Thursday, February 26, 2015

Totopos Offers Bold, Fresh Flavors

Great food knows no borders. 

Tucked away from passersby yet easily accessible, Totopos in Cary features Mexico City-style cuisine in an inviting cantina setting. Its name is the Spanish term for corn chips.

Begin your meal with fresh guacamole. Besides the traditional style, more adventurous options include bacon-mango and chile arbol and chicharron with pickled jalapeño peppers. Can’t decide on just one? That’s okay. Just ask for the trio tasting, and you’ll get all three at once. 


Also among the starters are sublime deep-fried taquitos encompassing spicy chicken tinga, Muenster cheese, crema dulce and pico de gallo. Gluten-free tostadas a la Veracruzana involve shrimp, capers, green olives and bell peppers.  

Presented like a work of culinary art, tamales chock-full of chicken tinga, pico de gallo, morita salsa, crema dulce and cilantro showcase the skillful execution of chef Miguel Cuevas.

The perfect entrée for two arrives in the form of plato Gordo. Served on a large cast-iron skillet, the family-style meal features grilled pork carnitas, shrimp, chicken, steak, Muenster cheese, onions, grilled vegetables, corn on the cob and blue corn tortillas.

More than half a dozen varieties of tacos are available, including slow-roasted pork carnitas and transcendent carne asada (superbly seasoned grilled skirt steak). Order the folded-over-and-filled blackened mahi mahi with mango salsa, which deserve most-exalted fish tacos status.



Whether you choose enchiladas or quesadillas, fajitas or chilaquiles, it’s all a can’t-miss proposition. Dessert lovers should consider these tempting possibilities: Madagascar vanilla lemongrass crème brûlée; guava flan; a sorbet trio with lime, mango and wild berries; and fried plantain, a typical Mexico City street dessert, served with vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, sweet cream and condensed milk. 

When it comes to libations, a centrally located full bar offers Mexican and locally crafted beer. Diverse assortments of margaritas are concocted with fresh-squeezed juices, 100 percent Blue Agave tequilas and agave nectar. Try the house specialty Totopos margarita made with orange and lime juices or La Watermelon containing fresh watermelon juice and spicy powder on the rim. Tequila flights are also available. 

Décor at Totopos is festive and endearing. The ceiling is indigo blue. Mosaic tile tables and banquettes sit atop red brick flooring. Veladoras, which are candles with a religious motif, are situated throughout the restaurant.

A section near the main entrance displays a collection of wooden trompos, or toy spinning tops. Just across the room are painted steel rods produced by local artist Edwin White, while assorted colorful wooden crates flank the bar area. One corner of the eatery resembles a wrestling ring, complete with padded ropes, turnbuckles and various intriguing lucha libre masks. 


Closed Mondays, Totopos is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner and Sunday for brunch and dinner. 

PHOTOS COURTESY OF JONATHAN FREDIN/S&A CHEROKEE


Totopos on Urbanspoon


Monday, January 12, 2015

Smashburger Stands Out


The star of the show at fast-casual joint Smashburger is each succulent burger, which is fashioned with all-natural 100 percent USDA-certified Angus beef and embroiled on a flattop grill. Grab plenty of napkins, because this dining experience is a juicy proposition!

Among the 10 burgers offered, standouts are the Spicy Jalapeño Baja with guacamole, pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayo; the Truffle Mushroom Swiss with sautéed Crimini mushrooms; and the BBQ Bacon & Cheddar with BBQ sauce, applewood smoked bacon and haystack onions. My favorite? The Carolina Chili involving beefy chili, American cheese, chopped yellow onion, Duke’s mayo and creamy coleslaw on a pretzel bun.Consider eating it with a fork so you don't stain your shirt. 


Not in the mood for a burger? Consider a Spinach, Cucumber & Goat Cheese chicken sandwich or a sizeable Classic Cobb salad with blue cheese, sharp cheddar, fried egg, applewood smoked bacon, tomatoes and onion with buttermilk ranch dressing.

 
Side items worth consideration include crispy fried pickle chips; flash-fried green bean and carrot veggie frites; and sweet potato fries. House specialty smashfries are tossed in Italian olive oil, rosemary and garlic, but these are a bit too heavy on the rosemary for my taste.

Save room for dessert, as hand-spun milkshakes fashioned with Häagen-Dazs ice cream are worth the caloric splurge. Whether you choose rich chocolate, Oreo or peanut butter & jelly, you’ll be rewarded with plenty of creamy goodness. For something decidedly different, order the sweet and savory salted caramel. 


Smashburger on Urbanspoon


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Smashburger to Open in Raleigh

Among the nation's fastest growing fast-casual burger restaurants, Smashburger will open its second Triangle-area location Wednesday, Dec. 17 in the Shops at Falls Village in North Raleigh. Thankfully, Lunchboy will get a chance to check it out at a invite-only event on Monday night!

According to Smashburger reps, the community is invited to opening day for a taste of the "smashingly fresh food, fun onsite activities and a celebration for the season of giving by helping raise money for Communities in Schools of Wake County." The Raleigh eatery's proprietors are donating 10 percent of total proceeds from opening day through Friday, Dec. 19 to the local nonprofit.

 
Smashburger's claim to fame involves smashing fresh certified Angus beef on a 400-degree flattop grill to sear in the juicy flavor. The "better burger" experience extends to toasted artisan buns, savory sides including rosemary and garlic-seasoned Smashfries, haystack onions and veggie frites (flash-fried, seasoned green beans and carrot sticks). Beverages range from hand-spun milkshakes to root beer floats and craft beer. 




Here's an insider tip: The forecast is calling for a 100 percent chance of snow on opening day. You don't want to miss the flurries along with fun games and tasty giveaways throughout the day. 

Here's a link to the menu: http://bit.ly/16ouD9Q
 
 


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sip Covers All the Bases

These days it’s great to find a relaxing place to unwind and enjoy good food and drink. Sip Bistro in Holly Springs provides guests just such a welcome refuge for hanging out and experiencing a sense of community.
 
This distinctive wine bar, coffeehouse and upscale eatery all in one is owned and operated by Sarah and Justin Hummell, who formerly ran a successful coffeehouse in Winston-Salem before relocating to the Triangle and opening Sip in 2013.

Since its genesis, Sip has become a popular spot to frequent any time of day. The signature Sip breakfast sandwich comes stuffed with melted provolone, an over-medium egg, bacon and cream cheese on a ciabatta roll. Hawaiian Sunrise features two scrambled eggs with pan-seared ham, red onions, Swiss cheese and mango habanero chutney wrapped in a sun-dried tomato tortilla. The crowd-pleasing fireman’s breakfast platter shows off Justin’s flavorsome espresso-rubbed pork loin with two eggs over-easy, bacon, hand-shredded hash browns and fresh fruit with a warm buttered French baguette. Pancakes of the month may feature anything from blueberries to blood orange. If you’re not in the mood for a big breakfast, locally made pastries and muffins are readily available.


At lunchtime, you’ll find a variety of creative gourmet sandwiches and salads. Pressed in a panini grill, Justin’s tri-tip steak sandwich is simmered in red wine and topped with balsamic caramelized onions and goat-cheese mustard spread on sourdough bread. An intriguing fig and fennel salad includes black mission figs, cranberries, almonds, fennel and goat cheese over a bed of mixed greens.

The eclectic Sarah sandwich combines Havarti dill cheese and roasted turkey with house-made hummus, balsamic-drizzled mixed greens, roasted red peppers and basil pesto on a toasted ciabatta roll. Proteins range from Boar’s Head brand turkey to grass-fed chicken from Joyce Farms in Winston-Salem.


When it comes to java, Sip offers a wide assortment of traditional, signature and international offerings. Product is locally sourced from Boogie Bean Coffee Roasters in Holly Springs and Full Bloom Coffee of Garner.
 
While you can certainly get your fill of conventional cappuccino, latte and mocha drinks, be sure to explore one of the select specialty coffees. Consider, for instance, the curiously titled super-sweet Sexy Modias with Ghirardelli white and dark chocolate melted by espresso and steamed milk topped with house-made whipped cream. For something totally unexpected, try the Spicy Mayan Mocha. Sip’s twist on Mexican hot chocolate involves Ghirardelli chocolate and red-hot cinnamon topped with cocoa, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. 


Among the nine choices on the global espresso flight are Italian-roasted espresso, Latin American café con leche, and Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk. Alternative beverages extend from loose-leaf tea and chai latte to crème caramel and Italian soda.
Since both Justin and Sarah are sommeliers, the wine selection at Sip covers the bases of Old- and New-world varietals with labels from award-winning wineries as well as interesting finds from off-the-path boutiques.

Whether your love for the vine resides in the heart of Napa, the terroir of Bordeaux or the tradition of Romania, Sip offers something for all ranks of the wine enthusiast. Along with your wine, order the charcuterie platter with chef’s choice of three meats, three cheeses, seasonal fruit, olives, mixed nuts and toasted artisan bread. Small plate possibilities include crostini, pistachio pear, spinach and artichoke dip and hummus.
A spacious bar features an abundance of taps dedicated to local craft brewers. Fresh pints from Raleigh Brewing Company, Carolina Brewing Company and Holly Springs newcomer Bombshell Beer Company are readily available.

Décor at Sip is warm and inviting. A centrally located stone fireplace and high ceilings provide an airy, laid-back vibe. A cozy patio out front is perfect for al fresco dining or savoring your beverage of choice.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF JONATHAN FREDIN/S&A CHEROKEE

SiP Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 1, 2014

Patrick Jane's Committed to Sourcing Local Ingredients

It’s hard to imagine anyone more committed to sourcing local and North Carolina-produced ingredients than Kevin and Ngiare Hubbard, husband and wife proprietors of Patrick Jane’s Gourmet Pizza at the Shoppes of Kildaire in Cary. The restaurant’s comfortable, contemporary space offers a fresh alternative to typical pizza joints.
 
Certified organic flour for the pizza crust comes from Lindley Farms in Graham. Herbs are provided by Fuquay-Varina’s Green Bee Farms. Goat Lady Dairy in Climax furnishes the goat cheese, and First Hand Foods in Durham supplies antibiotic- and hormone-free pork and beef. The Hubbards even grow basil, rosemary and mint onsite. 

Among the restaurant's eclectic menu selections is zucchini flower pizza, which features a roasted garlic base with aged mozzarella, goat cheese, zucchini, zucchini flowers and pine nuts. Deliciously robust asparagus pizza comprises pecorino Romano cheese topped with fresh asparagus, ricotta and lemon saffron aioli.

My favorite pie is the savory-and-sweet bacon and blueberry jam. Created with a mascarpone cheese base, it’s topped with aged mozzarella, house-made blueberry preserves, bacon and dollops of ricotta cheese. 


Pizzas take approximately five minutes to cook, and the addictive crust is always crispy. Gluten-free and vegan pies are also available.

Photos Courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Patrick Jane's Gourmet Pizza Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bellini Excels in Italian Fine Dining

Since opening its doors in 2010, Bellini Fine Italian Cuisine has become the most highly favored restaurant in Fuquay-Varina. That’s not surprising, especially since everything is executed with aplomb: irresistible food, polished service and classy ambiance.        

If you’re wondering how this delightful, strip-mall-situated restaurant became so fine-tuned, it’s all thanks to unpretentious chef/owner Abel Atauchi and his equally modest brother, Adan.


The two natives of Ecuador work long hours each day in Bellini’s kitchen, churning out soul-satisfying dishes at lunch and dinnertime. Solid front-of-house management also ensures customers’ expectations are met and exceeded.

Among the array of menu standouts include über-rich lobster ravioli brimming with a pink-hued vodka sauce and house-made gnocchi bolognese incorporating mascarpone cheese, potatoes and meat sauce. The crowd-favorite lasagna abounding with ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses is as luscious as you’ll taste in any Italian eatery. What's more, most pasta dishes are fashioned from scratch. 


Additional selections not found on the printed bill of fare: braised lamb shank, veal osso buco and pan-seared yellow fin tuna with balsamic glaze. Weekend specials like mixed grill platters with rib eye steak, lobster tail and pan-seared jumbo shrimp are often determined by the availability of fresh fish and other proteins.



Superb hand-tossed pizzas, most popular at lunchtime, are available during the evening as well. During lunch hours, pies are offered on a buy-one-get-one-free basis (toppings are extra). Also well- liked during the midday meal, calzone and stromboli will satisfy the hungriest of eaters.

Be sure to save room for dessert. Among the can’t-go-wrong options: apple crumb crowned with brown sugar and raisins; the house-favorite classic crème brûlée; and a decadent chocolate soufflé that’s cooked to order in a convection oven and served warm. Most desserts are accompanied with a scoop of ice cream.


Decor at Bellini is warm and inviting. Buttercream colored walls, dark wood furnishings and white table linens provide a casually elegant vibe. The main dining room is split into two equal sections, making the restaurant flexible enough to accommodate larger group events. A small, easily accessible bar is situated near the kitchen.


Bellini is located at 1436 N. Main Street (Sexton Commons Shopping Center) in Fuquay-Varina. Reservations are highly recommended on weekends. 

All photos courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Bellini on Urbanspoon 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Get Your Burger Fix at Bad Daddy's

Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar has been on my radar screen for a while. After a recent visit to the Morrisville location at 3300 Village Market Place, I only wish I had gone sooner!

Bad Daddy’s specializes in high-quality burgers with tantalizing toppings. It’s hard not to be impressed with burgers made from chuck and brisket. Burgers run the gamut from basic to “Bad A**.” A create-your-own option starts with a 7-ounce patty and includes your choice from 10 varieties of Boar’s Head cheese plus premium toppings such as avocado, buttermilk fried bacon and rosemary ham.

Among the various specialty burgers, I recommend the classic Southern burger with American cheese, chili, slaw, mustard and relish. It’s a messy proposition, but thankfully there’s a roll of paper towels on the table. For something decidedly different, try Mama Ricotta’s burger with fresh mozzarella, pesto, tomatoes, pepperoncini and extra virgin olive oil. 



Standout side items include hand-cut French fries, onion straws and house-made potato chips. I opted for sweet potato fries served with chipotle ranch for dipping, which were as tasty as I’ve ever encountered.

Décor tends toward modern casual. High ceilings with exposed ductwork work nicely with the wide-open dining room.  Service is friendly and efficient, and I would have been even more impressed if a manager had come by the table to ask how everyone enjoyed the dining experience.

A meal with drink at Bad Daddy’s will set you back about $15. That's somewhat pricy, but it’s well worth the investment. 

Bad Daddy's Burger Bar on Urbanspoon 

Image courtesy of Bad Daddy's Burger Bar