Friday, January 25, 2013

Bagels Plus Brings More North Down South

Will a bagel shop with no drive-thru window survive in the outskirts of Fuquay-Varina? Time will tell, but so far business has been bustling at Bagels Plus, a fast-casual restaurant open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch.

Full disclosure: I am not a huge bagel fan. That said, the plain one I ordered with honey walnut cream cheese was fairly tasty. Of course, a good friend then proceeded to tell me that next time I need to order “a real bagel like an ‘everything’ or pumpernickel.” Noted!

Bagels are made fresh in-house each day and are sold by the baker’s dozen ($9) half dozen ($5) or individually (90 cents).  It was interesting to see how many relocated Yankees (no disrespect intended) were lined up at the counter getting bagfuls to go! 

On another occasion, I ordered a breakfast wrap. Consisting of a soft tortilla filled with two scrambled eggs, bacon (sausage is also available) and melted cheese, the wrap was filling and flavorsome. Additional choices include several other wraps plus three-egg omelets served with hash browns and a buttered bagel.

Soft drinks and coffee are available self-serve station, although I’m not an enthusiast of insipid commercial-grade java. On the first day I visited the restaurant, I paid $3 for a bottle of orange juice, which seemed overpriced.

At lunchtime, you can choose an 8-ounce Angus burger, a hot specialty sandwich such as BBQ roast, a chicken parm or Reuben or a cold cut sandwich made with Boar’s Head meat. 

Service at Bagels Plus is efficient yet perfunctory. It would be good to see more smiles on the faces of staff members, but perhaps the crowds waiting in line add pressure to the crew. 

A comfortable seating area situated on the left side of the house provides adequate space for patrons to sit and enjoy themselves. A small parking lot presents various challenges, but it’s my understanding that the owners are working on additional paved space around back.

While Bagels Plus probably won't be a regular stop for me, at least it fills a void for those who enjoy getting their fill of leavened bread. 

Bagels Plus on Urbanspoon 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe Reigns Supreme

For more than 40 years, the iconic Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe in downtown Chapel Hill has produced transcendent morning meals savored by students, locals and visitors. Let me just say this right up front: There’s not a place within 100 miles that serves up a better made-to-order full-service breakfast.

Without question, Ye Olde is a bona fide hole-in-the-wall breakfast joint. Where else do you go and find a guy washing dishes in the open air right beside the dude who’s cracking the eggs? Never mind that on the day I visited, the cozy dining room in the back was easily 10 degrees too cold. But nobody seemed to complain, as they filled their mouths with savory omelets, sweet waffles and diner-grade coffee. 

The restaurant also has significant history literally built into its walls. The back dining room’s cross-timbered beams and exposed brick walls were sourced from an old Greek Orthodox Church where Ye Olde’s late founder, Jimmy Chris, married his wife in 1968. 

If you manage to score a counter seat up front, you can watch the cooks make omelets and pour the special mix into the waffle irons. It’s an inspiring sight.

Among the 10 available omelets, the beef-infused stroganoff and spinach-feta rise above the rest. Whatever you do, be sure to try Big Jim’s hashbrowns, which are topped with sautéed onions, bell peppers and mushrooms. Simply otherworldly. 

When it comes to waffles, you can’t go wrong with pecan, blueberry or apple cinnamon. Fluffy, hubcap-sized pancakes are equally rewarding.

Service is efficient and mostly pleasant, even when servers occasionally struggle to keep coffee cups filled. The lines can get wickedly long, particularly when the Tarheels have a home game. The best time to go? Try 9 a.m. on a Monday. Thankfully, Ye Olde recently broke from its longstanding cash-only policy and now accepts major credit cards.


Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Domo Arigato for Yamato

Yamato of Apex is a relatively new addition to the Japanese and sushi scene, and I must confess that I didn’t have high expectations prior to visiting. Several former restaurants in this locale were, let’s just say, less than quality establishments, so it’s somewhat ambitious for an Asian place to open in such a dubious spot.

Once I arrived, ordered and tasted the food, however, all my preconceived concerns were proven erroneous. Never mind the cozy ambiance and efficient service, which proved a most pleasant surprise.

At lunchtime, the requisite Bento box is available for $8.95, but even more attractive are the daily specials such as teriyaki chicken and hibachi steak, which are attractively priced around $6. 

For my money, though, the best deals going are the Maki specials, which feature choice of house salad or soup with two rolls (from among 14 choices) plus hot green tea, iced tea or soft drink all for just $9.95. I had a tough time deciding which rolls to try, so I opted for tuna and spicy salmon. The tuna roll tasted fresh and delicious, while the spicy salmon was flavorsome but lacked the expected piquancy. All was forgiven, though, when my server promptly delivered my requested side of eel sauce for dipping purposes. 

Next time around I want to try the Yamato roll, which features tuna, crab, salmon, yellowtail, eel and mayo. Hungry yet?

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of my experience was meeting winsome owner and sushi chef Van Yueh, who appeared at my table and asked how I enjoyed my meal. He even sat down for a moment and took time to answer a question I asked (“Why do some places serve pink ginger and others serve white ginger?” You’ll just have go and find out for yourself!). This was a huge Lunchboy brownie points bonus, since I’m consistently harping on restaurants for lacking adequate service. 

Chef Yueh also encouraged me to come back and sit at the sushi bar, where he can prepare me some of his distinctive specialty rolls. You’d better believe I’m going to take him up on it soon. Domo arigato, Chef Yueh!

Yamato of Apex on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Firewürst Aflame in Cary

It’s not often that an innovative restaurant concept comes along that’s worthy of adulation. Firewürst, a Cary-based purveyor of flame-grilled sausages and hotdogs, is particularly impressive on several fronts.

First, a focused, imaginative menu features a variety of tantalizing options. Consider, for example, the spiral-cut all-beef BBQ dog with Swiss cheese, house-made barbecue sauce, applewood bacon and crispy onion tanglers, which I thoroughly enjoyed during a recent visit.  Then there is the hearty cheddar brat with melted aged cheddar, grilled onions, red, green and yellow peppers and mustard on a fresh hoagie roll.

Other noteworthy choices? The Chicago dog, the Mexican-inspired tortilla dog and the sweet Italian, to name a few. Various premium toppings are available for an additional charge, although perhaps it’s somewhat questionable to charge 79 cents extra for chili. 

Side items are also worthwhile, especially the transcendent natural-cut fries topped with sea salt, Cajun spices or parmesan/herb. Brown sugar- and nutmeg-infused sweet potato fries and crispy onion tanglers also vie for consideration. The menu also lists three intriguing made-to-order “sassy slaws,” including sweet, wasabi cucumber and sesame ginger.

The Cary Firewürst is the first of a developing fast-casual franchise concept. Food is delivered to the table promptly and courteously, and staff members are cordial and eager to please. The spotless dining room atmosphere is vibrant and upbeat, complete with witty signs from the likes of Chuck Norris and others hanging on the walls. Here’s hoping Firewürst resonates with Triangle diners. I know it does with Lunchboy!

Firewürst  on Urbanspoon