Monthly Archives: April 2010

Embracing the South, One Restaurant at a Time, Part 1: Raleigh

I am North Carolina born and raised (right in the Raleigh/Cary area).  I’ve never really considered myself southern, however.  My voice is free of any southern drawl and the word “ya’ll” has been void of my vocabulary, as I am more partial to “guys” or “you guys.”   I’ve never cared for grits (unless they are cheese grits – preferably Bill Neal’s, famous Shrimp & Grits), sweet tea is too sweet for my tastes (I opt for 1/2 & 1/2), and I’ve always felt like more of a city mouse.

Lately though, I’ve found myself slowly giving into my southern heritage, growing more of an appreciation for it and letting it envelop me because after all, it is where I’m from.  I’ve discovered I do in fact enjoy sausage egg and cheese biscuits, I love listening to Paula Deen talk, and I’ve even found myself dropping some of my “g’s” (NO reference to that monster, Sarah Palin).  I’ve started saying “how are you all doin’ ” quite frequently when I greet customers at the bakery.   I’ve become seriously intrigued with Edna Lewis and am anxious to read her book, and I’ve become more proud of where I come from, especially since it is finally gaining some much deserved praise in the foodie world.

With that said, you can imagine my surprise and pride when I discovered this article the other morning, smack dab on the wonderful New York Times, and this one as well, that Jay found from awhile back, in my favorite Bon Appetit Magazine, highlighting the Triangle as quite the trendy destination for good eats.  It’s nice to know the Triangle is getting this kind of recognition, because I truly am a fan of so many of its restaurants and believe several of them are just as worthy if not more so, of some of the best restaurants in major cities, like NYC, LA, San Francisco, and so on.

So.  In lieu of my southern culinary pride and its recent national acclaim, I’ve decided to finally do something I’ve been meaning to do for awhile.  (And because I love a good list).  Without further ado, here is a list I’ve compiled, of my favorite restaurants/spots in the Triangle:

Raleigh

  • Hayes Barton Cafe and Desserty This small but charming establishment in Raleigh’s “Five Points” District  is a fun tribute to the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, with old black & white Hollywood star headshots and other Hollywood and World War II memorabilia adorning the walls.  A small TV near the ceiling shows old black & white classics, while the likes of Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday grace the speakers.  The menu is a delightful pun on movie and movie star names, like “Dial M for Meatloaf,” and “Annie Get Your Goat Salad.”  Not to mention, they have an impressive array of mile-high cakes and pies, tempting and luring patrons to the dessert case, like sirens.  It’s almost always packed with the neighborhood locals, who can’t seem to get enough of this retro, diner-like atmosphere and amazing food.  The owners, Frank and his wife Margo, are genuine and nice, and you can almost always find Margo in the kitchen and Frank at the hostess stand, making the rounds of the restaurants, chatting with diners (most of whom are faithful regulars), and making sure their bellies are content.


  • Five Star is the best Chinese I’ve had so far.  This trendy spot is tucked away on Hargett Street, in an old brick warehouse building and looks like a place you would find in Brooklyn.  It’s popular but you hardly ever have to wait for a table, and their green bean appetizer is ad addictive as french fries.  The food is non-greasy, authentic and you won’t find fatty, over-battered, over-sweetened pieces of meat in your entree, like most Americanized, cheap, cloned Chinese restaurants (which I consider to be the McDonald’s of Chinese food).  My favorite dishes (besides the green beans, which are a must, are the “General Tso’s Chicken,” and the “Sweet and Sour Pork.”  Don’t expect them to be like anything you’ve ever had before.
  • Lilly’s Pizza also lies in Raleigh’s “Five Points” District, right behind Hayes Barton, and is my absolute favorite pizza joint.  I honestly don’t think I’ve had better pizza anywhere else, so far at least.  Lilly’s has won several awards and gets the majority of their food supply from local farms.  It is a laid back, hippie/punk/college crowd attraction, where the employees can rock out to whatever music their heart’s desire, while they make you your pizza or calzone.  The restaurant is decorated eclectically, with art displays on the walls that change monthly, and wildly painted bathrooms with entertaining graffiti to accompany them.  The salads come with homemade “croutons,” which are actually made from pizza dough, and they are made with fresh mixed greens, parmesan cheese, veggies and the best lemon tahini and balsamic vinaigrette dressings I’ve had.  The menu is huge, and includes an impressive variety of topping choices, for the creative folk who want to personalize their pizza.  My favorite pizza at Lilly’s is the Buddha, which has an olive oil, garlic base, parmesan, white cheddar and feta cheeses, zucchini, spinach, fresh roma tomatoes and kalamatta olives – (which I choose to leave off).  The best thing about Lilly’s is their dough, which is organic, stone-milled whole-wheat flour with a touch of clover honey and is made locally,  in Carrboro.  Their meats are hormone, antibiotic, color agent, and preservative free and they use all of the freshest ingredients.  To me, it’s a must if you’re in Raleigh and in the mood for some pizza.  I could rave some more, trust me, but I think you should just go there and see for yourself.
  • NoFo at the Pig is another Five Points favorite and can be found right next to Lilly’s.  It’s odd name comes from the fact that the building the restaurant is housed in, used to be an old Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store.  There is also a location in Wilmington, North Carolina, but I prefer this one, and not only frequent the restaurant for its delicious southern, comfort food (and Bill Neal’s famous shrimp and grits, if I can’t make it over to Crook’s Corner), but also for its unique gift shop upstairs.  You can find garlic, onion, lime, and tomato savers, wines, gourmet jams and other foods, purchase artisan chocolates, candies, coffees and teas, buy novelty children’s toys and books, and can even find handmade greeting cards, beautifully crafted chandeliers, jewelry and other nick-nacks.  NoFo gets it’s gift shop supply from all over, and sells a lot of imports as well as an enticing supply from local artists.  Now for the food.  NoFo’s menu changes pretty frequently but they do have some staples on the menu.  You can find southern coastal dishes mostly, but they have just about anything, including the best “sticky toffee pudding” ever.  I dare you to say “no” to that one, when dessert time rolls around.

  • Poole’s Downtown Diner, is another Raleigh favorite of mine and is a  retro diner that serves gourmet comfort fare, mostly of the French Provincial persuasion.  See my post, where I recently reviewed it, and then go there immediately (on an empty stomach), to partake in one of the best meals you will ever eat.  Make sure you try the “she’s the fastest” cocktail, which has gin, grapefruit juice, and St. Germain’s Elderflower Liqueur in it, and whatever you do, make sure you get some frites.  Chef Ashley Christensen is a  culinary goddess, and she was even mentioned right here, in Bon Appetit.

*more Raleigh spots to come, I have banana pudding to make and then work to do!*  Be back shortly…sometime this weekend…

5/3/10

Well I’m about a week late with the rest of the Raleigh spots, so I apologize!  Here is one more…

  • The Cupcake Shoppe is probably the best place for a cupcake in the triangle (although I’ve yet to try Daisycakes, in Durham).  There, you’ll find precious rows of cupcakes, perfectly situated in the window case, adorned with a heaping, neat swirl of sugary pastel colored icings.  Flavors with clever names, like “Big Red ” (red velvet), “Pretty in Pink” (strawberry), and “Mint Condition” (chocolate with mint buttercream) are all pretty delicious and there is always a “flavor of the day.”  My favorite happens to be “You Mocha Me Crazy,” which is a dark chocolate cake with espresso buttercream (with chocolate chip pieces in it).  It’s not the greatest cupcake I’ve ever had, but it can certainly turn a bad day around with a single bite.  Check it out.

look at those little pretties…

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Let them Eat Cake, Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake has been on my brain these past few days.  I’ve been acting like a lady obsessed, perusing the Internet for chocolate cake recipes to add to my repertoire.  So I found it kind of ironic that this morning, when I went to Bon Appetit’s website, I should find none other than a collection of their best chocolate cake recipes from the past decade.  This was created just for me, I thought!

I am a big fan of the chocolate cake.  To me it is just hard to beat, and I happen to be a self-professed chocoholic.  There could be banana pudding, blackberry and peach cobbler or one of my other favorite desserts on the menu, but if chocolate cake is also on the menu and I think whatever restaurant I am at will master it, I’m going to pick the darn chocolate cake.  Sorry fruit desserts.

So alas, this weekend I am going to bake a chocolate cake.  I’ve been craving one with a lush chocolate buttercream, but in the midst of my chocolate cake recipe pursuit, it looks as though a few contestants have won me over and the buttercream will just have to be patient for the time being.

I am a victim of food porn.  I typed in “chocolate cake” into the search box over at Tastespotting.com and was greeted with 16 pages of options!  Photo after photo of boastful, rich, tall dark and handsome chocolate cakes, each of them begging me to pick them.  Oh my.  This won’t be easy.

There have been quite a few chocolate cakes to win me over before…there was the mile-high one that my mom and I found in some magazine years back.  One of those quadruple threat cakes, with many layers, alternating chocolate buttercream and ganache and silky cake and chocolate shavings.  The kind of cake that takes six hours to make and has you in a chokehold of agony, as you demand to be finished with the process so you can have your precious cake already!  (I asked for this as a birthday cake when I was in middle school one year).  Now that is a mother who loves her daughter.  I think we had this cake on two or three different occasions and it’s still buried in a cookbook folder somewhere, for us on a rainy day, when we’re craving serious chocolate and feeling particularly brave and ambitious.

Then there are the flourless cakes.  The ones that are so rich, you have to pace yourself and allow for several pauses and sighs in between bites, to relish the fabulousness that is the chocolate flourless cake.  One favorite in particular, is Bill Neal’s Mt. Airy Chocolate Souflee Cake, from Crook’s Corner, in Chapel Hill.  This cake is dense and buttery and unbelievably chocolatey and is perfect with its companion – a generous, messy dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream (ahem, *NOT* from a can, so don’t get any ideas).

There’s also a flourless cake recipe I found from a winter issue of In Style Magazine about a year ago, from The Spotted Pig Restaurant, in NYC.  It was a cinch to make.  It had Bourbon in it.  And it too came with a generous, messy dollop of whipped cream.  Not just any whipped cream however.  Spicy whipped cream!  This was perfect for a winter evening.  The whipped cream had a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.  What a genius idea, spiced whipped cream!  I love it.

Then there are those cakes I can’t wait to make, including the one I think I will be baking this weekend, the Root Beer Float Cake.

I also found a recipe for Coca Cola fudge cake (which looks very much like the kind at Cracker Barrel).  Now wait.  Before you say anything, let me remind you that technically I am southern, so yes, I have been to Cracker Barrel.  On more than one occasion too.  AND, I’m not embarrassed to admit it.  Okay, maybe a little, because I’m pretty sure it is banned in the realm of Foodie World.  I should also tell you, it just happened to be a road trip stop, whenever we were taking family vacations.  It was reliable.  You could always find a Cracker Barrel.  And they had checkers and fun little wooden, triangle jumping games you could play at your table!  How can you say no to that?  You wouldn’t if you had their Coca Cola fudge cake.

Also, I recently spotted Edna Lewis’ recipe for “Very Good Chocolate Cake” and have been wanting to make that as well.

There will be a lot of chocolate cakes in my future.  I don’t have one lying around the house at the moment, but I do have something to satisfy my chocolate tooth until the weekend rolls around.  I made Deb Perelman’s (of Smitten Kitchen) mother’s Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Cake at approximately 10:00 last night and it was GOOD.  I know because I couldn’t wait until the next day to try some, so at approximately 11:20, I had some.  I also just had some for breakfast.  It’s a rich, thick, sour cream coffee cake base, with ribbons of cinnamon sugar and it’s beautifully studded with lot’s of chocolate chips.  I’ll be making this again thank you.

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Spectacular Views

Lately it seems, I am in the company of birds.  Having made this little Hummingbird Cake over Easter…

I decided to fashion a bird’s nest made of pecans to grace the top of the cake, complete with some speckled malted milk eggs – (which happen to be the most memorable Easter candy from my childhood…oh nostalgia).  It was quite the hit, although I thought it was a tad too rich and sweet and missing a bit of oomph.  Next time, I think I’ll try the recipe from my Hummingbird Bakery cookbook – it seems more fitting anyway.

And one adorable Robin bird thought our wine cork wreath on the front door would make the perfect location for her nest (which she skillfully built atop of the wreath).  I noticed it just the other day when I was about to walk through the door.  Being challenged in the stature department, I grabbed a stool so I could peer inside the nest, and sure enough…

I call the Robin “Mama” and she’s very protective of those gorgeous little gems.  Whenever she sees or hears me coming, she flies off to a nearby tree (the same tree every time) and squawks, as if to say “steer clear of my turf, you!”  Needless to say, I’m going to have to get a key copied so I can enter the house from the side door and not disrupt the babies.  I’m very excited about this and am wondering how long it will be before they hatch!

As for another certain bird, my boyfriend Jay is directing Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, and it opens this Thursday night!

On another note, I still need to tell you about the Canard aux Framboises we recently made, because it was truly stunning.  In fact, out of all the amazing “Oh my God!” exclaiming, several sighs worthy meals Jay and I have made, this one might take the cake.  I’ll thank Blue Kitchen profusely for that, and tell you to make it asap!  The rich demi glace and raspberry sauce was one of the greatest things to have ever graced my palette.  We also whipped up some sauteed broccoli with almonds and parmesan and some buttermilk mashed potatoes – is that kind of like serving a hot dog with haricots verts?  Oh well, I say if steak frites is okay, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with fancy duck and mashed potatoes!  Some exquisite vanilla bean raspberry creme brulee did just fine for our finale.  Everything was complimented nicely.

And speaking of “taking the cake,” I’ve been in the mood for some cake, big time.  Luckily, during my shift at the bakery yesterday, I got to try some freshly made Strawberry Buttermilk Cake, complete with strawberry buttercream icing that was to die for, and dear God that thing was good.  I’m still thinking about it.  Since the recipe is allegedly “top secret,” I’m going to attempt to recreate it in the near future, finding a wonderful buttermilk cake recipe and adding strawberries to it and then making an icing out of strawberries, butter, powdered sugar and shortening.  Mmm, can’t wait, and I can’t wait for strawberry picking season either, which is just around the bend…

Strawberry shortcake, strawberry dumplings, strawberry buttermilk cake, here I come!  I plan on making Edna Lewis’ Busy Day cake and pairing it with some macerated strawberries and fresh whipped cream, for my take on strawberry shortcake.

Warmer weather also means it’s time for me to make one of my summer favorites…Magnolia Bakery’s Banana Pudding, which also is “OMG” inducing.  If you want someone to do something for you, like maybe give you a special top secret recipe, make them this pudding.  You will succeed.  They will succumb after the first bite.  Hmmm, maybe I should bring some in to the bakery…

One last thing.  I forgot to mention the Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes I made for St. Patrick’s Day, from Smitten Kitchen. I wasn’t too fond of the actual cake and I guess I can attribute that to the Guinness, unfortunately, but the ganache filling lurking in the center of these little devils, and the Bailey’s buttercream icing were pretty fabulous.

And while cupcakes are on the agenda…

I also made some chocolate ones with cream cheese icing a few weeks back, although I made a culinary faux pas…I made a rich chocolate cake recipe (by miss Molly Wizenberg) and turned them into cupcakes.  They were delicious, rich and chocolatey – enhanced by some freshly brewed coffee in the batter.  However, they were meant to go with chocolate icing and I was in the mood for cream cheese.  Now I know this makes for a weird combination.  Cream cheese icing should go with a less complex tasting chocolate cake.  This combo just clashed, since the chocolate/coffee flavor was so pronounced.  Ah the trial and error of baking…

Nonetheless, they were still pretty.  See?

I shall now leave you with this mini nifty little estrogen-induced playlist to tickle your ears…

  • On the Radio – Regina Spektor
  • With Arms Outstretched – Rilo Kiley
  • Spectacular Views- Rilo Kiley
  • Willie – Cat Power
  • Field Below – Regina Spektor

*Thank you Rilo Kiley for the post title*

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Sweet Sweet Spring

Hello Spring.

Hello things I am loving right now…

  • Jill Andrews and this cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Sharp Cutting Words”
  • This movie because it was on last night and these two are so incredible in it.

  • Joy the Baker and her blog, because she bakes delicious things and takes delicious photos of them.  Plus, she’s hilarious.
  • Violet Bella’s beautiful jewelry – I want it all!
  • This book that I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying.  David Lebovitz reminds me so much of David Sedaris (if he were a pastry chef).

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