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Friday, January 23, 2015

Triangle Restaurant Week starts Monday, Jan. 26

Posted by on Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 1:32 PM

If you haven't already, you should start making plans (and, possibly, reservations) because the annual Triangle Restaurant Week winter event begins Monday, Jan. 26 and runs through Feb. 1.

Participating restaurants in Raleigh, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Morrisville and Apex will offer a special, three-course prix fixe lunch menu for $15 or a three-course prix fixe dinner menu for $20, $25 or $30 depending on the restaurant. Some will offer both lunch and dinner options. (Prices do not include beverage, tip or tax.) No matter your taste, there's bound to be a location that suits it—French, Indian, Greek, American, Cajun and Spanish are among the cuisines represented on the list of restaurants involved.

Triangle Restaurant Week has grown to include more than 75 of the area's restaurants. It won't just be restaurants this year, though. Raleigh's Crank Arm Brewery is taking part with a special "Beer Sunday" kickoff event on Sunday, Jan. 25, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets for it are available via Eventbrite. Proceeds will be donated to VS. Cancer, a local nonprofit dedicated to fighting childhood cancer. An event ticket includes a 9 ounce beer and a tour of the brewery.

For more information on Triangle Restaurant Week and the participating venues, visit You can also follow @TriRestWeek on Twitter.

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    Annual event has more than 75 restaurants offering meal specials

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Competition Dining Series returns with a strong group of chefs

Posted by on Wed, Jan 7, 2015 at 2:31 PM

A sterling lineup of chefs from around the region are getting their game faces on as culinary battle Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series returns to the kitchen and, better yet, to your plate if you're a ticket-holder.
The chefs of the 2015 Competition Dining Series. Just like in Highlander there can only be one. - PHOTO COURTESY BOLT PR
  • Photo courtesy Bolt PR
  • The chefs of the 2015 Competition Dining Series. Just like in Highlander there can only be one.
The premise is simple. Top chefs with two supporting team members face off and prepare three courses based on an ingredient that comes from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. The catch is that the chefs only learn the essential ingredient about an hour before they begin cooking.

Their work is then judged by a small group of professional judges (usually culinary professionals or journalists) and diners who bought tickets for the dinner. None of the people judging know which chef made which dish when scoring the six courses on everything from flavor to presentation. Winners in the first round advance to face each other and then those winners advance until there is only one. Regional winners receive $2,000, a handmade chef's knife from Ironman Forge and the Red Chef Jacket (which was won in 2013 and 2014 by Dean Thompson of Flights at the Renaissance in Raleigh. They also earn the right to compete in a "Battle of the Champions" later in the year. That winner receives $4,000 and a trip to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, California.

Host and founder of the series, Jimmy Crippen, said that they decided to hold the competition earlier than usual this year to offer "a new season of food for the chefs to play with." Also, this tends to be a slower time for of year for them.

The chefs participating this year were announced in an event at Zinda in downtown Raleigh on Wednesday morning. The first-round matchups are:

Jan. 19 - Gerry Fong of Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant in New Bern vs. Benjamin Harris of Midtown Grille in Raleigh;

Jan. 20 - Trey Cleveland of Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery in Chapel Hill vs. Ryan Conklin of Rex Healthcare in Raleigh;

Jan. 21 - Shane Ingram of Four Square Restaurant in Durham vs. Ben Strange of Aperitivo at Lawson's Landing in New Bern;

Jan. 26 - Christopher Hill of Faire Steak & Seafood in Raleigh vs. Teddy Diggs of Il Palio in Chapel Hill;

Jan. 27 - Ben Adams of Piedmont Restaurant in Durham vs. Chelsi Hogue of Ed's Southern Food & Spirits in Greensboro;

Jan. 28 - Patrick Cowden of Tobacco Road Sports Cafe in Raleigh/Durham vs. Curt Shelvey of Curt's Cucina in Southern Pines;

Feb. 2 - Spencer Carter of Weathervane in Chapel Hill vs. Rhett Morris of Rhett's Restaurant in Southern Pines;


Feb. 3 - Benjamin Guaman of Governors Club in Chapel Hill vs. Brandon Stark of Michael's Seafood Restaurant in Carolina Beach.

Subsequent rounds will be Feb. 9-10, Feb. 16-17, Feb. 23-24 and March 2. 

All of the competition takes place at 1705 Prime at 1705 E. Millbrook Road in Raleigh. Tickets range from $55 to $75 depending on which round of competition you're attending. Visit for details and reservations.
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    First-round pairings announced for culinary contest

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of the year brings the end of Quality Grocery

Posted by on Wed, Dec 31, 2014 at 10:23 AM

The end of the year unfortunately brings the end of Raleigh's Quality Grocery. Or, at least, it brings the end of the shop's current format. Dec. 31 is the store's last day.

Word is that the owners are going to take some time to ponder their business model, according to a recent email to the local neighborhood group. Options they're considering include taking on more of a bottle shop format or looking for potential buyers. 

The INDY wrote about the grocery in July. It will be missed by the Oakwood neighborhood. 

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What's better than pizza? Free pizza, of course

Posted by on Wed, Dec 17, 2014 at 3:18 PM

Some folks know how to make an entrance. Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza apparently belongs in that group. The build-your-own pizza chain has a grand opening Thursday in Morrisville’s Park West Village. Then, between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Friday, Blaze will give away free pizza to anyone who follows them on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Repeat, they open on Thursday but the giveaway is on Friday. 

This will be the first Blaze in North Carolina. It has locations in such places as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and, now, Morrisville. (And suddenly I can’t get Sesame Street’s “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other” out of my head. Thanks, Blaze.) The chain now has 70-plus restaurants and a list of investors that includes Lebron James, Maria Shriver and Tom Werner (co-owner of the Boston Red Sox).

Each Blaze is set up with an assembly line of sorts (similar to a Chipotle, Moe’s or Subway) that allows you to go through and either customize one of its signature pizzas or create your own by choosing from seven meats, 15 veggies, seven cheeses and six sauces/drizzles. Then the pizza gets sent to an open-flame oven that is the restaurant’s centerpiece and, in 180 seconds, your thin-crust pie is “fast-fire’d” and ready to eat. Yes, 180 seconds.

Each restaurant uses dough made from scratch with a recipe that involves a 24-hour fermentation period. They also offer options such as gluten-free dough and vegan cheese.

Beverage choices will include wine and craft beers.   

Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza, Park West Village, 1024 Market Center Drive, Morrisville.
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    Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza celebrates North Carolina debut in Morrisville

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Old Havana hosting toast today to recognize new era in U.S.-Cuba relations

Posted by on Wed, Dec 17, 2014 at 12:30 PM

Old Havana Sandwich Shop in downtown Durham is known for its excellent Cuban dishes—such as a roasted pork, ham, cheese, salami, mustard, pickle tower of power. 

Today, Old Havana, 310 E. Main St., will celebrate what could become a New Havana—a new era of potential goodwill, or at least something more than malicious indifference—between the U.S. and Cuba. 

At 3 p.m., Old Havana, owned by Robert Matos, a Cuban native, will host a Cuba Libre toast, hoping for a free society in that country. Head down there for a snort of the rum-based drink. And get your passports ready.

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    Durham eatery inviting public to Cuba Libre toast at 3 p.m.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New Smashburger in North Raleigh likely to be a … um ... smash

Posted by on Tue, Dec 16, 2014 at 3:13 PM

There’s a smashing new burger joint in North Raleigh. I’m speaking of its fashion sense. Instead, smashing literally is how they make the burgers at Smashburger.

Smashburger takes a round portion of Angus beef and then, wham!, smashes it into a patty. The restaurant says this helps seal in the juices so that the burger is more flavorful. They may be on to something.

Local media and food bloggers stopped by the new Raleigh loca
The "Classic Smash" is a good place to start, but don't stop there. - PHOTO COURTESY SMASHBURGER AND BOLT PR
  • Photo courtesy Smashburger and Bolt PR
  • The "Classic Smash" is a good place to start, but don't stop there.
tion earlier this week to sample the menu. (Some of you may be familiar with it already. There's a Durham location on Erwin Road.)

If you like things simple, order the “Classic Smash,” a burger with the standard accoutrements of American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion. But, if you do, you’ll miss part of what distinguishes Smashburger from the crowd—a wide array of topping combinations, some of which you’re unlikely to find elsewhere.

A personal favorite was the “regional burger”—each restaurant features a burger inspired by the geographic area it calls home. In the Triangle, we get a Carolina Chili Burger. It comes loaded with beefy chili, American cheese, chopped yellow onion, Duke's mayonnaise and some of the creamiest coleslaw you’ll ever come across. Messy but worth the effort, it gets five stars and about twice as many napkins.

The Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger was a winner as well. As the name implies, the meat comes dressed in Swiss cheese, sautéed crimini mushrooms and truffle mayo. The truffle mayo provides a flavorful kick. (Truffle mayo, Duke's, they definitely know their way around the mayonnaise aisle.)

If you prefer something a bit lighter, the Spinach, Cucumber and Goat Cheese Chicken sandwich packs a taste of summer on a multi-grain bun. At least, it conjured images of summer in my mind when I tried it. Tomato, onion and balsamic vinaigrette join the title’s ingredients to create a harmony of flavors that—and I never thought I'd say this about a sandwich—felt refreshing. 

Not everything impressed. The Avocado Ranch Black Bean Burger is an alternative for vegetarians who somehow find themselves in a burger joint, but it seemed bland. It also had texture issues, as so many faux burgers do.

Also, the Buffalo and Blue Cheese Crispy Chicken sandwich fell just short of its potential. More cheesy than spicy, it needed to dial down the blue cheese, which overwhelmed the other flavors, and crank up the amount of Frank’s RedHot used.

A multitude of sides are available. The Sweet Potato Fries were nicely prepared, full of fla
Haystack Onions, Smashfries and Sweet Potato Fries are supporting players. - PHOTO COURTESY SMASHBURGER AND BOLT PR
  • Photo courtesy Smashburger and Bolt PR
  • Haystack Onions, Smashfries and Sweet Potato Fries are supporting players.
vor and firm to the bite. And, according to fellow diners, the Fried Pickles had just the right amount of batter (that’s a delicacy I don’t indulge in). Haystack Onions were promising but a tad too greasy. Other options include Smashfries (tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic), regular French fries, spicy Buffalo fries, "veggie frites" and a garden salad. Speaking of salads, there are four nice-sized varieties that can easily suffice as a meal (with leftovers, most likely). 

Everyone left happy after samples of the hand-spun shakes made the rounds. Smashburger uses Häagen-Dazs ice cream in its shakes. That’s an ingredient choice enthusiastically supported based on the symphony of slurping sounds as straws reached the bottom of surrounding cups. OK, maybe there was slurping at the bottom of my cup too. The Oreo shake was delicious, loaded with chunks of cookie suspended in the rich vanill
Hand-spun milkshakes are available in more than half a dozen flavors. - PHOTO COURTESY SMASHBURGER AND BOLT PR
  • Photo courtesy Smashburger and Bolt PR
  • Hand-spun milkshakes are available in more than half a dozen flavors.
a ice cream. Even better was the Salted Caramel shake, which delivers a sweet-but-not-too-sweet result.

If shakes aren’t your thing, beer and wine will be available soon. It’s just a matter of the proper permits arriving.

Competing in the “better burger” restaurant niche with places such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Smashburger must be doing something right. Founded in 2007 it had the fastest three-year start for a restaurant company in history, according to the Denver Business Journal (the company is based in Colorado). By last year Smashburger had opened more than 200 locations scattered throughout five countries. In addition to the new Raleigh location and the one that opened in Durham last year, North Carolina also boasts two Smashburgers in the Charlotte area.

Smashburger, 6679 Falls of Neuse Road, Raleigh (in the Falls Village shopping center). 919-870-9230. Hours: 10 a.m.–10 p.m., daily. Special “grand opening” activities Wednesday, Dec. 17 begin at 11 a.m. (They’re hoping to have a snow-making machine on the back patio, if all goes well.)

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    Burger chain offers a variety of toppings, luxurious hand-spun shakes and more

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Today in good news: The Parlour in downtown Durham expanding

Posted by on Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 10:06 AM

The vegan sundae at The Parlour: The secret is i - n the coconut milk. - LISA SORG
  • Lisa Sorg
  • The vegan sundae at The Parlour: The secret is in the coconut milk.

Fans of The Parlour (such as yours truly) know that lines to buy joy in a cup can extend onto the sidewalk.

Now the popular Durham ice cream shop is expanding into the former Playworks space next door, which will add 1,000 square feet. While The Parlour now seats 24 people, with the addition of the second room, that number will increase to 60.

The new space will allow for a second cash register, which will cut down on customers' wait, a private room for special events, plus an expansion of The Parlour's coffee options.

Among those options? The best of all worlds: an affogato,a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream topped with a shot of espresso. Affogato means "drowned" in Italian, as in I affogato'd my sorrows with an affogato from The Parlour. 

Construction is expected to start in January; The Parlour will likely be closed for two to three weeks while the new space is upfitted.
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    Popular ice cream shop taking over former Playworks space next door

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Two big names on the food scene coming to Southern Season

Posted by on Wed, Dec 10, 2014 at 10:46 PM

It's a big weekend at Southern Season for fans of chefs and cookbooks.

Friday, Vivian Howard appears at the Chapel Hill store. The North Carolina-born Howard is best known for the Peabody-winning show A Chef's Life, which premiered in 2013. Howard's appearance is part of the launch of a partnership between Howard and Southern Season that has given rise to an assortment of specialty gift collections. The collections come packaged in handcrafted wooden crates and feature items selected by Howard. Examples include  include “Kinston Inspiration” (items from her hometown), “Ben’s Birthday Gift” (her husband’s favorite breakfast items) and “Childhood Memories” (a few of her favorite snacks when growi
Famed North Carolina chef Vivian Howard - PHOTO BY JOSH WOLL
  • Photo by Josh Woll
  • Famed North Carolina chef Vivian Howard
ng up). The “Pimp My Grits” gift assortment is a salute to one of the most popular dishes on the menu of her now famous Kinston-based restaurant, Chef & the Farmer, which she opened in 2005 with Ben Knight after working under some of New York's best chefs.

Next year, the relationship between Howard and Southern Season will expand to include a line of "Vivian Howard for Southern Season" products based on her recipes.

Howard's in-store appearance runs from noon until 3 p.m. on Dec. 12. She will demonstrate cooking techniques, meet fans, sign autographs and talk about the products springing from her team-up with Southern Season. 

Appearing in the store on Sunday is grill master Jim Webster, co-author of America: Farm to Table with chef Mario Batali.  (Webster is also a copy editor with The Washington Post. Let's hope there aren't any grammar gremlins in this post!) In the book, Webster and Batali present more than 100 recipes and share the stories of farmers from across the country.

Webster will sign copies of the book Dec. 14 from noon until 2 p.m. 

Southern Season is at University Mall, 201 S. Estes Dr., Chapel Hill. 919-929-7133.

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    Vivian Howard appears Friday and Jim Webster will be in store on Sunday

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Rumors are true: Pop's Trattoria closed

Posted by on Wed, Dec 10, 2014 at 3:30 PM

The silverware is still rolled in the napkins. A half-used bag of onions sits in a window. The phone still works. At night, the neon sign is brightly lit. But Pop's Trattoria, once a mainstay of the Durham dining scene, has closed.

The rumors started shortly after Thanksgiving, when each night the restaurant at 605 W. Main St. was dark. But there was no official notice, no posting, which led Pop's fans to hope it was only on hiatus.

We haven't been able to track down the Pop's ownership, but according to West Village—which does not manage the Pop's space but most of the square footage around it—the eatery closed. Another group that had planned a holiday party at Pop's reported the restaurant had contacted a member to say it had shut its doors for good. Rue Cler and Pop's Backdoor, which used to be under the Pop's umbrella, both confirmed that their former mothership had closed.

Open Table, the online restaurant reservation service, has noted the restaurant is "offline."

Before Pop's moved to West Village, it was in Brightleaf Square, near Morgan Imports. Some nights you could not get a table, and there was even a wait for a seat at the bar.

Unfortunately Pop's could not hang on tenants (and potential customers) started filling the 156 nearly-finished apartments in West Village III.

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    A sad surprise for fans of the Durham eatery

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Southern Rail going up for sale

Posted by on Mon, Dec 8, 2014 at 3:14 PM

With its iconic vintage railcars, roaring fireplaces and Art Deco decor, Southern Rail has long commanded one corner of the Carr Mill Mall complex in Carrboro. Along with The Station, the historic train-depot-turned-bar that has hosted acts like Nick Lowe, Squirrel Nut Zippers and Dex Romweber (without once charging a cover), you’ve got one of the most unique places to grab a bite or a drink in the Triangle.

And for $450,000, it could be yours.

After eight years at the helm, owner Mike Benson is selling the entire establishment to focus on the expansion of another venture in Washington, D.C., and to spend more time with his family.

“I’ve got two daughters, ages 8 and 11, and I just can’t get enough of hanging out with them,” Benson says. “Running this restaurant full-time isn’t quite as appealing as it used to be.”

The restaurant, which is partially housed in several rail cars (with additional indoor seating and a pet-friendly patio between them), represents a $1.2 million investment for Benson, who outfitted the cars with a HVAC system, electrical, plumbing and a full kitchen.

He only has one requirement for the sale.

“I truly love this place, and I worked so hard to build it, that I just don’t want it to go to someone who is going to do something terrible with it!” Benson says, laughing mightily.

“But really, the kitchen has always made solid, diner-style food, but I’m not a chef. I went to arts school! I think a good, food-driven chef could really kick the restaurant up a notch.”

With the recently renovated Cat’s Cradle, Fleet Feet Sports and completed Hampton Inn all within eyesight of Southern Rail—plus Weaver Street Market and Carr Mill Mall next door—the location doesn’t lack for foot traffic.

And for Benson? He and his daughters ran the Reindeer Romp in Cary this weekend. Now, they’re hoping to gain a competitive edge in Wilmington, where the 5K courses are notoriously flat. 

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    Owner Mike Benson wants to devote more attention to family and other property

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Pretty sure some band named R.E.M. played their first gig outside of Georgia at the Station as well.

by Jonathan Lee on Southern Rail going up for sale (Food)

More details and photos here!

by electrableu2 on Southern Rail going up for sale (Food)

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