Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Danny's Does Slow-Cooking Right

Since the early 1990s, Danny Thompson has made a living on serving everything from chopped pork and beef brisket to chicken and St. Louis-style ribs. It’s all slow-cooked over hickory wood, the aroma of which wafts throughout the airy dining room at Danny's Bar-B-Cue in Cary.

As you might expect, the top seller by far at Danny’s is chopped pork, which is a Boston butt product that cooks about 14 hours overnight. Another customer favorite and Lunchboy-approved selection is the lean, smoked turkey breast.

If pressed to choose a favorite meat at Danny’s, it would have to be the succulent beef brisket. It’s always cooked to perfection with pink around the edges, and it’s tender enough to cut with a fork.

When it comes to sides, can’t-go-wrong selections include baked beans, Brunswick stew, coleslaw and Texas toast. The underrated potato salad is also a solid choice.

The dining room at Danny’s exudes a laid-back, come-as-you-are vibe. Well-trained servers are efficient, friendly and seemingly always smiling when they take your order. You’ll be smiling, too, once you taste the food.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Danny's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Cary Café Rates Tried and True

A beloved gourmet eatery for breakfast and lunch, The Cary Café is known for serving up exquisite provisions like lemon buttermilk pancakes with peach syrup, omelets filled with feta, spinach or Brie and a to-die-for baked blueberry walnut French toast (see photo below).

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

It’s all scratch-made daily by owners Abdul and Vicky Ismail, who opened the café in 1995. Even the maple syrup is homemade. It’s that kind of attention to detail that keeps the locals coming back time and again. Be sure to try the robust java, which is sourced from local roaster Tradewinds Coffee Company.

While breakfast is served all day six days a week (the café is closed Sunday), at lunchtime you can also choose from among a tempting selection of specials such as chicken pot pie filo wrap; ginger-glazed poached Norwegian salmon over fresh greens; and a quiche of the day.

The menu also features a nice variety of sandwiches, salads and soups. If you have a hard time choosing, go for the signature chunky chicken salad. It ranks among the best in the Triangle.

The café’s sunny, inviting dining room, lively atmosphere and conscientious service make for a rewarding experience. Local artwork is showcased regularly. The Cary Café is located at Harrison Pointe Shopping Center at the corner of Maynard and Harrison.

The Cary Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hibachi & Company Shines

While it’s not exactly an original concept, Hibachi & Company is a welcome addition to the Fuquay-Varina fast-casual culinary landscape. The restaurant features hibachi- and teriyaki-style entrées served with vegetables, sweet carrots, Japanese fried rice and a white sauce on the side.

Whether you choose vegetarian or filet mignon, chicken or shrimp, you’ll get a tasty, abundant portion that’s cooked to order and sure to arrive at your table fast. It's also served on real plates and with metal utensils instead of Styrofoam and plastic.

If you’re looking for a great lunch deal, $5 specials are offered Monday through Friday.  Want hibachi steak? It’s available Tuesdays and Thursdays. Teriyaki shrimp? Friday is your lucky day. Five bucks for shrimp? Impressive!

A “double the meat” option works well for super hungry customers or those who wish to share an entrée. Side items include seaweed or house salad, soba noodles and more. An added bonus: Pepsi products are on tap.

Other fast-casual restaurants could learn a lot from newcomer Hibachi & Company. Provide patrons quality food at a fair price, and you’re sure to cook up a recipe for success. Be advised: Hibachi & Company is closed on Sunday.

Hibachi & Company on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Daniel's Delights

Locals in Fuquay-Varina have embraced Daniel’s on Main as the primary go-to spot for quality Italian food. The sister eatery of the Apex hotspot hits all the right notes when it comes to providing quality cuisine, service and ambiance.

While the food menu is virtually the same at both locations, Daniel’s on Main is distinctively divergent from the Apex restaurant. A full bar and all-wood flooring are two noticeable differences. Gold-toned walls and dark wood abound, as well as eccentric paintings from local artists. Stylish pendant lights provide just the right amount of diffused illumination in the main dining room, which contains a mixture of comfortable booths and tables filled with wine corks.

Well-appointed staff wear nicely pressed all-black attire with neckties. Each server doles out solid advice about the menu as well as daily specials.

The core menu features standout pasta dishes like house favorite penne a la casa, lasagna and chicken parmesan. Fresh seafood offerings include the rich lobster ravioli, shrimp Florentine and Atlantic salmon in dill cream sauce and the exquisite seafood Fra Diavlo with mussels, clams, shrimp and calamari.

Also popular are the zesty hand-tossed pizzas, which comprise traditional Neapolitan-crust pies cooked on a stone. You can choose from 30 available toppings (fresh garlic is free) or order from among 10 specialty pizzas, which include Greek, Southwest, Mediterranean and Margarita to name a few.

An appealing $7 weekday lunch deal is available. Entrees are accompanied with a salad and fresh foccacia bread. Among the lunch specials are penne a la vodka, baked ziti and spaghetti with meat sauce.

Got a sweet tooth? Consider any of the seven or so enticing desserts. From the mouth-watering tiramisu to the decadent raspberry white chocolate cheesecake, you can’t go wrong—but you can go over the top!

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee
Daniel's On Main on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 19, 2011

Get Fired Up at Barry's

Nothing excites me more than finding a mom and pop restaurant owned by first-class people. That’s certainly the case with Barry’s Café at Swift Creek Shopping Center near Cary. More than just a local burger joint, Barry’s has served as an outpost for firefighters and rescue personnel since 1994. That year Barry Doyle received his first call to provide food to an exhausted emergency crew during a bitter ice storm.

Since then, Barry has continued providing free emergency food service, started the not-for-profit Feed the Firefighters Foundation (www.feedthefirefighters.com) and has received kudos from the likes of Southern Living and People magazine for his heroic efforts. You won’t find a finer humanitarian anywhere.

From day one, Barry’s has served up some of the best char-grilled burgers in the area. These are presented in Papa (8-ounce), Mama (5-ounce) and Baby (2.5-ounce) sizes with choice of American, Swiss, cheddar or provolone cheese. Potato chips, coleslaw or applesauce are on the house, but it’s worth the extra cost to add the delectable beer-battered seasoned fries.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Breakfast is available all day every day, including an irresistible cheeseburger and eggs platter. Barry’s also serves seriously good omelets and pancakes, so you really can’t go wrong with whatever you order from the breakfast menu.

When it comes to décor, Barry’s features an array of firefighter paraphernalia—helmets, uniforms, patches, and, well, you get the idea. What’s more, Barry’s is an elbows-on-the-table, paper-napkin style establishment that’s as comfortable as a pair of old Levi’s jeans.

Over the last few years, Barry has battled various health challenges, so he hasn’t been around the eatery quite as much. His wife, Denise, has courageously stepped up and soldiered on with the business. Whenever you do see Barry these days, he’s just as gregarious and gracious as ever. Heroes like Barry deserve our patronage, don’t you think?

Barry's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tangerine Worth Squeezing

A modest 10-table restaurant tucked away beside an Ace Hardware store, Tangerine Café is well worth seeking out. Where else can you go and find Thai, Indian, Korean, Indonesian and Vietnamese offerings on the same menu?

Be sure to try the signature Thai coconut soup, which is among three complimentary offerings available with a lunchtime meal (which, by the way, is enhanced by a solid mix of modern rock music playing overhead). This zesty starter contains chicken, baby corn, mushrooms and tomato in a coconut broth flavored with lemongrass and galangal.

Best-selling entrée Korean-style beef features tender, seared meat marinated in barbecue sauce. Honey walnut shrimp is another winning option, featuring stir-fried crustaceans in a tangy sauce topped with walnuts and accompanied by assorted grilled vegetables.

Whether presented chili-hot or relatively mild, you’ll find harmony and contrast behind each dish at Tangerine Cafe. Spice levels range from zero to five stars.

Whatever you do, save room the sinfully sweet coconut rice pudding, which is served with fresh slices of mango or pineapple. Note: the Café is closed on Mondays.

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Tangerine Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Urban Turban Resonates

When it comes to Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine, let me be completely straightforward: the Urban Turban is legit! People who have managed to find this somewhat concealed fast-casual outpost in Cary seem to thoroughly enjoy the restaurant’s superb soups, salads, kabobs, pita wraps and much more.

Owner Asad Abbasi, who hails from Pakistan, is committed to serving quality, healthy cuisine. Witness, for example, the hand-rolled grape leaves, freshly made hummus and scratch-prepared soups.

A tempting lunch buffet offers soup, salad, pita bread, seasoned vegetables and several flame-grilled lean meat choices. You can also order off the restaurant’s wide-ranging menu.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Nearly 30 vegetarian items are available from which to choose. Besides turnips, spicy black-eyed peas and green beans, ethnic selections abound like tzatziki; falafel; and baba ghannouj, a purée of eggplant, fresh garlic, tahini sauce and lemon juice.

Prepare to pay a bit more at the Urban Turban than at comparable Mediterranean eateries, but the quality is well worth paying a few extra bucks.

The Urban Turban on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Café Caturra Offers Tasty Provisions

Whether it’s the authentic wood-burning stone fireplace, the fresh panini sandwiches or the opportunity to sample exclusive wines, Café Caturra in Cary is a unique fast-casual concept. Additional perks include hand-roasted coffee, free Wi-Fi Internet access and an atmosphere where lingering is encouraged and expected.

Among the tempting food selections, the made-from-scratch soups stand apart. The satisfying options include roasted red pepper goat cheese bisque; tomato basil with brie; Thai chicken noodle; curry chicken and green apple; and maple habanero chili.

Main course options are equally impressive, whether you choose a gourmet salad (think raspberry walnut), a specialty sandwich served on bread from nearby La Farm Bakery or a homemade Neapolitan-style pizza baked in a wood-fired oven.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

A wine fair menu section contains items like pan-seared crab cake sliders, delectable mini burgers and heirloom tomato penne pasta. Generally served during evening hours, the wine fair features several plates that are ideal for sharing. An impressive meat and cheese board, for example, features hand-cut meats, artisan cheeses, fruit and olives and is sizable enough for at least two people.

Café Caturra offers a boutique selection of white and red wine from all over the world. Elegant varietals from Spain, France, Italy and elsewhere are available, and wine is kept at just the right temperature in the café’s environmentally controlled storage system. This ensures that the whites stay crisp and the reds remain rich.

A healthy alternative to the caloric end-of-meal splurge comes in the form of mini desserts. You can’t go wrong with a chocolate torte or crème brûlée.

When it comes to décor, Café Caturra’s reclaimed wood tables, leather banquettes and local artwork provide just the right touches of warmth and stylishness. No wonder people like to linger here.

Cafe Caturra on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 9, 2011

Olé Dos TaQuintos Centro

Downtown Raleigh’s Dos TaQuintos Centro, also referred to as DTC, primarily caters to the business lunch crowd, but the sunny, eclectic dining room also is open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner and also Saturday for brunch. You’ll be hard-pressed to find fresher ingredients or faster service anywhere, so whether you’re looking to grab and go or just want to get your food really pronto, you can’t go wrong at DTC.

DTC has a commitment to sourcing local and organic ingredients, and virtually everything in the kitchen is made from scratch. The food is also really affordable.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

The most popular lunch offering? Dos Taco’s Tacos, which comprise two grilled flour tortillas stuffed with Chihuahua cheese, pico de gallo, avocado and choice of steak, chicken or grilled vegetables.

Other featured items include the Wheat Up Burrito, a whole-wheat tortilla with cheese, black beans, rice, pico and choice of steak, chicken or veggies and Los Tamales, consisting of two chicken tamales topped with chipotle, tomatillo and Mexican cream sauce.

A whimsical lunchtime novelty at DTC involves customers taking a stuffed animal instead of a number after placing an order. It’s nice to see an eatery that knows how to have fun while at the same time serving up serious food.

Dos Taquitos Centro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lucky 32 Remains Reliable

Since opening nearly a decade ago, Lucky 32 has become a culinary mainstay for business professionals, families and dating couples alike—all of whom have come to appreciate its reliable provisions, proficient service and stylish atmosphere.

On any given day, diners will find a veritable smorgasbord of local and organic offerings—from seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs to wine, coffee and dairy products. It seems one of Lucky 32’s core operational beliefs goes something like this: the nearer the farm to the fork, the better the flavor.

Another Lucky 32 hallmark is a supplemental rotating menu that reflects the various seasons of the year. A few years ago, the list of options shifted toward southern flavors with a Carolina flare.

Foundational menu standouts include shrimp and grits; pulled pork on Johnny cakes with an addictive spicy voodoo glaze; and the signature meatloaf, which is wrapped in bacon and covered with mushroom gravy. Additional selections that are emblematic of Lucky 32 are the pan-friend green tomatoes appetizer and the distinctive Suffolk chicken with country ham cream sauce.

Speaking of distinctive, the made-in-house desserts are share-friendly sized and worth every über-caloric bite. Can’t-miss options are the delectable chocolate peanut butter cream pie and the apple turnover with caramel sauce.

If you happen to be watching fat grams or have other dietary restrictions, “guilt free” selections are available. Even other menu selections are modifiable to reduce sodium and fat or even be prepared free of gluten.

When it comes to ambiance, Lucky 32 boasts one of Cary’s most attractive and chic restaurant interiors. High ceilings, plush carpeted floors and cozy, private booths make for a relaxed yet sophisticated feel. What’s more, the soft, overhead illumination helps create a warm and inviting milieu.

Interestingly, the eatery’s unconventional light fixtures were created exclusively for Lucky 32 by Raleigh artist Matt McConnell. The striking light diffusers and tulips hang in the main dining room and in the bar area and are often the topic of conversation among patrons.

Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 5, 2011

Firebirds Mostly Soars

Let me get this out of the way right up front: Lunchboy doesn’t like visiting chain restaurants. That said, today my family was invited to join some friends for lunch at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Raleigh’s North Hills.

Here’s an overview of the experience:

When it came to ambiance, stone columns, high ceilings and an expansive, open-air kitchen made for a warm, inviting dining area.

An Aspen-inspired menu contained an appealing assortment of burgers, sandwiches, salads and specialty entrees. My choice was the sesame-encrusted grilled salmon, which was served with a tasty ginger mustard aioli, parmesan mashed potatoes and fried spinach. It was a solid dish from top to bottom (half order pictured below).

Perhaps the most impressive portion of the menu was the kid’s section, which offered everything from chicken fingers and sirloin streak to grilled salmon and a half rack of ribs. What’s more, two side items and a drink were included, and the price came in under $6 per child. For the record, my daughter’s substantial cheeseburger was a cut above what’s found in any kid’s meals elsewhere, and the macaroni and cheese was first-rate.

The one drawback: While our waiter did a serviceable job delivering food and refilling drinks, he possessed the personality of a post office worker on a Friday afternoon. This was both surprising and disappointing, especially since Firebirds is a highly regarded casual-dining eatery that leans toward an upscale experience.

Bottom line? The food and atmosphere at Firebirds were impressive enough to lure me back for another visit. Hopefully next time, though, the server will enhance the outing.

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Taipei 101 Satisfies

Authentic Chinese cuisine awaits all who visit Taipei 101, a welcome recent addition for diners in downtown Cary. The full-service restaurant forgoes the traditional buffet-style fare in favor of Szechuan, Zhejiang and Taiwanese offerings ordered from a menu.

Whether it’s beef, chicken, pork, tofu, seafood or vegetarian, all the bases are covered. And if you prefer food with a kick, the bill of fare also is replete with spicy selections.

Proprietor Wen-Kai Ho, who hails from Taiwan, says many Taipei customers enjoy the more piquant options. Whatever you decide to order, the portion will be copious and piping hot when it arrives at the table.

Among the most savory entrees is the incendiary Szechuan fish (see picture below). Tender pieces of tilapia with red chili peppers deliver just the right amount of heat without contributing any adverse burn.

photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Another smoldering option is the hot chili chicken, in which Szechuan and other peppers generate a tingly sensation on the tongue. Additional fiery choices include chili pepper steak, Kung Pao shrimp and sautéed spicy cabbage.

Unlike many Chinese restaurants, Taipei 101’s spacious dining room is filled with natural light emanating through large windows. Gracious, efficient servers make the overall dining experience even more satisfying.

Be advised: Taipei 101 is closed on Mondays.  

Taipei 101 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Iconic Roast Grill

The Roast Grill, an iconic hot dog joint near downtown Raleigh for more than 70 years, offers a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. Where else will you find seating for only 12 people and possibly dine next to a lawyer, doctor, senator or even a former governor?

The no-frills building features the original stainless-steel backsplash, black resin counter and swivel-style barstools. A pushpin-laden bulletin board holds countless yellowed business cards, while a back corner mirror showcases obituaries — a makeshift memorial to former Grill regulars.

Owner George Poniros, who took over the family restaurant from his grandmother almost 20 years ago, mans the eatery’s two-knobbed original grill. It’s there that he cooks each hot dog until charred black. “Our motto is ‘we burn ’em for you!’” he told me at lunchtime not long ago.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Hot dogs are $2.50 each. Toppings include Sauer’s brand mustard, mayonnaise-free slaw (which costs an additional 25 cents), Texas sweet onions and a century-old family recipe house-made chili.

Ketchup is nowhere to be found, though. In fact, there’s a “no-ketchup-allowed” policy that’s been in place as long as the restaurant has been open for business. George said his grandparents spent too much time making the delicious chili for people to ruin it with ketchup.

The Roast Grill serves glass-bottled Coke and Diet Coke along with a handful of beer choices like Budweiser and Foster’s.

George’s mother, Freeda, works alongside him and usually takes orders, delivers food and drinks to customers and tends the still-operational antique cash register. She also makes sinfully good homemade baklava and pound cake, served saran-wrapped in individual portions.

The Roast Grill is a cash-only establishment open from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Go early if you want to avoid waiting in line.

Roast Grill on Urbanspoon