerpt from his new book Chefs of the Coast: Restaurants and Recipes from the North Carolina Coast. Available in bookstores, or order autographed/personalized copies direct from the author: email@example.com.
Want to get a copy of the book? Reply below in the comments section to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of the book. Your comment must be received no later than Wednesday, June 17 at 5pm EST to be considered in this contest.
Wes Stepp’s passion for seafood and cooking began while he was working on the Outer Banks. He had a summer job at Carawan Seafood Company in Kitty Hawk, shelling shrimp and cleaning, scaling, and filleting fish. He subsequently paid his way through college by cooking in various restaurants.
After attending Marshall University in his native West Virginia, he returned to the Outer Banks to live permanently. He began working at Kelly’s in 1988. “I started as the fry cook, eventually working up to head chef,” he recalls. He held that position until he was able to buy his own restaurant in 2001. “Mike Kelly was definitely my mentor in the hospitality business. He set a tireless example for work ethic, and he really pushed us out of our comfort zones. We explored new foods and presentations. We were tested by huge volume and Mike’s desire to offer the most cutting-edge coastal cuisine to his guests. I was also given the opportunity to explore my coastal cuisine creativity, which has set the stage for Red Sky and its catering business.”
Wes’s mantra is, “The first bite is taken with your eyes. Presentation is the key.” He explains, “From the way food is stacked and dotted with sauces to the vessel it’s served in, food should be presented in a way that catches the eye. Anything I do, from Southern barbecue to Pacific Rim to classical French, I want it to look good.” He conducts seminars on presentation for other chefs.
Wes is also a competitive bodybuilder. He refers to it as “body sculpting.” He has worked out all his life, but in order to train for a competition, he had to learn to combine exercise with nutrition. “I didn’t think I could eat the way a trainer does. The food doesn’t look good, and it doesn’t taste good. But I realized how well seafood fits the nutritional needs. So I created seafood dishes that are quick and easy, as well as healthy. If you eat these five to six times per day, you’ll never get hungry, you’ll enjoy the flavors, and you’ll slim down.” He dropped 25 pounds for the competition and has stayed close to his training weight since then.
Expanding the idea to the public, he created Tastefully Fit, a program that enables participants to eat well, lose fat, and retain muscle. He has worked with the Greenville Police Department on diet and conditioning, and he conducts seminars on how to jump-start a healthy lifestyle. “No products, just recipes designed to be cooked in the home,” he says. “The key is food that is real, and as close as it can be to the way it appears in nature.” Menus include seafood, lean beef, poultry, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, and quinoa.
At home, Wes cooks for himself, especially when he is in training. “I cook things on Wednesdays and Sundays for the rest of the week. I have the fridge stocked with quick, healthy meals. It’s easier and faster for me to eat at home than go to fast food. So I eat well, and I eat healthy. It’s mostly seafood, really flavorful but really light.”
Red Sky Café is located across the street from the park in Duck, where outdoor concerts are regularly scheduled. The wide-ranging menu features traditional dishes as well as Thai- and French-influenced creations.
Chef Stepp describes Red Sky’s concept: “I love food. But I never liked pretentiousness in restaurants, even when I enjoyed the food. Customers are not doing us a favor by coming in. The obligation is on us. So my concept was always classics twisted around, very fresh food coming in the door every day from local purveyors, in a casual atmosphere where you can just enjoy yourself. We also installed a wood-fired oven, which expands our capacity to be creative.”
Red Sky uses several area providers, especially Etheridge Seafood in Wanchese. Many of the vegetables come from Wes’s father’s garden. In addition, “Mr. Malco in Currituck grows a lot of our produce. He sells strawberries to the public—just as you come across the Currituck bridge, look for a hand-painted sign. We get soft-shell crabs in season from Kitty Hawk.”
Red Sky is both a lunch and dinner restaurant and a large catering operation. “I kept noticing that people around here don’t have a family in a house,” Chef Stepp explains. “They have three or four families in a house—a dozen or more people. So I started Chefs on Call. We prep ahead, bring everything we need, do cooking demos, and feed everyone at the vacation house. We cover everything from clambakes to sushi. It’s like a night out for the family, but they never leave the house. Many of our extended families return each season, so we do a lot of repeat business. In May and June, weddings are popular on the Outer Banks, so we cater those parties, large and small, in various venues. In July and August, tourist season is in full swing, so we focus on the restaurant and Chefs on Call. In fall, the weather turns cooler, but it’s still gorgeous. We return a lot of attention to catering and supporting other local events.”
Chef Stepp is a frequent guest for cooking demonstrations on WAVY television in Hampton Roads, Virginia. He is on the board of directors of the Outer Banks Wedding Association. He conducts Tastefully Fit seminars for local municipal groups and police departments and has catered events for dignitaries, politicians, athletes, and celebrities such as the Carolina Panthers, Wicked Tuna cast members, Phil Collins, and others.
1 ripe avocado
1 tablespoon diced tomato
1 small onion, diced
kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste
½ teaspoon chopped cilantro
squeeze of fresh lime
Incorporate ingredients in a mixing bowl until mixture is smooth and consistent.
½ cup diced tomato
¼ cup diced Vidalia onion
¼ cup diced poblano pepper
1 tablespoon salted butter, softened
Heat olive oil in a hot sauté pan. Place scallops in pan for 2 to 3 minutes until brown. Flip scallops and add tomatoes, onions, peppers, and bacon. Add butter and swirl to incorporate.
Presentation: Place each scallop on a dollop of guacamole. Finish with reduced tomato, bacon, and butter sauce.
Chef’s note: “This is a Tastefully Fit entrée.”
¼ cup honey
½ cup soy sauce
Place honey and soy sauce in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Thicken with small amounts of cornstarch and water.
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons wasabi powder
Slowly add water to powder until achieving desired consistency.
6-ounce fillet local yellowfin tuna
kosher salt and crushed pepper to taste
black and white sesame seeds
Heat a cast-iron skillet and add olive oil. Sprinkle tuna with salt and pepper and encrust with sesame seeds. Sear 30 seconds on each side. Remove from pan and let rest. Slice very thin with an extremely sharp knife.
Presentation: Place tuna on a plate and drizzle sauce over top. Place a small amount of seaweed salad and Wasabi Paste on plate.
Red Sky Cafe is located at 1197 Duck Road in Duck, North Carolina. Their phone number is: 252-261-8646. You can follow Red Sky Cafe on Facebook or Twitter to find out about specials and events.
My husband heard about a little doughnut shop in West Asheville called Hole. We thought the name was cute and our friends in Asheville are friends with the owner, so, of course, we had to check it out.
This unobtrusive little building is located on the corner of Haywood Street and Wamboldt Avenue. The outside of the restaurant is very charming. Old, rusty looking metal chairs, a red, metal bench and a baby blue food truck is parked outside. People are inside of the truck eating doughnuts. The bricks are painted a pale yellow.
Inside there is a lot of reclaimed barn wood adorning the walls. A small display of four flavors of doughnuts is on the counter. We decide to order half a dozen of the buttermilk cardamom glazed doughnuts.
The most fascinating part of the process is watching the ladies roll out the dough and start to form each doughnut into a perfect little ring of doughy goodness. Then the doughnuts are placed on a frying tray and dunked into steaming hot oil until they turn a perfect shade of gold. They drip dry and the ladies add whatever toppings to the doughnut. Another server grabs the hot doughnuts in some wax paper and serves them up hot and as fresh as you can possibly get!
And, what is better than a fresh, hot doughnut? I can’t think of anything. The dough is soft, chewy and buoyant. The glaze has just a hint of the promised cardamom. I have sticky fingers after I’ve eaten my doughnuts and am licking my fingers. Good thing there’s a nice bathroom nearby where you can wash your hands before you leave! I ate them before I ever thought of even having a sip of coffee!
Sitting in Hole, watching these lovely women making doughnuts from scratch and enjoying the decor that reminded me of living on a farm, I admired the fact that this establishment decided to focus on making just doughnuts and not trying to more than that. Because there is something to be said about being the best by concentrating on doing one thing better than anyone else. And that’s what they have done at Hole.
Hole is located at 168 Haywood Road and are open every day except Tuesday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can follow them on Facebook to find out the latest happenings and specials for the day.
I usually like tacos the old-fashioned way. You know, the ones that have a shell that crunches when you bite into it. To me, a soft tortilla equals a burrito, or an enchilada. But I digress.
Recently, my husband and I took a trip to Asheville and had an eating extravaganza! One of the places we tried was the White Duck Taco Shop, located in the River Arts District, also known to the locals as the RAD. The building is the Hatchery Studios, where the restaurant shares space with several artist studios. The outdoor seating is great, especially because it is a dog-friendly zone, a plus in my book! They even have dog dishes full of water for your canine friends.
According to their website, the restaurant got its name from a nickname the Chef earned when she would get excited and talk too much to the kitchen staff. They called her “La Pata Blanca” which means White Duck.
This indoor/outdoor restaurant is very casual. The chalkboard over the ordering counter tells you what tacos are available and what the specials are for the day. These tacos are not your regular, run of the mill tacos. There are all kinds of different and unusual combinations.
The tacos served here are all soft shell, so at first I was a little apprehensive, but as soon as I tried a bite of my first taco, I knew these were going to be great.
The first one I tried was the Thai peanut chicken taco, with a spicy peanut-based sauce, large chunks of chicken and shredded green cabbage. It was wonderful and quite filling. The raw cabbage gave the crunchiness I normally expect from a taco.
The second taco I had was a beef bulgogi taco. And, just as advertised, it was filled with sweet tasting beef chunks and pickled red cabbage, much like you would get at your favorite Korean restaurant.
Two tacos for lunch were plenty, but I also had a bite of my husband’s jerk chicken taco. It had a great, Jamaican sauce on it that was spicy and a little tart that was completely soaked into the shredded chicken. It was also topped with red cabbage. It was very good.
For dessert, I ordered a salted caramel macaroon pie for the table. It came in a small ramekin and it was served warm. The oozy caramel coated the sweet shreds of coconut and the salt gave just a little relief to all the sweetness. This was a really heavenly dessert and worth having if you have any room to spare after eating these great tacos.
I normally don’t review chains and when I first started writing about this restaurant, I thought it was one of a kind, but they actually have four locations: two in Asheville (one in the RAD and one about to open in downtown Asheville), one in Charleston, South Carolina, one in Johnson City, Tennessee and one in Columbia, South Carolina. Hope they will consider opening one in Pittsboro!
The White Duck Taco Shop is located at 1 Roberts Street in the River Arts District in Asheville (see website for other locations). It is open Monday – Saturday from 11:30am – 9pm. You can like its Facebook page to find out about specials.
The following was written by guest blogger, Shelby Kinnaird, aka The Diabetic Foodie, (reward yourself by reading her blog, it’s fantastic!). Thanks, Shelby, for sharing this great place!
My husband announced he was going to Davidson, NC for a conference about all things Mayan. “Okay, honey,” I said. “Have fun.” I refer to his obsession with archaeology as “moving rocks” syndrome. If you wonder why, just watch a television show about ancient ruins on the History Channel or National Geographic. Any show. I guarantee there will be a segment about moving rocks. Did they roll them on tree trunks? Did they use a pulley system? Did they make use of sleds? My husband finds this subject endlessly fascinating. I’m less enthusiastic.
Nevertheless, my husband asked me to accompany him to Davidson, a small town near Lake Norman just north of Charlotte. Given that I work from home, meaning I can really work anywhere, I considered the possibility. “They have some amazing restaurants,” he teased. Sold!
Our first night in town, we stumbled across Flatiron Kitchen & Taphouse in the adorable downtown area. Walking distance from the campus of Davidson College, Flatiron serves students, their visiting parents, and locals alike. The huge bar in the middle of the restaurant is a great place to socialize and listen to live music or watch the chefs through the window into the open kitchen.
Flatiron features many tables too if you prefer to be further away from the bustle. Given the acoustics, nowhere in the place is really quiet, but most of the other patrons were ignoring their dinner companions and poking their phones, so it didn’t matter anyway.
Chef Bill Schutz prides himself on finding the best available proteins and produce and sources locally whenever possible. Flatiron’s bar boasts 24 craft beers and the “largest by the glass wine selection around.”
So what did we eat? I decided to go the two appetizer route and my husband ordered an entrée. My first course was a Fried Green Tomato Caprese sporting fresh slices of mozzarella along with flawlessly fried green tomatoes plus a nice drizzle of balsamic vinegar and basil oil. There was creaminess, crunch, tartness and earthiness. What else could you ask for in a dish?
My second course was Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, a Flatiron specialty, that was quite a pop of color on the dark wooden table. The Wagyu, or American Kobe beef, was very thinly sliced and served raw with salty capers, tangy horseradish-yogurt sauce and some crunchy baguette slices. There were also some lovely fresh pea shoots on top. After my two courses, I was pleasantly full and quite proud that I didn’t overeat.
My husband ordered the Wagyu Meatloaf “En Croute.” He missed the “en croute” part on the menu and looked quite confused when his puff pastry covered dinner arrived at the table. After one bite, he didn’t care and thoroughly enjoyed his well-seasoned meatloaf served in perfectly crisp pastry (no soggy bottom here) with lightly steamed asparagus and mashed potatoes. He did comment that the potatoes were “too whipped.” I think he’s used to my mashers that feature lots of lumps.
Although the food was amazing, our biggest compliment of the evening goes to our server. Her timing was perfect, she had an excellent sense of humor, and she was pleasant without being patronizing. My husband, a former waiter, is very picky about servers and he gave her two thumbs up.
Two appetizers, one entrée, a glass of wine and some unsweetened tea plus tip ran us about $60, so the Flatiron isn’t the cheapest place in Davidson. We would definitely go back, however. Next time, I want to check out their Sunday brunch, especially the Wagyu Benedict with charred peppers.
Hey honey, when’s your next Mayan conference?
Flatiron Kitchen & Taphouse is located at 215 South Main Street in downtown Davidson. Find them online at www.flatirononmain.com. You can also follow them on Twitter: @flatirontap.
My husband and I were headed to Broadwell’s Nursery to buy some plants for our new house, so we decided to grab lunch before driving home. We saw a little Mexican place called Fiesta Tacos that from the outside looked like it would be some kind of fast food Mexican, so we took a chance and went inside.
The place was full of people, mainly of Latin decent, so we knew we must have picked a good place. Boy were we right! This place is a real gem! It certainly is not fancy, so don’t expect great ambiance.
The menu is displayed on a big wall in the back of the restaurant. In addition to the typical menu items such as burritos, enchiladas, tostadas and tacos, there are big bowls of soup. We noticed several people eating the soup, so, of course, we had to try it!
The soup was absolutely amazing! It’s like a Mexican Pho. We ordered the seafood soup, which was jammed packed with big, plump pieces of shrimp. Every time my husband thought that was the last one, another shrimp would pop up to the top! The soup also had jalapeno, onion and corn and was sprinkled with fresh cilantro. It came with a dish of more slices of jalapeno, chopped green bell peppers and chopped onion and wedges of lime to squeeze into the soup. And, a plate of Texas-style fried bread was served to help sop up all the broth of the soup. I’m ready to drive down for another bowl as I write about it!
We also tried a couple of tacos. You had a choice of many different fillings, but we went for the tried and true chicken. They were very fresh, using a soft-shelled tortilla for the taco shell, fresh lettuce, tomato, onion and other toppings.
I had a chicken burrito, which was filled with shredded chicken, covered in a mild queso sauce. It came with freshly made refried beans and Mexican rice. Everything was really good! And, the prices were very inexpensive. You could easily feed your family for a moderate price here.
Fiesta Tacos has been around for over 20 years, so you know it has stood the test of time. The waitress told me everything is made there from scratch, and you can tell the quality is much better than other Mexican restaurants I can think of in the Triangle.
Fiesta Tacos is located at 205 S Raleigh Street in downtown Angier.
I always get nervous when I go to a restaurant and I am not sure how to pronounce the name of it. Gocciolina (I think it’s pronounced “go-cho-leen-a”) was one of those restaurants. Some good friends of ours were clamoring for us to try the place. They said it was named as the best restaurant in the Triangle by Greg Cox, the food critic from the News & Observer. So, of course, I had to go.
The restaurant is next to a hearing aide business, which is the sign you see from the street. The restaurant is located in a strip mall off of Guess Road in North Durham. It is a small place with about 20 or less tables.
The staff is very friendly and accommodating. They seated us within a few minutes of arriving as we had a reservation, but the reservation was for later in the evening. I guess a table had opened up, so they bumped us up on the list.
The menu is clean, simple and casual. Our waiter told us the food is mainly sourced within about a three-mile radius. Impressive! The food is also simple, but elegant.
We started our meal with some Brussel sprouts that were roasted with some garlic and sprinkled with some lemon juice and a few chili flakes to give them a little kick.
We also tried the fried eggplant with two slices of thick, red beets and topped with goat cheese. The eggplant was well cooked throughout and was mild tasting. The crispy crust was a great touch to this dish. I used to hate beets as a child, but now I love them! These were mildly sweet and gave the dish a little earthy tone.
For my main entrée, I had the roasted pork agnolotti, which were like raviolis with green onions, and slivers of fresh Parmesan cheese. It was topped with some pork broth.
My husband had the gnocchi, which were big, plump pieces of dough that was very fresh and made with veal and smothered in a wonderful melted glob of fresh mozzarella cheese. It was simple, but divine.
For dessert, we tried a chocolate torte that was out of this world! It started with an almond crust, topped with a dark chocolate ganache which was adorned with swirls of meringue that had been singed with a blow torch. It tasted just like a s’more, but wasn’t messy like a s’more would be.
We also had a freshly made cannoli. The shells were made in-house, along with the cream which had just a hint of lemon. It was not too sweet, which we all appreciated.
Gnocciolina is located at 3314 Guess Road in Northern Durham. It is open from 5:30 to 10pm Tuesday – Sunday. Follow their Facebook page to hear about specials. Make sure you come early, or be prepared to wait as this place is very popular right now!
A friend recently emailed me and asked, “Why don’t you ever review restaurants in Hillsborough?” I thought it was a good question. I love Hillsborough, so I figured this was a good excuse to tell my husband we needed to make a trip north and check out the scene.
We decided to try out Radius Pizzeria and Pub in downtown Hillsborough. Radius is owned by Mick and Kate Carroll. Mick is originally from Ireland. He likes to cycle, which is part of how he decided to make pizza instead of opening an Irish restaurant.
The dining room is rather small, but inviting. There’s an open kitchen with a wood-fired oven in the back of the restaurant and a bar on the left of the entrance. I loved the metal screening behind the hostess section that featured bike parts. Very clever!
My husband was almost immediately accosted by some patrons who got upset that he was taking pictures of the restaurant and bar — first time we have ever had someone get upset for taking pictures. But, that is not the restaurant’s fault! However, it did start to make the evening go off kilter a bit. This is also the reason I decided not to put any other interior photos of the restaurant this time – just photos of the food.
We ordered calamari as an appetizer. I liked the spicy batter, but the batter had fallen off of the calamari. Perhaps they didn’t flour it well before dipping it into the fryer. This also made the squid a bit tougher than usual. But, the flavor was good.
Next, I had the arugula salad, which was a nice sized salad with dates, roasted butternut squash chopped into small bits, roasted hazelnuts which added a crunch element and a little sweetness to the dish and goat cheese, which added some tanginess to the salad. It was topped with a tart apple vinaigrette. I loved the salad. It was the best part of the meal!
We got three different pizzas. I got the pimento please pizza, which was covered in a generous amount of pimento cheese, ground beef and marinated beef shoulder, which was quite delicious, and some chopped jalapeno for a little spice. It was really tasty! However, the pizza crust was not crisp, like I have come to expect from a wood-fired oven. Actually, it was soggy. I was trying to decide if it was because it had a lot of toppings on it, or was undercooked.
My husband had the pesto passion, a pesto-based pizza with mushrooms, diced tomatoes, mozzarella and parmesan cheese and he selected shrimp as his protein. He at first thought they had forgotten the shrimp, but it was underneath the cheese in small pieces. He thought it was average, but not great, and his crust was soggy as well. We were starting to see a pattern here.
Our friends had the farmer’s market pizza, which had tomatoes, spinach, caramelized leeks, wild mushrooms and goat cheese. I was excited to try a piece of their pizza, but it was not even warm and also soggy. I have to say I expected more from this place.
The night we came it was rather cold all day, so perhaps the wood-fired oven just couldn’t get up to temperature. I am not sure what went wrong, because so many people have said their pizzas are really great. And, the toppings were wonderful. I think they were very creative and put a lot of care into choosing local ingredients where they could. I always hate to give a less than stellar review, but also have a responsibility to report to my readers what I personally experienced. Perhaps we will have to come back and try again some time.
We ended our night dropping by the Wooden Nickel, a famous little bar in downtown, and briefly checking out Mystery Brewing which we loved and will come back to do a full review sometime in the future.
Have you had a different experience at Radius Pizza? If so, let us know about it by replying below.
Radius Pizza is located at 112 North Churton Street in Hillsborough. It is open for lunch and dinner 7 nights a week. You can follow them on Twitter or like their Facebook page to catch up on events and specials.
The ever-growing town of Fort Mill, South Carolina is getting in tune with the farm to table movement. I recently went to the Flipside Cafe, a cute little restaurant that embraces the farm to fork concept.
Owners Amy and Jon Fortes have created a sweet little place to eat and celebrate local food. They are open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. We went at dinner time. We started our meal with two appetizers. Amy’s Pimento Cheese is made with a white cheddar cheese and has a nice, tart note to it. The home made pretzels are warm and soft – very yummy.
But what I really loved were the Brussels Sprouts that were roasted in balsamic vinaigrette, and a dash of sea salt and pepper, along with some slices of red onion and pork belly. It was crunchy, sweet and tart all at the same time. This is like eating potato chips. It is very addictive! Don’t knock Brussels sprouts until you have had them this way!
For my main dish, I had the famous Fort Mill Meatloaf, which was a tender block of beef filled with mushrooms, served over a creme fraiche mashed potatoes and a nice, gravy poured over the whole dish. This is true comfort food!
My husband had the pasta alfredo with chicken that was roasted and served with onions, bacon, and kale. There was a little bit of spice with the red chilies too. It was also a great dish with lots of flavor.
My other friend had the salmon which was very tender, and moist, but still firm. It was served with a piece of pork belly and risotto.
The Flipside Cafe is located at 3150 Highway 21 North in Fort Mill. It is open from 7am – 9pm Monday – Thursday, 7am – 10pm Friday, 10am – 10pm Saturday and 10am – 2pm Sunday. You can follow them on Twitter or like their Facebook page to get more information on the changes in the menu.
After reading about a new Japanese restaurant opening in downtown Durham in the Triangle Food Guy’s blog, I thought I should see if this new spot was any good.
Basan Bull City Sushi Restaurant, owned by G. Patel (owner of Mura, Cameron Bar and Grill, Zinda and more)is in the Diamond III building, just behind the Durham Bulls Ballpark. You have to know about this place to find it because it is on the 2nd floor and you have to enter it from outside the building, so you either have to go up the stairs as if you are going into the stadium, or go in the building, and ride the elevator to the 2nd floor, then exit through the back doors and turn left in order to find it. So, congratulations if you make it over that hurdle!
The dining room has a posh, modern Asian feel to it. White and rust colored walls with redwood, abstract looking light fixtures hang from the ceiling. A large, wooden Pagoda is in the middle of the dining room. There is also a long sushi bar with a sleek, black bar top in the back of the room.
The staff is very friendly and helpful. They walked us through the menu. We both decided to try one of the lunch specials which includes soup, a salad, tempura and your main dish. I had the short ribs and my friend had the salmon.
We had the choice of miso soup or a corn potage. We both had the corn potage, which was a light corn soup with kernels of yellow corn in a cream-based broth. It was very good – reminded me of a corn chowder. It was served with a couple of croutons.
The mixed green salad was light and refreshing. It had a spring mix of lettuces and cabbages, cucumber, radishes and shredded carrot served with a ginger dressing.
The California rolls were good, but not rolled very tightly, so both my and my friend’s rolls fell apart when we dipped them in the tempura sauce.
My friend’s salmon was quite delicious. It was light and flaky and tender. The size was not huge, but it was lunch, so it was just the right size.
I had the barbeque beef short ribs, which were small ribs that were glazed in a kimchee sauce. Some of them barely had any sauce on them, but the others were just right. It’s best to eat these with your hands. I just couldn’t find a way to eat them otherwise.
Basan’s menu is a bit on the pricey side, so make sure you bring your credit card with you, But I can see this will be a place many will come to network and have some great sushi. It’s a nice addition to the American Tobacco complex.
Basan is open Monday – Saturday for lunch from 11 am – 2pm, and on Sunday – Thursday from 4pm – 10pm for dinner and from 4-midnight on Fridays and Saturdays for dinner. It is located at 359 Blackwell Street, Suite 220 in Durham. You can follow them on Twitter or like their Facebook page to hear about special events and special items on their menu.
There are some places that hold dear to your heart. They have special memories for you and your family. One place I have gone to many times since we moved to the Triangle region in the mid-1990’s is Daniel’s Restaurant in Apex.
As you drive into the parking lot, located just off of Highway 55, near Highway 64, you will immediate start to smell the garlic. Yes, this is a great Italian restaurant. Daniel’s has been around for many years and it holds a special place in my heart because we held our rehearsal dinner here in 1998. (You do the math!)
There are lots of tantalizing dishes, such as the lobster ravioli or the penne a la vodka, but I usually always order the mushroom ravioli. This is a surprising choice to my family members, because for years I have said I don’t like mushrooms. It’s never been the taste of the mushroom, but the consistency of them. However, when they are finely chopped, I love them. The raviolis are filled with finely chopped mushrooms and onions. A rich, mushroom cream sauce is pored over the raviolis and topped with red bell peppers and fried onions and some sliced mushrooms which are always given to my husband. I adore this dish. It is really hard for me to order anything else when I come to the restaurant anymore. I usually use the extra Italian bread to sop up all the extra mushroom cream sauce. This particular night, my husband ordered this dish, so I had to try something else.
However, I do branch out from time to time and recently had the chicken Franchaise dish. The chicken lightly coated and fried. It was very tender and juicy. The pasta was al dente, just perfect. The sauce was a white wine, lemon and garlic sauce. I was not disappointed for expanding my choice of dish this particular night.
Daniel’s also has some great pizzas. The dough is more of a hand tossed style, which I like, but my husband prefers the thinner New York style of crust. We love the pasta dishes here so much, we rarely think about ordering a pizza. But the times we have I was happy to see generous portions of toppings and lots of garlic!
Daniels is located at 1430 Highway 55 in Apex, very close to the intersection of Highway 64.
My husband and I decided to drive to High Point to do some furniture shopping. It was the weekend and rather than go do Furnitureland South, we thought we’d try to do into downtown to shop. Unfortunately, all the shops were closed and the streets were deserted except a little side street where cars were parked up and down the block. We noticed a cute little restaurant was open, so, of course, we had to find out what was attracting so many people to an otherwise closed downtown!
The Penny Path is a warm and inviting crepe shop. The floor is lined with pennies formed into a pattern that looks like a tree trunk, but is actually a path through the dining room. Pretty copper tiles line the ceiling as well.
Owner Miro Buzov, originally from Germany, and his daughter who was making the crepes that day, are very friendly, welcoming people. We decided to try a savory crepe called “The Kitchen Sink,” which was just that! This huge crepe was filled with red pepper, spinach, mushrooms, onions, corn, artichoke spread, mozzarella and feta cheese and much more! You can add or subtract anything you want from the long list of ingredients.
You can sit around the bar and watch the crepes being made, or sit in one of the booths nearby. We loved seeing the eclectic mix of stools around the bar. Buzov said they are from the various furniture stores nearby. Our favorite one was made from all kinds of bike parts – very clever!
We knew we couldn’t leave this charming spot without trying a dessert crepe as well, even though we were both full from the Kitchen Sink. So, I asked Buzov what he suggested we try. We settled on the fruit cheesecake crepe, which had mascarpone, Nutella, peanut butter, and two kinds of fresh berries. This was topped with fresh whipped cream, dusted with powdered sugar, a berry glaze and a chocolate glaze. Wow! It was so delicious that I stuffed myself past capacity and didn’t even mind!
After leaving with our bellies full of delicious crepes, we ended up driving to Furnitureland South after all. Never found what we were looking for, but we were still glad we made the trip and discovered this gem of a restaurant downtown!
The Penny Path Cafe and Crepe Shop is located at 104 East Kivett Drive in High Point. It is open from 10:30-8:30 Tuesday-Thursday, from 10:30-9:30 Friday and Saturday and from 10:30-4:30 on Sunday. It is closed on Mondays. You can “like” them on Facebook.
The other day I was looking for a restaurant located between Cary and RTP so my friend and I could meet for lunch. We decided to try Cafe Anar, a little Mediterranean place in one of the out buildings near the old Factory Shops in Morrisville.
This quaint restaurant is modestly decorated and has nice little booths and a few tables near a semi-open kitchen. I was surprised to see that the menu was not a true lunch menu. It had a few items that could be eaten for lunch, such as the pita sandwiches and a couple of salads, but most of the menu items are their kabobs.
My friend started his meal with some Persian green tea, which was served with two sugar cubes and a side of almonds and chopped up dates. It was a very nice presentation.
I decided to try the Kabab-e-Barra (lamb kabob), because I love lamb. The rice was nice and fluffy, mixed with saffron, grilled onions, cucumber and tomatoes. The lamb, however, was a bit over cooked. It was a little tough to eat and to make matters worse, I only had a butter knife to cut the meat with, which didn’t work well at all. The sauce served with the kabob was a nice mint chutney sauce.
My friend tried the chicken kabob sandwich, which was actually nice and juicy. It looked a lot better than my lamb. I think he really enjoyed his dish.
I feel bad that I didn’t have the time or the money to try any appetizers or dessert, as it did look like they had some interesting options. However, I think they need to develop a menu that is just for lunch at lower prices. I usually do not expect to spend almost $14 on a lunch and that is before tip and tax.
This is a fairly new restaurant that is just starting to figure out its market and what the community would like to see.
Cafe Anar is located at 108 Factory Shops Road in Morrisville. It is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for dinner Monday through Saturday. You can like its Facebook page to get news from the restaurant.
It’s not every day we get to have a famous person agree to guest blog on The Tar Heel Eater! We are very very excited to have the following blog from Bob Garner! Considered North Carolina’s “Barbecue Man,” Bob is an expert on all the state’s best food. This television personality, restaurant reviewer, speaker, author, pit master, and North Carolina cuisine connoisseur has just written a new book, “Foods that Make You Say ‘Mmm-mmm‘” and it is a great book that explores the great culture of North Carolina’s restaurants, the food that North Carolinians have grown up eating and explains where some of the origins of these foods began. Here is Bob’s review of Ken’s Grill. Bob’s book would make a great Christmas present or Hannakah present. Enjoy!
Ken’s Grill is a boxy, unprepossessing little place on the right-hand side of Highway 70, not far to the east of the exit for LaGrange. The sign makes reference to “Serving NC Barbecue,” which accounts for about half of Ken’s considerable fame in these parts. (We’ll get to the other half of the reason for the restaurant’s reputation in a minute.)
But first the eastern North Carolina-style barbecue, which is NOT pit cooked over any sort of live coals. Logically, it shouldn’t have any claim to fame whatsoever, prepared as it is on a conventional electric pit. There isn’t any smoky or wood-cooked taste at all.
But there IS some of the most perfect saucing and seasoning I’ve ever encountered, as well as an exceptionally pleasing texture to the chopped pork. And there are bite-sized pieces of marvelous, crispy, spicy skin added to every plate and to every take-out order.
Don’t ask me to explain the excellence of the barbecue here. Ken’s uses Scott’s Barbecue Sauce, made in Goldsboro, a very spicy mixture that’s one of my favorite commercial sauces, but IS still a commercial sauce. Nevertheless, whatever happens in the barbecue cook shed between the time the pork is fully cooked and the barbecue is actually served as a finished product definitely represents some sort of alchemy. This barbecue is, against all odds, terrific stuff.
And here’s the real giveaway. Owner Ken Eason and his brother David serve barbecue only on Wednesday and Saturday, at least officially. (OK, so there may be some fresh barbecue floating around on other days, as well, sort of on the QT.) EVERY Wednesday and Saturday, though, is jam packed, with the parking lot overflowing even more than it normally does every other day. On these two days, practically everybody in the place is eating barbecue or carrying out bags of barbecue, slaw and hush puppies. This has been going on for years.
I rest my case.
But an even more sublime expression of art at Ken’s Grill is the restaurant’s spot-on version of the area’s iconic, Neuse River Fish Stew. This is the exact same dish that has been cooked by local striped bass fishermen – right on the banks of the river, only two or three miles away – for generations. You won’t find a discernible shred of difference between the riverbank stews and the fish stew served at Ken’s Grill every Friday, year-round. It’s that authentic.
Bacon, onions, potatoes, light tomato stock and chunks of striped bass (rockfish) on the bone: there’s nothing complicated about it. At the very end, the cooks break a few dozen eggs into the finished stew so that they can poach in the simmering liquid. What you are served is a disposable bowl containing a mild aromatic stew with a couple of poached eggs floating on top, looking for all the world like eyes giving you an approving glance for having ordered this outstanding, traditional local treat.
Authentic Eastern North Carolina Fish Stew
1 pound bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 potatoes, peeled and sliced
6 onions, sliced ½-inch thick
1 quart tomato juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper
3 pounds fish, cut into 1-inch cubes (for boneless fillets) or in larger chunks sliced crosswise through the backbone
1 dozen eggs
Fry bacon. Remove bacon and set aside, reserving 2 tablespoons bacon grease in pot. Put potatoes and onions in pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are done. Pour in tomato juice and let stew simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper and red pepper and stir. Add fish chunks, making sure they are submerged in the liquid. Do not stir stew from this point, so as to avoid breaking up fish. When fish becomes flaky and white, let stew simmer an additional 20 minutes. Break eggs into stew and bring it to a slow simmer again.
The stew is ready after the eggs are completely done, with the yolks cooked firm. Add crumbled bacon before serving, if desired.
Ken’s Grill is located at 7645 US Highway 70 in LaGrange, NC and is open from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday – Tuesday and Saturday; and from 5 a.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesday- Friday. The restaurant is closed on Sundays.
Looking for New Year’s Eve plans this year? Taste the Event 2015 will hold a New Year’s Eve party at The Cookery in downtown Durham featuring great music by DJ Elbruque, a variety of food stations, and a wine and champagne bar. To get tickets to this event, click here.
Or, perhaps you’d like to be one of a select few to have a class with Chef Phoebe Lawless of Scratch Baking. She will prepare three dishes incorporating local ingredients. Just 24 people will be in the class that will be held in the test kitchen at the Kitchen Specialist in Durham. To get tickets to this event, click here.
Both of these Taste the Event 2015 events are raising money for the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina. Last year, Taste the Event provided more than 17,000 meals for those in need. They hope to exceed those numbers this year.
Taste the Event 2015, sponsored by Durham Magazine and Chapel Hill Magazine, showcases the best of food and drink in this area. The Grand Taste Experience event will be held April 23 at the Armory in Durham.
We were traveling near North Wilkesboro this fall and my husband suggested we try out a place a friend of his at work suggested called Ted’s Kickin’ Chicken. So, off we went! The place is, by all definitions, a dive. However, it has phenomenal fried chicken!
The blue grey concrete block walls reminded me of an elementary school. Red trim on the walls, chipped-patterned 70’s style tiles and laminate tables complete the divey look of this place. It was at least clean, even if it was old. And the waitress who served us was very nice.
We started our meal with a basket of home-made chips. They were excellent! Hand cut potatoes into fried potato chips, were served with a side of ranch dressing. They were crunchy and just a tiny bit soft in the middle of the thicker pieces. We had no problem finishing them off!
Next my husband and our friends had a chicken sandwich with barbecue slaw and mayonnaise served on a sesame seed bun. The chicken was crisp on the outside but juicy and tender on the inside. The barbecue slaw made this sandwich really special with the tang of the BBQ and the crunch of the slaw.
I had the fried half chicken which was dipped in barbecue sauce and served with a white bun. It was a huge piece of chicken and the fried crust on the outside was nice and crispy. The tanginess of the barbecue sauce was out of this world! The inside of the chicken was very tender and juicy. It really was finger-licking good! And the prices were fantastic! Nothing was more than $8.
If we come again, I know we will want to try the chicken wings as I hear they are also really great! I believe there is more than one location for Ted’s Kickin’ Chicken, but it is a locally owned chain. Have you ever had chicken from Ted’s? What did you think? Leave your comments below.
Ted’s Kickin Chicken is located at 1007 Statesville Road in North Wilkesboro. It is open Tuesday – Saturday for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to stay home for the holidays and lately I have been so busy, I have not had the chance to dine out a lot. So, instead of reviewing a restaurant, like I usually do, I am please to share this recipe that pastry chef Evan Sheridan from Heron’s in Cary (a Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond restaurant) shared with us that you might want to make for the holidays. The last time I ate at Heron’s was for my sister’s birthday. It’s a great place to go for special occasions or celebrations.
Chef Evan says this is his own family recipe for a Caramel Apple Crumb Cake. The sweet apples and warm crumbles on top are worth saving a little extra room in your tummy for dessert!
Caramel Apple Crumb Cake (Serves 8)
5 ounces All Purpose Flour
3 ounces Light Brown Sugar
4 ounces Melted Butter
Pinch Kosher Salt
¼ teaspoon Vanilla Extract
9 ounces Sugar
5 ounces Vegetable Oil
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 large Eggs
9 ounces Grated Apple (Do not worry about peeling them)
2 ounces Pecan Pieces (Roasted)
9 ½ ounces All Purpose Flour
½ teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
¾ ounces Dried Currants
For the Crumb
Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl or stand mixer.
Slowly add in melted butter and mix either by hand or at a low-speed until it forms the shape of “pea gravel.”
Spread out on a sheet pan and refrigerate.
For the Cake
Paddle the whole eggs with the sugar at a medium speed until light and fluffy.
Slowly add in oil being sure not to break the “emulsion.”
Add in the sifted dry ingredients.
Add in Grated Apples with Currants and Pecans and mix until combined.
Allow batter to rest 8-12 hours for best results.
Pour batter into a well-oiled/sprayed baking pan.
Sprinkle Crumb over the top of the cake and bake at 350F for 20-40 minutes or until the cake is set and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
I have been dying to try out Chef Jason Smith’s new restaurant Harvest 18 in Durham. Many of you know about his other restaurant, 18 Seaboard in Raleigh, which is a fantastic place to go for seafood. His new establishment features farm to fork dishes. They claim to source about 80 percent of the food in North Carolina.
The restaurant has a modern minimalist look to it. Big plate-glass windows line the walls and the concrete floors give it almost an industrial feel, even though this is a new building.
I went with a friend for lunch and we started our meal with an appetizer of pimento cheese from Ashe County Cheese. It was served warm with tortillas. It was thick and had a bit of sharpness from the cheddar cheese and saltiness from the pimentos and just the right amount of spice.
My friend had the catfish salad which was pan seared and was served with fresh, mixed greens, Holley Grove goat cheese, Anaheim peppers, heirloom tomatoes and a honey balsamic vinaigrette.
It was cold out the day we visited so a nice bowl of chili with an heirloom bacon lettuce tomato sandwich was just the ticket. It was a nice blend of beans, tomatoes and onion. The sandwich had a huge piece of thick-cut bacon and a very thick slice of tomato as well.
For dessert we had a piece of apple cake with walnuts. Wow, it was delicious! It was moist and crumbly and the home made whipped cream was the perfect complement to the apples. It was drizzled with a caramel sauce. Yum! The only complaint I had was it would have been even better if it had been heated. I would have really loved this dish if it was served warm.
I came back with some work colleagues a couple of weeks later and had a very good meal again. We started the meal with the Sea Island Red Pea Hummus. I really liked the earthiness of this dish.
This time I decided to try the meatloaf. Wow, it was spectacular, and that’s not something I would usually say about meatloaf. The meat was freshly ground and was presented with beautiful grill marks. It almost looked like a steak! It was served over blue cheese mashed potatoes and some collard greens. The key to the meatloaf was the Worcester sauce. It gave the meat a very rich taste. The mashed potatoes were also very rich tasting. I am not usually a fan of blue cheese, but the sharp taste from the blue cheese really works well with the meatloaf. This is a great meal to have on a cold winter’s night.
For dessert we had the carrot cake which was moist and not too sweet. The cream cheese frosting was really good too.
Harvest 18 is located next to the Streets at Southpoint at 8128 Renaissance Parkway in Durham. It is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. You can follow them on Twitter or like their Facebook page to hear about specials and news from the restaurant.
A few weeks ago my friends were in town and we wanted to eat in Raleigh. We decided to check out Jose and Sons, which is just around the corner from Crank Arm Brewery. The restaurant is in the warehouse district in a little strip of stores with a brick front. There’s a sign on the door, that immediately let’s you know you are in store for some fun that says, “Hola Y’all!”
This cheery, creative restaurant combines Mexican food with Southern favorites. I heard the owners, Charlie, Joel and Hector Ibarra, are the folks who used to own Jibarra in North Raleigh. I remember eating there a long time ago and loved that restaurant.
The dining room is light and airy with an industrial feel to it. We started our meal with some cocktails and a couple of appetizers.
We had the pimento cheese tostones. They were slices of plantains that were fried and topped with nice fat slabs of bacon, a smudge of pimento cheese and topped with some scallions. Yum! I knew were were in for a treat!
We also tried the ceviche which was cleverly served in a mason jar. In addition to the seafood (fish and scallops), it had spinach, avocado, onions and tomatoes. The brightness of the lime really complimented the fish.
I had the Crank Arm Barbacoa, which was a beef brisket that was slowly braised in some Crank Arm beer, and chile. It was served on a banana leaf with rice, black beans and avocado. It was tender and full of flavor.
One friend had the Mahi Mahi taco, which was flowing over with nice chunks of lightly blackened fish. It was served with pico de gallo, lettuce and black beans along with a salsa Verde.
My other friend had the enchiladas del mar, with Casabel blackened tiger shrimp. Which were big, sweet pieces of shrimp served with spinach and a tomatillo salsa.
My husband had the Mexican version of shrimp and grits. The grits were infused with a Gouda cheese, one of my husband’s favorites. His dish was the one dish we all thought was just average. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as unique as the others.
Jose and Sons is located on 321 West Davie Street, Suite 102 almost across the street from The Pit, and around the corner from Crank Arm Brewery. They are open Tuesday – Friday 11:30am – 2:30pm, Saturday from noon – 3pm, and Sunday from 11am – 3pm for lunch; Tuesday – Thursday from 5pm – 10pm, and 5pm – midnight Friday – Saturday for dinner. They are open from 11am – 3pm on Sunday for lunch as well. For specials and events follow them on Twitter or like their Facebook page.
The other night our new neighbors invited us to join them for dinner in Chapel Hill. Of course we jumped at the chance to go! We’ve been excited to meet new friends and to share our passion of food. Our neighbors suggested we go to Vespa in Chapel Hill. We had not been there for many years, so we were more than happy to oblige.
All I could remember was we went with our family about 8 years ago and enjoyed a nice Italian meal. The restaurant is conveniently located on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill. We had a nice little walk after parking down the street. We sneaked a peak at the inside which was crisp and clean looking with floor to ceiling windows and light blue painted walls and a simple, clean design. It was nice weather though, so we decided to eat outside.
We started our meal with stuffed artichokes. They had potatoes, celery, carrots and an apricot sauce. It was like a little stew and was a very comforting dish, though a little messy to eat. None of us could detect the apricot, but the vegetables were soft and enjoyable.
I ordered the Agnello, which was a lamb shank that was slowly braised in a red wine sauce and served with a side of turmeric risotto. The lamb was extremely tender and fell right off the bone. It was bursting with lots of flavor and was really incredible.
One of our friends had the pork loin which was stuffed with apricots, wrapped in prosciutto, and served over garlic mashed potatoes and a fig and port sauce, which had a rich taste to it. It was also served with some grilled asparagus which had a nice smoky flavor to it. Her dish was also really good.
Her husband had the beef tenderloin tips, simmered in a red wine and vegetable stew and served over turmeric risotto, which was also really great. Again, the meat was nice and tender and had a lot of flavor to it.
My husband had the Penne al Fumo, which was smoked salmon and spring peas served in a pink sauce. The salmon had good flavor and complimented the tomato-based cream sauce. The penne is a wide noodle with ridges, which allows the pasta to capture more of the sauce. It was a nice dish as well.
Vespa is located at 306 West Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill. The restaurant is open from 11:30 – 2:30 for lunch daily, from 5 pm to 10 pm for dinner and 10:30pm – 2:30am for a late night menu.You can like their Facebook page to hear about the latest specials and events.
I’ve been clamoring to go to Raleigh for awhile to check out Crank Arm Brewery, off of Davis Street, near The Pit Restaurant. In full disclosure, I donated some money to their Kickstarter campaign when they were first setting up shop as I believe in supporting our local food and beverage culture. I was intrigued by their business model which involves combining a bike rickshaw tour business with the brewery.
The outdoor patio is a nice place to hang out and enjoy some beer, or come inside to a spacious and inviting bar. The bar is dog friendly, so you can bring Fido along with you. The first thing you may notice is the intricate sculpture of bike gears on the large, brick wall. There is a handle and the end that invite you to crank it slowly to watch the gears move in unison. Very impressive!
Since we had not been here before, we decided to get the tasting wheel, a conglomeration of five of Crank Arm’s brews. The wheel started with the Whitewall, a light Belgian wheat beer. It was very crisp and was brewed with Citra hop pellets, and the strong citrus notes were very apparent. Think of it as tasting like someone shaved some pineapple and orange peel into your beer. It was quite good.
Next was a slightly more golden toned beer called the Unicycle. This was my favorite beer on the wheel. It was an American style pale ale that features one hop. The hop featured in the beer rotates, but while we were there it featured a Mosaic hop, which had a lot more of a fruity taste with mango, lemon, herbal notes to it. To me, it has a very flowery smell to it, which I like.
Next was the Rickshaw, which was an American Rye IPA. This has a more spicy taste to it and has a little higher alcohol content than some of the other beers. It was also a very enjoyable beer.
We tried the Dunkelbiken next, which is a German dark wheat ale. It was very smooth and had some tones of banana in it.
Last on the wheel was Eat Sleep Bike, a bitter beer, but really wasn’t what I’d call all that bitter. Eat Sleep Bike is an English-style ale with a slight caramel taste to it.
We tried a few more beers that were more complex in taste. My favorite, possibly of all the beers, was the Holy Smokes, a molé porter, which was very dark beer made with habanero peppers and Videri Chocolate. Videri is next door to Crank Arm, I later found out, as we continued our own self-tour of this part of Raleigh. I usually don’t like porters because they are heavy, but the zip of the habanero and the rich smoothness of the chocolate made this beer a real treat.
I also really liked the Zipaway, a Saison beer made with lemon grass and ginger. It had a dry, zingy taste and was a perfect beer for the summer, but now that we are getting close to fall, this may be the last of this beer for awhile.
The Break Away was a Belgium Saison, and was very smooth and features more of the malt flavors. It was almost sweet tasting after some of the other beers. I would say it had a little of a honey taste to it. I really liked this beer.
The last beer we tried was the Uphill Climb, a Belgian Blonde beer. It was a light, golden beer that had a fruity taste to it. Again, another very pleasant beer. It was hard to tell in some ways after trying some of the darker beers. I was really craving a palate cleanser. I wish they had some saltines or little crackers .
Adam Eckhardt, who is one of the owners of Crank Arm, said business is booming and they are having a great year, actually much better than they ever expected. I am not all surprised to hear this as everyone I seem to talk to have been telling me I needed to check out their beer!
I’m glad I finally got into Raleigh and had a chance to drop by and wish them continued success!
Crank Arm Brewery is located at 319 W Davie Street in Raleigh. They are open Monday – Wednesday from 4pm – midnight; Thursday – Friday from 4pm to 2am, Saturday from noon – 2am and Sunday from noon – 10pm. You can like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.
My sister and I decided to meet for lunch the other day. She lives in Cary and suggested we try the Tangerine Cafe, a little restaurant with different Asian dishes. I vaguely remembered hearing about this place, which is located in a shopping strip mall on the corner of Cary Parkway and Old Apex, just down the road from my old house. The restaurant is tucked away near the Town and Country Hardware store, so you have to be looking for it. This used to be where Tasca Brava was located back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s before it moved to Raleigh.
The dining room is small but adorns bright lime green walls and a mirror across one side of the restaurant makes the place appear bigger than it is. It is a popular spot despite the fact that it is not exactly that noticeable from the street.
A nice waiter came to take our orders. I was intrigued to see the variety of Asian dishes offered here. In addition to Chinese, they had Thai, and Singaporean dishes. I was happy to see that the prices were quite reasonable.
I decided to have the Mee Goreng. The Mee Goreng is a street food item in Indonesia and Singapore. It has thick egg-based noodles stir fried with chicken, shrimp, strips of onion and eggs with bean sprouts, shredded carrots and topped with cilantro. It had a tomato-based sauce that was mildly spicy. I am a big fan of this dish and this did not disappoint.
My sister tried the Singapore noodles, which were very thin noodles. They were cooked in a curry sauce with shrimp and chicken, and had shredded carrots, onions and some other vegetables in it. She said it was pleasant dish, but maybe not that memorable.
Our dessert, though, was really amazing. The coconut custard was topped with kiwis, pineapple, strawberries and sliced almonds and head a very smooth, coconut taste to it. It was delicious. It was like a coconut flan. Yummy!
We were overall impressed with this little gem in Cary. I will come back sometime to try some of the Thai dishes.
Tangerine Cafe is located at 2422 SW Cary Parkway in Cary, NC. They are open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday – Friday and from noon to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
The 7th Annual Pepper Festival is just around the corner! This event, raising money for Abundance NC, celebrates the peppers in dishes created by local chefs and local breweries. Get a taste of local cuisine in a fun and engaging way, while listening to some great music and participating in activities as well. The event will be held Sunday, October 5 at the Briar Chapel neighborhood, just south of Chapel Hill in Chatham County.
The festival is really about a celebration of sustainable agriculture and the farmers in the Piedmont region too. I went a couple of years ago and had a great time strolling from booth to booth eating samples of food from a variety of restaurants. And, rather than have to go from restaurant to restaurant all over the Triangle, here’s a place where the chefs come to you!
The peppers in the food and beverages range from sweet peppers to hot and spicy habaneros. One of my favorite dishes ended up being a habañero ice cream. To get a full list of the chefs and restaurants that will be featured at the festival, click here. Music includes Phil Cook and Tender Fruit. And, what Pepper Festival would not be complete without a Pepper King and Queen? The male and female who sell the most tickets to the event are crowned as king and queen.
Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. To get tickets or find out more about the festival, click here. The Abundance NC holds workshops and events surrounding the topics of sustainability, local food and local economy.
We wanted to celebrate our friend’s birthday the other day. She lives near Denver, NC and we wanted a nice place to take her out. We decided to check out a place called Chillfire Bar & Grille. The interior had lots of cozy booths with pendant lights with black shades, giving the place a feel of an upscale steak house. And that is what this place is all about.
This place is owned by the folks who own Mickey and Mooch and the Epic Chophouse in the Charlotte region. My friends told me that Mickey and Mooch is very upscale, and Chillfire was a little more relaxed than their other place. The wait staff all wore white shirts and black pants in a very classic style. They were very professional.
We started our meal out with some cocktails and I was delighted to find out that many of the cocktails they make use alcohol made from local sources such as TOPO gin (Top of the Hill) from Chapel Hill. We also ordered the angry lobster appetizer. The name was funny, but apt as the lobster is fried with cayenne pepper, and spices and served with a horseradish and jalapeno honey mustard dip. The lobster was tender and sweet with a nice kick of spice to it. The batter was nice and crispy and not too greasy.
One of our friends had the three onion soup, which I tried. The broth was sweet and beefy with lots of shallots, red onions and sweet Vidalia onions and a good portion of Provolone cheese. The cheese was melted on top, so basically was served like a French onion soup. The crescent roll that was served on the side was very flaky and had a hint of honey which went very well with the soup.
Another friend had the crab stuffed Flounder which was served with a white wine butter sauce. It was a simple, but very satisfying dish. All the portions at this restaurant are rather large, so make sure you are hungry before you come!
I had the golden rib eye, which was a nice portion of Angus beef that had been aged for at least 30 days and was charbroiled Pittsburgh style in a 1800 degree broiler. It was served with a delicious golden dressing. I had a side of mashed potatoes, which were nice and creamy – a good, classic side dish for a steak.
My husband had the pork shank, with creamed spinach as a side dish. It looked like a dinosaur bone! It was a big piece of meat with a nice, crispy crust on it. The pork was fall of the bone tender. It was quite good!
Another friend had the horseradish and Asiago crusted salmon. It had a nice, golden brown crust to it, but our friend said she had a hard time tasting the horseradish. It was topped with some slices of avocado and had a schmear of a tomatillo-avocado sauce underneath the salmon. She enjoyed the dish, but I’m not so sure how this combination would go together. I have to trust her judgment because I didn’t try this dish.
Our friend who was celebrating her birthday had the Blackjack Bob, which was a chicken breast that was blackened and served over fettuccini with broccoli, tomatoes and prosciutto. She said it tasted great and had just the right amount of heat.
Of course we had to have some dessert even though we were all full. We tried the chocolate cake it was one of the biggest pieces of cake I have seen in a long time. It had about five layers of cake and frosting. It was moist and fresh and very chocolaty. We were glad to be splitting it amongst five people!
Chillfire is a great place to celebrate a birthday, have a special meal with family and friends or on a date night.
The executive chef, Jon Spencer, who is also the executive chef at the Epic Chophouse, will be competing in the Fire in the City competition, sponsored by Got to be NC, starting August 26, so consider attending the competition and cheering him on!
Chillfire is located at 121-A Cross Center Road in Denver, NC. They are open Monday – Thursday from 5-10pm, Friday and Saturday from 5-11pm and Sunday from 5-9pm. They are also open for Brunch on Sundays from 10:30 am – 2:30 pm. You can follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook.