Am I allowed to call myself a Published Food Critic now?

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I’m published! I’m published! I’m published!

If you’ve been following The Onyx Plate on Facebook and Twitter, you might already know this little bit of information…and you very well might be tired of hearing about it. My apologies if so. Otherwise, I’m super excited and extremely proud of myself. Did I just say that? I did…hmmmm. I’m PROUD of myself and my accomplishments thus far on my path to a food career.  This may be old territory for some of you reading this, but this is a whole new horizon I’m looking at!  Yay!

So what was published you ask? My first Restaurant Review was published in our local Alamance County Magazine, along with my photographs of the food. Woohoo! The restaurant I reviewed was really and truly awesome, and I guess I lucked out in that way. No one ever wants to review a restaurant where they can’t say ALL good things about it. That’s just awkward. Although, you know I have had that awkward restaurant review on here with the Tupelo Honey Café review I did on our last trip to Asheville, NC. That was a bit awkward. Sigh. So, that just goes to show you that I do tell the truth with my reviews. *smiles*

Below is what was published in the magazine, along with photographs of the layout. I’M SO EXCITED!

The main question though…Am I allowed to call myself a Published Food Critic now?

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When I think of the name of this restaurant, I can’t help but think of family and the phrase “getting back to your roots”. Sure, this phrase definitely is referencing the act of going back to where you came from or going back to the beginning in essence. However, it’s not always about where you came from originally that could be considered your roots in life. Truthfully, life takes us to a thousand different places and through five thousand different situations. We meet people along the way that shape and mold our lives, and we also live in places that add to our character and define who we are as a person. Sometimes along that way though, we decide to plant ourselves. Not necessarily where we first took root with our family, but where we planted ourselves along our road in life. Something drew us back to that special place, and something made us want to root in fresh soil. Such is the case with the owners of The Root Trackside, and I am very thankful that they came back after graduating from Elon in the 90s.

As everyone knows, it’s very important to have a great first impression when walking through the front door of a restaurant you’ve never tried before. We were immediately greeted by a clean-cut gentleman who led us to a comfortable booth. As I looked around, there were strawberry baskets on the walls around us that reminded me of picking strawberries with my Mom locally. Those are warm Southern memories that I was happy to remember when seeing them. The waitress, Amy, was quickly at our table and went through the menu graciously with us. She took care to explain everything and made some of the greatest faces while doing it! You could tell she truly loved the food and people there, and I can appreciate that.

For a Starter, we had the Crispy Topped Fries. Yeah, these weren’t just a plate of fries. These perfectly crisp fries were topped with shaved Parmesan and Truffle Aioli. It was one of those items that once you had one French Fry, you had to pause and think about it, then you had another one, thought about the blast of flavors again, and then fought to eat the rest of them before the person you were with ate them all. They were a phenomenal Starter that set the mood for the rest of the meal.

When Amy was asked what she would suggest as a menu item for us, she immediately went to the Foodie Grilled Cheese. Let me explain what they mean by “Foodie” being at the beginning of the name. It means that you can have about anything on that Grilled Cheese sandwich that your little heart desires and make it your own creation. I chose to add spinach, caramelized balsamic onions, avocado, bacon, and arugula. By the time I was finished adding all of my toppings, my sandwich was still under $8. Oh, and it came with a choice of side. I chose the Cheese Grit Cakes. Cheesy Grits with chopped green onion mixed in and cooled. Then, they were cut into triangles, battered, and fried to golden deliciousness. Also at our table, was the Ivy League Sandwich. This sandwich came on soft French bread and had an enormous amount of house-baked turkey breast on it, Havarti cheese, an herb mayo, lettuce, tomato and this mouth-watering cucumber dill relish to top it all off. When I say “mouth-watering”, please believe me. I was so thankful we were able to get more on the side. Delicious! The Ivy League was accompanied by Crispy Brussels Sprouts, which were quite tasty as well.

Now once you have already filled your belly with these hearty sandwiches and crispy fries, you have to wonder where extra room is going to come from for dessert. I’m sorry, but when you tell me that the desserts are homemade by someone at the restaurant…I’m ordering dessert, regardless of how full I already am. When the Raspberry Cheesecake slice arrived at my table, I found the room for it easily. The raspberry sauce drizzled over top of the homemade cheesecake just glistened back at me. The shaved white chocolate on top was calling my name. The kicker was the crust though. That chocolate crust was amazing. I’m very picky about cheesecakes. I love everything about the inside of them. It’s the outside edges that I typically get disappointed with though. When I have already consumed the creamy beginning of my piece of cheesecake, the last thing I want to finish with is an edge that is too brown and tastes of freezer burn. This was definitely not the case with this slice of cheesecake. It was obvious that it was made with love and attention. It certainly made me smile.

All in all, The Root Trackside was simply delicious and offered many ingenious combinations of fresh food. They also carry a nice selection of local brews to enjoy with your burgers and sandwiches. You know what made me smile the biggest though? Seeing a sandwich called “The Fightin’ Christian”. That was the Elon I grew up around, and The Root Trackside brought back yet more memories of our wonderful little town and my childhood. Thank you to The Root for restoring my faith in sandwich shop-like restaurants. It’s nice to see sandwiches and burgers modernized while still keeping that Southern and Elon charm.

You know I had to ask them to put World Nutella Day in there with a little shout-out to all of you around the world! *wink*

The Root Trackside on Urbanspoon

A Southern Gal’s Take on Chef Irvine and Restaurant Impossible

The extremely KIND production crew!

A note to my most wonderful reader…I feel as though I need to preface this as I do with some of my writings. I need you to remember, while reading this, that I am a very passionate and caring person that always tries to be kind to people. It is true that you never know whose day you are going to turn around with just a kind smile or a simple acknowledgement of their existence. Life is short…be kind to one another!

And so it began….

It was about 8:30am when we arrived at University Grill. Mom, two friends, and I. It was drizzling and decently chilly. We walked up to the building right at 9am, just as instructed. Oh wait…I can’t forget to mention that we were almost run over by a light blue Lexus SUV while walking up to the building. It randomly came out of nowhere, and what to our wondering eyes would appear??? Well, it was Chef Robert Irvine driving the Lexus like a bat out of hell. He spun out into the middle of the street, almost hitting another vehicle. We were told to stand on the side of the building while the production crew signed us in…but you had to stay out of the view of the windows since they were doing some filming inside. Heaven forbid we stepped in front of a window, because we would be swiftly corrected.

We stood outside for about another hour, in the cool drizzle, until we were finally told we could walk in to the warm restaurant. The production crew ushered us in, and look who was standing right inside the door! Well, it was Chef Robert Irvine standing with arms crossed at the door like a Greek God. Yeah, he’s built…I can appreciate that. I stepped up to him, being the big fan that I am, and said charmingly “Welcome to North Carolina.” We were standing perpendicular to each other. He looked my way with a cross look on his face, stared at me for a couple seconds, did one of those quick flashes of a fake smirk, and quickly turned back around, never uttering a nicety to me or the others around me. I was perplexed to say the least.

Let’s talk a second here…I have met Chef Gordon Ramsay. He wasn’t at all what you see on television. At the MasterChef auditions, he was a complete gentleman. He was kind and generous even off camera. It could bring the good tears to my eyes just knowing that I met my number one favorite Chef, and he was all I hoped. Hell, I was prepared for him to yell at me or tell me something looked bad…and I would have happily taken it like a champ! *smiles* I expected that from Chef Ramsay. On to Chef Irvine…when my amazing cousin let me know about the posting in Craigslist for extras on the show, I jumped at the chance! Who was I wanting to meet??? Well, it was Chef Robert Irvine that I wanted to meet with a smile on my face and a smile on his. I have this list in my head of who I really want to meet, and he was certainly towards the top! He seemed like he would be such a nice guy to meet, and my hopes were high like the bar that Chef Ramsay had set late last year.

It only became more irritating as the production went on. After being rattled by his rudeness, we were all shuffled back outdoors for another 20 minutes in the rain. When we finally got in and settled into a booth out of the camera shot, he began the opening interviews with the restaurant owners. Bless their hearts…he was sadly, a jerk…as I believe some of you saw on the episode and asked me if he really was that mean off camera as well. We ended up being moved to the other side of the restaurant so we would be in natural lighting along with the production crew’s lighting. They began doing some taping of everyone seated….this is at about 11:30am. Keep in mind that we got here about 8:30am, and I think a majority of us were expecting some sort of breakfast service…cue growling tummys. Beside us there was a buffet, and guess who wanted to film some of the temperatures of the items sitting in the buffet??? Well, it was Chef Robert Irvine standing beside the buffet and yelling at the camera men to stand in certain positions and copping an attitude.

My oh my was he grumpy!

The extremely KIND production crew!

Our food was finally delivered around 12:30pm, by an extremely nice waitress, and then Chef made some comments that caused us to not finish our food. *grrrr* Cue growling tummys…again! The production crew finished up taping some more shots, and we were ushered out with not a kind greeting or word from Chef Irvine. This may be a good time to mention that this production crew was so incredibly kind and accommodating. Let me reiterate that….EXTREMELY KIND!

I had spoken with one of the heads of the production crew, and she said I could come back in and see if I couldn’t get a photograph taken with Chef. Let’s be honest, he was not on this redheads good side. I had looked up to this man, admired his build, and wanted to talk to him about his world of food. I wanted to learn. The other women with me left, and I hung around for another 30-45 minutes for the lady to come get me for my photo-op. While waiting, I met a very nice production assistant outside (a fellow Foodie), and she and I occupied each others time…in the rain. Yep, still raining, folks.

It was getting late and my tummy was incredibly hungry. With hesitation, I walked quietly back into the restaurant while they were taping and stood hidden behind some waitresses that were folding silverware (not on camera). I looked across from where I was sitting, and look a’ there…who do you think I was looking at??? Well, it was the texting machine Chef Robert Irvine (not on camera either) glued to his phone and not paying me a bit of mind. It came time for the lady to pull me over for a photograph. Chef Irvine seemed visually perturbed that I was interrupting his texting time, and he said “Let’s hurry up, we have filming to do.” I handed my phone to the production crew lady, someone on the crew kindly told the lighting guys to turn the lights around to give us some light for our photograph, and the photograph was taken. He asked, “Do you need to make sure it looks ok?” I turned to him (maybe with a bit of redhead attitude showing after this whole ordeal…I couldn’t help it!) and said, “No thanks, sorry to bother you.”

Gosh it irritates me how photogenic and sweet he looks in this photo…

I walked out the door, said goodbye to my new Foodie friend, and I drove into the now afternoon sun in search of delicious food to cure my growling tummy! Is it funny that Mom and I headed to IHOP?

In closing,

It irritates me personally that this is the memory I have of one of my favorite Chefs. He was met with pure kindness from the extras that showed up for his show, but I guess he had not had a very decent morning before the taping. It’s certainly unfortunate. I do, however, hope that his day improved vastly. He’s a hard-working man, and he deserves to be a smiling man also. *smiling*

As far as the restaurant goes…Mom has been back since the reveal, and the footage on the show seems to be a vast change. I, personally, am afraid it went the wrong direction. The town it neighbors is Glen Raven…an old mill town. There are other restaurants that cater to our wonderful Elon University down the road, but it is important for the restaurant to not lose sight of the other areas. The show went to Elon University only (it appeared in the editing) for opinions of what the “students” wanted. A place to “chill”. Really? There seems to be a lot of long-time customers that go there. From construction and mill workers, to older and close to poverty level people. Glen Raven is a quaint little town with a good amount of Southern Charm. I just hate that it wasn’t captured in the makeover, and all they did was a makeover for the University students. (Yes, I realize it’s called UNIVERSITY Grill.)

I feel it probably would have been nice to have a good Southern restaurant with downhome foods that would please the other side of the community along with Elon University. They have enough “chill” places in the heart of Elon, and I know for a fact that a lot of the Elon students from up North love a good and tasty home-cooked Southern meal. You would be hard pressed to find one that didn’t!

I truly do wish Eleni and her brothers the best of luck. They were brave to reach out for help, and I hope that all surrounding communities band together to support them in their journey. It’s a long road ahead of them, but I have a feeling they’re not going anywhere. Just call it a hunch from a Southern Foodie. *wink*