Monthly Archives: May 2011

Our State Magazine’s Peach Recipe Collection

Do you have a peach recipe that is that talk of the town? Well, Our State Magazine is putting together a collection of peach recipes and are looking for people to submit their best recipes. What is your favorite summertime peach recipe? Click on the image above and submit your favorite recipe to Our State Magazine!

REVIEW: Allen & Son Barbeque – Chapel Hill

Allen & Son Barbeque is a little barbecue joint located just about a mile or two off of I-40 near Chapel Hill on N.C. 86. Allen & Son Barbeque is kind of an odd hybrid barbecue joint. The restaurant is located right along the dividing line between eastern North Carolina and Lexington style so it is only fitting that they use a little bit from each style. Allen & Son doesn’t cook the whole hog. Instead, they just cook the shoulder hitting the Lexington-style. They use a tangy, vinegar-based sauce to keep the ‘cue moist hitting the eastern North Carolina-style sentiments.

Another thing to note about Allen & Son is that they are one of the few remaining barbecue joints in North Carolina that still cook over hardwood coals (with a mix of charcoal, I believe…). Additionally, they also chop their own hickory wood right outside the smokehouse which is pretty damn cool before they use it to fire the pit. Chopping wood kicks ass and the fact that they do it on site makes it taste even better.

The interior of the Chapel Hill restaurant looks similar to the hunting lodge that I used to go to with my dad when I was younger. There were paintings of ducks, quail, deer and other North Carolina wildlife on the walls. There are mounted deer heads hanging and it looks like a true Southern establishment. I’ve read that hunter’s will roll into Allen & Son in full camo after they have been sitting in the duck blinds or out in the field. You can always use “stuffed animals” as a selling point to your kids but make sure that you put a disclaimer in there that the stuffed animals might not be the cute and cuddly type. Anyways, let’s get on to the food…

Their hush puppies were quite impressive. A lot of barbecue restaurants across North Carolina have made it commonplace to bring a basket of hush puppies to the table when you sit down. I only wish that Allen & Son did this because I would be in hush puppy heaven. I had to order them for an additional charge of $1.55 because I had already ordered fried okra as the side to my barbecue sandwich but the additional charge for the hush puppies was well worth it. They are one more style in the various types of hush puppies across North Carolina. They have a thick, sweet glazed crust that is crunchy and followed by a soft interior full of that corn taste that you look for in hush puppy. Serious Eats, one of our favorite food blogs, considers Allen & Son’s hush puppies to be “revelatory”. I agree.

The barbecue sandwich was pretty dang good. I was a little thrown off by the sesame seed bun which you don’t usually see unless a burger patty is sandwiched between it. However, I think it worked well as a bun for a barbecue sandwich and would actually think about using it at home when I make some homemade barbecue. Allen & Son serves mayonnaise-based eastern North Carolina slaw which they topped the sandwich with. The barbecue was tender and moist with a little bit of char to it adding a bit of the crunch that I like in the barbecue that I eat.

I added a little additional sauce to the sandwich which was a little different than most sauces. It was a little spicier than most and there was definitely some butter in there making it taste like a vinegary, Texas Pete-like barbecue sauce. The barbecue doesn’t require the sauce because it tastes good by itself but it does add a different flavor to it If I had been a little hungrier, I would have gotten the barbecue plate because I like eating barbecue sans bun.

The fried okra was a good side for the barbecue but not good enough to warrant getting it again next time. I would probably check out their stew or give their potato salad a try. I don’t regret the okra but I do regret not ordering dessert because they are all made in house by Keith Allen. My friend, Bill, tweeted me that I should definitely give their homemade dessert but I didn’t get his tweet until I was already on the road away from Allen & Son. Guess I will have to get some the next time I stop in there.

Allen & Son Barbeque is open to satisfy your barbecue cravings on Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. It kind of sucks that they aren’t open to cure a case of the Mondays but I am still impressed by their hours especially since I can stop in there anytime that I am headed east on during the week. Allen & Son has a sister restaurant over in Pittsboro serving up the same good food…from what I’ve heard. I just haven’t had a chance to make it over there to compare the two yet.

Click here for a link to the Allen & Son Barbeque menu

Allen & Son on Urbanspoon

REVIEW: Cooking with Chef James Bain’s Surf Salt

Chef James Bain, the owner of Surf Salt, LLC and president of the Waterman’s Journey Group, has been an influential part of the Wilmington food scene for the past decade previously working in the kitchen at places like the now defunct Harvest Moon and Dockside Restaurant. He has also been prominent in the local surfing scene and the latest beach craze, stand-up paddle boarding.

His latest venture, Surf Salt, has been a few years in the making. Surf Salt is “soulful seasoning blends” that are sourced from the world’s best surf breaks. Bain has spent the countless hours researching the world’s most gourmet finishing salts near famous surfing destinations and blending them together with a variety of ingredients to make some tasty combinations.

  • Todos Santos – Smoky and sweet with a little spice for a perfect finish for meat, seafood, and vegetables. Named after breaks along the Pacific coast of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.
  • Chiba (Gluten Free) – Sour green mango with a kick of sweet sugar cane. Named for the mecca of Japanese surfing off the Chiba prefecture.
  • The Grommet – Crunchy, honey nut. Grommet is a slang term for a young surfer or a young participant in extreme sports.
  • Pe’ ahi (Jaws) – Tropical citrus with a taste of honey. Peahi is the name given to a big wave reef break off of Maui in Hawaii. It is known to us, haoles, as “Jaws” with ferocious waves that can reach up to 120 ft. on the face and is tow-in surfing.
  • Waikiki – Subtle sesame with an ocean fresh flavor. Named after the surfing area where the Duke taught haoles how to surf on the island of Oahu.
  • Kirra – Tangy tomato with grains of paradise. Named after the beachside suburb near Queensland, Australia known for its high quality barrels.

Bain sent me some samples of the Kirra, Peahi, Todos Santos and Chiba Surf Salt blends. I wanted to make sure that I cooked Surf Salt with some seafood because that is what I think of when I think of surfing…well that and Turtle from North Shore (“He so haole he don’t even know he haole.”) As you can tell by now, I have never actually been surfing and pretty much have the Hollywood connection to it from watching awesome documentaries like Step Into Liquid and The Endless Summer or classic surf movies like Point Break or Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Even though I have no surfing experience, I have a lot of experience with the ocean as an avid scuba diver.

I stopped by the seafood department at the Harris Teeter up the street from my house to see what they had on special. They were featuring some pretty decent looking eastern North Carolina shrimp so I decided to scoop up a pound of those. They also had leeks and creamer potatoes on special so I decided to make butterflied shrimp on a bed of flash-fried leeks with a side of oven-baked creamer potatoes. I am not someone who normally follows a recipe when in the kitchen. I will occasionally bring out a cookbook for certain advanced techniques or if I am baking anything but I normally just go with what I know in the kitchen.

I scrubbed the creamer potatoes under the faucet for a second and then dropped them in a Ziploc bag with enough olive oil to coat them. I massaged the bag to make sure all the potatoes were coated and then dropped in two tablespoons of the Kirra blend and shook the bag. The potatoes all received a nice coating of the Surf Salt and then I laid them on a baking pan and cooked them on 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes until they had reached the crispness that I wanted (they will look a little wrinkled and crisp to the touch).

I halved the leeks and then coated them in olive oil in sprinkled some of the Chiba (Gluten Free) blend on top of them and pan-fried them in a non-stick skillet with some additional olive oil on medium-high heat until there was a noticeable char and crispness to them and then let them cool on paper towels much like bacon. I snagged one off the paper towel and tried it by itself. I think I was most pleased with how the leeks turned out. The Surf Salt added a little extra crunch to the leeks and helped disguise the potent olive oil taste. (Note: I have to go buy some good olive oil. I am a frugal shopper & buy whatever is on sale at the grocery store. Any recommendations that aren’t ridiculously expensive but still good quality?).

I peeled the shrimp and butterflied them to allow them to cook a little bit quicker when I dropped them into a preheated pan on high heat. It takes a little more work to butterfly shrimp but I think it is worth it because the finished product comes out better. Butterflied shrimp shrivel quickly making them look like mini-lobster tails which makes me feel like a mini-king when I’m eating them. I coated the butterflied shrimp in a little bit of olive oil and shook some Todos Santos blend on them which gave them a sweet & spicy kick. They also picked up a little char on the outside giving it a nice crunch.

You may notice a ramekin of sauce on my plate pictured above. I made a makeshift sweet sauce out of some various things that I had in the kitchen. It wasn’t necessary as the Surf Salt gave everything enough flavor on its own and I ended up putting it to the side and not using it.

I feel that I may have gone against Bain’s style of cooking with Surf Salt because it seems that every recipe that I have seen on his website doesn’t tend to add Surf Salt until the last step right before the dish is served where it is sprinkled across the top of the dish. I actually cooked with Surf Salt using it more as a rub. One problem that I ran into while cooking with the Surf Salt instead of using it as seasoning was that the Surf Salt tended to char pretty quickly and actually let off a little bit more smoke then intended while I was cooking. However, I was pleased with the way that all three of these dishes turned out even more so after finding out that it wasn’t the preferred method of using Surf Salt.

I am planning on trying out a few different styles of food in the way that Bain intended as post-cooking seasoning like in the Todo Santos grilled chicken he made in the video above. I will share them with you as I make them and hope to include some recipes that I find to be good. I hope that my pictures will turn out better than these.

Surf Salt’s website also recommended adding a heaping spoonful of one of their blends to some store bought hummus to give it a different flavor profile outside of the plain ground chickpeas. I added some of the Todos Santos blend because the packaging said that it would provide a taste of smoke with a little bit of spice. I also added a bit of olive oil into the carafe with the hummus and surf salt to add a little bit of richness and help liquify the Sea Salt a little bit. If you get your hands on some Surf Salt, I recommend doing this because it could be a great, inexpensive party snack boasting plenty of flavor especially if you use a variety of the Surf Salt blends and some generic bulk  or homemade hummus.

Surf Salt is just one more North Carolina-based product that is very exciting to see going out on the market. Right now, Laird Hamilton, one of the most famous big-wave surfers in the world and co-founder of the tow-in surfing style, is featuring three blends of Surf Salt for sale on his website. Surf Salt has also been very well received at various expos and trade shows in both the surfing and food industries. Check out this blog post on Distressed Mullet about their experience at Bain’s trade booth at the Surf Expo in Orlando back in January. He has some delicious looking cracker and hummus appetizers topped with Surf Salt on there that were the talk of the expo.

If you are looking for the answer to adding taste to a meal without adding a lot of unhealthy ingredients, Surf Salt is the way to go.  Check out Bain’s website and order a few of their blends. Each package comes in five ounce tamper/spoil proof bags for $8 each. I would suggest picking up a few different seasonings and giving them all a try. Surf Salt is another North Carolina product to add to your kitchen’s arsenal. Expect chefs around the country to be using this soon.

REVIEW: Merlion – Chapel Hill

Merlion is located in Southern Village in Chapel Hill.

This weekend, my husband suggested we eat at Merlion in Southern Village, which is located in Chapel Hill. He always knows how to make me happy! Merlion is one of our favorite restaurants in the Triangle and is frequently the place we go to celebrate special occasions, and it’s the place we usually take guests when they are visiting us.

Merlion is Singaporean food, which has hints of Chinese, Malaysian and Indian flavors in it. When you visit Merlion, it’s like taking a trip to Singapore without having to pay the airfare. This is the first restaurant in the area serving dishes from Singapore.

Upon entering the restaurant, we are always greeted by a very friendly and welcoming staff. We have eaten here enough times to know many of their names and they know ours as well which always makes a place seem more special. We decided to start our meal with the appetizer sampler, which featured two each of Curry Samosas, Coconut Shrimp, Merlion Dumpling Parcels and Spring Rolls. My favorite of these is the Curry Samosas, which are filled with lentils in a curry sauce. They are very tasty!

sampler plate

This is the appetizer sampler plate.

My husband ordered one of our favorite dishes, which is the Mee Goreng. Mee Goreng is a lot like Pad Thai, which Merlion also offers, but it is a more robust dish. It features egg noodles that are stir fried with shrimp, chicken, tofu, potatoes and bean sprouts, scrambled eggs and is topped off with some chopped peanuts. The sauce is a tangy tomato-based sauce with lime, chili and red peppers.  This dish will leave you feeling very satisfied. It is a common street dish found in Singapore and Malaysia.

Mee Goreng

Mee Goreng is much like Pad Thai, but even better!

I decided to order off the special menu and had the sizzling salmon with vegetables. You could hear the sizzle from the kitchen to our table as the dish arrived, sputtering a little grease as it dazzled everyone in the restaurant. The dish had nice, meaty chunks of salmon that were sweet and tender. It had steamed broccoli, summer squash, red onions and sweet and tangy chunks of pineapple. The dish was served in a sauce that had chili oil, and hints of tamarind paste and red pepper, and was very complimentary to the meal. This was served with a side of white rice. I tried to eat it all, but decided to take some home for another meal.

Sizzling Salmon special

This was the Sizzling Salmon special at Merlion.

We could not leave Merlion without having my favorite dessert. This is one of the few places that I even order dessert these days, but I cannot resist the Exotic Bomba. Even the name of this dessert evokes mystery and excitement. It is three flavors of sorbet: raspberry, passion fruit and mango surrounded by a layer of white chocolate with little strips of dark chocolate and drizzles of a raspberry sauce. It is truly heavenly!

The bomba dessert

This dessert is packed with exotic flavors!

My husband had the Sago Pudding, which is tapioca pearls served with coconut cream and a special palm sugar syrup, which tastes almost like butterscotch. It is really smooth and satisfying. Both desserts are a great way to end a meal at Merlion.

Sago pudding

The Sago Pudding at Merlion is very satisfying.

There are so many other great dishes at this restaurant. I would recommend the Pineapple Rice, which is fried rice with pine nuts, scallions and shallots served with chicken or shrimp and chunks of pineapple, but the prize is the presentation as this dish is served in a shelled out half of a pineapple.

The Roti Prata is another of our favorites. This is another of the street foods found in Singapore. It is chicken and potato curry that is kind of soupy and served with Indian pancakes and eatern with your hands. The Beef Rendang is another favorite. It is beef that is simmered with onion, ginger, lemongrass, curry leaves and served with a thick coconut gravy.

Really, I’ve yet to have a bad dish in this restaurant, which is one reason we keep coming back. The other great thing is that they take great care in the presentation of the dishes. Each one is like a piece of artwork.

Merlion is located at 410 Market Street, Suite 320 in Southern Village, off of 15-501 in Chapel Hill.  They are open Tuesday – Sundays.

LINK: Cajunlicious.com’s Fried Okra

Photo Credit: Cajunlicious.com

Fried okra is one of the ultimate Southern sides. I grew up eating it at a placed called The Fox (now defunct) in High Point. My dad had turned me onto them as a decent alternative for french fries beside a burger. I think he got me to order them so he could have both okra and french fries with his burger. Well played, dad.. Fried okra is usually on the menu at a lot of barbecue joints and local burger shacks but not all of them hand-bread their fried okra which can be kind of disappointing because then you know that it came straight from the freezer aisle. I can deal with the frozen variety but they normally have to be doused in ketchup or ranch which can mask about anything

What is the best fried okra that you have ever eaten in North Carolina?

Cajunlicious.com posted a great recipe for homemade fried okra and, as you can guess, her recipe includes a little heat with 1 1/2 teaspoons of Cajun seasoning.

Cajunlicious.com’s Fried Okra recipe

REVIEW: Steele Street Cafe – Sanford

After spending a wonderful morning perusing the aisles of Big Bloomers and exploring all the plants at my favorite nursery, it was time for lunch, so my friend and I drove to nearby Sanford. We decided to walk around part of the downtown. Sanford is a delightful little town about 30 minutes from Cary, filled with cute little gift shops, boutiques and restaurants.

It was a picture perfect spring day, so we wanted to sit outside and enjoy the weather, so we decided to try eating at the Steele Street Cafe. The menu was a mixture of wraps, salads, and sandwiches that all sounded enticing. I’m trying to watch my weight, so I decided to have the Asian salad, which featured locally grown, organic greens, tomatoes, diced carrots, roasted slivers of almonds and Chinese noodles, topped with a ginger and sesame salad dressing. The salad also came with four slices of toasted bread. I only had my iPhone with me, so I apologize for the quality of these photos.

Asian salad

The Asian salad from Steele Street Cafe

I was pleasantly surprised by this little place. Most of the time when you travel to a smaller town, the food is good, but more typically focused on comfort food, which is not the healthiest choice in the world. This was light, fresh and certainly healthy.

Sitting behind us, there was a lady who was sitting by herself working. She had a lovely pot of tea served in a china tea pot. Of course, the cafe is probably best known for its coffee and tea assortments, but both my friend, Katherine, and I wanted to have water.

We noticed a sign that said that Steele Street cafe features live music on Friday and Saturday nights, so I think I’ll have to come back sometime soon and see what the entertainment is like.

live music sign

Steele Street Cafe features live music on the weekends

I poked my head inside the cafe and saw they had a nice assortment of home make cakes and desserts, but that would not be diet-friendly, so I had to pass them up. The place had an inviting coffee house feel to it. It seems like a great place to whittle away some time with good friends in a relaxing atmosphere.

Steele Street Cafe is located on 120 South Steele Street in downtown Sanford and is open Tuesday – Saturday from 11 am – closing.

REVIEW: K38 Baja Grill – Wilmington

K38 Baja Grill is Tex-Mex restaurant that has been serving Wilmington baja-fresh style food since 1993. I went to the original K 38 Baja Grill located Oleander Drive. I was down there for an engagement party and a bunch of people going to the party met up there beforehand. This gave me the opportunity to get a better feel for the menu because most people at the table ordered something different.

The name K38 comes from a kilometer marker in north of Ensenada, Mexico near one of the most famous surf breaks in Baja Mexico. The owners, who’s motto is “Live. Eat. Surf.”, used to go down to kilometer marker 38 and found a taco shack that served some of the freshest baja fish tacos they had ever had. They decided to bring back the same style and atmosphere that they foun Along with K-38 which has two locations in Wilmington (Oleander Dr & Market St), the Live.Eat.Surf. squad also has two other restaurants, Tower 7 and Cafe del Mar, in Wrightsville Beach.

K38 Baja Grill’s original location does its best to look like somewhat like the taco shack that they used to frequent down in Mexico. There is a Mexican flag out front, a rusty tin roof awning over the front porch and a string of tacky lights illuminating the front. It is a pretty cool spot and not too close but not too far from all the beach traffic which is perfect if you want to get out of all the hubbub that is on Wrightsville Beach during the summer.

A few people in our group ordered the Santa Fe tuna roll which is char-grilled yellow fin tuna, black bean puree, roasted red pepper, spinach, Monterey Jack and a ginger-wasabi sauce rolled into a flour tortilla. It came with a dipping sauce that was some sort of soy sauce concoction. We joked at the table that it was Mexican sushi but it pretty much is. The presentation was beautiful (as you can see) and the rolls are something that you can order as an appetizer for the table or as a meal for one person. They have a couple different version of the rolls like chicken, fish, shrimp, steak or scallops. Sorry vegetarians…no tofu options on the rolls.

Two people ordered the taco salad which is actually called a bowl on the menu. They both went with the traditional which is leaf lettuce, black beans, mixed cheese, salsa fresca, guacomole, sour cream, green onions, & house picante with the choice of steak, chicken or ground beef. I didn’t try this one but both people said it was great. The ingredients all looked extremely fresh and the chicken looked fantastic. The bowls range from $8.95 (vegetarian) to $12.50 (carne asada) which seems like a great deal because of the amount of food that you get in the bowl.

I ordered a baja fish taco which is a Dos Equis beer battered cod filet with Roma tomato, mixed cheeses, shaved red cabbage and yogurt sauce  in a flour tortilla. The cod filet was massive and, that, plus the ingredients might have warranted a large tortilla to hold everything. The yogurt sauce was zesty adding to the taste of the whole taco plus it gave the taco a little more depth and kept it from tasting dry. I wasn’t blown away by this taco but I was impressed at the quality of the cod and how well it was fried. The black beans were a little bland and I might go with the Mexican rice next time.

I was impressed with the quality of the whole meal plus the service was fantastic. We had about 18 people at three different tables and we all got our food pretty close to one another. I look forward to giving the Live.Eat.Surf. crews’ other restaurants a try the next time that I visit my friend, Adam, who lives a short bike ride from Tower 7. If you are down in Wilmington, check out K38 Baja Grill at either of their locations. I don’t think you will be disappointed and everything that I hear says that it is the best Tex-Mex or baja place in town.

Click here for the K 38 Baja Grill menu

 

K-38 Baja Grill on Urbanspoon

Urban Burrito and The Hop Ice Cream: A Giant Jerk (Burrito) Should Always Be Followed By Two Scoops

The following is an excerpt from the Asheville Food and Entertainment Blog www.LushLifeToday.com

A Post By Blondesided

Photo Credit: The Hop Ice Cream Cafe

There are some nights a girl just wants to snuggle up with some take out and some ice cream.  Tonight was one of those nights. As the Twitterphile  that I have become lately (thank you Gary with G Social Media for my new addiction), I had been reading tweets all day about the Hop’s new ice cream – Cranberry Gorgonzola. It sounded like one of those flavors just crazy enough to work.

And speaking of work, I had been in the office for about 11 hours with only a tiny frozen dinner to fill me up and so my tummy was really growling for some attention. So… I headed down Merrimon Avenue in search of the obligatory dinner that I could follow with the ice cream of which I had spent the day dreaming.

A girlfriend of mine had recently started working at Urban Burrito directly above The Hop, so that seemed a logical choice for food. I could say hi to a friend, grab a burrito for the road and quench my burning ice cream desire all in one stop of the car – perfect!

I ran into The Hop first. The guy with the scoop was patient with me as always as I tried several of their new flavors. You see, Jeb thinks he is a wizard at mixing beers…well ice cream is my thing! I believe my most impressive Hop mix to date was a scoop of Lusty Monk mustard ice cream and a scoop of pumpkin. It was delish if  I do say so myself. After trying several, I decided that the perfect mix for the Cranberry Gorgonzola was going to be Salted Caramel.

I ran upstairs to the Urban Burrito and ordered a Jerk Chicken burrito at my friends suggestions. All of the staff was friendly. From Brian who helped me choose a spinach wrap to Mark who cashed me out. I was in and out quickly and ready to head home to a quiet night in.

I walked in the house, popped open a Highland Oatmeal Porter, kicked my shoes off  and sat down to my giant burrito. The chicken was seasoned perfectly and the pineapple salsa was definitely my favorite part. I even had some leftover for my housemate.

And then….ahhhh…the ice cream.  At last. The salted caramel had ended up on the bottom and the Gorgonzola on the top. After that first bite, I am quite sure I heard a chorus of angels begin to sing and bright rays of light shown through my window and landed right in my cup. Yes. It was an almost religious experience. It tasted almost like cheesecake but with a bit more tang. And the salted caramel  was similar to a graham cracker crust. Simply divine.

So if you have an adventurous palate for ice cream, I highly recommend that you get into The Hop before they run out of this batch. And if you prefer the more traditional, well I am pretty sure they don’t even know how to make ice cream that doesn’t completely rock.

Follow @hopicecream

REVIEW: Silver Dollar Restaurant – Asheville

The following is an excerpt from the Asheville Food and Entertainment Blog www.LushLifeToday.com

A Post by Blondesided

History on the wall at Silver Dollar

Stepping into the Silver Dollar restaurant is like stepping back in time about 40 years.  Avocado green formica tables with harvest gold bench seats line the wood paneled walls which are covered with articles and old photos depicting Asheville history.

Jeb and I were greeted at the door by a petite Greek woman standing near the old cigarette machine who directed us to the more comfortable booths with a warm smile. The smells of bacon and sausage cooking on the griddle made my mouth water. I felt instantly at home.

Menus and waters were promptly placed on our table and our drink orders were taken. I drank fresh, hot coffee from a cup which never got below half full and Jeb drank iced tea that was so sweet it’d make your teeth hurt.

That’s a lot of food!

After placing our orders, we were entertained by our waitress with stories about the restaurant, the neighborhood and Asheville history. “Do you remember that blizzard of ’93?” she recounted, “Yep, I’m 4’11” and that snow came half way up my backside.” She also told us stories of the filming of the chase scenes in the 1958 movie Thunder Road and how the restaurant had once been on the other side of the street before the bridge was built.

By the time our food came, it could have been mediocre and I still knew I would be back. With friendly service and attention like this, it would be difficult not to love the little place. The food, however, did not disappoint. Jeb’s pork chop and scrambled eggs with cheese were seasoned and cooked perfectly. My western omelet was fluffy and stuffed with fillings. It was the potatoes though that had both of our eyes rolling back in our heads. They were salty and delicious and the best thing on the plate.

We, of course, also ordered a side of biscuits and gravy. Though it didn’t have sausage in it, as I am still looking for, the biscuits were light and buttery and the gravy was definitely something worthy of a return visit.

The Silver Dollar was a quaint diner whose friendly staff created a cozy spot where you can get delicious home cooking at a cheap price and served with a warm smile and side of Asheville history.

Silver Dollar Cafe on Urbanspoon

REVIEW: Old Havana Sandwich Shop – Durham

One of the things that my husband and I miss the most about living in Tampa is all the great Cuban food we used to get there. Luckily, Cuban cuisine is on the rise and more places are opening up throughout the country, including some places in the Triangle. Most of the places I’ve tried in the past have been a disappointment, so I’m really hoping that Old Havana, a new Cuban sandwich shop that has opened in downtown Durham will live up to my high standards. Today our boss is treating us to lunch, so we are finally going to try out this place.

Looking at the menu, I am impressed. There are several kinds of Cuban sandwiches that are offered, including one called “The Tampa,” because it is made like the sandwiches in the Tampa Bay area. The sandwich is filled with layers of slow roasted pork, ham, salami and cheese and is topped with pickles, mustard and something they call a mojo sauce.

We’ll see. The biggest challenge is the bread. I am curious to see if this place uses real Cuban bread or just a cheap imitation. Do they use palm leaves to bake the bread? As I’m perusing the menu,  I see that the sandwiches are served on rolls from Guglhupf bakery. Well, that just means we are not getting the real thing. Sorry folks, but the bread makes the sandwich. To their credit though, I don’t know where they’d get the Palm fronds that are cooked in the middle of each loaf of Cuban bread here in North Carolina!

The good news though is that the pork comes from local, pasture-raised pigs that do not have added hormones or antibiotics. These are probably much healthier sandwiches than the ones we get in Ybor City.

The shop also offers a variety of some of my favorite side dishes including black beans and rice, and maduros, which are ripe plantains. This restaurant roasts them in the oven, but more typically they are fried in a pan with some butter, which caramelizes the plantains. The key to this dish is the riper the plantain, the better the results!

seating in Old Havana Sandwich Shop

This is the inside of the Old Havana Sandwich Shop in Durham

owners making sandwiches

Here are the owners making our sandwiches to go.

Well, we are back from out excursion and we brought the food back to work and I must say that although what I had cannot be considered a true Cuban sandwich because it lacked the Cuban bread, this was a close second! The crust was nice and crunchy, though not as crisp as genuine Cuban bread, and the inside was warm and chewy. The pork was fresh and tender and had  lots of flavor. It blended perfectly with the layer of ham, and salami. The cheese melted into the meats giving it a nice smooth and salty flavor and the pickles and mustard give the sandwich a nice little kick.

Tampa sandwich with maduros

Tampa sandwich with maduros.

Cuban Bread

This is a loaf of Cuban Bread from Moreno Bakery in Brandon, FL.

Two of the ladies in our office tried the El Carney sandwich, which had chopped pork instead of sliced pork, and it also had avocados, cheese, mustard and the mojo sauce. They both reported that they loved the flavor of this sandwich. Our boss had the Havana, which is the same as the Tampa sandwich minus the salami, which is actually more authentic than the Tampa sandwich. He also had the black beans which he said had lots of great flavor to them.

We also tried the croquetas, which, as the menu describes, is like a hush puppy with pork in it. They were packed with flavor.  There was an ample portion of maduros and they also did not disappoint. They were sweet and warm. To finish the meal, I ordered the guava pastelitos, which are little guava pastries. This is one of my absolute favorite desserts, and, in fact, I make them at home using puff pastry and guava paste. Old Havanas version are smaller than the ones I make, but the right size after eating a large sandwich and a side dish.

Old Havana is located at 310 East Main Street, so it is on the other side of Roxboro Street. This area is just beginning to be redeveloped. The restaurant has more seating than I expected, so next time we will probably eat at the restaurant itself. Old Havana is open Tuesday -Friday from 7:30am – 5:30pm and Saturday from 9am – 4pm.

Old Havana Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

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