When I arrived back in the Triangle three years ago, having lived in New York for a couple of years, I had that annoying New York habit of comparing everything restaurant-related here to New York and taking some pompous glee in finding things come up sadly short. I wrote a sad ode to New York food, recording in detail all the dishes and confections, all the sausages and slices of pizza that I would miss.
I still miss those things, but now that I’m leaving the Triangle, there are some things here I will miss terribly once I’m gone. So here’s my ode to North Carolina food. I’ll be back often; the in-laws will be the excuse, but the food will be the real draw (we love you Mom and Dad!).
Every time I sit down to eat at Enoteca Vin, I look at the menu and ask myself what would possibly possess anyone to spend $10 on three eggs. And then I do it. Vin’s DEVILED EGGS, which come three halves to a plate for $5 (and therefore are impossible to share fairly unless you are there with three people, otherwise forcing you to go for two orders) are impossibly delicious, for no reason other than simple preparation and balance. Eat them with a glass of champagne and you will have discovered one of the greatest wine and food pairings of all time.
Enoteca Vin, 410 Glenwood Ave., Suite 350, Raleigh 834-3070
I am not looking forward to that first BARBECUE craving once I hit Atlanta. Sure, they may have BBQ in Atlanta, but they have college basketball there, too–it’s just not the same. So while I’m suffering through too-sweet, too-red barbecue in Georgia, take advantage of the exceptional stuff we have here. My favorites are Allen & Son and the BBQ Joint. The BBQ Joint is a local favorite, as well as a vastly underrated restaurant for its non-‘cue dishes.
Allen & Son, 6203 Millhouse Road, Chapel Hill 942-7576 and 5650 U.S. 15-501 N. Pittsboro 542-2294
The Barbecue Joint, 630 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill 932-7504
In recent months I have done some work at Nana’s Chophouse in Raleigh, affording me the luxury of eating from their menu quite frequently. I quickly discovered their incredible CALAMARI, by far the best I’ve ever had, with tender, crunchy squid and fried cherry peppers, and served with a delicious aioli on the side. I can blame that dish for at least five of the winter pounds I put on this year, but it was worth every bite.
Nana’s Chophouse, 328 W. Davie St., Raleigh 829-1212
In January I wrote about my new-found obsession with the KIM CHEE SOUP at Chosun OK Korean BBQ in RTP. That obsession has not dwindled any since then, and in fact may have grown. There are mornings when I wake up and can think of nothing else. Almost unbearably spicy, funky cabbage broth, hunks of tender pork belly, burning lips. The whole experience is intoxicating.
Ok Korean BBQ. 2105 N.C. 54 E., Durham 806-1213
At Tasca Brava in North Raleigh, there are so many wonderful dishes that it’s hard to choose a favorite. But for sheer authenticity and enjoyment I’d have to choose the PULPO A LA GALLEGA, a dish made up of thinly sliced boiled octopus, goat cheese mashed potatoes, amazing smoky imported paprika, and XVO olive oil. I had never been anti-octopus, but I also never realized its potential until I had this dish. I can’t say enough about the food at this restaurant.
Tasca Brava, Sutton Square, 6325 Falls of the Neuse Road, Raleigh 850-9080
Chapel Hill is home to the two greatest BLTs of all time. Merritt’s Store, an old-fashioned corner store near UNC Hospitals, makes a triple-decker BLT that should be world renowned. Their only secret as far as I can tell is to not hold back on any of the ingredients. Bacon, tomatoes (best in the summer, as you’d expect) and lettuce spill out from between the bread, mayo squirts, salt and pepper make their presence known. You may feel more than a little dirty when you’re done, covered in grease and tomato juice, but damn that’s a sexy sandwich.
Merritt’s Store and Grill, 1009 S. Columbia St., Chapel Hill 942-4897
Up the street, a very different kind of BLT sometimes graces the menu at Elaine’s on Franklin. The FOIE GRAS BLT epitomizes for me the height of New American cuisine. The tiny sandwich, served on brioche toast, takes an American classic and slips in a fine dining pedigree, in the form of a hunk of foie gras. The result is delicious and would be pure, disgusting gluttony if the thing weren’t so small (did I mention that the bacon is caramelized–cooked in sugar in other words, making for a literally caramel bacon glaze … mmmmm). The best thing about the dish is that it is served with a wink of humor, topped and held together with a pickle and an American flag toothpick. I love it when my food has wit.
Elaine’s on Franklin, 454 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill 960-2770