Friday, December 23, 2011

Stephenson's High on the Hog

Although it is situated on a well-traveled highway, Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q in Willow Spring is an off-the-beaten-path place that should be considered a destination restaurant. But wherever you come from to get to it, the journey is well worth making.

A no-frills, elbows-allowed-on-the-table atmosphere at Stephenson’s allows for enjoyable, laid-back dining experience. The modest building, which traces its origins back to 1958 when Paul Stephenson Jr. started his namesake eatery, is firmly ensconced on the North Carolina Barbecue Society Barbecue Trail honor roll.

Cooked over coals for approximately nine hours, the pork remains in the pit for six to eight additional hours so it can absorb its rich, smoky flavor. The meat is then hand-chopped, and by the time it arrives at your table it is among the most flavorful ‘cue you’ll find anywhere in the state.

Also worth mentioning is Stephenson’s outstanding barbecue chicken, which is as tender and delicious as the pork. And words cannot adequately describe how delicious the golden brown hushpuppies taste.

If you’re not super hungry, a ‘cue sandwich with slaw will only set you back $2.95. If you are dining with a group, consider going all in and ordering “family style,” which involves an all-you-can-eat scenario featuring pork ‘cue, barbecue chicken, Brunswick stew, boiled potatoes, creamy slaw and hushpuppies. It’s a veritable feast, to say the least.

Additional side items include collard greens, spiced apples, French fries and other daily selections. If there’s any room left for dessert, be sure to try the scratch-made banana pudding.

As expected at such a fine country establishment, the servers at Stephenson’s are friendly and accommodating. An erstwhile cash-only place, the restaurant now gladly accepts credit cards.

Stephenson's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dame’s Masters the Sweet & Savory

Dame’s Chicken & Waffles in downtown Durham has been on the Lunchboy “must-visit” short list for several months, so it was exciting to finally go there and get my fill of one of the most righteous combinations in soul food history.

Let me say up front that Dame’s is in no way, shape or fashion Waffle House meets KFC. In fact, if anything, Dame’s possesses an ultra-cool café vibe. Consider the striking, dark- wood flooring, sleek tables and chairs and—most impressively—the knowledgeable and highly efficient servers.

On the day I visited along with my friend Jay, our exceptional server, Lamont, patiently gave us the lowdown regarding the 10 menu selections and daily specials (shrimp and grits and chicken Caesar salad, as I recall). Decisions, decisions. Would it be "A Quilted Buttercup" (fried chicken cutlet with sweet potato waffles “shmeared” with maple and candied pecans) or "Light Brown Leghorns" (a trio of fried drumsticks paired with a waffle “shmeared” with chocolate hazelnut and warm caramel-cashew sauce)? Shmears, by the way, are made with sweet crème butter.

Meals are served with one side such as scratch-made mac & cheese, collard greens or fresh fruit. It’s also worth mentioning that the coffee is fantastic, but it seems a bit odd to find it located at a self-serve station near the back of the dining room.

The lightly battered chicken is as tender and moist as you’ll find anywhere, while the fluffy, not-too-thick waffles are finessed with precision. Prices range from $9.25 to $12.25 per meal. Don’t’ worry: portions are copious.

Bottom line: Dame’s Chicken & Waffles masters the art of balancing the sweet & savory and easily earns the coveted “Lunchboy Recommends” designation. You owe it to yourself to discover downtown Durham’s newest landmark. 

Dame's Chicken & Waffles on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ahoy Skipper's

Let’s get one thing straight right away: Skipper’s knows fresh seafood. In fact, if there’s one place in the Triangle that’s “money” every single time, it’s this award-winning counter-service eatery in Apex.

Whether you choose the remarkable fried cod or flounder sandwich or scrumptious large shrimp platter, you’ll get plenty of food that’s as fresh as you’ll find anywhere around here. Oh yeah, it’s also cooked to order as soon as you place it.

Like fish tacos? Then you can’t go wrong with two flour tortillas stuffed with tempura-battered cod, house-made cabbage cilantro salad and pico de gallo, plus a tangy white sauce that are worth the price of admission (the fish taco plate comes with Mexican rice and a drink for just $6.99).

It’s also worth mentioning here that you’d be hard-pressed to find better hushpuppies than Skipper’s serves, so be sure not to miss out on these pieces of fried golden goodness that will melt in your mouth.

Service at Skipper’s is friendly and accommodating. These guys take their food seriously, even if the décor is super-casual and the cutlery is plastic.

One more tip: Try the lobster bisque, which is the best I’ve ever tasted. Just one more reason to sail on over to Skipper's.

Skipper's Fish Fry & Market on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Neomonde Shines

Mediterranean eatery Neomonde is renowned for its fresh breads and pastries, which are baked fresh daily. It also features an extensive market filled with superb imported foods and spices. 

Christopher Saleh, whose family started the business in 1977, manages the Morrisville location and speaks of Neomonde with infectious enthusiasm.  He was born and raised in Raleigh, but his family hails from north Lebanon. 

Among the Middle Eastern delicacies featured at the café are items like the beef & lamb Shawarma sandwich and the Neomonde platter with tabouli, hummus, baba ghanouj and stuffed grape leaves.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin

Another popular offering, the foul (pronounced FOOL) mudammas soup, comprises a lemon garlic tahini broth with flava and garbanzo beans, green peppers, cilantro, tomato, black pepper, cumin and salt. The soup is available by cup ($2.39), bowl ($2.99) or even by the pound for $4.99.

Neomonde is open daily for lunch and dinner. Free WiFi Internet access is available.

Neomonde Bakery & Deli on Urbanspoon