Sunday, October 30, 2011

Crema of the Crop

The first thing you’ll notice upon entering Crema Coffee Roaster & Espresso Bar in Cary is the large cast-iron coffee roaster. It’s easy to realize this is no ordinary coffeehouse.

Proprietor and master roaster Kevin Pilotti makes use of a 1986-built Probat brand roaster that resembles a circa 1950s antique. The result is a smooth, robust flavor and uncompromising quality.

Pilotti strives to source superior coffee beans from around the world. His favorite is Ethiopian, which he says is due to the diversity in the cup profiles. It’s clear this guy knows his java. Originally from upstate New York, Pilotti has worked in coffee shops in Manhattan, Charlotte and Durham.

Popular sellers at Crema include lattes, cappuccinos and organic tea. Bagels and baked goods are available, along with tempting varieties of biscotti like English toffee, Mexican mocha and grasshopper mint.

While its location is somewhat seculed on the back side and top level of a strip mall, Crema features comfy seating, free WiFi Internet access and a relaxed, bohemian vibe. Distinctive artifacts on the walls and shelves reflect the exotic areas around the world where coffee is grown. 

Open six days a week, Crema also sells coffee by the pound as well as custom holiday gift baskets.


Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee



Crema Coffee on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mez Does Modern Mexican Right

Since opening about three years ago, chic eatery Mez Contemporary Mexican has steadily become the cool place to grab lunch or dinner in a casual fine-dining environment.

When it comes to the food, naturally raised, hormone-free beef, made-in-house corn tortillas and fresh guacamole are just a few of the items that help make Mez’s inventive menu stand apart. Standout entrees on the ever-evolving dinner menu include Enchiladas de Pollo (chicken) served with mole poblano, queso fresco, cream sauce, sweet onions, red rice and black beans and Filet Mignon with Mole Negro, an 8-ounce grilled tenderloin filet served over poblano mashed potatoes with black mole, queso fresco and house vegetables.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

If you’re not in the mood for beef or chicken, solid alternatives are Pescado Veracruzana, a grilled seasonal fish fillet in a savory red sauce of green olives, fresh herbs, peppers and capers and Shrimp and Scallops in Tomatillo Cream, which is pan-seared in tomatillo cream sauce and served over linguini with roasted pine nuts, queso fresco and cilantro pesto.

Overall, service at Mez is solid. A knowledgeable waitstaff makes strong recommendations and keeps the dining experience upbeat.

As for décor, warm colors, high ceilings and plenty of live plants provide a relaxed yet modern vibe. Whenever you go, be sure to request a table near the back so you can enjoy the tranquil floor-to-ceiling water fountain.

Mez on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Ward Proctor of Fuquay-Varina, NC. He's the big winner of the $25 gift card to Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. His name was chosen in a drawing earlier today.

Thank you to everyone who participated. Stay tuned for more opportunties for prizes in the days to come!

Lunchboy

Joyce & Family Dishes Up Righteous Chicken

Searching for bona fide Southern comfort food? Simply visit Joyce & Family Restaurant near downtown Fuquay-Varina.

The delightful and matronly Joyce Staton, a ’Quay native, recently relocated her beloved restaurant from downtown to a larger space just up the road. Candidly, some regular customers (Lunchboy included) miss the former buffet accompanied with complimentary dessert. Joyce now offers food off a menu, but at least you have the option to order “family style” (translation: people bring all you care to eat for a fixed price).

At any given time, you’ll find menu selections like chicken and pastry, yams, homemade mashed potatoes, collard greens, pork ribs, baked macaroni and cheese, cabbage, hush puppies and, of course, the quintessential fried chicken. Put it this way: it’s the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted. Period. The sweet tea is also mighty good.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Fittingly, charming family photos adorn the restaurant’s walls, and the dining room features a simple mix of booths and tables. A friendly, accommodating waitstaff will ensure your drink gets refilled and extra napkins come your way. Be advised, though: The restaurant does get crowded during Sunday lunch, and the servers and kitchen staff sometimes get overwhelmed.

If you still have room after the meal and don’t mind paying a bit extra, house-made desserts ranging from banana pudding and peach cobbler to strawberry cake and sweet potato pie.

Joyce & Family is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner as well as Sunday from lunch until 5 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.

Joyce and Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 24, 2011

Iris Worthy of Exploration

Creativity is a hallmark of the North Carolina Museum of Art. It should come as no surprise, then, to find innovative cuisine at Iris, the NCMA’s full-service restaurant that’s as worthy of exploration as any exhibit hall.

Not surprisingly, Iris is aesthetically impressive at first glance. The expansive, modern dining room is suffused with natural light thanks to abundant windows that extend from floor to ceiling. An adjacent wall features a massive natural, woven sculpture created by local artist Patrick Dougherty.


Also distinctive is the restaurant’s contemporary American gastronomy with a Southern fusion approach. Executive Chef Andy Hicks, who honed his culinary chops at various triangle restaurants, including Chapel Hill’s La Residence, draws from regional and global influences while sharing kitchen duties with Executive Pastry Chef Jennifer Hicks, his wife.

Among both chefs’ primary passions is a commitment to sourcing local ingredients whenever possible. Whether it’s beef, seafood, vegetables or dairy products, there’s total dedication to using the freshest provisions available from places like Chapel Hill Creamery and Celebrity Dairy in Siler City.

The assurance of excellence and freshness is evidenced by the first-rate bill of fare. Consider, for instance, the Iris burger, which features all-natural, grass-fed beef from Rare Earth Farms along with Hickory Grove cheese and green peppercorn chive sauce.


While the restaurant’s menu changes with the seasons, popular items like chicken salad and pork barbeque are often carried over.

When it comes to dessert, Jennifer’s masterful creations range from fruit-imbued crumbles and dark chocolate brownies to house-made sorbets and ice cream.

Service at Iris is excellent. Attractive, well-trained staff members handle their duties effectively and efficiently.

Closed Monday, Iris is open for Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday dinner is served from 5:30-10 p.m. (final seating at 8:30 p.m.). Brunch is served on weekends; Sunday hours are 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Reservations are accepted and encouraged.

Current NCMA members are eligible a 10 percent discount off their meal. Museum admission is free.


Photos courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee
 
Iris on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Maximillians Pizza Kitchen Serves Up First-Rate Pie

Since opening a sister restaurant around the corner from flagship eatery Maximillians Grill in Cary, chef/restaurateur Michael Schiffer renewed a longtime passion for crafting first-rate gourmet pizzas. Some years ago, his original pizza-centric restaurant in Cary was closed after nearly burning down.

These days Maximillians Pizza Kitchen serves up tantalizing stone-baked and Neapolitan-style pies that rate among the best in the Triangle. Schiffer prefers not to think of his new place as a pizza joint but rather a “chef driven bistro that happens to have its expression through pizza.”

Leave it to the imaginative Schiffer to create a peculiarly named pizza like, ahem, Libido. (Don’t worry, reader. I promise to keep things tasteful.) The pizza contains slightly warmed beef Carpaccio, wild mushroom tapenade, shiitakes, fontina and truffle oil. Trust me: it’s amazing.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Other distinctive concoctions include popular pie Fig & Prosciutto (featuring homemade fig jam, ham, gorgonzola, glazed walnuts and caramelized onions); El Kabong (grilled spice crust steak, smoked jalapeno pesto, poblano peppers, jack cheese, cilantro and mozzarella); and Garlic Littleneck Clam (chopped littleneck clams with fresh garlic and much more).

There are additional tantalizing menu options like gourmet salads, pasta dishes and fresh seafood. Servers are generally eager to please, and the restaurant’s cozy, dimly lit space makes for a great date-night spot.

Maximillians Pizza Kitchen is open for dinner only Monday through Saturday. Reservations are accepted.

Maximillians Pizza Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Special Giveaway

Time to see who really reads these posts I write!

Here's a chance for one fortunate "Lunchboy Says..." enthusiast to win a free $25 gift card compliments of the fine folks at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar at Raleigh's Crabtree Valley Mall.

Just send me your top five Triangle-based steakhouses to dmccrear@gmail.com and you will be entered to win. Be sure to include your name along with your entry. You have until midnight on October 25 to enter. Here's hoping you win the big prize!

Lunchboy

Thai Spices Serves Up Authentic Asian Fare

Decisively authentic Asian fare awaits patrons of Thai Spices & Sushi in Cary. While there are many traditional options from which to choose, unique choices like Mieng Khum and Udon Pad Kee Mao are too intriguing to ignore.

For starters, the Mieng Khum appetizer consists of lettuce or spinach served with diced ginger, toasted coconut, red onion, lime, peanuts and a spicy-sweet dipping sauce. Specialty entrée Udon Pad Kee Mao, a family creation of Thailand native and co-owner Chana Sooksang, features udon noodles stir-fried with basil leaves, chiles, vegetables and choice of chicken, beef or shrimp.


Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Thai Spices’ adroitness for balancing sweet, sour and salty flavors is to be commended, especially considering the plethora of delights offered on the menu. Among the memorable ones are Spicy Basil Beef, Chicken with Cashew Nuts and Shrimp Pad Thai.

As for sushi, the restaurant offers the essential California, eel and tuna rolls, nigiri and sashimi. Popular item Salmon Lover features smoked salmon, asparagus, avocado and cream cheese topped with Ikura and wasabi mayonnaise.

The dining room’s décor is nicely appointed with vivid tropical hues and lush green plants. A large full-wall mural features an ancient Thai landscape, while a mermaid statue in a waterfall greets patrons at the front entrance.

Thai Spices & Sushi is open daily for lunch and dinner.


Thai Spices & Sushi on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Klara's Offers Bright Spot to Downtown Cary

Prominently ensconced at the entrance of downtown Cary’s Ashworth Village, Klara’s Restaurant provides an inviting milieu to would-be diners and regulars alike. Klara’s represents the Triangle area’s first authentic Czech eating establishment.

Prague-born Klara Novakova moved to the United States more than 10 years ago with dreams of opening a restaurant. Inside her namesake eatery, sunny yellow walls are adorned with picturesque vistas of Prague painted by Klara’s father. The main dining room’s antique pine floor is nicely balanced by a high-pitched ceiling that makes for an open yet not-too-expansive setting. A floor-to-ceiling handcrafted mural of the Charles Bridge, one of Prague’s most famous tourist attractions, spans the entire back wall.

When it comes to the food, Klara’s extensive menu contains can’t-go-wrong items from start to finish. Among the nine available appetizers, particularly winning options include the soft-boiled egg à la Prague with cured ham served over a creamy potato salad; pan-fried potato pancakes with sour cream; and the sharable-sized cutting board, which comprises a palatable mixture of various cheeses accompanied with slices of rolled salami and prosciutto ham.


Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Several main course dishes are worthy of serious consideration. Melt-in-your-mouth house-specialty roasted pork tenderloin comes served with sauerkraut and homemade potato dumplings. Chicken Prague features strips of tender chicken breast sautéed with mushrooms, peppers, onions and zucchini with potato pancakes. Then there’s the succulent roasted half duck with red cabbage and dumplings. The duck is only available on weekends or by request with a full day’s advance notice.

If you are in the mood for red meat, opt for Bohemian roast beef. Want seafood? Whole trout with garlic sauce or the seafood kabob with salmon, tuna and shrimp should hit the spot. Strictly vegetarian? Homemade ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese is a surefire choice. Without question, Klara’s has all the culinary bases covered and then some. 

As for pairing a flavorsome red or white wine with your meal, Klara’s offers a variety of robust selections by the glass or bottle, and most are positioned on nearby wine racks. Also served are Czech beers Pilsner Urquell and Czechvar in addition to well-regarded liquor Becherovka.

Tantalizing made-in-house dessert options abound. Consider the scrumptious crepes with vanilla ice cream, the decadent chocolate lava cake or the house-favorite fresh apple strudel. Be sure to top off the experience with an espresso, cappuccino or café latte.

Closed on Mondays, Klara’s is open six days a week for lunch and dinner. A convenient calendar of events is available on the restaurant’s Web site at www.klarasrestaurant.com  

Klara's Czech Cuisine Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jim's Offers Nirvana on a Bun

On any given day just outside the entrance to a well-known home improvement store in Cary, Jim Rivers serves hot dogs with passion and purpose. Since 1998, loyal customers have come early and often, lining up in front of the nifty portable cart with the red-and-yellow umbrella.

Jim’s Hotdogs features acclaimed Nathan’s and Southern Red products, including top-selling beef along with red, jalapeño and sausage. Abundant condiments — such as mustard, ketchup, chili, onions, slaw, relish, cheese, hot sauces, mayonnaise and sauerkraut — are on hand for no extra charge. Each frankfurter is prepared to order and wrapped in aluminum foil.

The hotdogs are set apart by key ingredients like fresh, steamed buns, quality chili and creamy slaw. Jim sources his hotdog buns daily from Flowers Foods and features an all-beef, no-bean chili and a mayonnaise-based sweet slaw.



Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Jim’s also offers 14 different ice-cold canned drinks, bottled water, bagged chips and double-decker Moon Pies. Prices range from $2 for one red hot dog and a drink to $4.50 for two beef wieners and a drink. Additional specials offer chips, and posted prices include tax.

The prime location attracts a wide assortment of people, many of whom Jim calls by name. Located at 2000 Walnut Street, Jim’s accepts cash only and is open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Jim's Ole Time Hotdogs on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Get Your 'Cue on at Bullock's

Iconic in Durham’s culinary culture since the 1950s, Bullock’s is a family-owned and -operated restaurant known for its bountiful family-style meals. It also draws in celebrities. The restaurant has fed everyone from Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers to Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway. Framed photographs covering the front entrance walls provide ample evidence.

The famous and locals alike come in for Bullock’s legendary vinegar-based Eastern-style barbecue as well as the copious Southern-style vegetables. Whether you want butter or green beans, candied yams or creamed corn, fried okra or coleslaw, it’s all covered.

If you have a group of four our more, family style is the only way to go—but it will set you back $14.25 a person (that includes sweet tea). Heaping full bowls of crispy fried chicken, seasoned green beans and, of course, chopped pork barbecue will fill your table until you cry “uncle.”


Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

If you’re looking to save some coin or don’t need as much food, consider a barbecue sandwich or a daily special with three vegetables.

Boiled, grilled and fried seafood is also available on the restaurant’s extensive menu. Be advised: Leave your credit card in your wallet, as Bullock’s only accepts cash and local checks.

Bullock's Bar-B-Cue on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Swagger of Little Five Points

A recent business trip to Atlanta landed me at Little Five Points Pizza, a place oozing with a just-order-your-food-and-sit-down machismo yet surprisingly tasty provisions. Let me get this out of the way right out front: This restaurant is not for the faint-hearted.

If you can handle 1980s heavy metal music wafting from overhead, tattooed and body-pierced staffers (with snarls, no less) and graffiti-laden restrooms with no soap to be found, then everything will be fine. If not, go elsewhere. Either way, this place will still be pushing out quality slices of pie for its diverse customer base.



Pizza toppings include Italian sausage, meatballs, fresh garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, peperoni, broccoli and more. It’s best to go with Sicilian style, although a regular slice works nicely if suffused with the abovementioned ingredients.

White pizza scores high marks (add spinach to make it just right). Calzones appear to be a legit alternative to pizza.



When it comes to décor, think dive bar meets big-city pizza joint. A substantial winged neon eyeball is a signature wall icon near the back of the store. Large bags of high-gluten flour are piled on the floor in plain view. Probably not the best place for a first date, but this venue would work just fine for a guy’s night out.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF PAUL KITCHENER

Little Five Points Pizza on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Martin's Spices Things Up

Martin's Curry Rice in Morrisville offers an intriguing concept for customized Indian food: Choose your protein, vegetables and sauce, and then wait about five minutes for your meal to be cooked to order. What’s more, fresh local vegetables like bell peppers, squash, kale and other seasonal items are sourced from the Western Wake Farmers’ Market.

Chef/owner Martin Sreshta, a native of Bangalore, India, uses proteins like fish, chicken, tofu and eggs infused with sauces such as the mild curry “mellow yellow,” the medium-spiced black-pepper-and-cilantro “masala green” and the “spicy red,” the fieriest of the trio with Kashmiri red chili and tamarind tang.

Martin’s is committed to grinding spices and preparing sauces fresh each day. Not surprisingly, vegetarians and vegans find solace here. All the sauces and most dishes are gluten-free and have no MSG.

The build-your-own-bowl routine works nicely, but half a dozen quick combination meals also entice customers to consider choosing one of Martin’s fine-tuned concoctions. The spiciest of the combos is the Asian Persuasion, a dish containing fish or tofu with spicy red sauce, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts.

The counter-service eatery provides free Wi-Fi Internet access, thus encouraging patrons to linger. Local artwork hangs on the walls and is available for purchase. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Martin’s is closed on Sunday.


Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Martin's Curry Rice on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ginger Stands Out

In a day when Asian restaurants are as common as frozen yogurt shops, it’s nice to discover one that stands out from the pack. Cary’s Ginger Asian Cuisine is a worthwhile dining destination for quality Chinese and Thai fare at a reasonable price.
If you are a fan of eggrolls, it’s well worth spending an extra 50 cents at lunchtime to enjoy Ginger’s crispy version.  Also satisfying is the tangy hot and sour soup.

When it comes to Chinese entrées, you can’t go wrong with General Tso’s or Kung Pao chicken.  As for Thai selections, while Pad Thai is bargain priced at less than $7, the dish isn’t nearly as noteworthy as, say, the Thai Basil Sauce with shrimp.


One benefit for LifeTime Fitness Members: the restaurant offers a 15 percent discount when you show your gym membership card. Speaking of LifeTime, Ginger even offers a special heart-healthy menu that was developed in collaboration with the nutritionist at the Cary workout facility.

Almost as impressive as the food is Ginger’s tranquil ambiance. Earth toned walls, dark wood accents and unobtrusive, gracious servers enhance the overall dining experience.

The one drawback: parking can be challenging at this busy shopping center (Crescent Commons) that anchors both a Walmart and a Harris Teeter. Once you do find a space, though, you’ll be glad you made the effort.


Ginger Asian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sushi-Thai Cary Offers First-Rate Cuisine

A local mainstay for more than a dozen years, Sushi-ThaiCary offers an extensive selection of Thai and Japanese cuisine that is always fresh, flavorful and abundant. The menu includes the requisite renditions of Thai curries, noodle-centric entrees and classic dishes evidencing harmonious presentations from a finely skilled kitchen. 

Stir-fried house specialty Pad Thai—available with chicken, shrimp, pork, beef, tofu or vegetables—is a main attraction. Equally rewarding is Thai Spicy Basil with sautéed bell peppers, onions, chili sauce, garlic and fresh basil leaves.

If you’re in the mood for sushi, the master chef has everything covered—from nigiri sushi (a slice of fish atop vinegared rice)and special rolls to California Eel and Japanese Bagel. Combinations from the sushi bar are manifold, but standouts include the artful Sashimi Mori (a variety of sliced fresh fish served on ice) and Tekka Don, which comprises fresh yellowfin tuna over a bowl of sushi rice.  


Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Despite the strip-mall locale, Sushi-Thai Cary’s inviting décor imparts a casual elegance that helps patrons feel relaxed and welcomed. The end of the eatery’s sizeable sushi bar is fashioned like the bow of a boat. Nice touch.

Owner Sam Tedamrongwanish, who hails from Bangkok, credits a devoted clientele for making the restaurant such a sustained success. Sushi-Thai Cary is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (dinner only on Sunday).

Sushi-Thai Cary on Urbanspoon