Monthly Archives: September 2011

Review – The Federal in Durham

Federal in Durham

Federal in Durham looks a bit like a dive, but the food is out of this world!

When you first enter the door at The Federal, you immediately think of the show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” This place officially qualifies as a dive. It’s small, dark and has the feeling of being an old establishment (even though it opened up in 2004).  You’d never think you would be served fantastic food here, but therein lies the rub.

Outside of The Federal in Durham

Outside of The Federal in Durham

Located on Main Street, across from Brightleaf Square, this restaurant is easy to walk to from Duke University.  You may not want to walk around in your Tarheel or Wolfpack t-shirt around here!  This gastropub features 14 microbrews and has many selections of bottled beer as well. That might explain why you see a crowd around here many times in the evenings.

menu

Once you open the menu, you immediately get the sense that this is going to be a great meal. For example, the day I went to The Federal, one of the specials was a saffron risotto served with locally grown roasted corn, Heirloom tomatoes and  parmegiano reggiano. Wow. That’s not your typical bar food!

Lentil and Leek Sliders

Lentil and Leek Sliders

I decided to order the lentil and leek sliders. They are little veggie patties served with guacamole, a nice, fresh salsa, a little bit of romaine and the key ingredient was the curry aioli sauce. I also had melted cheddar cheese, which added a little bit of tang to the taste. It was a messy thing to eat, but tasted so good, I didn’t care that I had green sauce smeared over my face. The side of fries were a perfect accompaniment to the sliders.

carnitas

Here are the ingredients that go into the pork carnitas

My friend had the carnitas. The dish consisted of small corn tortillas and a plate full of beer braised pork that was shredded into wonderful little bites of flavor. The plate also had shredded lettuce, salsa, cilantro and guacamole.  My friend had a lot of pork and lettuce left after he had eaten the tortillas, but said the leftover meat was delicious all by itself.

Most of the menu has classic bar food choices, but all of them have a twist. Want a grilled cheese? Great! You’ll get a great one here with sharp cheddar cheese, avocados, roasted tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce on Focaccia bread.

Next time I come, I hope to see Guy Fieri sitting at the bar tasting all the great food!

The Federal is located at 914 West Main Street and is open seven days a week.

 

REVIEW: BBQ Barn (a.k.a. The Pink Pig) – Butner

One of the things that I love about North Carolina is that almost anywhere that you go in the state, you can usually find a good ol’ fashioned barbecue place to eat. Some people will argue about ‘the barbecue dividing line’ between eastern North Carolina barbecue and Lexington-style barbecue but I don’t really understand it because I love them both. Why would you argue about which is better when they are both great?

I was in Butner on business last week and my co-worker, Bryan, and I had about 45 minutes to kill early in the day so we decided to jump on Urbanspoon and see what kind of local restaurants were in the area. The majority of the restaurants within a two mile radius were littered with national and regional fast food restaurants that neither of us were interested in eating at. We expanded the radius of the search and came across BBQ Barn which was just a minute or two away from where we were. Since it was early (10:30 a.m.), we called beforehand and the friendly voice over the phone said they were open and already serving lunch so we jumped in the car and headed over there.

There were a couple of different barbecue items on the menu included barbecued chicken and a variety of different sizes of barbecue. I didn’t have breakfast that morning so I was pretty hungry and decided to go with the barbecue tray which seemed like a full pound of barbecue with two sides and hush puppies or a roll. I went with mac & cheese and fried okra with hush puppies because I was feeling gluttonous.

The barbecue was fantastic. It is cooked on site and then hand-pulled and sauced by the staff. BBQ Barn sauces it lightly with a bit of eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce before they serve it but they offer both an eastern and Piedmont style sauce if you want to add a little bit more although I didn’t think it needed it. The mac & cheese was pretty basic with macaroni noodles covered in a light yellow cheese sauce but it had great taste. The fried okra seemed to be made in house and were fantastic. I really enjoyed the hush puppies, too. Both the okra and hush puppies were made to order so they came out piping hot.

If you are in Butner, you should definitely pop into the BBQ Barn and pick up a barbecue plate or barbecue sandwich. I got loads of good southern food for $7 and Bryan and I were raving about our new find to friends later that day. I have heard that their chicken & dumplings (served on Thursdays) are out of this world and that locals don’t miss it much. I hope my job will have me headed back there on a Thursday sometime soon!

BBQ Barn on Urbanspoon

Review – ACME in Carrboro

ACME menu

Their menu says it all!

Usually when you think of ACME, you may think of Wylie Coyote and the Roadrunner. Remember, the coyote would order many clever devices from ACME to try to trick the roadrunner. ACME in Carrboro may have some tricks up their sleeves, but there’s no smoke and mirrors in play when it comes to the outstanding food that is served here.

ACME has had a long standing reputation as being one of the first restaurants in the area to get almost all of their ingredients locally and to serve whatever is in season. They were trend setters in the farm to fork concept.  Chef Kevin Callaghan started the restaurant in 1998 and has gained the reputation of being one of the top chefs in the Triangle.

My husband and I have taken strolls down Main Street in Carrboro many times as it is the closest town to our home in Chatham County. We would look into the window of ACME and think this was a fancy place and probably out of our price range. But we were wrong. Yes, it is an upscale dining experience, but the prices are in line with most restaurants of this caliber and we found out that they have a great special on Tuesday evenings. All the entrees are just $12.95! Should you decide to go on a Tuesday night, though, you better have reservations, because many people already know about the Tuesday special and the restaurant is quite crowded.

watermelon mojito

This watermelon mojito was a refreshing summer drink

We went out with some friends this past Tuesday to ACME to try out the cuisine. While we waited for the rest of our party to arrive, we saddled up to the bar and had one of their drink specials, which was a watermelon mojito. It was made with fresh watermelon juice, simple syrup, mint and lime and a bit of soda water. It was a cool, refreshing summer drink.

fresh tomatoes

A tomato tray appetizer celebrating summer

We ordered two appetizers for the table. The first was a tray of Heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella cheese and a nice pesto made from fresh basil drizzled over the top. It came with a couple of deviled eggs and  the tray also featured a side of very intriguing pickled squash.  The squash was sweet and sour. We think it may have had some cloves and ginger in it. Everyone loved the plate.

chili relleno

Chili Relleno appetizer

The second appetizer was a chili relleno with a mole sauce made with chilies and chocolate. The pepper was stuffed with a shrimp and rice filling and had a light batter that was fried. Everyone at our table raved about the mole sauce. We all had to use some bread to mop up the leftovers because it was so good.

crab cakes

These were very meaty crab cakes

The entrees were also fabulous. I had the crab cakes that had been seared in a cast iron pan and were jammed full of crab and hardly any filling. They were served over a plate of swiss chard, butternut squash, sweet snap beans and corn kernels and were drizzled with a light citrus beurre blanc sauce. I savored every bite of this dish!

New York Strip Steak

New York Strip Steak

My husband had the New York Strip served over garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. The steak was tender and the mashed potatoes were rich and creamy. I could have eaten his whole plate if he had let me too!

Blackened Salmon

Blackened Salmon

One of our friends had the blackened salmon, which was served with cheesy grits. The grits were smooth and comforting. The salmon was cooked perfectly and the spices worked well with the rest of the dish. It had a tomatillo sauce served over the top of the salmon.  It also had a side of black beans, which were another great compliment to the dish.

fried chicken

Southern comfort food at its best, fried chicken and butter beans

Two of our other friends had the pecan crusted fried chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and southern butter beans. The sauce served over the top was a creamy tomato sauce and both men said the dish was really great. I didn’t try it myself, but I will take their word for it.

key lime pie

key lime pie

peach and blueberry cobbler

peach and blueberry cobbler

lemon mousse

Lemon mousse

We also decided to indulge in some dessert. One couple split the key lime pie. It was the real deal. A slice of tart key lime custard filling over a graham cracker crust. The other couple had the peach and blueberry cobbler served with some whipped cream. It was another comforting Southern dish. My husband and I split the lemon mousse with blueberries and fresh whipped cream. It was a cloudy, fluffy layer of tartness and sweetness. It was nice and light, making it a perfect ending to a tremendous meal. It was accompanied by some toasty coconut macaroons. They were a great compliment to the tartness of the mousse.

ACME is open seven days a week for dinner starting at 5:30pm. They also serve a Sunday brunch from 10am to 2pm. ACME is located in downtown Carrboro at 110 East Main Street.

LINK: My review of Alleia in Chattanooga, TN for Eat It, Tennessee

I did a little guest writing for our sister site, Eat It, Tennessee, and it was just posted recently. The photo above is of the wood-fired pork shoulder with a grilled peach and balsamic whose taste rivaled that of many of the delicious pork shoulders that I have had here in North Carolina.

Head over and check out my review of Alleia in Chattanooga from a few weeks ago on Eat It, Tennessee. It was a delicious experience and I had a great time writing the post for my buddies in Tennessee. Thanks again for the opportunity!

REVIEW: Capital Club 16 – Raleigh

Photo Credit: NewRaleigh.com

I finally made it out to eat during a Downtown Raleigh Restaurant Week. I have been trying to do it for about two years now. I guess moving to Raleigh made it a little bit easier to do. I headed down to Capital Club 16 with some friends (Aaron, Brooks, Brock, Liz and Tyler) for dinner before we went out for some cocktails with some college friends at 42nd Street Oyster Bar.

Capital Club 16 was offering a $20 fixed price menu with a variety of options:

FIRST COURSE (APPETIZER/SALAD – Choose One)

  • Butter Lettuce Wedge Slab (bacon, grape tomatoes, pickled red onions, and Sweet Bonnie’s Blue Cheese dressing)
  • Shrimp Skewer (with sautéed spinach and crispy cheese grits cake served with smoked paprika aioli)

SECOND COURSE (ENTREE – Choose One)

  • Summer Squash Mac and Cheese (our blend of Vermont white cheddar, Gouda and Jarlsberg; served with a side of market greens and fruit)
  • Steak Frites (NY Strip Steak with handcut fries, cabernet mushroom demi sauce and basted egg)
  • Red Drumfish (with smoked paprika and cauliflower potato gratin; petite local field green mix)

THIRD COURSE (DESSERT – Choose One)

  • Dotchie’s Poundcake (with fresh berry or fudge sauce served a la mode)
  • Apple Fritters (beer battered apple rings with vanilla sauce served a la mode)

The bar menu was fantastic with a bunch of great beers and wine plus what I’ve heard are some of the best mixed cocktails downtown although I will have to try them next time because I stuck with beer.

The Butter Lettuce Wedge Slab was very simple. The pickled onions were nice and added some sour notes to the salad. The grape tomatoes were sparse and truthfully was just a grape tomato cut in half. I know it is a fixed price menu and the portions are smaller than usual but that is kind of ridic. The wedge was fresh and plentiful with a heaping amount of blue cheese dressing. The most impressive part of the salad was the bacon on top which seemed to be more pork belly than bacon because of the thickness. All in all, it was a good salad.

By the time that we got to Capital Club 16, they had run out of red drum and substituted it with tuna. I was a little disappointed but I love tuna about as much as I love drum. It came with the same smoked paprika and cauliflower potato gratin with a petite local field green mix on the side. They pan seared the tuna but I think they could have seared it at a higher temperature for a more well-done outside and more pink on the inside. The gratin was delicious although I don’t think it paired very well with the tuna. The salad was a nice addition to the dish (even though I didn’t plan on eating two salads) because the sweetness from the watermelon was a nice contrast to the heartiness of the tuna and gratin.

I am not normally a dessert guy but, since it was included, I went ahead and got the apple fritter and asked for six spoons so everyone could try a bite. I was blown away by the one bite that I had. They cut an apple into rings, covered the rings in a funnel cake-like batter and then dropped them in a deep fryer. The fried apple rings were extremely tender and sweet and were a hit at the table. It was a good palate cleanser for everyone’s meal.

I tried their skillet lobster mac ‘n’ cheese thanks to Brooks and a bite of griddled belly with sauerkraut from Capital Club 16’s “The Butcher’s Plate” thanks to Aaron. Everything we had was fantastic and I look forward to going back sometime soon. It is definitely a place that I would recommend for a casual dinner out on the town or just to hang out for the evening drinking anything from $1.50 Miller High Life to $9 Sir Walter Raleighs (Gin, Blood Orange Juice, triple sec, Absinthe with candied lemon).

 Capital Club 16 on Urbanspoon

REVIEW: Noble’s Grill – Winston Salem

Jim Noble’s restaurants have been a symbol of fine southern dining in North Carolina cities like Greensboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem and High Point (his first location) since the mid 80’s. The award-winning chef currently has four restaurants open in North Carolina including his latest venture, Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen, in Charlotte.

I met my parents, my brother and my soon to be wife (now my sister-in-law) at the only remaining Noble’s Grill in the state located  next to the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts headquarters in the Bank of America building just off of Business I-40 in Winston-Salem. We went to taste wines for their rehearsal dinner and discuss the menu items that were going to be served. The relaxed atmosphere and great help from the staff made it the perfect place to plan and taste everything.

The interior of the restaurant is a little dark so I have to apologize for how bright some of my pictures turned out because I was using a flash. We started out the night with an order of the hush puppy-dusted fried shrimp ($12) in dijonaise. They were absolutely killer especially since they combined two of my favorite foods in one. I believe that the kitchen fried them at a very high temperature because the exterior had the crunchy, crispy cornmeal texture like hush puppies but the shrimp were cooked to perfection with a solid yet tender state. The hush puppy-dusted shrimp were very impressive and only the first sign of good things to come.


We also ordered a plate of the flash fried calamari ($10) which came Italian-style with lemon and marinara. I thought it was okay. The breading was very salty and had a bit of spice from the cracked pepper over it but it didn’t hold together very well especially after being dipped in the marinara sauce. It was better than most calamari that I have had recently especially since it wasn’t just the rings and had tentacle and mantle pieces in it.

Thinking back, it seems that I have ordered calamari as an appetizer at a few places that I have reviewed so far and I don’t know why I have done it so much. I never seem to be blown away by any restaurant’s version and I should probably go with something different but it seems that calamari is just a dish that the people that I eat with enjoy.  I guess you could say that it is a good community appetizer.

I grew up in High Point so I had been to the original Noble’s Grill which was formerly located downtown but closed and then basically (under same management but without Noble’s name) moved to High Point University’s campus as 1924 Prime Steakhouse. If you haven’t heard, High Point University is making a lot of noise as one of the best private schools in the state and I think they may already be winning in the food department.

I had been debating between a few entrees like smoked BBQ pork, the spit roasted Ashley Farms chicken, the wood grilled veal tenderloin  or even one of the fantastic sounding pizzas but I ended up ordering the pan seared Filet Mignon ($30) after my dad told me that it was one of the best steaks that he had ever had. It was damn good. It was served with Yukon mashed potatoes and wood roasted vegetables in a Bordelaise which were delicious. I think they used a little bit too much of the Bordelaise sauce which took the rest of the tastes in the dish hostage because it was so rich.

I think AK and my mom both ordered the spit roasted Ashley Farms chicken which looked delicious. It was a 1/2 chicken over creamy polenta and roasted asparagus with a jus sauce. I tried a bite of the chicken with some of the polenta and it was very tender with a great taste on the skin as well as a terrific flavor in the sauce. Both AK any my mom really enjoyed it and didn’t come close to finishing it.

Noble’s Grille is definitely an upscale bistro where drinks and food are a little pricey but it is a great place if you want to impress a date. They have a terrific selection of wine and a pretty decent selection of beer. I would go back for another special occasion dinner or to meet some friends for a drink or two before going out in Winston for the night. If I had bags of money, I would probably go once a month if I lived in the area but it is just way too hard to get out of there for less than $25 if you aren’t swimming in loot.

Noble's Grille on Urbanspoon

Angelina’s Kitchen – Greek Food in Pittsboro, NC

outside of Angelina's Kitchen

Angelina's Kitchen in Pittsboro

 *Update on Angelina’s Kitchen: They are now open on Saturdays from 11am – 4pm and on Thursdays & Fridays until 8pm. All other hours are the same as before.

Pittsboro is a little town just west of Apex and south of Chapel Hill that is attracting lots of creative people, including some really creative chefs. One of the more recent additions to the area is Angelina’s Kitchen.  Angelina Koulizakis-Battiste believes in using local produce and that is easily accomplished in Chatham County, which has a plethora of small, organic, sustainable farms. Angelina’s Kitchen serves Greek food and is just starting to also offer some Mexican dishes.

Angelina uses ingredients that are in season, so the menu changes accordingly.  This is the way people eat in Europe – using food from local sources, everything is fresh and wholesome. Much like her friend and fellow chef, Donna Bianco, Angelina is a good friend to many of the area farmers. Chatham County is mainly rural and is full of smaller, organic farmers, so most of the ingredients Angelina needs are available within a very short drive.

ordering at Angelinas Kitchen

Friendly staff will greet you at the counter at Angelina's Kitchen

When you come to Angelina’s you will be greeted by a smile and will immediately feel the warmth of the people who work here.  Don’t expect a fancy atmosphere. There are not cloth tables and candles here, but it is a pleasant place to eat and to meet people from good ‘ole PBO.  The menu changes daily, so it’s best to check the website to see what is on special.

Some of my favorite dishes include the spanakopita, a filo pastry filled with spinach, eggs, herbs and feta cheese.  This dish is served with a side of local greens or a cup of soup. Another favorite of mine is the Greek salad. Angelina uses greens picked from local farmers, fresh, plump red tomatoes, zesty red onions, kalamata olives and feta cheese from Celebrity Dairy, located just a few miles west of her restaurant.

Falafel

Side of Falafel

The hummus has a good amount of garlic in it, but not too overpowering. It is a delicious and healthy treat. Angelina’s falafel is also a wonderful treat. The patties are moist and filled with flavor.  My husband and I had a side order of them the other night. They were served with a side of tzatziki sauce.

chicken gyro

Chicken gyro at Angelina's Kitchen

This particular night, I had the chicken gyro sandwich. You have the choice of three toppings to go on your gyro, so I chose hummus, kalamata olives and cucumbers. The chicken was cooked in a tomato sauce and was nice and juicy. I was going to get the lamb, but unfortunately the restaurant had run out of lamb. John, one of the workers, apologized and said that the farmer who supplies the lamb has not had as many lambs right now. It’s all a part of learning to eat what is in season and what is locally available. We can wait for another trip to have the lamb.

lentil soup

Lentil soup with spanakopita

My husband had the lentil soup with a side of the spanakopita. The lentils were fresh and light. The soup also had carrots, tumeric and garlic, giving it some great flavor. It is a light soup, which is perfect for a summer evening.

Angelina makes wonderful baklava for dessert,  with honey from local bee farmers. The other desserts come from  Abilicious Bakery (also located in Pittsboro), which specializes in gluten, soy and peanut-free delights.

One of the things that is so great about Pittsboro is that most of the chefs in the area are very generous, and Angelina is no exception. My husband and I can hardly think of a fund raising event that she is not donating food to, or helping out in some way. She is a great example of someone who pays it forward and people in the community really appreciate all she and her staff do.

Angelina’s used to be mainly take out, but earlier this year, she was able to raise enough money to expand into the adjacent office off of Rectory Street and Highway 64 so now there are more tables to sit and eat.  From the courthouse circle, take Highway 64 west about three blocks on the right is the Rectory Street. Unfortunately, Angelina’s is not open on the weekends, so you will have to try her creations Monday – Friday, from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Angelina's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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