Sullivan’s. The Angus Barn. The Peddler. Fleming’s. Ruth’s Chris. Vinnie’s. You get the idea. There are plenty of options for you in the greater Raleigh area if you want to go out for a nice steak dinner and never call her again. Little Anchorman reference there sorry, I digress. I mean what’s not to like about a great steakhouse? There is just something about the appeal of going out for a steak dinner. The ambiance of a dimly lit bar with dark wood, servers in ties, red meat, a loaded baked potato, and copious red wine. Maybe a little shrimp cocktail? Best steak I ever had? Peter Luger’s in New York. Better bring cash, they don’t take cards. Best steakhouse memories? Going to Vinnie’s as a kid and seeing our family picture on the wall with the rest of the regulars. However, the one drawback? They ain’t cheap. Want a steak? 50 bucks. A salad? 10 bucks. Taters? Another 10 bucks. I’m not that much of a baller that I can afford to eat out at a high-end steakhouse that often unless someone else is picking up the tab. Outback I can afford. But don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather cook a steak at home. Back when I was in culinary school, we asked one of our chefs where his favorite place to eat in town was. Like the cocky asshole chefs can be, he said his house. At the time I thought he was just being funny. But now after working in restaurants for years, sometimes you don’t want to go out on your day off, you want to be lazy and cook your own food, especially a steak. You know it’s going to be good, plus it’s going to be seasoned well. Probably one of my biggest gear grinders is under seasoned food. Enough about that, I’ll save that for another post. So I get to choose the exact cut I want, char it over my own grill outside in shorts with a beverage in hand, and know it’s going to be medium rare. I find it relaxing to cook on my day off. Weird right? Plus I don’t have to pay 10 bucks per side. Hasselbacken potatoes? Creamed spinach? Obviously a wedge salad with blue cheese with extra crumbles. So recently I have been on a steakhouse kick. In the last few weeks I have been to Sullivan’s, The Capital Grille, and Outback. No rules, just right. You know I had to sneak a chain in there somewhere. Hey, I wasn’t going to Logan’s Roadhouse or Lone Star. The results? Hands down the best blue cheese wedge salad was from Sullivan’s. Their dressing was super crumbly and creamy. Delicious. At Outback, I ordered a blue cheese wedge salad and the server came back 5 minutes later and asked what dressing I wanted. Um, blue cheese? Duh. So when I get the wedge it had blue cheese dressing, but also balsamic reduction! No! Why would you do that and ruin a perfectly good salad? Despite this, Outback was as tasty as it always is. A Blooming Onion, a 10 oz ribeye (skinniest ‘lil ribeye ever), baked potato with the trimmings and a shareable Mason jar cocktail? What’s not to like. So much food. And it was so much cheaper than Sullivan’s and The Capital Grille. Considerably. Best steak? Probably Sullivan’s. Bone-in Cowboy steak was charred well and cooked correctly. Best overall experience? The Capital Grille. Service and cocktails were great, plus the sides were better than Sullivan’s and Outback. Plus you get an iPad for the wine list. Pretty cool. Kinda reminded me of the tablets at Applebee’s and Olive Garden, but actually practical. You could sort the wines by price (obviously cheaper to more expensive for me), scroll through all the cocktails, and see what wines paired with certain foods. Foodie nerds will love it. One misstep of The Capital Grille was the steak tartare. Terrible. Like totes not good. Under seasoned, served on top of hard boiled eggs and capers, with a shitty deviled egg on the side. Ugh. Bad news bears. Outside of that, it was awesome. Great night. Plus we had gift cards so we were playing with house money. So what did I learn from my mi-steaks? Sometimes you gotta pay up for your steak just for the ambiance and Outback hits the spot when you need some red meat and a deep fried onion. Cheers foodies!
Midtown? Nah. Old North Hills Mall. I miss you. Being a native of the City of Oaks, Andy’s Pizza and Scotty’s were an institution in Raleigh. The best pizza ever. What I wouldn’t do to have a simple pepperoni pie right now. Trophy? Doesn’t hold a candle. And how can you forget the famous Scotty dog and the best greasy burgers and fries? Now all North Hills is high dollar chains, ITB soccer moms in SUV’s that take up two spaces, and a plethora of Starbucks. No thanks. The dining page of the Visit North Hills website says “From high end to fast casual, classic to cutting-edge, North Hills has it all.” Nothing says cutting edge more than Bonefish Grill and The Cowfish. The only reason I go to North Hills is for Target and Sur La Table. And maybe Total Wine. Again, chain city. Lord knows, I’ve spent enough time working and playing in North Hills, I did work at Vivace and Starbucks. Don’t hold it against me. Yeah, hard to picture me as a barista isn’t it? Lots of eye rolling at complicated orders. You want soy and no foam? Nope. That’s why I chose back of the house. Spent many o’ late night at Midtown, and countless Saturdays day drinking at Fox & Hound. Hey, my options were limited back then. We had the ‘ol Hibernian before it ‘burned’ down and the Creekside Ale House. You know, pre-hipster downtown Raleigh. Old North Hills mall was a dump, don’t get me wrong. We used to rush there on our lunch break from Broughton to grab a slice or two and buy cheap sunglasses from The Dollar Tree. Then maybe look at cd’s from Blockbuster Music. Free Jersey Mike’s because we had a friend who worked there also. (Thanks Jessie) Yeah, I had no life as a teenager. Now? North Hills is all shiny, new, and pretentious. Expensive condos and mixed use development. Gone is the Winn-Dixie. Enter a two story Teeter. Give the ITB’ers what they want, Beach Music on Thursday, expensive steaks, and pricey boutiques. Working on a Thursday was a nightmare. Drunktown as it’s finest. I get it though, it’s good for Raleigh. Cameron Village part deux. But it kind of feels a little Charlotte-ish to me though. Forgive me for being sentimental though, old North Hills Mall was part of my childhood. Lots of great memories. It shaped me to be the pessimist I am today. Cheers foodies!
Bucket list. Finally made it to The Office Tavern with AB and McGuzzles. (You know who you are). And what a sight it was. I definitely felt like I was in Carolina Beach at Loretta’s, or the Surfside Bar as it’s also called. You know it’s going to be a good day when you walk into a dive bar on a Sunday and the entire staff, as well as every bar fly, know the people you are accompanying. Not sure what it says about me. Or the company I keep. Anyway, the OT is priceless. Neon signs. Elvis lamps. Pool tables. Fish tank. Cash only. No liquor. Cheap beer. Friendly bartenders. $2 Bud Light aluminum cans on a Sunday. Half way through the day, and quite a few aluminum cans later, a fight happened to break out in the parking lot. A fist fight fight between two older gentlemen, who were also brothers. And one of them happened to be carrying a crutch. And well, he used that crutch to his advantage. It was like the Jerry Springer show broke out on Glenwood South. We had a front row seat to two rednecks beating each other up with fists and crutches flailing. Highly entertaining. Bloody faces ensued. Good thing I was 5 or 6 deep in the metal cans. Cue the jukebox. Anything to calm the situation. Red Solo Cup? Yes. Alabama? Yes. Drive By Truckers? Totally. Even after all the tomfoolery, it still felt like your neighborhood dive bar, just add the assault. I’ll be back to the OT, with their cheap beer (they have the Champagne for 2 dollaz) and for their scenery. The bartenders were salt of the earth, as well as all the regulars. Definitely welcomed with open arms. Great hardworking people who need a place to relax, blow off some steam, and talk about golf and politics. All within dark confines and comfortable bar stools. Don’t we all need that?
I gave Mash and Lauter (and Busy Bee) a second? third? chance. What a mistake that was. How can you be out of half of your entire menu? No mussels? Check. No charcuterie? Check. No bread plate? Check. The tiniest cheese plate ever? Check. Terrible. It’s not like it was late either. It’s half your menu bro. Last time we went to Busy Bee we walked out after 10 minutes. Why you ask? Service. Always service. We’re here to spend money. Please pay attention to me. Your loss. Gave you plenty of chances. Enough ranting for one night. On a side note, congrats to Gallo Pelón. Best bar in downtown. Check it out. Britt and Marshall are amazing. Cheers foodies!
I love Landmark. Before there was Ruby Deluxe, Person Street, Circa, insert another hipster bar, we had the original downtown Raleigh hangout. It’s dark and loud with an amazing quaint patio. Lots of good fuzzy memories out there, especially my last night at Poole’s. It has gotten to the point now that I walk in and the bartender has a bottle of Tanqueray in hand. Yikes, maybe I need to go somewhere new? The only question I always get is, it’s soda right? Anyway, the best thing about walking into Landmark, especially if you work in the service industry, is there is a 100% chance that you will know someone. It really goes a long way, especially on the weekends working downtown. When I leave Garland, I have no desire to go to Fayettnam St. or Glenwood South, they are both disaster areas. I want to go somewhere that has a cocktail and dream waiting for me. (Yes I like the movie Cocktail, sue me). So I have three home bars in Raleigh: Player’s Retreat, Landmark, and Paddy O’Beers. But the best thing about all three? The bartenders. People who share your common interests, can relate to you having a shitty night at work, and generally appreciate good food and good alcohol. I’m not just another face when I walk into the bar, I’m Norm. I’m a friend. So I had a terrible experience at Landmark one night when I walked in stone sober (yes it’s possible) and some guy accused me of stealing his fleece jacket. I had walked into Landmark with that same coat millions of times and was obviously caught off guard. He was like “that’s my coat.” I tried to ignore the persistent drunk asshole. I walked away multiple times, but he was belligerent, as were all his friends. I felt super uncomfortable in otherwise what was a safe place to me. Cops got called eventually, and thankfully that I was a regular, I was defended by the doorman and as well as all the bartenders. As it turned out, the drunk douchebag left his coat on one of the bar stools. What an idiot. If I hadn’t known most of the staff from Landmark it could have been a lot worse. Especially once you add RPD’s finest. So now every time I walk into Landmark I get, “that’s my coat.” Long story short, it’s nice to have a familiar face or two on the other side of the bar, it goes a long way. Tip your bartenders. Cheers foodies!
I’m always looking for late night food options besides the usual suspects Player’s Retreat, Calavela, Mo Joe’s, etc. So when I found out Virgil’s Original Taqueria was opening and would serve until 2 am seven days I week I got excited. Plus who doesn’t like tacos and Tecate? However, after hearing about some of my fellow service industry friends experiences at Virgil’s I was a little leary and apprehensive; but I figured we would give it a shot anyhow. On Sunday around 10 pm we arrived to a pretty empty restaurant, maybe a handful of other people. We opted to sit at a high-top table rather than the bar. Maybe a mistake. We ordered a couple of cocktails and waited. And waited. And waited. I could see them completed and just glistening on the bar, staring at me, practically calling my name, “please drink me.” I was about to get them myself but eventually the bartender grabbed them, not our server, and walked around the bar and dropped them off. It’s not like she was busy, there was practically no one in there. Strike one. The “flash fried” tortilla chips, as well as the salsa and guacamole, are all a la carte on the menu, so if you want all three it’s 10 bucks. No thanks. I’d rather go eat bottomless chips and salsa at El Rodeo. Plus, the same”flash fried” tortilla chips were just basking under the warmth of the heat lamp the entire time we were there. Plus the guys in the kitchen were ultra-hipster. I’m at a taco place, not The Stanbury ya know? Grinds my gears. So to start we got the Mexican fries, hand-cut and topped with mole, onions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and queso fresco. Well they arrived minus the queso fresco. The bits with the mole were tasty, but without the cheese they were really no bueno. In my best Gordon Ramsay voice, they were dry and bland. Next we opted to sample the tacos, so we decided on the fried avocado, chorizo con papas, and carnitas. Of the three, the fried avocado was the best. Slices of creamy fried avocado with cabbage, cilantro, onions and lime crema were really good. The carnitas were okay, just needed a lot of salt and hot sauce. The chorizo tasted as if it has been charred or burnt. Oh well. I’ll overlook service sometimes if the food is great, but in this case neither was outstanding. Just middle of the road. For my money, I’d much rather go to Chubby’s Tacos for the relleno, spicy chicken tinga, and the barbacoa. I’ll give Virgil’s another shot because they are open so late, plus they have Pacifico tall boys; but I’m in no rush to get back. If only Raleigh had better late night food options. Maybe Guy Fieri can open up a dive on Glenwood South. Cheers foodies!
So it was Monday night and all I wanted was decent Chinese food. And by decent I mean no Shanghai Express. That’s reserved for 2 AM when nothing else is open. Plus who doesn’t like egg rolls, fried dumplings and General Tso’s after a few beverages? Not anyone I associate with. As much as Raleigh’s food scene has improved over the years, still no great Chinese food. Peace China? Red Dragon? Ehhh. Not terrible by any means, but not good enough to keep me coming back. David’s Noodle Bar is tasty, but I miss his old place, Mandarin House in Cameron Village. I remember going there as a kid with my dad, eating wonton soup, thinking it was cool to drink hot tea out of those little teapots they would leave on the table so you could pour your own. Plus my dad would always get the special fried rice with the Chinese sausage. He still talks about that fried rice today. So whats’s a guy to do? Visit P.F. Chang’s obviously. Nothing says authentic Chinese food more than a chain at the mall. Plus as many of you have read before I have an affinity for visiting chain restaurants. See Chain Reaction or I Did Not Eat Olive It. So being inside PF Chang’s you do feel like you are at the mall because it’s big and shiny, full of giant statues of horses and samurai, and a whole lot of gringos. A Chang’s Mai Tai and lettuce wraps seemed like a great way to start the meal. Tiki drinks are all the rage now, so i figured why not. I was actually expecting it to be super sweet because most of the cocktails I have ordered at chains have been overly sugary and fake tasting. This Mai Tai, not too bad my friends. I think it contained real juice. After eating the lettuce wraps at Bida Manda a hundred times, I have been spoiled in the world of lettuce wraps. There is something about their crispy rice and crunchy peanuts that makes me order is every single time. The PF Chang’s version although flavorful, pales in comparison. They used watery iceberg lettuce which I love for my wedge salad, but not for wraps. Shit. Now I want to go to Bida Manda. So for an entree, I got the Dali Chicken, a favorite of mine from the last time was at Chang’s, maybe 10 years ago? Yeah, it’s been a while. Sauteed chicken with potatoes, scallions, and red chiles. As my better half put it, tasted kinda like Chinese buffalo sauce. Spicy and filling, what else could I ask for. The verdict? A fruity cocktail and some spicy chicken later, I satisfied my craving for Chinese food. Would I have liked to spend my money at a local establishment? Of course, but sometimes a visit to a chain is all you need. It’s like the Saturday morning trip to Bojangle’s or the late night Taco Bell visit. There is something soothing about the sweet tea and seasoned fries, or the crunchy taco with fire sauce. You hate yourself later, but at the time it’s all you need. Until the next chain, cheers foodies!
Writing can be a funny thing sometimes. You may have one idea in your head, but you sit down to type and something else altogether comes out on the screen. I had planned on one of my notorious “you know what really grinds my gears” sessions because I figured it had been long enough since I ruffled any feathers; plus it helps to vent sometimes. I had just gotten back from a quick trip to Nags Head for Memorial Day with the family and all of a sudden I forgot what I had intended to write about. Go figure. Although it was only for a couple of nights, it was still great to get the hell out of Dodge (i.e. Raleigh) and smell the fresh salt air of the Outer Banks. Being out there evokes recollections of spending my summers there as a kid, practically living in the water. Now, I spend an hour on the beach and end up looking like a lobster. Damn ginger skin. They need to make an SPF for our kind. I think they actually do, it’s called a t-shirt. Just sitting on the cabana, overlooking the sand and the waves, feeling the breeze in your face, it is utterly soothing. For a few moments you can forget about work and bills. There is also something to be said about the flavors and smells of certain foods that your family makes that can create memories, as well as transport you to different times and places of your life. Every time we have a cookout it reminds me of 4th of July in Nags Head, churning homemade ice cream, watching the fireworks explode off the fishing pier, and trips to Sam and Omie’s for greasy eggs and hash browns. I can still picture myself there as a kid, a pocketful of quarters, playing Galaga and Pac-Man, while everyone else was huddled around the bar having screwdrivers and baby beers, waiting for a table. I miss those days. It’s also all about that sense of comfort of having your mom’s deviled eggs or your dad’s potato salad. When I try to recreate them at home they still taste good, but it’s not the same unless they make it. The food just tastes better. Maybe it’s all in my head, but it truly does. It’s my happy place being able to relax at the cottage with a beverage in hand, beach music playing, and everyone under one roof. My family may be crazy sometimes, but I love them for it. Thankfully it’s only one more month until I get back there for the 4th. Cheers foodies!