First things first. It's "Ka-mah-do," as in the egg-shaped, Japanese-style ceramic grill, not "ka-moe-do," as in komodo, the largest living species of lizard.
In the age of Game of Thrones with dragon eggs surviving fire, that's an important distinction.
And while Kamado Joe Grills are designed for outdoor use, the new Kamado Grille restaurant in North Raleigh has a dozen of the cherry red grills inside the kitchen, where their intoxicating smoke is captured by a massive exhaust and fire-suppression system designed by CaptiveAire.
You read that right. Led by Eric Gephart, formerly of The Chef's Academy in Morrisville, they are burning hardwood charcoal inside the restaurant, practically around the clock. The entire system, which soon will include temperature settings for individual grills, can be monitored by staff and tweaked off-site through a phone app.
The fast-paced kitchen action can be viewed by diners from live-feed cameras that relay images of line cooks grilling meats, fish and vegetables to big screens in the sunny dining room. Be patient and you might get to see someone "burp" the heavy lid to minimize the potential for flying sparks. That quick jiggle is crucial, considering they can roar to 1,100 degrees. Most menu items cook at a relatively moderate 500 to 700 degrees, while slow smoking is dialed back to around 250 degrees.
Built on the same footprint of the long abandoned Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, the huge open space—complemented by ample outdoor seating and a grass bocce court—is designed to resemble a HOA-friendly great outdoors, complete with stone garden walls, burbling water features and trees that stretch toward skylights.
Co-owner Tom Allen is the clever guy who gazed admiringly at the Kamado Grill on his Wakefield deck and conjured this clearly franchise-able concept (opening soon in Greenville, South Carolina, Wilmington and Charlotte, with more to come). Allen appreciated the way the ceramic grill, similar to a Big Green Egg, quickly generates and holds heat, allowing foods to sear quickly and retain moisture. A former executive with Outback Steakhouse, he emailed Kamado Joe with his brainstorm, getting an enthusiastic call from the owner just 45 minutes later.
Allen believes Kamado Grille makes one of the best burgers in town, and that claim may leave you with your jaw hanging open. Or it might be just the after-effect of the stacked mouthful ($11) topped with a patty-covering round of custom-cured pancetta, grilled onion, pepper jack cheese and "secret sauce." You won't miss the absence of fries with creative sides like red quinoa salad with butterbeans. Other sandwich options a include a Reuben ($11) with corned beef slow-cooked overnight, pulled pork ($9.50) sourced from Heritage Farm near Goldsboro, and a smoke-free lobster roll ($14). If the tender buns taste familiar it's because they're made by Cary's La Farm bakery.
Note that La Farm owner Lionel Vatinet's irresistible white chocolate baguette is used in a bread pudding ($6) drizzled with "bourbon dream sauce." That's my idea of dreamy, but maybe not yours. See if you can resist the chocolate and seasonal fruit cobblers ($6) baked in personal cast iron pans or a selection of ice cream, sorbet and gelato ($3.50).
But we digress. Before dessert, consider an entree (maybe juniper-brined pork prime rib for $16.50 or maple-miso glazed Scottish salmon at $17) or a few appetizers (are you a sucker for $12 lamb lollipops? how about $10 oysters Kamadofeller with andouille, spinach and smoked gouda?). Grilled flatbread options include the $13 ocean BLAST featuring bacon, lettuce, avocado, shrimp and tomato.
If you're stumped, you can ask a friendly server for advice, but the iPad ordering system allows you to bypass such interruptions. If you want to silently signal that the only ongoing service you want is beverage refills or plate clearing, ask for a lapel pin.
On the other hand, if you crave interaction, know that Kamado Grille offers free classes (with tastings) on Saturday mornings to help fans learn the fine points of ceramic grill cooking. This includes a visit to the "retail center" where they can buy accessories and grills ranging in price from the $499 portable Joe Jr. to the $1,499 party-sized Big Joe.
Or, for a more modest investment, and a welcome break, let them do the cooking for you.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Take it inside."