Friday, June 21, 2019

Email notifications from blog

I have added a "Gadget" to the blog. If you enter your email, it will send you a notice every time I enter a new post. See space at right.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

NC Food Truck Championship

I was one of the judges last Saturday for the North Carolina Food Truck Championship, held each year in Randleman. It's a fun way to spend an afternoon. In addition to a lot of good food, I am amazed at how good the music always is.

The Shrimp Truck won a tie breaker for first place, for their Shrimp Tamale  with garlic cream sauce. I was impressed with the scratch preparation and the flavor, as well as the fact that they were able to deliver perfectly cooked shrimp under such difficult circumstances. They almost won last year.


Ghassan's, another perennial finalist, initially tied for first place, but subsequent discussion among the judges moved them to second. Their entry was Chicken Schwarma. This is one of my personal favorites. The food at Ghassan's just tastes so good, due to their Middle Eastern enhancements.


Third place went to Bulkogi. They served chicken and beef Korean barbecue topped with a fried egg and spicy aioli. Once again, I was impressed that these folks could deliver a perfectly fried egg under such circumstances.


A couple of general observations, based on this and numerous other competitions I have judged. I would urge participants to think, above all, about what ingredients can be prepared and served under the circumstances. Participants who make everything from scratch using fresh ingredients, including (especially) French fries, score higher. Frozen or any other type of prepackaged ingredients erodes scores. The other factor that often hurts entries is presenting more than one dish- often three or four. If they are all equally good, maybe that helps. But in my experience, one is almost always better than the others, and if the entry had been based on that one dish, scores would have been higher. Multiple dishes risk pulling down scores for the best dish. Hope these comments help future competitors.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

New Book: All About the Burger

I like hamburgers. Most of the time, in most places, I would actually prefer a hamburger over a steak. Lower cost, more flavor. That's not always the case, of course, but the conditions hold true in most restaurants, most of the time. And when I'm cooking at home, I cook burgers about a hundred times more often than steaks.

A new book, All About the Burger (Coral Gables, FL: Mango Publishing, 2019) by Sef Gonzalez, is especially welcome, therefore.

He provides a history, with interesting stories about how fast food burgers became popular. I would rather read about these than eat them. The chapter about really good burger specialty restaurants is interesting, and provides a bit of a travel guide. The "Better Burgers" chapter describes restaurants that sought to provide higher quality while still holding prices down. Five Guys is a case in point. This list is a bit Florida-centric.

Branching out, Gonzalez covers places all over the USA, and includes ethnic variations, closing with a chapter on "La Frita Cubana," which originated in Cuba, then made its way into Florida though the exile community. He introduces you to places in and around Miami where you can get the real thing. Morro Castle, in particular, caught my attention. He closes this chapter with an authentic recipe.

The last chapter lists burger competitions.

Order from Amazon or any Google search. It's a fun read.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Butcher and Bull in Winston-Salem

This reconceptualized restaurant in the W-S Marriott, downtown, is now a steakhouse. At first glance, it's just another hotel restaurant- austere and sleek, with hard surfaces reflecting sound. When food arrives, however, impressions elevate.

I first became acquainted with Chef Richard Miller when I was judging Competition Dining. I did not know who prepared the dishes, but when identities were revealed, I found that I was consistently rating his creations quite high. His imagination is fertile, his executions formiddable.

Since this is a steakhouse, my wife and I stuck to traditional dishes for this first visit. A Wedge Salad is appropriately trimmed and chilled, with a mellow gorgonzola dressing, lardons added for extra bite. Pictured below is a half portion- we shared.


The Wagyu Shoulder Steak is served sliced, joined on the plate by roasted tomatoes. We added horseradish sauce on the side. It arrived cooked just as ordered.


The Boston Cut Prime Strip (Certified Angus Beef) bears a richly flavored crust. The texture is akin to a NY Strip, with concomitant depth of beef flavor. Gorgonzola cheese on the side. This is flat out the best tasting steak I've ever had!


Grilled asparagus. As these photos show, the kitchen doesn't do much with presentations.


Foccacia and cornbread with herbed butter.


Custard Pie. The center is fried pound cake, flanked by custard cylinders, vanilla ice cream on top. 


Butcher and Bull goes well beyond the usual hotel restaurant. In Europe, the best restaurants are often located in hotels. That has not been the case in the US, but a few Triad properties are making a name for food as well as accommodations.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Painted Plate

Painted Plate catering, under the helm of Brad Semon, has moved to a new space, with full event center capacity. It's the two story building just off Battleground and Westridge. Lots of open parking, covered entryway for bad weather. PP has catered in our home, with stellar performance. Highly recommended!  Go to www.paintedplate.com or call 336-230-2433.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Where do people get restaurant information?

I receive occasional communications from readers and friends who share my devotion to good food and good restaurants. One that I regard as important came from Jerry Weston, an unindicated co-conspirator who often dines with my wife and me.  He writes:

    My Book Club has a social dinner twice a year.  Members are retired educators, computer people, and other professionals, singles as well as couples, all educated at least through college.  I am often surprised with their dining choices, particularly considering that several of them travel extensively.  Most talk about “how wonderful the food” was on their trips.
    Finding a location for our dinners is always a problem.  Not many places have a private room or a dining area that offers privacy.
    I talked them into Mark’s for last week’s social.  Out of about 12 people, at least half had never heard of Mark’s and only one had ever dined there!  They mention Salvino, “good food but not really Italian,” a favorite upscale restaurant for them.
    I suggested Mark’s upstairs as a “private” place.  Anna [Jerry’s wife] and I enjoyed a glass of wine, a beer, duck breast, wild boar chop, one dessert and two coffees - $122.95 including gratuity – and I did not think the cost unreasonable for the meal, service, and ambience.
    We had Book Club Sunday evening.  EVERY person raved about the food!  How can so many well-educated and well-travelled people not know about a restaurant that brings raves?
    I mentioned to Mark the lack of knowledge of Mark’s by the group.  I had no suggestion for what he could do to acquaint patrons with his restaurant.  I have noted in recent months that he is advertising a coupon on one of the email sites.

    My thoughts: With characteristic well-restrained modesty, I would submit that broader restaurant knowledge was more common when more people subscribed to The News and Record and I had a weekly column.  I think most people get their information these days from online posts that anyone can write, which I find almost worthless. My new column in Yes! Weekly appears the first Wednesday in every month, and I will be posting regularly in this blog. So, keep in touch for best restaurant news!
   Where do you get your information about restaurants? Where do you think others get theirs?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Grocery Delivery

Seems the hot new thing is home delivery of groceries. Several markets have online purchase, convenient pickup of package (including Lowe's, one of my favorites). Just got a press release from The Fresh Market to the effect that they now have delivery. See http://delivery.thefreshmarket.com

Monday, May 27, 2019

Blue Denim

Had dinner again at Blue Denim (217 South Elm Street, Greensboro, 336-676-5689, bluedenimgso.com) last Saturday night (5/27). I love the casual ambience, which evokes the mood of streetside New Orleans. it would be hard to name a favorite among the first courses. But a new starter caught my attention: lump crab meat and grilled asparagus with a lemon-parmesan dressing. A new entree, NC Snapper, is pan seared enhanced with a chili-garlic sauce, then joined on the plate by crisp potatoes, asparagus, sliced radish, and pea shoots. Chef/Proprietor Jody Morphis prepares andouille sausage in house, from scratch.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Restaurants on the NC Coast


Going to the beach this spring/summer? Here is a list of recommended restaurants, updated spring 2019.

The list is from my book, Chefs of the Coast. It is a combination cookbook and travel guide, providing recommended restaurants, with profiles of the chefs and restaurants. Each chef provides recipes, with presentation instructions and a color photo of the dish, to guide plating, so you can make it look professional as well as taste great. In addition to restaurants, in each location, I provide sidebar feature articles about seafood markets, local produce, festivals, events of interest, along with suggestions about cooking and preparation, especially regarding seafoods. Order an autographed copy direct from me by sending a note to my e-mail (all credit cards accepted). Click on my name under "About Me" on the right side of this page, then the link to e-mail. (Price: $19.95 + tax = $21.30. I will provide free shipping for orders placed from this blog.)

Elizabeth City: Montero’s Restaurant, Bar & Catering (monterosrestaurant.com)

Preparation Guidelines

Corolla: Metropolis (metropolisobx.com)(

Duck: The Blue Point (thebluepoint.com), The Paper Canoe (papercanoeobx.com), Red Sky Cafe (redskycafe.com)

How to Find Local Seafood and Agricultural Products

Outer Banks Taste of the Beach

Kitty Hawk: Rundown Cafe (rundowncafe.com), Trio (obxtrio.com) Kill Devil Hills: Bad Bean Baja Grill and Bad Bean Taqueria (badbeanobx.com), Chilli Peppers Coastal Grill (chilli-peppers.com), The Colington Cafe (thecolingtoncafe.com), JK’s Restaurant (jksrestaurant.com), Mako Mike’s (makomikes.com), Outer Banks Brewing Station (obbrewing.com)

Brad Price, Personal Chef (hang12art.com)- he is an artist as well as a chef

Manteo: Full Moon Cafe & Brewery/Lost Colony Brewery (lostcolonybrewery.com), Ortega’z (ortegaz.com), Stripers Bar & Grille (stripersbarandgrille.com)

Nags Head: Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe (lonecedarcafe.com), Cafe Lachine (cafelachine.com), Kelly’s Outer Banks Restaurant and Tavern (kellysrestaurant.com), Mulligan’s Raw Bar & Grille (mulligansobx.com), Sugar Creek Seafood Restaurant (sugarcreekseafood.com)

Austin Fish Company

Sugar Shack Fresh Seafood Market

Buxton: Cafe Pamlico at the Inn on Pamlico Sound (innonpamlicosound.com) Ocracoke: Back Porch Restaurant (backporchocracoke.com), Dajio (dajiorestaurant.com)

New Bern: The Chelsea (thechelsea.com)

Beaufort: Aqua (aquaexperience.com), Beaufort Grocery Company (beaufortgrocery.com), City Kitchen (facebook.com/citykitchenfoods), Front Street Grill (frontstreetgrillatstillwater.com), Clawson’s (clawsonsrestaurant.com)

Fishtowne Seafood

Beaufort Wine & Food Weekend

Morehead City: Bistro by the Sea (bistro-by-the-sea.com), Circa 81 (circa-81.com), The Ruddy Duck Tavern (ruddyducktavern.com)

Capt. Jim’s Seafood Market

North Carolina Seafood Festival

Atlantic Beach: Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar (amosmosquitos.com), Island Grille Restaurant & Bar (igrestaurant.net)

Willis Seafood

Emerald Isle: Cap’n Willis Seafood Market

Swansboro: Icehouse Waterfront Restaurant and The Boro Cafe (SwansboroIcehouse.com, BoroCafeNC.com) Note: Icehouse is still closed, due to  damage from Hurricane Florence, but The Boro is open. Hoping Icehouse gets repaired by summer!

Wilmington: Cape Fear Seafood Company (capefearseafoodcompany.com), Caprice Bistro (capricebistro.com), Catch (catchwilmington.com), Jerry’s Food, Wine, Spirits (jerrysfoodandwine.com), Kornerstone Bistro (kornerstonebistro.com), manna (mannaavenue.com), Port Land Grille (portlandgrille.com), Rx Restaurant & Bar (rxwilmington.com)

Motts Channel Seafood

Southport: Joseph’s Italian Bistro (Josephsitalianbistro.com), Live Oak Cafe (liveoakcafenc.com), Mr. P’s Bistro (mrpsbistro.com)


Four places in the Crystal Coast area (where my wife and I spend a lot of time) either opened or I made visits after the book was published. They have become personal favorites just the same.

Swansboro:

White Oak River Bistro (206 W Corbett Ave, 28584, (910) 326-1696, whiteoakriverbistro.com) serves casual Italian food in a space characterized by wood floors and walls, with open porch dining overlooking an expanse of the White Oak River.

Riverside (506 W Corbett Ave, 28584, (910) 326-8847, the-riverside-swansboro.com) occupies a large home, perched on a hill overlooking the White Oak River. The house was originally constructed over 100 years ago. Riverside is especially strong on quality wines at reasonable prices. Familiar coastal specialties are given a fine dining twist, rendering a cuisine that is more interesting than most other places on the coast, but accessible, nonetheless. A fried shrimp starter, for example, gets a light beer batter treatment, augmented with buerre blanc sauce.

Emerald Isle:

Chef Patrick Hogan has found a home at Caribsea (8921 Crew Drive, (252) 424-8400, caribsearestaurant.com), an upscale, upstairs creation that features a rooftop, open air bar, in addition to conventional seating. His crabcakes are among the best I’ve ever had. He formerly held forth at Carlton’s (RIP) and the Ocean Club. Before that, he was an opening chef for Legal Seafoods. A lot of creativity and expertise shows on every plate.

Atlantic Beach:

Pescara (208 West Dr, 28512, (252) 499-9300, pescararestaurant.com) seeks to recreate the sense of an Italian seaside café. Executive Chef Creighton McNeil relocated to the Crystal Coast from Greensboro, where he was co-Executive Chef at the popular Liberty Oak restaurant downtown.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Left Out

Mary Lacklen wrote to express disappointment that I did not include Bert's in my retrospective "farewell" article in The News and Record. For me, the most difficult decisions I make as a writer do not involve what to say. I worry most over what to leave out. In this case, the theme of the relevant paragraph was places that were open in the early days of my reviewing career (over 35 years ago) that are still open today with at least some of the key personnel in place. Neither Bert's nor Sunset Cafe were included, therefore, because they are no longer open. But they were always among my absolute favorites!