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

It’s time we had a talk…about Sticky Toffee Pudding and an English Pub named Marshall

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING
di·et/ˈdī-it/

Verb:

Restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight: “it is difficult to diet in a house full of cupcakes”.

Now that you know the definition of using “diet” as a verb…let’s talk, because there are

My own personal treasure box of bliss…

some things that you just don’t restrict yourself on.

The example sentence that Google brings up is “It is difficult to diet in a house full of cupcakes.” Ya think? NO kidding? Seriously? Duh. Hell, it’s difficult just dieting being surrounded by some of these wonderful restaurants we have in our surrounding communities, let alone being in a house full of cupcakes. Wait…YOU have a house full of cupcakes??? You can email me your address at TheOnyxPlate@gmail.com. Depending on your distance from North Carolina, I can possibly make it there within a week. *wink*

My personal sentence I would like to bring to your attention involving the word “diet” being used in it’s verb form…”It’s difficult to diet in a world where Sticky Toffee Pudding exists.” Restrict oneself, what???

The housemade Ginger Ale that will be at The Marshall Free House…currently served at Darryl’s in Greensboro, NC.

Yes ma’am and sir, I said it. I have found my most favorite dessert ever. It might even top a select few of our family’s tried and true Southern desserts. It’s just plum delightful!

If you have been following my Facebook page, you will know my full, uncensored opinion of it. It is as follows…”Like sex: Smooth on the tongue, sweet to the palate, sticky on the lips.” It is every bit of those words, and more. *smiles*

Lucky for me (unlucky for the diet), we have an English Pub opening up in the Summer of 2012 locally. It boasts authentic UK food, beer and spirits, and specializing in three important things: Food, Drink and Conversation. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a tasting for a small selection of their offerings recently, and the Sticky Toffee Pudding was served. Along with it, there were Scotch Eggs, Shepherd’s Pie, Fish and Chips, and a thirst-quenching selection of UK beers.

Amongst all of the amazing food their Culinary Wizard and Passionate Owner have imagined, there will be a vast array of beer and spirits that will leave you in awe. Juices fresh-squeezed, mixes handmade, and sodas made in-house. The vision of The Marshall Free House is unlike any other you have encountered here locally…perhaps anywhere. It will leave you with a happy belly, quenched thirst, and a joyful heart and mind from just being there.

It takes passion (and orgasmic Sticky Toffee Pudding) to make a business last, folks……….The Marshall Free House is going to last a very long time. Come on Summer 2012!!!

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Sundays with Friends: Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian

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I’m breaking from the traditional format of Sundays with Friends for the simple purpose of telling you about the final restaurant we visited in Asheville, NC. Once again, just like Stoney Knob Café, this one is in Weaverville, NC. I feel this goes with the Sundays with Friends title, because as soon as you walk into Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian, you are immediately met with friendly smiles all the way around. It was as if we had been coming to this establishment for years upon years.

If you’ve been reading along, you know that three things are important to me…

1. Service is one of the biggest aspects of a restaurant experience for myself, being a former waitress.

2. The food has to bring an immediate smile to my face in order for me to fall in love with a restaurant (yes, almost that ‘eyes rolling in the back of my head foodgasm smile’).

3. I want to be TRANSPORTED!

See, the thing about me lately, is that I have such a thirst for travel right now, that when I go to an Italian, German, French, etc. restaurant, I want to feel as if I am in their country. In this case, I wanted that feeling as if I was devouring some of the best food Italy had to offer. I’ll admit it, I didn’t have high hopes. That afternoon, we had a less than stellar experience at one restaurant, and were just kind of “blah” on the whole trying new places. But, the adventurer inside prevailed, and to TripAdvisor I went again.

I viewed a few different places until I decided on Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian. Their menu spoke to me in some elegant Italian language, that unfortunately I was unable to utter a word of. You know what I did understand from that menu??? Take a guess… *smiles* It was the Penne alla Vodka that spoke to me the loudest. I am a complete sucker for a smooth Vodka Sauce. I love the marriage of the different flavors that a Vodka Sauce offers, as well as it’s versatility. I, personally, have found it quite difficult to order a delicious Vodka Sauce at any of the Italian restaurants around here, including the chains. Did I mention the Penne alla Vodka had Pancetta in it??? So maybe that helped my decision as well. The website was a little playful, but we later found out that it was different when you walked through their doors.

We drove down the peaceful Merrimon Avenue and parked at Vinnie’s. Like I said before, we were immediately greeted by a friendly staff, and maybe even Vinnie himself. Whether it was Vinnie himself that greeted us (he appeared to be the owner/Chef) or not, you could still feel the Italian love that was in this place. You knew the food and service was going to come from the heart and there was an abundance of passion in the staff.

Two things to get out of the way here…our server was absolutely fantastic, and the lighting was rough for my photographs of the food (I refuse to use flash on the food until I can obtain a better camera). *stubborn smiles* Let me tell you though, the lighting was only irritating for my photographs. Otherwise, the lighting was warm and inviting. To the food…

The bread…OH THAT BREAD! Honestly, I had never had balsamic vinegar and olive oil both for bread dipping. It was so inspiring that I went to Midtown Olive Press in town and bought my own bread dipping combination the next week! The bread that was being brought out to our table had to of been baked in the back. It was fresh, soft, and crusty, exactly what you would expect out of good bread. Goodness though, we had to take it easy on the bread or we were NOT going to have room for our meal. Out came the Penne alla Vodka that I had already planned on ordering, and the Sausage, Peppers, and Onions dish the hub ordered. When I tell you we should have taken it easier on the bread, I mean it! The portions were hearty, and the smells of our dishes wafting about the table to our noses made your mouth water all over again. Even after we already had been drooling from the visual appeal of the dishes. True sensory overload, folks (in a magical way).

Now I’ve dated a couple of Italians in my past, but sadly, they couldn’t cook worth a lick. This Southern gal wanted real Italian food that she had been missing out on all those years, and she got it that night at Vinnie’s! From the first bite to the last bite we took that evening of Tiramisu and Italian Cheesecake, before packing up our take home boxes, you felt as if this is what true Italians eat. This would be my expected experience in Italy. These beautiful, robust, flavor-rich dishes that were presented to us undoubtedly had transported us to Italy.

This is the one thing I love about traveling. You may only have money to go a few hours from home, but if you walk into the right place, you never know how far you’re going to travel in the end.

Thank you to Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian for one of the most amazing Italian meals I have ever savored. Your passion was felt in every smile and bite.

Vinnie's Neighborhood Italian on Urbanspoon

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Transported: Destination, Stoney Knob Café in Asheville, NC

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To be “transported”: To be moved from your current location. To be “beamed up” by Scotty (oh wait, that’s teleportation). To have a different experience than you expected. To allow yourself to relax in your current environment and go with the flow. Just….to be.

Granted the above is all my wording, but you get the point I’m sure. We can transport ourselves by plane, train, or automobile to anywhere we choose on this beautiful Earth, or beyond even. We have choices a plenty. Along that road of transportation, as a Foodie, we have another choice to make…where do we eat? I make it a goal to NEVER eat at a chain restaurant when traveling out of town. Lucky for us (sometimes), we have pretty much any chain restaurant you can think of within about a thirty-minute drive from home. Side note***When I say “chain restaurant”, I mean more than two or three of the same restaurants. I wanted to be clear here, because we have some wonderful local restaurants that are doing so well, we are fortunate enough to have more than one of their restaurants around us as they grow. They still have that local, hometown flair (unlike some of the more popular chains)…which is important in my opinion.

Back to being transported…

While traveling, I have become quite fond of two Droid apps. One of which is Urbanspoon, and another is TripAdvisor. This time, I went with TripAdvisor. While glancing through their top-rated restaurants for Asheville, NC, I found Stoney Knob Café listed as number 6 out of 267 restaurants in Asheville! Number 6 isn’t half bad, I’d say! The funny part…Stoney Knob Café isn’t even in Asheville. *wink* It’s actually located in Weaverville, NC. Which, sure, it’s right there on the outskirts of Asheville…but, wouldn’t it be more fair to say it’s in Weaverville so Weaverville gets a little credit for having one of the most amazing restaurants around??? Not to mention another one we went to while in Asheville….it too was amazing, and in Weaverville. *smile*

We pulled up to Stoney Knob Café, located a bit away from the hustle and bustle of Asheville (which I loved, because you can only take so much “downtown” on vacation). We were immediately met with a “Diner” feel from the outside with an extra room added to each side. Should I mention I pulled a little close to the brick sign out front, so the hub had to shimmy out the door when he opened it…hehe. *mischievous smile*

When you walk into Stoney Knob Café, you are immediately met with color from top to bottom, right to left. It was absolutely breath-taking with all of the amazing details in the restaurant. I may have gotten a touch of ADD being in there with all of the elements to look at. You didn’t feel like you were in Asheville anymore (oh wait, you AREN’T!). Let me rephrase that…you didn’t feel like you were in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the middle of winter, surrounded by a lot of monotone, once you stepped over their threshold.

We had truly been transported…

It was unlike anywhere we had been before, and little did we know that the food was going to prove that fact. Sitting down, it was immediately realized how comfortable our booths were and how clean everything was. The coffee was ordered, and the Brunch menu was reviewed. With menu items like…

  • Blackberry Crepes – Two Crepes stuffed with Orange-Cream Cheese topped with Blackberry Sauce & Honey Cream with a choice of Bacon or Sausage.
  • Huevos Rancheros – Two crispy Corn Tortillas with scrambled Eggs, Guajillo–Chili Sauce, Black Beans & Cheddar Cheese. Served with choice of Grits, Polenta or Potato.
  • The Spinach Artichoke Frittata – Baked open-faced Frittata with Artichoke, Spinach, Onions & Feta Cheese.
  • Johnny D’s Breakfast Burrito – Scrambled Eggs, Tomato, Onions, Green Peppers, Mushrooms, Cheddar Cheese & choice of Ham, Bacon or Sausage wrapped in a Sun-dried Tomato Basil Tortilla served w/Salsa.

It wasn’t an easy decision to say the least. I went with the Stuffed French Toast – Two slices of Texas Toast stuffed with Orange-Cream Cheese topped with Blackberry Sauce & Honey Cream with a choice of Bacon or Sausage. The hub chose the Stoney Knob Benny – Two luscious Crab Cakes topped with poached Eggs & roasted Red Pepper Hollandaise Sauce with a choice of Grits, Polenta or Potatoes. For the record…I didn’t write the word “luscious” when describing the Crab Cakes. It was there already, and man oh man was it the truth!

The food…took the restaurant to a completely different level in our minds, as if the décor hadn’t already. The food was delivered with pure beauty, it tasted like pure bliss, and it left inspired smiles for the day of traveling ahead of us on our faces. The way the Blackberry Sauce dripped seductively off my fork tines as I tried to make the entire bite fit in my mouth just left you wanting the next bite even more. I know…it sounds like I was taking big bites, but come on…some of the bites need to have every single element of the dish on the fork, because there is a reason the genius Chefs put them on the plate together in such a perfect combination to begin with. Method to the madness, people. *smile* The Benny…oh the Benny! Back to that word “luscious” and the word’s relation to their Crab Cakes…they aren’t lying to you. They were amazingly luscious. You also know how much I adore a perfectly poached egg (maybe because I leave it to the professionals and don’t make them at home). Everything about both of these dishes was pure perfection, from the “pop” of the poached egg to the Honey Cream to the Red Pepper Hollandaise Sauce. I wish I could order this every morning for breakfast.

Plates were cleaned as if a hungry pup had enjoyed the remainder of the nibbles. Coffee cups were drained empty, good to the last drop as they say. This all signified that the transportation we had just experienced was coming to an end. The time came to journey back over the threshold of which we had crossed earlier, from our blissful transportation to a peaceful world with delightful food and on down the currently monotone mountains and back to our equally monotone piedmont area.

As we took a peak at the rest of the restaurant rooms (the additions previously mentioned), sighed in amazement, and headed back to our own mode of transportation home, we resolved ourselves to the fact that we could only get this experience in one city…Weaverville, NC. Thank you, Weaverville, for offering us a meal we will certainly never forget.

Stoney Knob Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Darryl’s Wood Fired Grill – Old Dog, New Tricks

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Let’s face it. There are restaurants that we may never go to because of how we perceive them. Sure, sometimes we are right. But, sometimes, just sometimes, there is that one that we misjudged. See, that’s how I was with Darryl’s Wood Fired Grill. When you’re young, you don’t think about going to the place your Mom had her first drink at when she turned 21. You don’t think about going to a restaurant that has been around for many years. At least I don’t, and I’m ashamed to admit that because that’s where all the love is. It’s all about that new, fresh, hip place now, and we become focused on small singular restaurants.  We tend to forget that chain restaurants are owned by people that have a dream as well, and are filling their restaurants with blood, sweat, and tears every single day.  I’m here to tell you though, that old dogs can do new tricks….

As soon as you walk in, it’s a world away from many restaurants out there right now. As one person said to me recently… “I just didn’t understand the shackles on the wall when we went recently”. Since going there though…I can now explain why they are there to my friend, and will explain it to you towards the end. The décor is warm and inviting with little surprises around every bend. There are two stories with a vast bar at the heart of it. But, you will be quickly reminded that this isn’t a bar so to speak, it’s certainly geared toward family, and quiet hiding places for romantic date nights as well. There were random booths cantilevered above the bar area, and hidden booths tucked away a ½ floor above the 2nd floor. There’s wrought iron, and wood…stained glass and stainless steel. There is even a perfectly secluded room that seats 60, so one could have a meeting or gathering in. (Makes me wish I knew of an event to have!) Oh…did I mention the HUGE firepits outside for those perfect North Carolina nights???

From an extremely pleasant server, Kaitlyn (who was fabulous and beautiful), to Chef Larry (who was intelligent and talented), Jim – COO (who was kind and polite with a delightfully charming smile), and certainly not least…Jeff – Chief Culinary Officer (who was our main contact that walked us through the Darryl’s concept and was amazingly informative, educated with the food, and incredibly nice), it was a wonderful customer service experience. I have no doubt that the other servers are just as kind. There was one woman we spoke with at the beginning and ending of our adventure…I wish I had gotten her name, because she was absolutely friendly and kind…truly genuine.

But you know as well as I know that I was certainly interested in the food. There has to be something special about food to bring you back to a restaurant. This is where the whole teaching old dogs new tricks comes in to play.

There are a lot of things I can say, by myself, about the food, but I was lucky enough to have Mom with me, so she is going to contribute some bits as well so that we present you with a multi-generational outlook. Can you imagine if Maw-Maw had been with us??? Hers will be listed right behind mine after the word “Mom:” in italics. *smiles*

In a nutshell though….we honestly can say there wasn’t a single thing that hit our table that we wouldn’t order again. It was all amazing and drool-worthy.

Let’s start with beverages…

They have a huge selection of beers, with a good portion of local brews…good local brews, not the crappy ones. You can order a “flight” of beers, which is a sampling of 4 beers. They do the same with their wine. They didn’t have as large a selection of local vineyards, but what they did have, were good choices. From an amazing selection of high end to low end, the wine selector did a great job! Mom: Hummin’ Bird, Red Oak, Battlefield Bach, and Black Oak. I loved the Black Oak. I am a fan of dark beers. Give me a good stout and I am happy. I thought Red Oak’s new Black Oak was good. It was not as complex as some double bocks, but the chocolatey cream of the Black Oak is satisfying.

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· There was a drink they just started for New Year’s Eve called the Nitro Royale. You can see a video of them experimenting with it by clicking here (on their Facebook page, which you can find here). Oh yeah, that experimenting part…they infuse the drink – that is Chambord on the bottom, champagne on top, garnished with a strawberry – with Liquid Nitrogen. It comes to the table “smoking” so to speak, and it tasted wonderful! Mom: The presentation of this drink was a show stopper. The liquid nitrogen chilling the Chambord and Champagne to a tongue tingling chill was only topped by the luscious strawberry happily floating in this concoction of merriment. (I love how she words things!…Did I mention she was the best person I could have shared this experience with???)

Now to the food…(I’ll try to keep this short, but we were fed a lot and Weight Watchers went out the window as soon as we walked in the door) *smiles* The dishes are listed in the order they were presented to us. ..

· Homemade Crackers – I heard these used to be very popular, and they had stopped making them. Well folks, they’re back and amazing! Mom: Loved them. They were salted and crispy – perfect.

· Salad Dressings – I asked Kaitlyn if they had any house-made dressings. She brought us four…Creamy Garlic Ranch, Oriental Peanut Dressing, Cilantro Citrus, and my favorite was the Red Wine Vinaigrette (there was just something special about it, like none other I had tasted).

· Shrimp and Grits – They use Old Mill of Guilford grits, so you know I was sold! The yellow grits and Tasso ham gravy was something that I will be ordering many times in the future. Perfect seasonings, perfect creaminess to the grits to compliment the gravy, and perfectly plump (not rubbery) shrimp! A favorite of the leftover’s according to the hub. Mom: Very good. The grits were creamy and well seasoned. I am a shrimp lover and these were cooked to perfection – not rubbery like some people think a shrimp should be cooked. The Tasso Gravy topping the dish was flavor intensified.

· Braised Certified Angus Beef Tips – WOW! I think that says it all….tender, juicy, flavorful gravy, creamy mashed potatoes in the middle accompanied by soft, warm parmesan garlic cheese bread on the side. This was also a favorite leftover of the hub’s. Mom: The potatoes were a good base to the beef tips. The beef tips were finished with wonderful gravy that was slightly peppery to me. The mildness of the potatoes offset the heat of the pepper.

· 8 ounce Filet Mignon – Ummmm…. I think I’ll let Mom have this one all to herself (like I did the dish…she loves steak, and I was going to get the Salmon to myself – it was only fair)… Mom: This has to have been the best Filet Mignon I have ever eaten. I am a steak lover and have eaten in some very exclusive and world renowned places in my life. You could cut this Filet with your fork. The Certified Angus Beef is top grade and well worth finding a restaurant that does it well. Darryl’s does it well.

· 3 sauces served with the Filet Mignon – Green Peppercorn Sauce, Burgundy Sauce, and Blue Cheese Fondue. The Blue Cheese Fondue wasn’t for me (just because I don’t care too much for blue cheese), the Burgundy Sauce had just the right amount of Rosemary in it, and the Green Peppercorn Sauce would have been my perfect sauce pairing with the steak. Very good! Mom: I loved the Blue Cheese Fondue Sauce. If you are looking for a place to get a good steak, go to Darryl’s and order the Filet Mignon. It is reasonably priced and you will NOT be sorry.

· Grilled Salmon and Harvest Rice Pilaf– 7 ounces of perfection. I would have enjoyed a bit more seasonings on it and the pilaf, but that’s what their great selection of sauces is for. The salmon was fresh, perfectly flaky, and nice and buttery. It had a crisp sear on the bottom, and it was a great piece of fish. Mom: I saw the Salmon. It was pretty. I don’t eat Salmon. End of review. *wink smile wink*  Husband liked the leftover Harvest Rice.

· Smithfield Baby Back Pork Ribs and BBQ Beef Ribs – These were both finger-licking good. The beef ribs were in a tangy slightly-peppery sauce that suited the beef wonderfully. The pork ribs were in a slightly sweeter and smokier sauce. Amazing, and so happy that they use a local company for their pork ribs…Smithfield. Mom: I remember these as Darryl’s specialty from years ago. They were famous for them and for good reason. The pork ribs were delicious. Just enough spice and sweetness to make the pork shine and they were melt in your mouth tender. The beef ribs were not to my liking – I am a pork barbeque lover. It’s a regional thing! *wink* Love me some barbeque – just make it pork! My husband thought the leftover pork ribs were delicious! The sauce combined the right elements of sweet and spicy. The meat was tender and he said it made him wish he had a full portion.

· Pub Burger – If you didn’t know already, you might should…this redhead enjoys a good meaty burger and a tall glass of beer. If you put a burger in front of me that’s wimpy, I’m most likely going to be disappointed. But, if you put this burger in front of me…I’m going to be grinning from ear to ear. From the aged cheddar cheese, crispy fried shallots, and signature Pub Sauce…this burger had my name written all over it! Did I mention they use Certified Angus Beef for almost every single beef item on the menu??? Yum! Mom: Oh My Goodness, what a burger! Certified Angus Beef formed into the perfect thickness, cooked over the wood fired grill, topped with fried shallots and a sauce worthy of drinking from a glass. This is the king of burgers for pub food. Excellent.

· Fish & Chips – These little cod filets were in a delightful beer batter and fried just perfectly. I just don’t think these could have gotten any better. Mom: This fish was dead on right for fish and chips. The fish was fork tender with a nice crispy coating. It was not greasy and the coating was not too thick. My husband was the recipient of the leftover fish. He thought it was like what you would expect to get in England. He has been to England and had fish and chips there. The breading was authentic and not like the typical fried coating at chain seafood restaurants.

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Almost done….By this time…Mom and I were super full, but knew the best was yet to come…

Desserts!!!

· Beignets – If you’re not familiar with what a beignet is, allow their menu to explain… “Straight from New Orleans, this Café Du Monde style pastry will melt in your mouth! Warm, puffy doughnut-like pastries covered in powdered sugar.” They came with a sampling of dipping sauces…Strawberries (nice and chunky pieces), Fudge Sauce (Chef Larry says they cut the fudge sauce with coffee since it’s so thick…genius), and an amazing house-made Toffee Sauce…my favorite! Mom: What is there to say about a puffy piece of pastry coated in powdered sugar and dipped in homemade toffee, luscious chocolate, or strawberries? The only word that comes to mind is sinful! Yes, they were sinful. One word of caution though: don’t inhale when you have all that powdered sugar goodness near your mouth! Can we say sugar choke? Hahahaha! Loved these!

· Turtle Cheesecake – I mean seriously, do you really need to know how this was? Another one word explanation….DECADENT! Mom: The flavor of the cheesecake was not lost in the creaminess. Sometimes in order to get a nice, thick cheesecake, flavor is sacrificed. That is not the case here. You could still get that wonderful taste of cream cheese. The crust was amazing and the topping of caramel with Heath Bar pieces (I think) were over the top. I would definitely order this – even if I had to take it home. Cheesecake done right.

Last but far from least…

· Cappuccino Cake – This cake came with Edy’s Chocolate ice cream on the side and the most wonderful and delicious mocha icing….I must figure out the recipe to that icing for you guys! Another favorite leftover of the hub’s. Mom: This was a nice chocolate cake with a mocha icing. I will say the icing was exceptional. The cake was served with Edy’s chocolate ice cream. A nice finish to any meal.

In closing,

I will never be able to express the appreciation for the hospitality that Mom and I were shown at Darryl’s today. It warmed my heart and soul to meet everyone, and rejuvenated my Foodie juices to the point of reminding me that this is the year things are going to happen!

***To Marty…the man behind the magic…thank you for inviting me and letting me be a part of your family today. You could feel the warmth and love your team has put into this restaurant and it’s fresh start. To the two new restaurants you will be opening…I can’t wait for the Caribbean Cuisine and English Pub Food!!! I’m sure they will be just as wonderful as Darryl’s.***

Mom’s Closing: I would like to thank Jennifer for inviting me to come with her on this adventure. I would also like to mention our wonderful server, Kaitlyn. She represented the restaurant well. Jeff, Jim, and Larry were wonderful hosts. Each of them seemed to truly care about Darryl’s and it’s future. With their knowledgeable service, concern, and excellent attitude, Darryl’s will continue to be a place of outstanding food, good atmosphere and warm memories. I will definitely be going back in the near future.

Don’t worry folks, I didn’t forget the shackles…Jeff told us that they have a fabulous service they offer for you parents out there. They have specialized agents working on their team that are trained in child development to come to your table after your children have ordered. They scoop them up and then transport them into the wonderful kid’s side of Darryl’s. They have a fireman area where the kids can dress up, fun mirrors, a few other cool areas, and a “jail” area…equipped with shackles on the wall. *wink* The Kid Concierge takes great care of your child, taking pictures of them along their journey of Darryl’s, and delivers them safely back to you for the meal, all the while allowing you a little break. The pictures are then uploaded to Flickr where you can find them from home and share them with your friends and family. Can you truly get better than that for personalized Customer Service???

To all of you…why not try Darryl’s? If you have before, then why not again? It’s back, and it’s learned a few wonderful new tricks while keeping the tradition of the good ol’ tricks…

Visit their website here, and check them out on Urbanspoon below!

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Darryl's Wood Fired Grill on Urbanspoon

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Zack’s vs. Boston’s : It’s a good reason to be a divided household.

Zack's Chili and Onions with the hub's Deluxe two in the background.

We all have it…or at least hopefully we do. Frankly, I can’t imagine a little town without it honestly. In Burlington, we have these two hot dog shops that seem to be in constant competition, Zack’s and Boston’s. Or, at least you rarely hear one mentioned without the other being mentioned as well, and they run against each other in the annual local popularity contest for the best place to get a hot dog.

Whether it is the similar old school booths, the backlit plastic menus that you snap letters into that hang on the walls

The booths at Boston's...with ironically my Great Uncle's painting above it.

behind the soda counter, the same abundance of windows for natural light, or the fact that they simply share the exact same parking lot (I couldn’t of even made that up to sound so perfect). Who knows what it is…but there is no denying their similarities…until you get down to the nitty gritty food.

A little backstory from my childhood…Growing up, I always went with Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw to Zack’s or Boston’s. We mainly went to Boston’s because that was Maw-Maw’s favorite, but Paw-Paw made sure we knew that he preferred Zack’s best. I remember many times eating in the old school booths with them. The strong presence of my Paw-Paw either beside me or across from me, and the gentleness of Maw-Maw either beside me or across from me. I had the perfect set-up as a kid…loving parents and grandparents (both willing to feed me well *smiles*). We would finish our hot dog and french fries and proceed to the checkout. Up at the checkout counter, there was a candy counter….when I say candy counter, I mean CANDY COUNTER! Oh, and it was just the right height for

Booths at Zack's...I was just mesmerized by the clean looking dishrag waiting on me to photograph it.

little kids to beg their parents and grandparents for some goodies. We would always buy each of us a Zero Candybar. These candybars will always be special to me. We would take them back to their house and put them in the freezer until later. Later on, we would eat them like lollipops while watching The Statler Brothers or Green Acres (those were the days, and I still agree with Eva Gabor’s character).

With all of that being said, I decided to take the hub to his first experience at Zack’s, and for a repeat experience at Boston’s. We first stopped at Boston’s. We tried to limit our intake at each so we could enjoy them both – tried is the keyword there. We sampled the delicate cuisine of a hot dog there, and then walked next door to Zack’s…I told you they were right beside each other. *smiles*

In the end…we are certainly a divided household. It’s how it’s supposed to be here in North Carolina, for most it’s divided between UNC Tarheels and Duke Blue Devils, but for us…food!  Keep in mind though, this is just another divided household in a long line of divided households. Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw were divided, I believe Mom and Dad were, and now the hub and I. The hub said it best…it all comes down to the chili. Hub liked the meatiness of the Boston’s chili, I liked how the Zack’s chili reminded me of Maw-Maw’s homemade chili. (Which, by the way, Maw-Maw says she got her recipe a long time ago from a radio show called Snag Solvers (recipes)with a DJ named Easy Jones. How cool of a radio DJ name is that??? She thinks they were trying to copy the Zack’s recipe…and, it’s pretty darn close.)

As we remain a divided household…I hope that you will take the time and see what the fuss is all about in your little town you call home. Which restaurants “duke” it out for top prize each year? Oh the fun you could have taste testing as we did…(or tummy aches, because we all know that three hot dogs loaded with chili is two too many right before bedtime…ugh).

Boston's...Chili, Slaw, Onions, Bacon, and Cheese...Yeah, I know what you're thinking...
Zack’s…Chili and Onions

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Zack's on Urbanspoon

Boston Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

J. Pepper’s Southern Grille: Local and Delicious!

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Throughout my entire birthday vacation, I have been going on one Foodie Adventure after another. I’ve actually enjoyed every single adventure I have been on immensely, and everyone that I have been on them with.  One more day!

Thursday was certainly another special Foodie Adventure, especially for a Foodie like myself that loves Peppers!

Mom and I had planned to meet my good friend, Jo, for lunch at a place Jo highly recommended, J. Peppers Southern Grille in Kernersville. Unfortunately, I had worn Mom out thus far, and she couldn’t make it this time. Missed her beside me on this adventure, and hope she feels better. However, Jo and I had a wonderful lunch at a fantastic restaurant! She has great taste!

As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by quite the good-looking, charming Host. He smiled, greeted us warmly, and we were seated. Next, our waitress, Allison (who was absolutely fabulous!), approached our table and explained a few items for us. Specifically, the Bronzed Salmon Special with a Butter Pecan Topping. How can you not order something that sounds so spectacular? I, of course, ordered the Salmon Special with Macaroni and Cheese, Field Pea Salad, and my standard Sweet Tea. (Unbeknownst to the people I have been on Foodie Adventures with thus far, I am judging the Sweet Tea as well at all of these places. *smiles*) Jo ordered the BLT with Fried Green Tomatoes on it (at Allison’s suggestion) with a side of Grit Cakes.

Let me tell you…the food was fresh, tongue-pleasing, and beautiful. The grit cakes definitely lived up to the hype we had already heard before Jo ordered them. The atmosphere was calming, right down to the local made furniture out of High Point. The illuminating décor was warm, but still modern (which was also bought local). Everything was very classy and very local.

Towards the end of our lunch, Chef and Owner John Jones came to our table and introduced himself. He told of a long line of amazing restaurants he had been a part of, all the way back to the creation of another gem of Greensboro, Lucky 32, and my favorite place to get a steak in North Carolina, Green Valley Grill. No wonder J. Peppers was so wonderful when you have a gentleman involved with such a pedigree like Mr. Jones’.

Mr. Jones is a kind soul and offered for me to come back and have a chat with him if he could offer me any assistance or guidance with anything. You know what…I just might do that. I’m ready to start living life, and I appreciate any hand that is opening up to me. Mr. Jones, I’ll be seeing you, and thank you for a wonderful experience!

J. Pepper's Southern Grille on Urbanspoon

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Iron Hen Café: Fresh. Local. Good. Simply Amazing!

Nuff said...

As some of you may know, I have a birthday coming up tomorrow.

On a sidenote: Has anyone figured out how to stop the birthdays from coming around making us older? This is really getting old…no pun intended.

I have also been off work for a few days, and plan on being off all next week as well. When I was asked what I wanted to do for my birthday week (which I celebrate the whole month…no seriously, I do. *smiles*), I didn’t hesitate to say I wanted a Foodie adventure week! I had all of these restaurants lined up that I was going to visit and write about for you. Sadly though, funds got tight right here at my birthday, and I have had to choose just a few that I wanted to visit. So here we go…

First up – Iron Hen Café: Fresh. Local. Good.

I mean come on people! If the words on the front of the building don’t tell you all you need to know, then I think you just might have a few screws loose in that pretty little head of yours. If anyone is as bold as the owner of Iron Hen Café to put how good it is on the front of the building, it durn well better be good inside…period. *smiles* Let me tell you, it was fantastic!

It was literally like Foodie heaven. The menu speaks for itself, when you see phrases like…

  • “Old Mill of Guilford’s buttermilk buckwheat pancakes…”
  • “Simple Kneads Bakery’s buttermilk roll sliced and dipped in a peanut butter batter, seared and topped with sliced bananas, honey, and powdered sugar”
  • “Tender braised beef short ribs, pulled and served over Asiago peppercorn toast, topped with fresh arugula, poached eggs and a hickory smoked tomato hollandaise”
  • “Crab cake medallions seared”
  • “Grilled Peach and Scallop salad with walnuts and bleu cheese crumbles”
  • “Fried goat cheese salad with a grilled pineapple and pancetta salsa over mesclun greens, topped with an aged balsamic reduction” (I’m getting this one next time, wow!)
  • “Grilled Portobello Mushroom on Asiago peppercorn bread with provolone cheese, caramelized sweet onion, roasted red peppers, roasted red pepper aioli, and spinach” (had that last night, amazing!)
  • “Tender braised beef short rib in natural jus with hickory smoked Brie, shaved red onions, and baby arugula, on a Kaiser bun”

Are you drooling yet??? Wait, there’s more…

  • “Friday Night Iron Skillet Fried Chicken: A breast and leg dusted in espresso flour and friend in a cast iron skillet” (OMG, did you read that??? YUM!)
  • “Baked Smoked Gouda mac and cheese, Parmesan charred corn on the cob, corn fritters with honey, collard green egg rolls”
  • They also have a delightful selection of baked goods at the front counter, and an Espresso selection that looked tasty.

It’s the kind of place that makes you want to become a better Foodie…and, while I’m sure I would love every single adventurous thing on the menu, I love the simple things from a kitchen even more (because yes, the simple things are the true test of a good restaurant) , and with that being said, the best thing I put in my mouth at the restaurant…the Baked Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese. It wasn’t that annoying mac and cheese with stringy cheese everywhere where you have to check and see if anyone saw you tackling that long string that dripped down from your hungry mouth. It was smooth, cheesy…..creamy. It was as if the Gods had bent down from the heavens and touched the chef personally that made it. Mouth wateringly good.

The atmosphere: When you walked in, you just felt peaceful. There were no harsh colors in your face, the lighting was soft. It was very light and refreshing. It’s exactly how you want to feel when walking into a place that has a mission to connect the food they serve to the farm it came from and the people at their tables. Green. The back of the menu states that they favor organic and North Carolina grown items.

We are our own farmers’ biggest fans and we must support them in every way we can! What better way than supporting a local restaurant that prides themselves on bringing us local goods from local farms and companies and helps contribute to a healthier agricultural North Carolina.

The help: A real quick blurb about the people working there last night…Matt, Kate, and Chandler (who briefly appeared from the back towards the end of the visit)….Yum, Beautiful, Quite Cute. Oh sure, you’ve heard me talk about delicious waiters before…but these guys took it to a whole new level. They were super nice to us and everyone in there that night. Truly seemed like good hearted individuals, and those are the people you want to employ. They were tolerant of my questions, and took the time to make us feel welcome in their restaurant. They acted like they were owners as well and took pride in the items when I asked them for suggestions. It was great to have that interaction, and to see them interacting with other tables as well. They really do care about the customer’s experience.

Thank you Iron Hen Café for a fabulous pre-birthday dinner. The food was wonderful, the employees were entertaining and fabulous, and the whole experience was refreshing. Will be back next week, and the week after that, and after that, and …….. (you get the point).

A few shots of my visit…. I would have loved to have had my real camera in here, but you get cell phone pictures. *smiles*

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Iron Hen Cafe on Urbanspoon