You wouldn’t even have thought that I still had a blog with the absence of posts recently. My bad. Work plus a combination of laziness leads to a long dry spell. Well I’m back foodies. Joe Bastianich said, “Working in a restaurant means being part of a family, albeit usually a slightly dysfunctional one. Nothing is accomplished independently.” And we certainly put the fun in dysfunctional. One minute you might want to kill them, the next you’re raising a shot of tequila together. So if you haven’t been to a Just the Tips at Standard Foods, you obviously need to put it on your calender the next time one pops up. If you’re not familiar, they invite guest bartenders, stay open later slinging booze and snacks, all for charity. Most recently, they raised money for Hurricane Harvey relief. Besides being for a great cause, you get to see lots of familiar faces from around town. The best of the service industry in Raleigh in one room, overindulging all for a good cause. It’s what we do. Prior to that, the Just the Tips really hit close to home for me. My friend Martin Rivera, who I used to work with at Poole’s, tragically lost his sister in Mexico, and the financial burden was tremendous. Working in restaurants and you’re hourly, you have to be there all the time to make ends meet. If you’re sick or have an emergency, you lose money. No hours, the bills pile up. As a result, Standard Foods raised over $5,000 for the family of Martin. Talk about amazing. The service industry truly is a close knit community. Most of us spend more time at work than we do at home or with our families. So when one of our own is suffering, we stick together. We pick up the slack, it’s what we do; whether it’s on the line or behind the bar. You don’t have to have the same blood to be family. It’s something I’ve learned over the years as a chef. It’s not all about cooking great food. Sometimes you just gotta do whats best for the restaurant. You might not want to do it, but you do it anyway. All about the big picture, the greater good. Come in on your day off because someone is out sick? Organize and downsize the walk in after service? You get the idea. Team before self. Well that’s enough rambling for one day, but check out Standard Foods, especially for brunch. Cheers foodies!
Back again foodies. So recently I began thinking what makes a bar great? Or rather what makes you choose one bar over another? Innovative cocktails? The ambiance? The smell of stale beer? There are hundreds of bars in area and they all sling the same booze, the same light beer, the same delicious Fireball; yet I seem to always frequent the same watering holes. What is it they say, of all the gin joints in the world? So what is it then? The witty banter of a barkeep, the Cheers factor of being Norm…”where everybody knows your name” or is something as simple as location and accessibility? For one, everyone loves being a regular, it’s as simple as that. What’s not to like though? Having a bartender remember your face, your drink of choice, etc makes you feel important, like you are better than the rest of the patrons. There is a definite comfort aspect when deciding where to imbibe. I’d much rather go to some dive bar or a tiny whole in the wall where I can just relax and unwind. As they said in Bull Durham, “I just want to be.” I think being in an intimate space, it forces you to chat up those around you. Having limited bar space you overhear what everyone is saying around you, for better and for worse. You end up seeing the same faces day in and day out. You get to know the people around you. Strangers becomes acquiantances. Eventually you put a name to the bleary eyes of the guy or girl next to you. I’m not just a barfly, rather as Charlie Mars once wrote, “I am just a fly on this bar of dreams.” You take pride in the bar, you treat it as it’s your bar. When you see strange or unfamiliar people in your seat, you wonder what they are doing in “my bar.” With the intimate setting, comes fewer bartenders as well, so you get to know the person across the bar stool from you. It’s not a stranger handing you a beer, it’s not just a person you are paying to keep you company, they’re your friend. As you take pride in your bar, a bartender takes pride in their regulars. People show up to see you. It’s like a chef who has a cult following. Everyone loves to be the center of attention, it’s flattering. The proximity element is also in play as well. Since I have moved downtown, I get to some spots that I normally wouldn’t have frequented. Not saying they were bad spots, but the ease of being to walk has definitely added them into the rotation now. Why take a 10 minute Uber ride when I can walk five minutes to a multitude of bars and restaurants? I’m sure Glenwood South has popular and trendy spots, but who wants to deal with douche city? Other than C. Grace I’m staying far away from that neck of the woods. I’m too old to fight dudes for a seat at a loud ass bar. I ain’t trying to be five-deep with a bunch of bros tryin’ to get a Heineken. You’re just a namless face they are trying to make a buck on. Give me a friendly face and a comfy chair. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” Cheers foodies!
Check one off the bucket list. I finally made it to The City That Care Forgot to celebrate Mardi Gras. It’s a whole different ball game folks. New Orleans on steroids, as well as copious hand grenades and big ass beers. If you haven’t been, do it. Maybe not make it your first trip to The Crescent City though. It is a lot to take in, even for someone who has visited and survived many times. See my other posts about my favorite city in the world. Surviving the Big Easy and Surviving The Big Easy, Part 2. Where to begin. Obviously we had to run to Willa Jean immediately once we checked into the hotel for a frosé and some to-go pastries. Who needs coffee to start the day? Then off to The Quarter to begin the debauchery. Molly’s for a frozen Irish coffee. Harry’s Corner. Pat O’s for the sweet nectar of a Hurricane. Napolean House for an amazing muffuletta and a Pimm’s cup. Josephine Estelle. You get the point. These are a few of my favorite things. On top it all, it’s only Thursday. It’s a marathon, not a sprint right? Have I mentioned I love it here? After regrouping at the hotel, you know, a shower and a change of clothes, it was off to to bar in the lobby to hang with Sara’s family and friends. I’ve heard lots of stories, so it was good to finally put faces to the names. Plus I was going to be spending a lot of time with the men since the women had a luncheon, as well as riding in Krewe of Iris in the parade. The men? Well we were left to our own devices. How much trouble could we get in right? Especially in New Orleans. So Friday we walked around drinking 3 for 1 beers. Many o’shitty domestics. The Cat’s Meow was a purrrfect place to spend a few hours on a balcony, observing the scenery that Bourbon Street can provide. I may or may not have seen a few scantily clad women exposing their assets. Yes I saw boobs for beads. When in Rome. A few however I wish I would have looked away. Tough life huh? So every year there is a different theme that Sara’s group dresses up for Mardi Gras. This year? Outer space. A Google search and many Amazon boxes later, I have a shiny silver suit, flashing LED lights wrapped around my arms, shades and a robot hat to top it off. You should have seen how many people wanted to take a picture of me as we walked around Friday night. Plus we all wore our costumes to a nice sit down dinner. Sorry not sorry. Robots use Sazeracs and a Vieux Carre or two for fuel apparently. Operation black out robot has commensed. The Carousel Bar, followed by a trip to the Erin Rose for my favorite window seat, tends to lead to a rusty, as well as hung over robot. Nothing like a little rest, a shower, and a Miller Lite first thing in the morning to make things better. Or at least manageable. As Sara and all the women were throwing beads off their float Saturday, the men and I walked the parade route on St. Charles. You think tailgaiting is crazy in North Carolina? It has nothing on Mardis Gras. We walked around with a cooler full of ice cold beer, meanwhile I saw hundreds of tents, many a keg, grills, bags of Popeye’s, shopping carts full of booze, broken champagne bottles everywhere, inflatable furniture, and an ironing board as a portable bar. All before noon. Yikes. Meanwhile I am wearing a purple tutu. And beads everywhere. Literally everywhere. I had a nice bead sunburn to boot. A pit stop for a bloody mary or two, followed by dozens of charbroiled oysters from Drago’s, does a body good. So does going back to the hotel room to lay down. After getting my third wind, Sara and I saw KISS on an Endymion float, had an amazing dinner at Compère Lapin and took in a burlesque show to end the night. Oh Mardi Gras. Another reason for me to fall in love with New Orleans again. It’s not just beads and breasts, dudes and daquiris. It’s friends and families getting together to reminisce and share stories of past Mardi Gras lore, celebrate the unusual sights and sounds of this quirky city, and to make new fuzzy memories. Cheers foodies!
I’ve been stewing on this post for a while, letting it marinate if you will. Staff meal. Or shaft meal as I like to call it. My krytonite. My grear grinder. Why do I get so grumpy about staff meal you ask? Maybe I’m just naturally bitter. Or maybe because I get annoyed when servers order food after I spent my little free time making them staff meal. I’ll go with I’m just a Bitter Betty. Anyway, for those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s a common meal shared by cooks, servers, dishwashers, etc before or after service everyday. Those of us in the restaurant industry don’t get a dinner break folks. No hour lunch to run to Bojangles and grab a chicken biscuit. Generally I’m in the building all day, I might leave to get a quick caffeine fix. Hell, you’re lucky to even to eat for 5 minutes. My first real meal of the day might at midnight. I chose this career right? Most of the time you’re hunched over grabbing a bite in between tickets or when you’re lucky enough to have a few spare moments of inactivity. Generally staff meal is made with leftovers that are hanging around the walk in, stuff you have extra of, and cheaper cuts of meat (i.e. scraps from butchering proteins). Now it might not sound appetizing, but you’d be surprised what you can create with just a little creativity or thinking outside the box. One pan baked pastas, meatloaf, stir fry, and of course tacos are all popular choices for staff meal. They’re easy and always a crowd pleaser. Kitchens have become so culturally diverse that I’ve had some of the best Mexican food at work, not at some popular Tex-Mex fusion joint. Tamales, mole, pozole, chilaquiles, you name it. When I worked at an Italian place I used to make pizzas for the kitchen, and then bribe backwaits with said pizzas to take out the trash. You gotta do what you gotta do. http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/staff-meals-10-la-chefs-restaurateurs-recall-the-best-and-worst-2379836 Now I’ve worked in places where there was no staff meal and servers could order food at a discounted rate during down times, other places where we made staff meal once service slowed down, maybe around 9 or 10 at night, and other places where we made meal before service even started, around 5. I’d much rather do it before service. By the time the rush dies down the last thing I want to do is cook more. I want a beverage. People talk about the importance of sharing a meal before service, keeping morale up, comraderie blah blah. I get it. It is significant because the shift is long and demanding. I do like staff meal despite my crabby demeanor. But servers can tell when you just throw cooler scraps in a pot and call it soup. Or take whatever meat you have, serve it with tortillas, and call it tacos. I’m guilty as charged for doing that sometimes; there only so many hours in a day and staff meal isn’t always my top priority. But front of the house does appreciate when you go the extra mile to make an awesome staff meal. If you feed them, they will run food. And the best thing about leftover staff dinner? It becomes staff lunch. Winning. Shit, I’ve always wanted front of the house to make the kitchen staff meal once. Just Google and I found a restaurant in Californina where the FOH does every Sunday. http://www.starchefs.com/cook/savory/staff-meal/manresa-fried-chicken Staff meal might have once been a second thought of a busy day, just serve ’em frozen chickem nuggets or leftovers from bruch that were going to get thrown out. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-rise-of-the-gourmet-staff-meal-1455666198 But there is something necessary and vital about stopping for a few minutes each day to have a meal together as a kitchen or a staff. Just a few moments of down time can lighten the mood and recharge your batteries. The day is already long and hard enough that those few moments when you can stop are critical to maintaing your sanity. The actor Geoffrey Rush once said, “I always had a fantasy of being a chef, because I like kitchen life.” Cheers foodies!
You would think Durham was in a different country. Yet it’s only 25 freakin’ miles away. Why haven’t I been going there more often? I’ve really been missing out. So a few weeks back, on a Sunday obviously, Sara and I ventured out to Durham for a day trip/birthday celebration. After a cheap $20 Uber ride, we started the day off at Pizzeria Toro. OMG. The antithesis of Pequod’s in Chicago. But so delicious. Wood fired crust, charred and crispy with just the right amount of sauce and toppings. Come on Raleigh, someone do this please. And the ricotta dumplings were superb, light and fluffy, definitely not dense as some gnocchi can be. Just call me a gnocchi snob since I have spent many an hour rolling them out. Next up, a short walk to Fullsteam Brewery for a paw paw tripel and a gose or two. On top of it I met a dog named Raleigh there, although not a Japanese chin, that was adorable and took a liking to me. Plus it’s owner was super cool and friendly. Craft beer drinkers, gotta love them. Speaking of craft beer, after a short walk we checked out Durty Bull Brewing Co. A small tap room with picnic tables outside, it produces a handful of beers, and serves a few local ones as well. Definitely try the blonde sour ale, great patio drinking beer. It was a glorious day outside, not a cloud in the sky, so the rooftop of The Durham Hotel seemed like a logical next destination. The view of the city was worth the trip, plus the oysters were briney and cold, and the beverages were flowing like wine. And some great people watching to boot. Thanks again Paddycakes for the dranks and the laughs. The tour of Durham contined to Alley 26 for some pre-dinner cocktails. I opted for The Kill Devil Leasure Suit, with flavors of coconut and coffee. One and done. Some quality day drinkin’ in The Bull City I tell ya. But the jewel of the day without question was Mothers and Sons. I’ve been to Mateo, but have been dying to check out their Italian spot. And it did not disappoint. Probably one of the best meals I have had in my entire life. Thanks to Cheetie, they kept sending out more food. Plate after plate of deliciousness. It felt like the scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation when Audrey cannot stop eating. Just look it up on YouTube. Anyway, we felt like we ate the menu. Carne crudo, bruschetta, artichoke salad, escarole Caesar, gnocchi, rabbit saltimbocca, and a whole mess of pasta. And dessert. A perfect meal. A perfect day. Downtown Raleigh really needs a decent Italian place, Gravy doesn’t cut it. Despite being a short drive from Raleigh, Durham definitely has a different vibe and feel to it. It’s cool and hip, quaint and funky, and you can walk to everything. I love my Raleigh, but Durham, I’ve got my eye on you. This time it won’t be so long for my return trip. So instead of going the same places on your next day off, make the short drive to Durham, explore downtown, and eat and drink all that it has to offer, you will not be disappointed. Cheers foodies!
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!