The Eddy Pub (Saxapahaw, NC)

photo courtesy of flickr

Having made the trek twice out to the wonderfully quirky and delicious Saxapahaw General Store (see reviews here and here), I’ve been excited to try their newer, more formalized restaurant, the Eddy Pub.  Both continue to generate plenty of buzz – see the recent NYTimes article about the town here.  But whereas the former lacks any ambience (being literally within a gas station), the latter offers a more refined gastropub dining experience.

To begin with, the space is lovely.  A sign just inside the massive door encourages you to “seat yourself, make a friend”.  Saxapahaw is a small community, and you definitely feel as though you’re part of it at the Eddy.  Seating is a hodgepodge of thrift store furniture and regular wood tables and chairs; a small bookshelf adds to the casual coffeeshop-like feel.  It’s as much a gathering place for a beer with friends as it is a typical dining room.  Indeed, a sizeable portion of the space is occupied by the bar.  In the evening, the place is cozy with very dim lighting, but I imagine that during the day the large windows and inviting deck (pictured above, perched high overlooking the river) make the restaurant feel rather expansive.  Either way, it packs an awful lot of charm, and it’s a very pleasant spot to eat a meal.

The menu is generally similar to that down at the general store, with a heavy focus on local meat and produce.  It changes frequently, but some dishes, like a burger, or fish & chips, appear to be mainstays.  Many entrees feature “mashers” (mashed potatoes) alongside a protein and vegetable side.  My wife selected the burger ($12) with farmhouse cheddar, Dijon, and mango chutney.  The burger comes with potato salad or fries, and when asked which she preferred, the server simply said “it depends who is making [the potato salad]”, offering no further elaboration.  Fries it was.  I went with the stuffed chicken breast ($18), which featured “house made white wine rosemary sausage & mushroom stuffing”, a squash gratin, and, of course, mashers).

As with our experiences at the general store, the food took a good while to emerge from the kitchen.  The burger patty was deeply charred and crusty, although the inside turned out to be remarkably closer to medium.  But the main downfall of the burger was the overwhelming amount of horseradish (an element unfortunately not mentioned in the menu description).  Even for fans of char-grilled burgers or horseradish, it was a bit much.  My wife didn’t enjoy it, though she thought the cheese was excellent.  The fries were pretty standard.  My chicken dish was equally disappointing.  The meat was cooked fairly well, but the tucked-under-the-skin stuffing was barely present, adding little to the dish.  The squash gratin was crippled by under-seasoning and what tasted like canned bread crumbs.  The best part of my meal was the creamy, garlicky mashed potatoes.  Overall, it was a bland and uninspiring dinner.  Interestingly, my plate also featured a large unidentified chunk (crouton??) of charred material.  Both portions were massive.

While we love the town, the general store, and the setting and vibe of the Eddy Pub, on our next visit we’ll be dining down at the gas station.

Geer St. Garden (Durham, NC)

Geer St. Garden is the kind of place you want to love.  Located in a former gas station in a happening part of Durham, it has plenty of appeal.  It aims for that classic neighborhood joint, and definitely achieves the part in terms of ambience with a small but very charming interior to go along with sprawling outdoor picnic table seating. [In colder weather, plastic sheeting and heaters keep the outdoor section warm and cozy].  The restaurant cultivates a relaxed, easy feel, and it’s a great place to hang out with friends.

The menu is classic American fare, with a few Southern (fried chicken, collards, sweet potato stew) and Latin American dishes (tamales, fish tacos) as well.  Like any good self-respecting Durham restaurant, Geer St. Garden touts the use of local, sustainable ingredients.  I opted for the “pasture-raised” burger ($10) with cheese (additional $1).  My burger arrived next to an enormous mountain of fries.  It featured some nice fresh tomato and crisp lettuce, but the whole thing was just too plain.  The patty was under-seasoned and surprisingly thin.  The fries were similarly very average.  It was a very unexciting meal.  I was pretty hungry, so we chose to have dessert too – a brownie with ice cream and salty peanut caramel sauce.  It was a good concept, but the execution was really disappointing.  The brownie was exceedingly dry and lifeless – one of the worst brownies I’ve ever had.  There wasn’t enough of the sauce, and it wasn’t really salty either, even though the dish was loaded with peanuts.  The one bright spot in the dessert was the  creamy, silky ice cream.

In the end, I would go back to Geer St. Garden to enjoy the nice patio for a casual meal with friends, but I’d try something different and hope for better results.

Weekend Round-Up: Some of the Triangle’s Best

This weekend I had the chance to visit several Triangle restaurants that just plain rock – these are some of the best the area has to offer:

Thursday night:
Poole’s diner (Raleigh)
Sweet potato soup with burgundy-thyme honey, braised short ribs over smoky collard greens, an excellent baguette with butter, and their renowned macaroni gratin.  I could eat at Poole’s every day.

Friday night:
Carrburritos (Carrboro)
Carnitas mejor burrito – massive, loaded with juicy meat, no rice filler, and deliciously fresh.  Although I’ve always liked this place, I hadn’t been here in quite a while.  I’ll be coming back soon – the burrito was outstanding.

Sunday night:
Chuck’s (Raleigh)
8oz “Spirit Animal” burger – cream cheese, roasted poblanos, grilled tomato, tortilla dust.  A little too much cream cheese, a little too little tomato, and virtually no tortilla dust(?) – but nevertheless sensational.  The best burgers in the Triangle are at Chuck’s.  I wasn’t wowed by the fries on my first visit, but this time they were incredible.

Best Burger in the Triangle?

photo courtesy of flickr

Keeping up the burger theme for one more post – what’s your favorite area burger experience?  Here is my totally subjective list, in order of places that I would go back to for a burger.  In other words, although I’ve used the merits of the burger itself as the main criteria, other factors like sides (esp. fries), price, and ambience have also influenced my decisions.  And yes, Five Guys is a nation-wide (?) chain, but I rather enjoy it.

  1. Chuck’s
  2. Bull City Burger & Brewery
  3. Only Burger
  4. Tie: The Federal / Raleigh Times
  5. Five Guys
  6. Tribeca Tavern
  7. MoJoe’s
  8. CookOut
  9. Geer St. Garden
  10. Chargrill
  11. Player’s Retreat
  12. Barry’s Cafe

Admittedly, there are many places I’ve yet to try: Dain’s Place, Wimpy’s, Buns, Porter’s Tavern, King’s Sandwich Shop, Abbey Rd. Grill, Corner Tavern & Grill, Blue Note Grill

Where do you get your burger fix in the Triangle?

 

Review: Bull City Burger & Brewery (Durham, NC)

Perhaps no other area restaurant in recent memory has been as eagerly anticipated as Durham’s Bull City Burger & Brewery (BCBB henceforth).  Since well before their late March opening, people have been talking this place up as the next great thing.  With such lofty expectations, perhaps the restaurant was bound to disappoint some.  Indeed, reports of a shaky start cropped up immediately after the place finally opened its doors.  Waits were too long, portions were too small, prices too high.  After reading all of the pre and post-opening comments, I finally got the chance to try it myself yesterday.

BCBB is situated in a rather vast space right in the heart of downtown Durham.  It’s in an old building with high ceilings, but the feel of the place is modern, casual, and welcoming.  There’s an attractive bar, an Enomatic wine dispenser, and a small kid’s play area tucked away in one corner.  Rows and rows of communal seating fills the majority of the floor space, but there are some smaller, more private tables available as well, in addition to a handful of outdoor picnic tables.  Just place your order and pick your seat, and the friendly staff will bring your food right to you.

Much of the hype surrounding BCBB stems from their farm-to-table approach and their dedication to crafting everything in-house, from the buns down to the condiments.  This homey approach is slightly skewered by the “Five Guys” style industrial size boxes of flour and frying oil sitting right beside the order counter.  The menu is straightforward – burgers, dogs, and fries – but offers quite a bit of choice for personalization.  I ordered a “Green Monster” (gruyere, roasted poblanos, shaved raw red onion, $8) and my wife opted for a custom burger with cheddar, mushrooms, and “BCBB sauce”, which turned out to be a tarragon mayonnaise.  With cheese and mushrooms at $1 each, her burger also totaled $8.  Fries are separate, and BCBB offers either “Dirty Fries” (hand-cut, skin-on, peanut oil, $2) or “Duck Frites” (shoestring, finished with duck fat, fresh rosemary, and fleur de sel, $3).  The former were very good, but he latter are the way to go.  The lovely fresh rosemary and perfect seasoning made for some amazing fries.  As for the burgers, both were perfectly pink and very juicy.  The tarragon mayo on my wife’s burger was incredible.  Although mine was also very good, I thought it could have benefited from a little salt and the roasted peppers contributed surprisingly little flavor.  The substantial homemade buns were perhaps a little dense but complemented the juicy patties nicely.  The whole experience was completely satisfying – the best burger and fries we’ve had in the Triangle.

I didn’t try any of the home brews, but BCBB does offer a Boylan soda fountain instead of the usual Coke-Pepsi HFCS-containing selections.  Beverages are served in hefty glass mason jars.  Score two more points for BCBB.

To address some comments I’ve seen: our orders came out promptly, and the portions were huge – I left completely stuffed.  I regard $10 or $11 as a great price for a fantastic burger and fry experience, and I will be gladly coming back as soon as possible.  Next time, I look forward to trying the pretzel-crusted fried pickles and the bacon “bull” peanuts.

 

MoJoe’s Burger Joint (Raleigh, NC)

I’ve been to MoJoe’s a number of times over the course of the past several years.  What stands out for me about the place is not necessarily the supremacy of their burgers, but rather their striking consistency.  I know exactly what I’m getting here, and I’ve never had a bad experience.

To begin with, you must deal with the tiny, tricky parking lot.  The indoor dining room is also especially small, but is complemented by a wonderful, sprawling outdoor patio with varying degrees of cover/privacy.  Just pick your seat and a handful of servers will swing by to address your needs.  The menu is limited, to be sure, but, as the name implies, people come here for the burgers, and I haven’t sampled anything else.  I can’t say that it’s the best burger in Raleigh, but it can be thoroughly enjoyable.

I ordered the “inferno”, with grilled onions, jalapenos, and pepper jack cheese.  The patties are most definitely frozen (note their perfect shape), but they’re well seasoned and cook up surprisingly juicy.  My burger was spicy and quite satisfying, thanks in part to some nicely caramelized onions and an above-average bun.  My wife ordered a mushroom-swiss burger, and was equally pleased.  Fries are crinkle-cut (also frozen) but are remarkably crispy.  They are perhaps a little heavy-handed with the vaguely cajun seasoning.

Overall, MoJoe’s provides a good burger at a good price (about $5-8, plus extra for fries) with great consistency.  Combined with the delightful patio space, it’s enough to bring me back repeatedly.

Weekend report – 2/21/11

Dinner Friday night was at the Player’s Retreat in Raleigh, a divey bar joint with a nice stretch of outdoor seating at the corner of Oberlin and Hillsborough Streets.  Their beef is ground fresh in-house daily, so I was excited to try their burger.  I ordered the “Bernie”: 6 oz with provolone, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.  Unfortunately, it was nothing special.  The bottom bun was soaked through to a minimal thickness, and the remainder of the components were similarly lackluster: tough chewy bacon, flavorless tomato, you get the idea.  Worse, my wife’s burger was ordered medium well, compared to my medium, but her patty was pinker than mine.  It was not a burger I would go back for.  The homemade chips were better than the french fries, but that’s not saying much.  A disappointing meal.

Sunday lunch was over at Market Restaurant in Raleigh.  I was excited to try their appetizing brunch menu, and we had a $30 LivingSocial coupon to burn.  The place was humming, with the Raleigh City Garden folks milling about, the garage bay door slung open to bask in the beautiful weather, and an acoustic guitarist crooning at the back of the small space.  I ordered a chai french toast, and my wife ordered an awesome sounding eggs benedict dish – sweet potato biscuits topped with pulled pork bbq and poached eggs, served with cheddar grits.  My entrée was fine, but, with only two pieces of bread, a bit small.  While the chai flavor was good (how could it be bad?), I’d take a more traditional french toast any day.  It came with two pieces of sweet glazed bacon.  Some nice salty bacon to counter all that chai syrupy sweetness would have been good.  The eggs benedict were better in concept than execution.  The bbq was not especially tender or flavorful, and the sweet potato biscuits in particular were completely lost in the dish.  On the plus side, the accompanying cheddar grits were delicious.  Our order of “french quarter style beignets drizzled with local honey” did not arrive until the end of our meal.  I don’t how they do beignets in New Orleans, but these were not good.  They tasted about like an overcooked funnel cake from the state fair.  To sum it up, the vibe of the restaurant is really great – nice enough to bring me back – even if the food is not always fantastic.  (To see my previous full review of Market, click here.)

Review: Tribeca Tavern (Cary, NC)

The Tribeca Tavern in Cary is a huge place.  You can’t miss it from the road; it looks something like a castle.  Inside, a massive staircase leads you to believe there’s seating for hundreds.  The furnishings give it the look and feel of a tidy, mid-range hotel.  Countering this and striking a distinctly casual note are giant TVs everywhere and ludicrous oversized images of, for example, a man eating a slice of pizza, or two people chomping on a burger.

In fact, the first thing you see when you walk in is a 6 or 8 foot tall blow-up of a burger stacked impossibly high with toppings.  If this doesn’t signal the restaurant’s culinary intentions, the “Red Robin” style specialty burger menu certainly will.  They range from “Southern Lovin” (fried green tomatoes, bacon, goat cheese) to Jimmy the Greek (ground lamb, tzatziki, olives).  There are burgers with bbq on them, or fried onions, or a fried egg, you get the idea.  But that’s not all: if burgers aren’t your thing, the menu covers an immense range of options from shrimp and grits to fish tacos to pizzas.  That’s covering more culinary ground than your local Ruby Tuesdays does.    The waiter may give you a spiel about how nearly everything is made in-house and how many of the ingredients are sourced locally.  In fact, he indicated that just about the only things not made in-house are curly fries, pasta, and bread.  But considering the breadth of the menu and type of foods offered, that seemed highly unlikely.  You’ve got to be skeptical of restaurants that offer that kind of variety: there’s just no way that nearly everything is made in-house, or that the quality of every dish is at a high level.

Tribeca Tavern does use organic NC beef, which they grind in-house daily, allowing you to order your burger rare, if you so choose.  The cheeses offered are mostly local, but feel free to opt for Kraft American (from Illinois) or Gruyere (from Switzerland).  The choices of side items with your burger or sandwich are extensive (14 items!), from tater tots to mac & cheese to sweet potato casserole to soup or salad. Unfortunately, fries are one of the things not made in-house.    The “local” focus at Tribeca does extend to the beverage list, which features Fayetteville’s Mash House beers and root beer.  I tried the root beer, and it was pretty good.

I ordered the “All praise Holly Grove” burger, which was topped with Holly Grove Farms goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and “charred” onions.  It was cooked the way I requested (medium) and it was juicier than a burger from, say, Red Robin, but really it was just ok.  There just wasn’t much flavor – the patty needed some seasoning.  The “peppered” onion rings were atrocious.  They were very densely breaded, and, despite their name, vastly underseasoned: they just about ruined the entire meal.  The specialty burgers are very expensive (at $13 perhaps the most expensive burger I’ve ever ordered) but, to be fair, they are so massive that the first thing I did with mine was set aside half for another time.  On the plus side, the fried calamari was breaded with a very light hand and had a nice spiciness to it.  And guacamole was surprisingly acceptable, if a little undersalted.  The guacamole is supposedly made to order, but it came to our table within a few minutes of placing our order.  I did not get to try the cheesy puff appetizer (puff pastry, brie, cashews, bacon, raspberry dipping sauce), but that sounded like a little much anyway.

For dessert, I tried a brownie sundae, which was nice and warm but, oddly, not rich enough.  The brownie was homemade, but the whipped cream most certainly was not.  I also tried the banana crème brulee, but I would not recommend that to anyone.  There wasn’t much of any banana flavor to the crème part, and there was hardly any crustiness to the brulee part. It was actually much more like a pudding, and for some reason, all of the vanilla bean seeds were found at the bottom of the dish, rather than being distributed throughout the custard.

In the end, this place is equivalent to one of those “ale houses” in a nice shopping center.  The fact that they offer local ingredients is commendable, but does not a successful restaurant make, and doesn’t justify the high prices.  You can make a much better burger at home, and for a lot less money.  The restaurant needs to pare down the menu and cut their own fries to go with their gourmet burgers.  I’d think a small restaurant focusing on gourmet organic burgers and excellent fries could do really well.  For example, Durham has Only Burger and the forthcoming Bull City Burger and Brewery.  I wish the conversation about this kind of place was inverted: instead of  “WOW” they make everything in-house, it should be of course they do, and “WOW’ everything tastes great.

Rating:  * *