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!
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!
Stephen King once wrote, “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.” Not sure he ever saw the horror of working as a server or a cook though. There is something to be said about the friends you make while working in restaurants. Add in the small world we call Raleigh and you have a recipe for constantly seeing familiar faces wherever you may work or play. So the other night we finally decided to check out The Blind Barbour since it’s practically a stone’s throw from my house. Plus I had to name drop that I knew someone who works there; restaurant protocol. So a cocktail later, we figured why not venture to Taste since it is literally across the parking lot. It was like a mini Dixie Trail bar crawl if you will, minus the recently closed The Medlin. Thank God. Anyway, lo and behold, good ‘ol Leslie and Dean from my 18 Seaboard days were working at Taste. I can’t go anywhere without knowing someone. Born and raised in Raleigh tends to do that. A familiar face with who you can tell war stories from the good old days goes a long way though. You know, did you hear about so and so got knocked up? Can you believe so and so are still working there? Remember that one time? You get the point. It’s like the fellowship of the black apron or the white chef coat. The fraternity of shift meals, side work, and can I get a runner? The same people, who have seen you at your very best, have seen you at the very worst. It’s a kind of college reunion of sorts, just add more alcohol and shit talking. There are only so many good restaurants in our town that everyone eventually makes the rounds. And if you work in the service industry long enough here you are bound to run into the same people, and probably work with them again. It’s a close knit community that shares a common bond of customer service, being in the weeds, and the grind of a booked Mother’s Day brunch. One minute you might want to kill a server for ringing in their entire section at once, but a few hours later you are drinking beers together at The PR. What is said behind closed doors during the rush isn’t to be taken personally anyway. Lord knows I’ve said and done things I’m not proud of. However, the post-work camaraderie of finally sitting down on a bar stool and the steady flow of Fireball shots definitely make up for it. Only those who have worked in restaurants fully understand what I’m talking about. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I decided to apply to culinary school 10 plus years ago, but it’s been the best decision I have made. It may have not always been pretty, but it has been a hilarious, stressful, and rewarding ride so far. Cheers foodies!
Raleigh-drink it in, it always goes down smooth. It’s a fact, it’s the greatest city in the history of mankind. I’m Ron Burgundy? Anyway, I know I talk about my love for Raleigh a lot on The Well Red Chef, I can’t help it. Born and raised here, I have seen it transform over the years to what it is today, a great city to call home. So I thought I would compose a biased list of my favorite things to eat and drink around town. Just scrolling through my Instagram helps me remember them all. You know you do the same thing.
Crispy rice lettuce wraps, green papaya salad, pork belly soup and Piña Coladas at Bida Manda. It’s like my fleece vest in the winter, always warm and comforting. Craving them all now.
The Bernie Burger at The Player’s Retreat. Best burger in Raleigh hands down. Added bonus they have a High Life waiting for me on the bar when I walk in. You can find me and AB holding up the bar frequently.
Stuffed clams and chicken saltimbocca at Café Tiramisu in North Raleigh. Yes, it’s OTB, but worth the trip to see Paul, RD, and Richard for amazing Italian food. Plus Tammi makes a great Manhattan.
Cocktails at Gallo Pelón for their always interesting take on mezcal as well as Fox Liquor Bar for anything bitter made by John Parra. #staybitter
I may be a little biased now since I work there, but the pork rice bowl as well as the lamb sausage at Garland is fantastic. Check it out. Do it.
Thursday’s at Kimbap. Three courses and a bottle of wine for $49! Pork belly nori tacos and Korean pancakes are a must have.
Dessert and bubbles at Bittersweet. S’mores and 4 am pancake are always perfect. It’s what downtown Raleigh has always needed, a place to go for something sweet after dinner, or even before.
Kale Caesar at Gravy. The food can be hit or miss, but the Caesar is not. Full of spicy garlic, vampires will definitely stay away from you.
The trinity as I call it at Calavera…Tecate, Espolón, and spicy sangrita. The Three Amigos of alcohol.
Although I didn’t really appreciate it while I worked there, but the crispy top of the mac n cheese at Poole’s is outstanding. One or two bites and that’s all I need. Not sure how people can eat an entire mac and still function. I’d be a zombie.
Day drinking at Paddy O’ Beers…staff is always super friendly and knowledgeable. It’s just a great place to chill and read the Independent on a lazy day, or after a long shift in the kitchen. And great hipster watching.
All of this writing has gotten me hungry and thirsty. I’m sure I forgot some places, please forgive me. Boxcar, Stanbury, Raleigh Brewing, etc. But get out and explore Raleigh and all it has. If you haven’t been to any of these places, check ’em out. Cheers foodies!
So I was reading an article the other day on the interwebs about what if each US state was a person in a bar; hilarious reading btw. http://www.tickld.com/x/the-50-states-of-america-if-they-were-actually-people-in-a-bar Well, of course it got me thinking about what if each neighborhood in Raleigh was a person in bar. Sorry not sorry if I offend anyone.
North Hills/Midtown: Divorcee cougar who loves beach music on Thursdays. She can camp out on the patio all day with her girlfriends at Vivace, splitting a small Caesar salad, a Margarita pizza, and bottomless mimosas. Afterwards, stumbles into Target with her ex-husband’s money to buy bottled water and chardonnay.
Fayetteville St.: She only drinks what it on special. Fireball and Jagerbomb heavy. First real job money, most likely in a cubicle. She spent the last four hours getting ready and trying on thousands outfits to go out downtown and dance; probable tinder meetup.
Hillsborough St.: Most likely using dad’s credit card, in short shorts, croakies, and a visor. He travels in a pack and they only drink PBR, Bud Light, and Natty Boh with the occasional pickle back, brah. Still in college and hasn’t learned how to drink in moderation.
Oakwood/Mordecai/Person: Hargett St.’s little bro is reading or blogging at the bar. Has new tattoos, an abundance of facial hair including a handlebar mustache. A lover of craft cocktails, he always carries a man purse and loves to talk about his alt-country band. Vegan when convenient, but not after midnight.
Downtown Raleigh/Hargett: Loves IPA’s but drinks PBR because it’s cheap and trendy. Grabs a coffee every day at Morning Times in his skinny jeans, flannel, and trucker hat. An artist and musician, but employed in the service industry.
OTB: Married couple with 2.5 kids. Only leaves the suburbs every 6 months to party with old friends in order to relive younger times. They try to visit Raleigh Beer Garden and The Ale House on Glenwood because they are shiny and new but have to be home by midnight to relieve the babysitter.
Five Points: A UNC Chapel Hill grad, she only hangs out with sorority sisters and people she grew up with. Her boyfriend is in boat shoes and Vineyard Vines while she’s always wearing a Lily Pulitzer sundress. Bud Light/Budweiser anyone? No outsiders allowed. BMW’s in the parking lot.
Cameron Village: Young couple drinking craft beer at Tupelo Honey while taking up two parking spots in their Land Rover with a sticker that says their son is an honor student at Daniels Middle School on the bumper. Has a sitter on speed dial. Never ventures OTB.
Glenwood South: Twins who love standing in lines and taking selfies. Shots shots shots constantly flowing. He’s drinking Heineken and listening to loud bass music and she knows the DJ. He’s always with his bro’s and she’s always white girl wasted. They leave JOCO once a month for the bright lights of the big city.
The Well Red Chef strikes again! Cheers foodies!