Review – Michael’s Seafood in Carolina Beach, NC

Outside of Michael's Seafood
Michael’s Seafood is located on Carolina Beach.

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.

Inside of Michael's Seafood
Inside Michael’s Seafood.

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.

bucket of clams
Great bucket of Carolina clams.

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!

key lime margarita
Key Lime Margarita.

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.

Bowl of seafood chowder
Award-winning seafood chowder.

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!

a plate of blackened mahi mahi
Blackened Mahi Mahi

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.

Tuna dish
Tender pieces of tuna.

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.
Michael's Seafood Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Beckett’s Table in Phoenix, AZ

Sign of Becketts Table
Beckett’s Table 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.


Inside Beckett's Table
Friendly atmosphere at Beckett’s Table.

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.

plate of artichoke dip
Artichoke dip.

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.

pork stew in a cast iron pan
Pork stew.

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.

Pork Osso Buco
Amazing Pork Osso Buco.

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.

Fig and Pecan Pie with vanilla ice cream
Award-winning Fig and Pecan Pie.

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.
Beckett's Table Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

American Meltdown – Review

American Meltdown sign
Happy surprise to see American Meltdown in the food court!

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!

Fig N Pig sandwich
Combo of figs, speck and goat cheese. Yum!

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.

ham cheddar and apple sandwich
The Orchard sandwich.

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.

side order of fried Brussels Sprouts
Fried Brussels Sprouts.

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!

American Meltdown Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Winter and Holiday Cocktail Class at Crude Bitters

menu and glass
Welcome to the Crude Bitters Winter and Holiday Cocktail Class!

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!

a bunch of bottles of bitters
A menagerie of bitters lining the bar.

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.

creepy Christmas sweater
Craig’s Christmas sweater was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time!

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:

  • 1oz. bourbon
  • 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.

Review – Saigon Bistro in Wilmington, NC

Outside of Saigon Bistro
Saigon Bistro in Wilmington, NC.

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.

Booths at Saigon Bistro
Inside of Saigon BIstro

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.

Lettuce on a plate
Amazingly tasty salad.

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!

Bun Bo Hue with beansprouts basil and more
Bun Bo Hue.

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.

rib eye dish on a white plate
Rib eye in gravy.

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.
Saigon Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review – Havana Fresh Island Restaurant in Carolina Beach, NC

Exterior of Havanas on Carolina Beach
Havana’s on Carolina Beach.

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.

Interior of the dining room.
Inside the Loughlin House that is now Havana’s Restaurant

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.

four slices of quesedilla with fruit and apple cake
Breakfast Quesedilla

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!

Blue crab benedict with Havana hash
Blue Crab Benedict.

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!

Burrito stuffed with scrambled eggs and beans
The Mayan Breakfast dish.

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.
Havana's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review – Britt’s Donut Shop in Carolina Beach

Outside of Britts
Britts is located on the boardwalk in Carolina Beach.

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.

Britts sign syaing cash only
Cash only please!

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.

Making the doughnuts at Britts
Making the doughnuts at Britts.

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!

Making the doughnuts at Britts
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.

Restaurant Review-True Flavors in Durham, NC


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.

True Flavors Diner's door
True Flavors is in the Greenwood Shopping Center in Durham.

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 interior of the diner.
Inside the 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.

duck con fit hash with a fried egg
The duck con fit hash was a great selection.

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!

Large root beer float
The root beer float was really tasty and bubbly!

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!

Big burger from True Flavors Diner
Burger from True Flavors

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.

True Flavors Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review – Cape Fear Seafood Company in Wilmington, NC

Outside of Cape Fear Seafood Company in Wilmington, NC
Cape Fear Seafood Company is in a nondescript strip mall.

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.

full dining room at Cape Fear Seafood Company
Dining room.

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.

gin drink with cucumber
Cucumber cooler.

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.

clam and corn chowder
Chowder was delicious.

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.

Trigger fish with buttnut squash risotto and asparagus.
Special of the day – Trigger fish with butternut squash risotto and asparagus.

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!

Diablo pasta dish
Diablo Shimp pasta.

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.

A dish with mussels and shrimp over a bed of rice.
A dish with mussels and shrimp over a bed of rice.

My friends’ had a dish with mussels and shrimp. I am not sure what the dish was actually called, but he really liked it.

Broiled scallops and asaragus on a plate
Broiled sea scallops with asparagus.

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.

Cape Fear Seafood Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review-Smokey’s BBQ Shack in Morrisville, NC


Smokey's BBQ Shack in Morrisville exterior
True definition of a dive. You want to drive away as soon as you pull up to the place!

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.

People eating on the porch
People eating lunch on the front porch area.

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.

Brisket sandwich with fried okra and hush puppies.
Brisket sandwich with fried okra and hush puppies.

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.

Barbecue sandwich with slaw
Barbecue sandwich with slaw.

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.

Smokey's BBQ Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Battle of the Champions May Determine the Question of “Who is the Best Chef in NC?”

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!

this year.

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.

Ryan Conklin
Triangle winner Ryan Conklin in the kitchen during the final battle. Photo courtesy of Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series.

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.

strip serloin and grits
Ryan Conklin’s second course dish of a Bourbon Barrel Smoked Certified Angus Beef® Brand Strip Loin with grits. Photo courtesy of Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series.

The line up of chefs is as follows:

  • Wednesday, Oct. 28: Ryan Conklin, Rex Healthcare(Raleigh) vs. Joseph Cornett, The Flipside  Café (Fort Mill, South Carolina)
  • Thursday, Oct. 29: Richard Miller, Graze(Winston-Salem) vs. Oct. 28 winner
  • Friday, Oct. 30: Todd Warden, The Cliffs Valley(Greenville, South Carolina) vs. Brent Martin, The Summit Room (Charlotte)
  • 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 and are guaranteed to sell out quickly.


Review – All Soul’s Pizza in Asheville

All Souls Pizza sign
All Souls Pizza in Asheville


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!

Inside All Souls Pizza
A fun and colorful place to eat pizza.

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).

Asparagus pizza
Asparagus Pizza.

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.

pizza with sausage and kale
Sausage and kale 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.

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Calavera’s Great Place for Empanadas and Tequilla

Calavera's door
Calavera’s in Carrboro.

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.

Interior shot of Calavera's in Carrboro
Interior of Calavera’s in Carrboro

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!

2 Empanadas in a tray
The empanadas at Calavera’s.

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!

Spicy Pineapple Habanero Magarita
Spicy Pineapple Habanero Magarita.

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.

Cala Vela Empanada & Tequila Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Delightful Dinner at Mesa Latin Kitchen in Durham

people at table take photos of the food
Food bloggers going crazy with their cameras!

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.

cucumber basil martini
Cucumber basil martini.

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.

fritters and olives
Fritters and olives – a great way to start our meal!

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.

cuban sandwich sticks
Even though I’m a Cuban sandwich snob, I have to admit these were fantastic!

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.

a plate of asparagus with fried lemon slices
Grilled asparagus with fried lemon slices.

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.

piece of trout with skin on and dots of potato and sauce
Carolina trout.

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.

goat cheese flan
Amazing goat cheese flan.
tapioca pudding served in a small coconut
Coconut tapioca pudding.

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!

smoked tuna taquitos in a line
Smoked tuna taquitos

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.

bowl of guacamole
Cuban guacamole with smoked pineapple

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.

Photo of Chef Douglas Rodriquez at the media event
James Beard Award winning chef Douglas Rodriguez.

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.

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Review – Cholanad in Chapel Hill

outside of Cholanad
Cholanad is located on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill.

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.

inside the dining room of Cholanad
Light and airy interior.

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.

Appetizer at Cholanad
Medhu Vadai appetizer.

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.

Naan bread with brussel sprouts in a creamy sauce
Brussel Sprout dish.

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.

Crab dish with a big rolled up bread called dosa
Crab and Shrimp Dosa.

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?

Chicken Tikki Masala
My husband’s Chicken Tikki Masala dish.

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.

Three piles of white rice with scallops
Scallop dish.

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.
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Twin Leaf Brewery in Asheville

Brick building with Twin Lead sign on it
Twin Leaf Brewery is located on Asheville’s South Slope.

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.

Bar and interior of Twin Leaf
Inside Twin Leaf 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's Bar
By the bar.

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.
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Review – Rezaz in Asheville

Outside of Rezaz in Asheville
Rezaz is located in Biltmore Village in Asheville.

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.

three slices of fried Manchego cheese on a plate
Yummy Manchego cheese.

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.

bowl of pea soup with crab
Pea soup with a soft shelled crab.

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.

duck breast on a plate
Smoked duck breast.

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.

Gnocchi with Spring vegetables

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.

grouper on a plate with julianned veggies
Beautiful grouper

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.

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From Chefs of the Coast – Red Sky Cafe in Duck

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:
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.
Chef Wes Stepp, photo by Sarah Keenan Creative
Chef Wes Stepp, (photo by Sarah Keenan Creative)


The Chef

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.”

The Restaurant

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.

The Recipes

Scallops Casino, photo by Sarah Keenan Creative
Scallops Casino (photo by Sarah Keenan Creative)

Scallops Casino

Serves 2


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.


olive oil

6 scallops

½ cup diced tomato

¼ cup diced Vidalia onion

¼ cup diced poblano pepper

crumbled bacon

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.

Charred Tuna, photo by Sarah Keenan Creative
Charred Tuna (photo by Sarah Keenan Creative)

Charred Tuna

Chef’s note: “This is a Tastefully Fit entrée.”

Serves 1


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.

Wasabi Paste

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons wasabi powder

Slowly add water to powder until achieving desired consistency.


olive oil

6-ounce fillet local yellowfin tuna

kosher salt and crushed pepper to taste

black and white sesame seeds

seaweed salad

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.
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Review – Hole in West Asheville


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.

building outside
Cute building located on Haywood and Wamboldt.

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.

display of four doughnuts
Display of doughnuts for the day.

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.

women making doughnuts
Making the 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!

dunking the doughnuts into the fryer
The next step in the process.

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!

two glazed doughnuts
Yummy doughnuts still hot from the fryer.

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.

inside of Hole lots of people
Small, yet inviting dining room.

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.
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Review – White Duck Taco Shop in Asheville

White Duck sign overlooking patio
White Duck Taco Shop in the RAD.

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.

picnic tables with umbrellas
It was a nice day, so lots of people sat on the porch area.

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.

ordering off the chalkboard menu
The menu is a chalkboard.

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.

two tacos on a plate
Thai Peanut and Beef Bulgogi tacos

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.

Salted Caramel Macaroon pie
Salted Caramel Macaroon pie.

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.
White Duck Taco Shop on Urbanspoon

Review: Flatiron Kitchen and Taphouse in Davidson

Sign of the restaurant
Flatiron in Davidson, NC.

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!

Interior shot of the restaurant
Warm atmosphere inside the Flatiron.

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.

picture of the menu
The menu offers many tempting creations!

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.”

Fried green tomato caprese
Fried Green Tomato Caprese

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?

beef carpaccio on a plate
Wagyu Beef Carpaccio.

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.

Wayu Meatloaf en Croute
Wagyu Meatloaf en Croute

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 You can also follow them on Twitter: @flatirontap.

Flatiron Kitchen + Taphouse on Urbanspoon

Review-Fiesta Tacos Mexican in Angier

Outside of Fiesta Tacos with yellow umbrellas
The outside of Fiesta Tacos in Angier looks like a little burger place.

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.

inside Fiesta Tacos
The menu is located on the back wall of the restaurant

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!

big bowl of seafood soup with shrimp
Absolutely amazing seafood soup!

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.

Plate with chicken burrito, refried beans and rice
Chicken burrito.

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.
Fiesta Tacos on Urbanspoon

Review – Gocciolina Farm-to-Table Italian in Durham


Gocciolina exterior at night
Gocciolina is located in a small strip mall off of Guess Road in Northern Durham.

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.

plate of Brussel Spouts
Soft and sublime Brussel Sprouts.

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.

fried eggplant topped with beets
Fried eggplant with red beets and goat cheese.

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.

plate that looks like small raviolis
This Pork Agnolloti was a light and comforting food.

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.

gnocchi dish
Gnocchi with veal

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.

narrow slice of chocolate torte
This chocolate torte was much like a S’More.

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.

two cannolis with powdered sugar on top on a plate
Locally made cannolis

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!

Gocciolina on Urbanspoon

Review – Radius Pizza in Hillsborough

exterior of Radius Pizzeria and Pub
Radius Pizza in Hillsborough

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.

Staff preparing pizzas to go in the oven
Staff preparing pizzas to go in the oven.

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.

plate of calamari

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.

Plate of arugula salad
Arugula salad.

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!

Pimento cheese pizza

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.

Pesto pizza
Pesto pizza

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.

farmers market pizza
Farmers Market pizza.

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.

Radius Pizzeria & Pub on Urbanspoon

Review – Flipside Cafe in Ft. Mill, SC

Menu on chalkboard
The Flipside Cafe serves farm to table favorites.

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.

Pimento cheese and home made pretzel
Pimento cheese and home made pretzel.

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.

Flied of roasted Brussels sprouts
Fabulous Brussels Sprouts!

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!

Plate with meatloaf and mashed potatoes
Flipside’s version of meatloaf.

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!

plate of pasta alfredo
Alfredo pasta.

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.

Plate of salmon

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.

Review – Basan Bull City Sushi in Durham

Doors to the restaurant
Outside of Basan Bull City Sushi

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!

Inside the dining room at Basan
The interior is modern Asian.

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.

Sushi Bar
Sushi bar was empty at lunchtime, but will be full before a game or a performance at the DPAC.

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.

side salad
Side salad.
cup of corn potash soup
Corn Potage.

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.

lunch combo with salmon
Lunch combo with salmon.

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.

BBQ beef short ribs combo plate
Lunch combo with the BBQ Beef short ribs.

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.

Basan Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Review – Daniel’s Pizza and Pasta in Apex

Outside of Daniels
Daniels is located just off of Highway 55 near Highway 64.

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!)

inside of Daniels restaurant.
Daniel’s is a rather large restaurant, yet has an intimate feel to it.
thick breadsticks with garlic and a yummy marinara sauce
These bread sticks and marinara sauce are a great way to start your meal.

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.

plate full of mushroom raviolis with onion on top
One of my all time favorite dishes is the mushroom ravioli.

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.

chicken over a plate of spagetti
Chicken was a really good dish too.

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.

Daniel's on Urbanspoon

Review – Penny Path Cafe and Crepe Shop in High Point

father a daughter behind the counter
Miro Buzov and his daughter.

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!

Outside of the Penny Path
The Penny Path in downtown High Point.
Pennies make a path in the floor
Copper pennies line the floor.

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.

Daughter making the crepes
Making crepes.

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.

A kitchen sink creme cut into wedges
The Kitchen Sink crepe.

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!

People sitting around the counter.
Each seat at the counter is different.

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!

Fruit Cheesecake Crepe
Fruit Cheesecake Crepe.

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 Penny Path Cafe and Crepe Shop on Urbanspoon

Review – Cafe Anar in Morrisville

Outside of Cafe Anar
Cafe Anar recently opened in Morrisville.

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.

Cafe Anar booths and tables
Inside Cafe Anar 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.

Green tea with cup of pistachios
Green tea.

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.

Lamb kabob with rice
Lamb Kabob.

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.

Chicken kabob on a pita
Chicken kabob sandwich.

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.

Cafe Anar on Urbanspoon

Ken’s Grill in LaGrange, NC by Guest Blogger Bob Garner


Bob Garner eating greens
Bob Garner, Barbecue master, and author of “Foods That Make You Say ‘Mmm-mmm'” (Photo by Mike Oniffrey)

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!

Interior of Ken's Grill in LaGrange
Inside of Ken’s Grill in LaGrange, NC.

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.

Bowl of the fish stew at Ken's Grill
Bowl of the Fish Stew.

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.

Ken's Grill on Urbanspoon

Spend your New Year’s Eve at Taste the Event 2015 Party at the Cookery

Taste the event new year's eve banner

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.

photo of wine tasting

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.


Review – Ted’s Kickin Chicken in North Wilkesboro


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!

Front of the building with cars
Outside of Ted’s Kickin’ Chicken in North Wilkesboro.

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.

Inside of Ted's Kickin Chicken
Yes, it’s a dive, but the chicken is divine!

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!

home made potato chips
Home made potato chips are fantastic.

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.

barbecue chicken sandwich
This chicken sandwich is a great deal!

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.

fried chicken dipped in barbecue sauce with bun sticking on top
Fried chicken dipped in barbecue sauce.


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.
Ted's Kickin Chicken on Urbanspoon

Pastry Chef Evan Sheridan of Herons Shares Apple Crumb Cake Recipie

Photo of Evan Sheridan
Herons Pastry Chef Evan Sheridan.

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!

Apple crumb cake in a pan next to a jar of apples
Chef Sheridan’s Apple Crumb Cake.


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.


To Finish

  • 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.

Review – Harvest 18 in Durham

Harvest 18 sign outside the building
Harvest 18 is located near the Streets at Southpoint.

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 interior of Harvest 18
Large windows line the restaurant.

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.

pimento cheese and tortillas
Ashe County pimento cheese.

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.

Catfish salad

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.

half a sandwich and a cup of soup
Soup and salad.

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.

small apple cake topped with whipped cream
Apple Pecan cake.

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.

Harvest 18 on Urbanspoon

Review – Jose and Sons in Raleigh

Door with a sign Hola Ya'll on it
Hola Ya’ll!

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.

Pimento cheese tostones
Pimento cheese tostones.

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!

ceviche in a mason jar
Ceviche cleverly served in a mason jar.

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.

Beef black beans and Mexican rice
Crank Arm Barbacoa.

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.

Three fish tacos
Fish tacos.

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.

Enchilada del mar
Enchilada Del Mar.

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.

Shrimp and grits with spinach.
Jose and Sons version of shrimp and grits.

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.
Jose and Sons on Urbanspoon


Review – Vespa in Chapel Hill

outside of Vespa in Chapel Hill
It was a nice evening to eat outside.

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.

Bowl of stuffed artichokes with peas and carrots
Stuffed artichokes.

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.

Bowl with lamb, risotto and asparagus
Lamb shank.

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.

bowl of pork loin in a red wine sauce
Pork Loin.

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.

Beef tenderloin over risotto
Beef tenderloin tips.

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.

plate of penne pasta in a pink sauce with salmon
Penne with smoked salmon.

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.

Vespa on Urbanspoon

Crank Arm Brewery in Raleigh Pumping Out Great Beer

bikes on a bike rack outside Crank Arm
Bikes outside Crank Arm Brewery. I sense a theme here…

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!

five samples of beers on a gear
Tasting wheel of beers.

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.

four beers on a wheel
We also sampled some specialty beers.

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.

Review-Tangerine Cafe in Cary

Exterior shot of the restaurant in a strip mall
This restaurant is tucked in a corner near the Town and Country Hardware store.

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.

Lime green walls in the restaurant
Bright interior helps make this place seem bigger than it is.

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.

Mee Goreng
Mee Goreng.

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.

Singapore noodle dish
Singapore Noodles.

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.

coconut custard
Amazing coconut custard.

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.
Tangerine Cafe on Urbanspoon

7th Annual Pepper Festival a Great Way to Try Local Food

Cackalacky booth at the Pepper Festival

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!

Gazpacho soup from 18 Seaboard Station at a previous Pepper Festival

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.

Review – Chillfire Bar & Grill in Denver, NC

Outside of Chillfire Bar and Grill
Chillfire Bar and Grill.

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.

Interior of Chillfire
Inviting interior makes a relaxing dining experience.

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.

fried lobster with some lobster shells
Angry lobster appetizer.

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.

cup of soup and crescent roll
Three onion soup.

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.

crab stuffed flounder and side dish
Crab stuffed flounder.

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!

Big ribeye steak with side of mashed potatoes
Golden Ribeye.

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.

pork shank with side of creamed spinach
Pork shank.

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!

Salmon with a side of beans
Horseradish coated salmon.

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.

Big plate of pasta with blackened chicken breast
Blackeye Bob pasta

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.

Big multi layered chocolate cake with a candle
Chocolate cake.

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.

Chillfire Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Mini Review – McDaids Irish Pub in Raleigh


McDaid's Sign
McDaid’s Irish Pub is located across the street from NC State.

Sometimes you have the luck of the Irish and sometimes you don’t. Walking down the sidewalk on Hillsborough Street a few weeks ago, I was in search of a place to eat lunch. I saw a new place called McDaids Irish Restaurant and Pub and thought I’d check it out.

Porch area at McDaids
The porch looks like a good place to sit on a nice day.

I liked the atmosphere in the pub area. The walls have a deep gold color, which is very cheery. There was in interesting mural painted on the ceiling and the manager later told me that a lot of the wood was imported from Ireland. The place is currently owned by Eamonn Cullen and John Heverin, both of whom hail from Ireland. They decided to name the place after the famous McDaid’s Irish pub in Dublin.

Man sitting at McDaid's bar
The bar area at McDaid’s looks very inviting.

I immediately saw a very impressive list of whiskey drinks and wished I was visiting after business hours, but will just have to come again at dinner to try a drink or two. Instead I had water. I know, I lead an exciting life!

plate of the Guinness Gnocchi
The last Guinness Gnocchi

I ordered the Guinness gnocchi. The little fried pillows of dough had some zucchini, carrots and mushrooms and were lathered in a lovely mushroom broth. I wanted a piece of bread so I could soak up all the broth, but it didn’t come with any. Too bad! The best part of the dish was the little fried pieces of Brussels sprouts. The leaves were deep fried and didn’t even resemble Brussels sprouts at all. I had to ask the waitress what it was. I defy any person who says they hate Brussels sprouts to try these and tell me they still don’t like them!

But, here’s where the lack of the luck of the Irish strikes because as lovely as this dish was, I later found out that as I was dining there, they were changing the menu and the dish I just had was the very last time they would be serving it! How disappointing, because I thought it was a really good dish.

Bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce
Bread pudding at McDaid’s.

I also decided to try the bread pudding. which was dusted with a light coating of powdered sugar. It was really delicious and had a nice side of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Yum!

I also took home some smoked trout dip, which was made from local trout and had some saltiness from capes and pickled onions and a bit of lemon in it. It was really creamy and soul satisfying. I also took some fried okra with me, but should have eaten them at the restaurant, because fried okra doesn’t really hold up well. I’m sure they are great when first served at your table.

The new plates on the menu look intriguing, so I will have to come back sometime to try them. I am particularly interested in trying the ginger whiskey wings. Do you see a pattern here? (I love whiskey?). The bangers and mash and the Guinness Braised pot roast also sound like they would be winners. And who can go wrong with corned beef or the Harp beer-battered fish and chips?

Has anyone else dined at McDaid’s yet, and if so, what did you think? Leave your comments below!

McDaid’s is located at 2412 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, across from North Carolina State University. They are open Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook to find out about specials.

Mcdaids Irish Restaurant and Pub on Urbanspoon

Review – J. Betski’s in Raleigh

outside of J Betski's
J Betski’s in Raleigh.

When I think of Polish food, I usually think of the typical kielbasa, pierogies and cabbage. It is tasty and simple. J. Betski’s takes these simple ingredients and elevates them into a fine dining experience that will leave you feeling very satisfied. The cuisine is actually a mixture of Polish and German food, reflecting the owner’s roots.

Large party of people in the restaurant
A party was happening the night we dined at the restaurant.

The restaurant is located in the Seaboard Station area of Raleigh, off of Peace Street near William Peace College. It is a small, quaint and cozy atmosphere. The night we came, there was a large, boisterous party in the back of the restaurant. It made it a little difficult to hear the waitress who was trying to explain the specials of the day.

Beet cocktail
Delicious Beet Jammer

We started off with a cocktail because my friend had been telling me about this amazing beet-flavored cocktail she gets at J. Betski’s. The cocktail is called the Beet Jammer and it’s made with beet-infused vodka, some apple cider and Blenheim’s Spicy Gingerale and is served with a garnish of a lemon slice. It is very refreshing and I could have easily downed several of these drinks if I didn’t have to worry about getting home!

plate of pierogies
The pierogies were excellent.

One of my friends and my husband had the pierogies as an appetizer. These were fresh, homemade pierogies with sliced mushrooms and cabbage, pan fried with browned sage butter. Yum! I wanted to eat a whole plate of these! I was lucky they were willing to share a bite or two.

Brautwurst plate
Brautwurst plate

My husband also had the Bratwurst with sauerkraut. It was a nice sized piece of brat that was juicy and thick. He dipped in the whole grain sweet mustard sauce. A soul-satisfying meal.

Plate with pork schnitzle
Schnitzle plate.

I had the pork schnitzel, with Austrian potato and dill cucumber salad that was served with a side serving of lingonberry jam, which was very sweet and a little tart. The pork schnitzel was very fresh and moist. The breading on the outside was lightly fried. It paired well with the lingonberries and the tartness of the potato salad and dill cucumber salad.

Chocolate torte from J Betski's
Chocolate and hazelnut torte and caramel sauce

For dessert, we tried the chocolate and hazelnut torte with caramel sauce and crumbled bits of fresh bacon and a sprinkle of sea salt. The rich, dark chocolate with the zap of salt from the bacon and sea salt was a great combination.

 banana coconut rum strudel with a spicy avocado ice cream
Banana coconut rum strudel.

However, the dessert I liked even more was the banana coconut rum strudel with a spicy avocado ice cream. The waitress told us many people shy away from this dish when they see avocado ice cream, but let me say it works perfectly with this dessert. It is not a sweet ice cream, but has a umami element that helps tone down the sweetness of the strudel. The taste of the banana coconut filling in the strudel was reminiscent of something one might find at an Asian restaurant for dessert. It was really divine!

We came back a few weeks later during Pierogipalooza.  The restaurant  featured nightly pierogi specials, including some with seafood, or ox tail, squash and more!  We were a bit disappointed, though, as the pierogis were just served as appetizers. We each had a plate of four pierogies, and also got the dessert pierogie, which was a peach pierogi, with a side of pistachio ice cream. It was quite good, but ended up being rather expensive for getting small plates.

J. Betski’s is located at 10 West Franklin Street in Seaboard Station in Raleigh. They are open Tue – Fri: 11:30 am – 2:00 pm, 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm, and Sat: 11:30 am – 2:30 pm, 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm. Find out about specials via their Facebook page.

J. Betski's on Urbanspoon

Poppyseed Market in North Raleigh

diners inside the Poppyseed Market
The Poppyseed Market is a busy spot in North Raleigh

I was visiting a friend in North Raleigh recently and we decided to go to lunch. I am very unfamiliar with the area, so we drove up Leadmine Road and he pointed out a little sandwich shop called Poppyseed Market. It looked like a good place to get a sandwich and catch up on what’s been happening. It’s located in a small strip mall where parking can be a bit scarce.

Person ringing up our order at Poppyseed Market
Checking out at Poppyseed Market.

The place was packed with people and after eating here I can see why. The sandwiches and salads were all very fresh and well made. Chef Julia McGovern pays attention to every detail. She puts a lot of love and care to the dishes she creates.

Brisket sandwich pickle and chips
Slow-roasted Brisket sandwich

When we got there, the place was packed. Seems it is a popular destination for many folks in North Raleigh. We got in line and ordered our food then found a table to sit. I had the special which was the 14-hour slow-roasted, spice~rubbed brisket with sweet caramelized onions, Provolone cheese and I substituted mayonnaise for the horseradish sauce. Actually, the horseradish sauce might have been good, because it did need a little punch to it, but otherwise, it was excellent. It also was garnished with arugula.

a little blurry photo of chicken salad plate
Grilled marinated chicken salad

My friend had the grilled  marinated chicken salad, which had some really yummy croutons on it, along with fresh, organic greens. The salad was also excellent.

In addition to the sandwiches and salads, Chef Julia also serves pizzas. I didn’t get to try one, but would like to come back sometime to check them out. If you have had one, please reply below and let us know how they are!

According to their website, the restaurant was named Poppyseed after her grandfather, “Poppy.” Her mother does the accounting and her father helps out as well. So this is a real family operation!

Poppyseed Market is located at 8801 Leadmine Road in North Raleigh. They are open from 11am – 9pm Monday-Thursday and from 11am-10pm Friday-Saturday. They are closed on Sundays. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter to find out about specials.

Poppyseed Market on Urbanspoon

They are on Fire at Pompieri Pizza in Durham

Temporary sign outside of Pompieri Pizza
Pompieri Pizza is located in the old fire station in downtown Durham.

When I first heard that Durham was getting another pizza place, I was, frankly, unimpressed. “What else can they do with pizza?” I thought. But, a friend of mine suggested we go try it out, so I figured, “What the heck?”

Pompieri Pizza is located in the historic fire station #1 in downtown Durham, right next to Dos Perros. The building was built in 1890. It’s an appropriate location since these pizzas are cooked in an open wood-fired pizza oven that can be viewed from the dining room.

Picnic tables
Long picnic tables encourage people to sit together.
People sitting at the bar
Cozy bar area to enjoy some Bull City Burger Beer!

Much like its sister restaurant, Bull City Burger, this place has long picnic tables, exposed duct work and an open kitchen. The drinks and little bar area is also really nice and it was really tempting to try one of the cocktails if I didn’t have to go to work. But I ended up having water and just enjoying the pizza. I will have to come back after hours to try some drinks! Of course the beer comes from their brewery down the street too!

fish tanks
Aquaponics system at Pompieri Pizza

A really neat feature is the row of fish tanks you see as you walk up to the counter to order. These fish serve a purpose. It’s an aquaponics system where basil plants are growing just above the tanks.

These Neapolitan-style pizzas are all in the tradition of the farm to table concept. Toppings change daily depending on what is locally available. According to owner Seth Gross, “The Neapolitan-style is a thin crust, 12 inch diameter pizza cooked at 800ºF with sparse toppings and black ‘leopard’ charring on the bottom and edges. Originating from Naples, Italy, it is based on a low protein flour.” There is just the one size, which is enough to leave you satiated, but probably not enough for two or more people to split unless you are having a salad or another side dish to go with the pizza. Of course, this gave my friend and I the excuse to try each other’s pizza.

Veggie pizza with pizza shears
Vegetarian pizza of the day.

The day we went, I had the veggie pizza with green beans, corn and cherry tomatoes and garlic oil. My friend had a pizza with red and yellow cherry tomatoes, smoked, thick chunks of bacon, and basil, topped with some fresh mozzarella cheese and a sprig of basil. Both pizzas had a generous portion of a wonderful marinara sauce that had just a hint of spice to it.

Pizza with bacon from Pompieri Pizza
Pizza with bacon and tomatoes.

The pizzas come to the table uncut and have a thick edge of crust that is blackened and charred by the flames from the wood-fired stove, yet the center of the pizza has a nice, very thin crust. The pizzas come with a pair of scissors and a large steak knife, so you can cut your own slices. I found the scissors to be the right tool for the job and think I might have to buy a pair for my own kitchen!

The salads also sound divine. I’d love to come back to try one, but don’t know if I could pass up eating another pizza. These pizzas are really wonderful and special. I don’t know of any other place that makes pizzas in the area that are Neapolitan-style. Maybe there are some, but I just haven’t discovered them yet. So, I would call this anything but just another pizza joint after eating here.

Pompieri Pizza is closed on Mondays, but is open Tuesday – Thursday from 11:12am – 10pm, Friday-Saturday from 11:12am-11pm and Sunday from 4:30-9pm with Sunday family dinner available from 4:30-6:30pm. The restaurant is located at 102 City Hall Plaza, Suite 101 in the Historic Fire Station #1 in Downtown Durham. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

Pompieri Pizza on Urbanspoon

Review – Spicy Green Gourmet in Durham

Outside the Spicy Green Gourmet in Durham
Spicy Green Gourmet in Durham.

It’s always a happy occasion when  you find another good lunch spot near RTP. Even though several new places have opened in the past several years, there’s still ample room for more places. The Spicy Green Gourmet is in the strip mall on the corner of T.W. Alexander and Miami Boulevard, near many other small restaurants. The Executive Chef/Owner, Ashlyn B. Smith, offers a seasonal menu using many locally sourced ingredients in her lunch menu.

Ordering at the counter
Ordering at the counter.
Chicken Panini
Chicken Panini.

Most of the menu features sandwiches and wraps, and some salads as well. I recently visited the restaurant with a friend. She ordered the Southwest Chicken Panini. The Panini had chicken breast meat, roasted red peppers, a slice of Jack Pepper cheese and some hot peppers with a cilantro pesto spread. She said it was the best Panini she’s had! She said the bread was very fresh and while grilled, it was not too greasy as many of these sandwiches tend to get.

BLT Supreme
BLT Supreme.

I had the BLT Supreme, with jalapeno bacon, some spicy pimento cheese along with the usual lettuce and tomato. I chose a nice wheat bread for the bread. It was really great! I loved the zing of the bacon and the little bite from the pimento cheese. It came with a dill pickle and, this was Friday, which I discovered is free cookie Friday. What a great concept! I had a cookie with white chocolate and cranberries. Yum!

Soup and sandwich
Soup and sandwich.

The Spicy Green Gourmet is open Monday – Friday from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at 2945 S. Miami Boulevard in Durham. 
Spicy Green Gourmet Cafe and Catering on Urbanspoon

Review: Buxton Munch Co. on Hatteras Island

Outside of Buxton Munch
Buxton Munch.

By Shelby Kinnard. Read her other blog at:

What Stan Lee creation filled comic book store shelves for 37 years before reaching the big screen as a movie in 1999? What current huge daily-used web site began life in 1994 as “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web?” How many zeroes are needed to indicate one sextillion? If you know the answers to questions like these, you could score freshly baked chocolate chip cookies at Buxton Munch.

Marcie and Oscar Mulder wearing fun glasses
Marcie and Oscar Mulder.

When my husband and I lived on Hatteras Island, cabin fever frequently seized us since we both worked out of the house. One of our favorite spots to sneak out to for lunch was Buxton Munch, located not too far from the famous diagonally striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Owners Marcie and Oscar Mulder have created “a groovy little place with a whole lotta taste” and if you want a healthy wrap, quesadilla, fresh fish sandwich or hand-pressed Angus burger and provocative conversation ranging from local news to great works of literature, this is your place.

Rockfish sandwich
Rockfish sandwich

Marcie runs the front of the house and is responsible for the entertaining decor – SpongeBob, Barbie, spirographs, Woodstock posters and tie dye all feature prominently. (Don’t miss the autographed photo of a teenaged Marcie with Tony Orlando.) Marcie once worked in radio too; ask her to do one of her voices if she’s not crazed with the lunch rush. Oscar (aka the “O-man”), a man of few words but great smiles, handles the cooking.

wrap plate
“Da Munch” wrap.

“Da Munch,” currently in their 15th season, introduced gourmet wraps to the island and now offers more than 30 different varieties such as Blackened Rockfish, Buffalo Shrimp and Jamaican-Me-Crazy. Crab is prominently featured in their wildly popular Crabby Pattie Crabcake sandwich and Crabby Avocado Wrap. People have been known to drive to Buxton from Nags Head, more than 100 miles round-trip, to sample the best fish tacos on the beach that are served with fresh, local rockfish, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, black beans, rice, tortillas, salsa and sour cream. Quesadillas are wildly popular too – you can select off the menu or build your own. Folks following vegetarian and vegan diets will be pleased with their options as well. Real fruit smoothies containing only fruit, yogurt and raw honey were added to the menu a few years ago and are very refreshing on a hot afternoon.

fish tacos
Wonderful fish tacos!

We very rarely order off the menu at Buxton Munch because they have an extensive collection of daily specials. At the bottom of the specials sheet, meticulously crafted by Marcie each evening, is a trivia question. My husband always gets sidetracked thinking about the question and forgets to pick what he wants to eat. The fish tacos are his go-to when he has to make a quick decision.

2013 was a year of change for Buxton Munch. Once a tiny place with only a handful of tables and a few bar stools, the restaurant expanded when the gift shop next door went out of business. Now the Mulders have more space plus a wait staff instead of only offering counter service and they are able to sell beer and wine.

If you’re looking for a place to “Eat Real” and “Eat Fresh” on your next visit to Hatteras Island, check out Buxton Munch.

Oh, and the answers to the trivia questions are X-Men, and 21.

Buxton Munch, located on Hwy 12 in the Osprey Shopping Center (next to the ABC Store), is open Monday through Saturday from 11:00am to 4:00pm during the summer and early fall. You can see their daily specials on Facebook.

Buxton Munch Co on Urbanspoon

Review – Mother Earth Brewery in Kinston

Outside of brewery
Mother Earth Brewery in downtown Kinston.

One of my favorite breweries in North Carolina is Mother Earth Brewery in Kinston. This place has it going on! The buildings, located in downtown Kinston, just a block away from The Chef and the Farmer, were carefully renovated using LEED principles (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – the U.S. Green Building Council’s certification program). The brewery is a Gold LEED building, which is very impressive.

back porch of Mother Earth Brewery
Water cistern used to collect rainwater to use to water plants.

The building has 72 solar panels on the roof, and the walls are filled with blown cellulose (think shredded, recycled blue jeans). A large cistern adorns the back patio, providing water for the plants outside.

Owners Stephen Hill and Trent Mooring opened Mother Earth Brewery in 2009 and it has rapidly gained a loyal following and is growing in leaps and bounds. Their tag line, “Peace, Love and Beer,” says it all!

My sister and I were in Kinston recently to celebrate her birthday, so we stopped by Mother Earth and took the brewery tour, which occurs at the top of each hour. We found out the beer is distributed in North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. The spent grains are given to local farmers to feed their cattle, which is a great way to keep things sustainable. The brewery is also growing hops in Kinston. You can’t get any more locally sourced than that!

We had fun hearing about the way they make the beer, which I will leave to the tour guide to tell you when you go visit, but I will tell you that the 16 full-time employees who work on brewing the beer have a blast while they work. They even have an old, recycled playground slide they sometimes use to go from the offices upstairs to the brewery floor.

The brewery also recently added a canning machine, which is better for beer than glass bottles because no light can enter the beer, which creates some off tastes. However, the tour guide said, do not drink it from the can, you should buy the can and pour it into a glass, then drink it. I assume that’s so you don’t have a tinny taste from the can.

The brewery is also starting to get into distilling liquor and is working on making rum, gin and whiskey. Ah, another reason to come back!

Mother Earth Brewery tap room filled with people
Mother Earth Brewery’s tap room.

We sat at the tasting room, a very industrial, modern looking room with glowing blue light emanating from the bar with the old brick walls, tall ceilings with exposed duct work and the old hardwood flooring is a perfect setting to sip some beer. We decided to try the Tripel Overhead Barrel-Aged Belgian flight, which features a tasting of each of the three years’ of this brew. The beer is aged in bourbon barrels. The oldest one was the 2012, which you would think would have the strongest bourbon taste, but instead was the sweetest of the three. It has a strong honey flavor to it and was very sweet because it has a lot of malt in it. The 2013 Tripel was more balanced with more of the bourbon flavor coming out of it. It was both my sister and my favorite of the three. The 2014 was darker and had a bit less of the bourbon flavor in it, but it hasn’t aged as long as the other two, so it may get more bourbon overtones over time. These beers are higher in alcohol content than most of their other beers.

My go-to beer at Mother Earth is the Weeping Willow Wit, a wheat beer, that is very smooth and subtle. It is a light golden color and has just a hint of citrus in it. It’s a great drink on a hot summer’s day.

Mother Earth Brewery is open Tuesday to Thursday from 4pm to 10pm, Friday from 2pm until 10pm, and on Saturdays from 1pm until 9pm unless otherwise closed for special events. Free public tours of the brewery are given Tuesday-Friday every hour on the hour from 10am-5pm, and on Saturdays every hour on the hour from 1pm-8pm. You can like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter to hear about events and specials.

Blu Seafood in Durham

Exterior building of Blu Seafood
Blu Seafood

Guest blogger Shelby Kinnaird, also known as the Diabetic Foodie, shares her perspective on Blu Seafood in Durham.   Please check out her blog at

Since moving to the Chapel Hill area about a year ago from the Outer Banks, I haven’t eaten much seafood. Why? Well, because I’m spoiled. If I can’t go to a restaurant that buys directly from commercial fishermen or walk to the dock to get my seafood when I see the boats coming in, it doesn’t seem worth it to me. As a popular bumper sticker says “Friends don’t let friends eat imported shrimp.”

Blu Seafood sign

So, I was curious to try Blu Seafood when I read on their web site that they support local fishing communities and they are “committed to purchasing and serving responsibly sourced seafood without compromising the future of our oceans.” I like that. My husband and I had tickets to see American Idiot at DPAC and we thought that would be the perfect night to book a table at Blu Seafood.

Dinner started off well enough. Any time you are presented with an entirely separate menu exclusively featuring oysters, it’s a good sign. Offering oysters from NC, Florida, the Chesapeake Bay, Rhode Island, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Maine and Washington state, Blu Seafood’s selection changes daily depending on what’s fresh. We opted for the oysters from Harkers Island, NC and were not disappointed. They were just the right amount of salty and served with a vinegar-based sauce that didn’t smother the natural flavor of the oysters the way cocktail sauce sometimes does.

We also tried the winter salad which was composed of several types of lettuce, blue cheese, apples, bacon and candied pecans. It was perfectly dressed – just enough vinaigrette, but not too much. The blue cheese was dynamite and I asked the waitress its source. She disappeared, then came back later to say it was from Wisconsin. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t an NC product.

The oysters and the salad were huge wins. We should have skipped to dessert at that point.

whole fish on a white plate
Loup de mer fish

My husband ordered one of the nightly specials, a whole loup de mer fish (aka Mediterranean sea bass) served with mashed potatoes and green beans. Impressive to view, the fish tasted rather bland even though it was heavily seasoned with herbs. My philosophy is that if you have to go to the trouble of picking bones out of a fish entrée, it had better be something special. This wasn’t.

Bowl of the Mariscada

I decided to try the Mariscada, a Cuban stew featuring fish, mussels, shrimp and fried plantains. The mussels were tiny and dried out, the shrimp was almost nonexistent and the fish was served in a huge chunk instead of bite-sized pieces. As I tried to cut up the fish, the broth splashed everywhere. Quick tip: If you serve fish in a stew, make it easy on your guests and cut it up for them. With any stew, especially one with mussels, I always look forward to dipping some bread in the broth, but as with the loup de mer, the broth was fairly flavorless. The crispy plantains did add a nice bit of crunch to an otherwise blah dish.

We had some time to kill before the show so we ordered dessert – a coconut sandwich. It was quite good and we left the restaurant on an upswing.

We would love to give Blu Seafood another try, but at their prices, we aren’t planning to visit again anytime soon. For example, the oysters were $2.50 EACH. I have heard that their fish tacos are outstanding, so maybe we could afford to go back for lunch some day.

Blu Seafood is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:00am to 2:00pm and for dinner Monday through Saturday from 5:00pm to 10:00pm. You can visit them on Facebook and Twitter.

Blu Seafood and Bar on Urbanspoon

 Review – Virlie’s Grill in Pittsboro

Outside of Virlies Grill
Virlie’s Grill in downtown Pittsboro.

Virlie’s Grill in downtown Pittsboro has been a local hangout for many folks. It used to be the Scoreboard, for those who remember, but changed owners in 2008, and hence the name change, along with a much expanded menu. The sandwiches and salads are generous portions and are inexpensive and served with local, Southern love. But many prefer to come for breakfast, so the other day, my husband and I decided to check out their breakfast scene.

Barside table in Virlies
Inside Virlie’s on a Saturday morning.

We arrived about 9 a.m. and there was a line out the door. We waited about 10 minutes or so to get a table, which wasn’t that bad. Even though the entrance to the restaurant is not very big (hence the line), the seating area is rather large, so it accommodates quite a few people.

Blueberry pancakes with bacon
Blueberry pancakes.

I knew to not worry about my diet on this occasion! I ordered the blueberry pancakes and had a side of bacon and hash browns. Little did I know that was enough food to feed five people! The pancakes were huge, and very fluffy and filling. The butter and syrup is already on the tables, so you just help yourself. The busy waitresses came back and forth, and whomever was in the area was always stopping by to fill our coffee cups and check to make sure we had everything we needed. The bacon was nice and crispy and the saltiness cut through some of the sweet syrup.

Loaded hash browns
Loaded hash browns.

My husband ordered the loaded hash browns, which we had heard was one of their signature breakfast dishes. It was aptly named as the hash browns came with two eggs, bacon, sausage, chopped green peppers and onions with sour cream and cheese. You can’t eat this dish too often, or your are sure to have a heart attack, but boy was it good!

Virlie's dining room
Virlie’s dining room.

The dining area itself is nothing to look at. It’s your basic country restaurant, nothing flashy here, but you will get great service with a smile. I hear recently that the restaurant is open on Saturday evenings now and if you are willing to pay a little cover charge, there’s live music!

Virlie’s Grill is open 7 days a week from Monday-Friday from 6:00am-9pm, Saturday 7:00am-3:00pm (and Saturday evenings they are now open as well!) and Sunday 8:00am-12:00pm.You can follow them on Facebook to hear about specials.

Virlie's Grill on Urbanspoon

Review – Top of the Hill in Chapel Hill

Top of the Hill in downtown Chapel Hill is a cornerstone of the downtown area.

Another Chapel Hill cornerstone is Top of the Hill. This iconic farm to table restaurant has been in the area for many years. Owner Scott Maitland was a student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1994 and didn’t want to see a chain restaurant dominate downtown, so in 1996 he founded Top of the Hill. Thank God, because what we gained was a very special place that everyone thinks about when they think of downtown Chapel Hill!

This brewery and restaurant takes pride in obtaining locally grown ingredients whenever and where ever possible. Executive Chef Trey Cleveland puts out food that is way above your average pub food, yet is not at all pretentious either. I remember how surprised I was when I first paid attention to the menu. I had come to Top of the Hill several times to have beer or a drink, but never ate there until quite recently.

TOPO cocktail
This TOPO cocktail features vodka and cucumber. Yum!

So, when it was my birthday, I asked my sweetie to take me to Top of the Hill to celebrate.Though I probably should have had a beer, I was excited to get a TOPO cocktail, because I love their cocktails!

Creole fried oysters
Creole fried oysters.

We started our meal off with some Creole fried oysters served over slices of locally grown tomatoes. They were lightly breaded and not too greasy. The dipping sauce was a Creole tomato remolaude, and was very fresh. It was a creamy tomato sauce with just a little kick to it. The oysters were very fresh and delicious! Just a slight salty taste and smooth.

mushroom grit cake with shrimp
Wild mushroom grit cake with shrimp

My husband has the wild mushroom grit cakes. The organic grits from Lindley Mills were sautéed with a variety of mushrooms including some portobello, shitake and oyster mushrooms. He topped his cake with some nice, big shrimp and it was served with a rosemary cashew cream sauce.

Whiskey and Coke braised short ribs
Whiskey and Coke braised short ribs.

I had the braised short ribs that was braised in a whiskey and Coca-Cola. It was very tender, and had been slowly cooked to perfection, but there was a bit of gristle in it. It was served with roasted sweet potatoes, red peppers, onions, celery and garlic and a generous helping of creamy mashed potatoes. Yum! The ribs came from Harris-Robinette Farm in Pinetops, NC. The beef cows are grass-fed and the quality shows through the dish.

In addition to the outstanding food and beer, Top of the Hill is the only restaurant in downtown that has a second story patio with outdoor seating, something very prized on an evening when the temperature is just right. It’s a relaxing place to hang out, have a beer and watch the action on Franklin Street. It’s also a fun and energetic place to watch the game and cheer on the Tar Heels!

The dining room is surrounded by full glass walls giving diners a glimpse into the brewery. You can watch your beer being made while you dine! Well, OK, not exactly, but you do get to see the big vats of beer.

Top of the Hill also has great venue space, including the great room and the back bar, which many folks like to go to play pool or watch a sporting event. And, down the street from the brewery is Scott Maitland and company’s latest endeavor – TOPO Distillery.

Top of the Hill is located at 100 East Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill. The restaurant is open every day from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m. Lunch is served until 3:00 p.m. Dinner is served from 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Limited menu served 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m. Follow them on Twitter or like their Facebook page to find out about events and specials.

Restaurant Reviews from around RTP and NC