Enrigo Italian Bistro (Cary, NC)

Cary’s updated Waverly Place shopping center has a lot of nice features – lovely fountains, movies and concerts on the lawn, a small children’s playground, a Whole Foods outpost that is not insanely crowded like Raleigh’s Wade Ave. branch – but it’s a work in progress, and it what it really needs are some great tenants to bring excitement (and people) to the area.  A few decent restaurants and shopping options would help the developers realize their purported goal of emulating the success of Raleigh’s North Hills.

One of the first handful of tenants that is in place is Enrigo Italian Bistro.  It occupies one of the prime spots in the shopping center, with a flowing, expansive, indoor-outdoor setting with a dino decking that allows diners a pleasant view of the courtyard’s grassy field and fountains.  Large glass panel doors that almost always remain wide open mean that the restaurant is really half inside, half out.  The decor is semi-upscale, and the waiters wear all black, but it’s more of a family restaurant than a romantic date spot.

The menu features Italian classics with few, if any, suprises: pastas, pizzas, and panini.  Prices are on the high side, especially for appetizers (for example, fried calamari/shrimp for $12.99).  My wife and I recently split a margherita pizza ($10.99) and a spinach salad ($5.99).  First, there was house-made bread to start off with.  It had a great crumb and was nice and soft, but could have used a touch more salt.  The accompanying olive oil/balsamic vinegar dip was insipid.  The spinach salad was disappointing.  It featured thinly sliced red onions, roasted red peppers (just a few thin strips), and “shaved” parmesan.  The cheese was plentiful, but it was more like little crumbs and tidbits.  The whole thing was brought down by a watery, flavorless balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  The pizza was big, probably around 14″ in diameter, and very thin.  It would be too much food for one person, but not quite enough for two.  The crust was sort of a feathery light crackery-crisp affair that was pleasant enough, but the rest of the ingredients were nothing to get excited about.  The cheese reminded me more of the pre-shredded variety than delicate fresh mozzarella, and the amount of basil on the pie could not have added up to even one leaf.  My wife says the pizza has changed dramatically since Enrigo first opened a few months ago; then, she was thrilled by it, but not this time.

I’d be willing to give Enrigo another shot, because it offers such a pleasant setting, and to try one of their pasta dishes.  And for sure I’ll be back to Waverly Place, especially if they can attract some more good businesses and restaurants.

La Farm Bakery & Cafe (Cary, NC)

croissant image courtesy of flickr

La Farm is one of the Triangle’s premier bakeries, and one of only a very few that make good artisanal loaves of bread (Loaf, Rue Cler’s Bakery, Guglhupf, and Chicken Bridge Bakery are a few others that come to mind).  So this is one of the best places to come – and folks throughout the Triangle  do – to get a good baguette, a loaf of crusty ciabatta, or a croissant.  Or, of course, for one of many delightful treats.

Despite the linguistically hybridized name, this is a thoroughly French boulangerie.  And, though it’s set in a typical Cary strip mall (seemingly far from everything), it actually manages to evoke that small Parisian cafe feel.  It’s charming inside, with delicious looking baked goods all around, and a recently expanded cafe section that spills over onto the narrow sidewalk out front.  Even if the bread wasn’t worth the trip, you’d want to come back.

But enough about the bread for now.  The cafe is tempting in its own right, with breakfast and light lunch/dinner fare on offer.  The menu features a number of sandwiches, salads, and egg dishes – nothing unexpected really, but solid choices, and a superb value for most selections.  You can get a large sandwich with a side of chips for just $6.95, and kids meals are just $2.25.  I’ve had several of the sandwiches, and, it must be said, while the bread is great, the sandwiches are merely average.  I recently had one with smoked turkey/homemade creamy slaw/peach-chipotle bbq sauce (one of this summer’s special menu additions) that was rather boring.  There just wasn’t much flavor.  My wife was similarly underwhelmed with her “Mediterraneo” (fresh mozzeralla/roasted tomatoes/basil/balsamic vinaigrette (+added chicken, $1.95) on foccacia).  Sandwiches are served with a side of homemade hearth-baked potato chips, which are crunchy but a bit lifeless; they are greatly improved by dipping in the accompanying buttermilk ranch dressing.

I’ve yet to try the egg-based or breakfast dishes, but many of them sound appealing.  Then again, if I were here for breakfast, I might just choose a buttery croissant or one of their outstanding white chocolate-cinnamon scones (I’m not a fan of the triple berry variety).  Speaking of white chocolate, everyone seems to love La Farm’s white chocolate mini-baguette, and I am no exception.  So even if you’re a little disappointed by your meal, pick up a pastry or loaf to go, and you won’t be let down.

Note that La Farm also sells at the Raleigh farmer’s market on the weekends.

Foster’s Market (Durham, NC)

image courtesy of mapandmenu.com

Are you wondering why most people say that they find Summer Cooking to be difficult? Yes, research any restaurant, and you will find that the night takeout frequencies increases during summertime. Perhaps it’s because the sun stays longer. I mean, no one likes hot sun and cooking.

If Bull Street Gourmet is the promising young rookie of market/cafes, Foster’s Market is certainly the steady old veteran.  Established in 1990, Foster’s remains a fixture in the Triangle’s dining scene.  The Durham location is fairly sprawling and expansive, with loads of outdoor seating on the shaded porches and picnic tables.  Inside, it has the feel of a giant coffee shop.  I wouldn’t say it’s cozy, but it’s very casual, and it’s the kind of place where you could easily linger with a group of friends for a few hours.  Indeed, it almost seems deliberately designed as the ideal meeting spot for a university study group.

Navigating your experience at Foster’s can be a little bewildering the first time.  Entering the space, you pass by the cash registers to find shelves and racks of pantry items, gourmet groceries, and such.  Turn around, and you are confronted by their enormous menus overhead as well as display cases of prepared foods and baked goods (of which there are many).  Menu additions and daily specials are posted in various spots; it’s hard to know where to look.  The staff is friendly but not especially helpful in figuring out the ordering process.  You won’t be able to see everything from where you stand (there are just so many options), so it’s probably best to browse around a bit first.  Anyway, once you figure what you want, they’ll record it on a little notepad, and you can go find a seat.  They’ll bring your food out to you, and you bring your receipt (along with any groceries) up to the register to pay when you’re finished.

The menu is extensive and covers all manner of breakfast and lunch options (soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches, entrees, and even pizzas at the Chapel Hill location).  It’s hard to conceive of how they can reliably keep that many ingredients on hand, but, amazingly, everything generally tastes fresh.  I ordered a BBQ turkey sandwich (pulled turkey breast with Foster’s West Tennessee BBQ Sauce, Carolina cole slaw, house-made bread & butter pickles on a brioche bun,  $7.95).  I enjoyed it well enough, but there was no contrast in the dish.  The cole slaw did not offset the meat (they were sauced similarly, a la Lexington style BBQ), and together with the lackluster bread (which resembled a supermarket potato bun), the whole thing tasted of a plain generic one-ness.  My wife ordered “The Cubano” (pulled mojo pork, ham, Swiss, pickles, lettuce, mayo and yellow mustard on grilled soft baguette, $8.95).  Again, I was unimpressed with the bread, but this was the better sandwich.  The pork had good flavor and was well seasoned, and there was just the right amount of the bright mustard.  For side dishes, we had a a summer succotash (corn, lima beans, cherry tomatoes, priced by the pound) that was lovely with a delicate vinaigrette.  A side of lime-marinated raw veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, squash, red onion, grated carrot) was fine if uninspiring.  Resisting the baked goods is nearly impossible, as there is such a variety, and they all look delicious.  I took home a large piece of what I thought was coconut cake ($4.50 if I recall correctly), which turned out to be a key lime cake.  It wasn’t bad, but it was too sweet, and I definitely could not eat all of the frosting.

To sum it up, Foster’s Market is a good place for a relaxing meal with friends or to pick up a quick baked goodie.   They also offer pre-made dinners to go and catering services.  It might not dazzle you, but it’s unlikely to really disappoint you either.  So I’m sure Foster’s will be around for years to come, regardless of whatever newcomers join the scene.

Bull Street Gourmet & Market (Durham, NC)

Hope Valley Square was once was a no-mans land shopping center south of Durham but is now home to some great tenants: Only Burger, Pop’s Backdoor South, Tonali, and Bull Street Gourmet & Market to name a few. The latter is the most recent to open, and is an offshoot of the venture’s original location in Charleston, SC.  It features a small but well-stocked grocery section and a casual eatery.  In the grocery you can find all manner of local and hyper-local staples (peanut butters, jams, relishes, cheeses, plus a few meats and some tempting ice cream sandwiches), as well as, somewhat incongruously, a decent selection of mass market candies. Otherwise, you can get breakfast here, or a pastry, or even a quick pre-made dinner-to-go, but the main culinary focus seems to be soups, salads, and sandwiches. These feature gourmet ingredients in classic pairings, and are priced accordingly.  The atmosphere is completely casual; just place your order at the counter and take a seat at one of the mix-and-match tables, or at one of the stools that run along the counter.

I chose a club sandwich (ham, smoked turkey, bacon, cucumber, lettuce, $8.99) and my wife opted for the “Chappy” salad (romaine/green apple/shaved red onion/walnuts/feta, $7.99). Our orders were brought out promptly by the very friendly staff.  Although the sandwich didn’t come with any sides, it was definitely big enough to be a full meal.  It was served in a small basket, and cut in half, but it was nearly impossible to eat thanks to some insubstantial focaccia and a massive amount of dressing. On the menu description, this was a dijon mayonnaise, but in the sandwich I got it was a horseradish mayo – pretty disappointing for a person who doesn’t love horseradish. The bread itself was very good (tomato-parmesan focaccia from Guglhupf) but, being very soft and thinly cut, it simply could not hold the sandwich together.  I almost resorted to a fork and knife, which probably would have been a wiser choice than amassing a pile of about 20 napkins.  I thought the ham was outstanding, the bacon and white cheddar unremarkable.  Overall, it was a decent sandwich, but I would probably order something different next time.  My wife’s salad was excellent, and very refreshing with a light lemon poppy seed dressing, but it probably could have used some more walnuts, and I felt like it should have been a dollar or two cheaper.  It came with a sweet roll that tasted just fine but seemed doughy and undercooked.

I’ve said this many times before, but I wish there were more places like this throughout the Triangle, and in Raleigh in particular.  But for now, Hope Valley Square is shaping up as a pretty decent foodie destination, so you can bet I’ll be back for more.

Salvio’s Pizzeria (Cary, NC)

Salvio’s in Cary appears, in nearly all respects, to be a prototypical (e.g. boring) strip-mall pizza joint.  It’s all there – the nondescript signage, the incongruous burger+fries or wings specials, the bare bones interior.  But it just takes one taste of the pies and to know this is someplace special.

The inside features a number of large booths, a few tables, and a couple of large TVs tuned to ESPN.  A recent remodeling has added a tasteful air to the simple accommodations: fresh black paint and new marble table tops are a step up from the old plain wooden booths.  It’s still a counter service restaurant where you get your own drink, so it’s best for take-out or a quick lunch.

The menu covers all of the standards – pizzas, subs, wings, Italian classics.  Since it’s pretty close to where I work, I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Salvio’s numerous times, but I’ve only tried the pies.  For a quick meal, you can order pre-made “gourmet” slices from the counter window display, of which there are generally a half-dozen or so choices.  On a recent visit I chose a slice of mozzarella/feta/spinach/tomatoes and a slice of ricotta/parsley, which, with a soda, came to just $5.75.   The slices are enormous – I can’t imagine eating more than two.  The friendly staff pops them back into the oven, and, a few minutes later, you’ve got piping hot pizza delivered to you (on paper plates).

Salvio’s crust is exceptional – thin and super crisp, you can just about pick up a whole piece without it collapsing.  The crust gives a satisfyingly shatter-like crack, and the crumb still has a nice chew to it.  Toppings are generous but don’t stand out for exceptional quality, the way they do at, say, Bella Mia.  Both pieces were very good, but the winner was the one with soft mounds of delicious ricotta.  It was a fantastic lunch.

Among NY style pizza in the area, Salvio’s stands head and shoulders above a place like Fuhgeddaboutit.  In fact, Salvio’s comes in behind only the aforementioned Bella Mia in my Triangle pizza hierarchy.  And compared to your average strip-mall pizza place, it is awesome.

Backyard Bistro (Raleigh, NC)

Backyard Bistro is the closest restaurant to the PNC center in Raleigh, and it’s adjacent to a large hotel.  From these facts alone you might surmise that the menu features burgers, wings, and beer, and that the ambiance caters to those who desire the the closest approximation to being in the stadium for a sporting event, without having to actually purchase tickets.  You’d be correct.  For some, tailgating is the event.

The restaurant was sparsely populated on a recent event-free night at the stadium.  We were seated at a huge booth that was angled for better viewing of an enormous wall of TVs, each tuned to a variety of – you guessed it – sports programming.  In fact, scarcely a free surface in the place remains untouched by sports theming or memorabilia.  With the lights dimmed, the experience felt more like being in a theater than in a restaurant.  Backyard Bistro does have an appealing, and big, outdoor tented area, a large bar, and a section of tables a little farther removed from the wall of sports TVs. They will soon have an Axe Throwing section as another form of entertainment.  But they clearly know their audience: the game comes first; food is more of an afterthought.

Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co. is a new spot in Raleigh that brings a bit of Durham cool to this side of the Triangle.  This place is the epitome of hip: it’s stylish without feeling forced.  Located on a overlooked stretch of Morgan St. heading into downtown, it has promptly become a place to see and be seen, but it functions equally well as just a nice place to hang out with your friends.  Inside, it’s small – almost too small.  It’s tough to even walk behind the bar on account of a couple rustic barrels that line the glass-fronted space where you can expect the best draft beer system installers.  Sure, there are handful of patio tables, and you can get full service at the lovely, expansively deep bar, but the bottom line is this: expect  crowd.    The decor is well executed in yellow ochres and browns.  A cadre of trophies lines a high shelf towards the back – it would be cool if these belonged to the owners (also of downtown’s “Busy Bee”) or to the chefs, but I didn’t inquire.

The menu is expansive and includes pretty much all of what you’d usually find at a large suburban American restaurant.  I ordered a bbq sandwich with regular fries.  My wife ordered a taco salad ($9).  In keeping with the nature of the restaurant, and the general status quo of such establishments, the portions were enormous.  My dinner in particular was a great value at only $7.  Sandwiches are served on light, airy La Farm brioche buns, which is a nice touch.  The meat part of my dish was fine, tender and moist, but the vinegary slaw and odd sauce (served in a little plastic cup on the side) were really underwhelming.  That said, the worst part of my meal were the fries, which were soggy and seemed almost uncooked.  I couldn’t eat them.  My wife reported her entree to be pretty run-of-the mill.

It’s just one visit, to be sure.  The fries might have been an aberration, and the guys over at The Straight Beef liked their burgers just fine.  Still, I doubt that I’d return, even if I had a nearby event to attend.

Toast (Durham, NC)

image courtesy of Mark Petko @ SpoonfedRaleigh

It seems I’m always promoting Durham in these pages, and this post will be no exception.  Toast is to Durham as Neal’s Deli is to Carrboro – a great little sandwich counter.  Raleigh’s lack of such an establishment remains a mystery, and reason enough to search the wider Triangle, as above, for a better sandwich experience.

Toast is an Italian style café serving panini, salads, and soups.  The restaurant occupies a narrow space in the city’s downtown, with small tables inside plus a few more spilling out onto the sidewalk in front.  It’s coffee-shop casual, and, if necessary, you can be in and out very quickly, but it’s charming enough to make it a nice spot to linger and chat.  Just order at the counter and help yourself to a drink.

The menu features plenty of classic Italian flavors.  It also does not appear to have changed much, if any, in the few years since the restaurant opened.  I selected the rapini/sweet Italian sausage/roasted garlic/asiago fresca panino ($6.50) and a cup of the daily soup – spicy lentil with peppers ($2).  My wife chose three crostini + salad ($8.75).  For this price you get two of each of the crostini, which are cut from a baguette into thin slices, toasted, and piled with the toppings.  Her choices were warm goat cheese/local honey/cracked black pepper, pesto/mozzarella/roasted tomato, and garlicky mushrooms/thyme/gorgonzola.  Our food came out promptly.  To sum it up: it was a little disappointing.  Perhaps my expectations were too high; we’d had great food here before.  This time, though, my sandwich was not terribly flavorful.  I couldn’t make out the roasted garlic, the sausage was too mild, and, if such a thing can be said, there was too much cheese.  The bread was nicely crisp and buttery though, and the soup was rich, hearty, and satisfying.  My wife’s crostini had sort of the opposite problem: the flavors were too strong, and there was too much salt.  The clear winner for her was the creamy goat cheese one.  She did report her salad to be deliciously bright, herby, and fresh.

So while we weren’t wowed by Toast this time around, we’ll be back for more.  And here’s hoping for a sandwich spot like this in Raleigh.  For it’s places like these that help make Durham a vibrant community, and that’s why I’ll continue to visit – and celebrate – the Bull City.

The Pit (Raleigh, NC)

image courtesy of flickr

Raleigh’s The Pit has received so much attention over the years that you’d think it was some kind of legendary establishment – the kind of place that makes Raleigh.  In fact, the place is more of a curiosity, in terms of ambiance and popularity, and, unfortunately, not terribly exciting in terms of food.  It’s about as far as you can get from Allen & Son’s – a little shack lost between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, where the meat cooks over wood for most of the night – and still be called a North Carolina barbecue restaurant.

The interior of The Pit is moderately swanky, mostly as a result of the building’s previous incarnation as an upscale steakhouse, but partly, one suspects, as a deliberate branding angle.  It’s not a white tablecloth affair, but the wait staff does wear all black and shuffles to and fro discreetly.  It’s certainly a far cry from your average no-frills bbq joint.  There’s a large bar area with plenty of high tables near the front door, and a couple of more stately dining areas.  The place is huge, but it gets packed, always.  You can take a date here, or your family, but it seems best suited to a business meal.

On a recent lunch visit, I ordered the chopped bbq plate ($7.99), which comes with two sides, a biscuit, and a couple of hushpuppies.  The plate is a much better value than the bbq sandwich, which comes with only one side (and no biscuits or hushpuppies), but costs only $0.40 less.  At dinnertime, the cost of the plate entrée jumps up 50% to $11.99, so beware.  The barbecue itself was rather flavorless, even with a liberal application of sauce at the table.  It lacked smokiness but at least it wasn’t mushy.  I chose collards and cole slaw as my side items.  The collards were pretty bad – too vinegary and not tender enough; the cole slaw was average.  My biscuit was also lackluster.  It was soft and buttery, but it seemed like a frozen biscuit rather than a scratch-made creation.  The Pit does have good sweet potato fries, and some regular fries I tried were also pretty tasty.  But the best part of my meal was the excellent hushpuppies.  I would have traded all of my side items for a basket full of those.

In the end, it was an uninspiring and forgettable meal.  While the value at lunchtime is good – you get a lot of food – I’m not really eager to return.  I have heard that the ribs are very good, but I’ve yet to try them in several visits.  [Although former head chef and NC bbq icon Ed Mitchell defeated Bobby Flay in a rib “throwdown” a couple years ago, he is no longer associated with the restaurant].  So, even with a general lack of good bbq restaurants in Raleigh, The Pit doesn’t really stand out.  I’d rather drive a little ways out to the aforementioned Allen & Son’s, or perhaps to Stephenson’s (near Benson), or The Pig (Chapel Hill) for a more rewarding bbq experience.

Review: Panciuto (Hillsborough, NC)

Hillsborough is a charming little town, a place my wife and I frequently imagine ourselves living in.  It’s small and quaint, but hip enough to boast its own LocoPops and WholeFoods outposts.  A bit more stately than similarly funky Pittsboro, Hillsborough is home to some good restaurants, including at least one outstanding one: Panciuto.

Situated right on the town’s main street, the restaurant is distinguished modestly by a small black awning above the entrance.  Inside, it’s very warm and cozy.  The dining area is rather small, and, together with the diminutive bar (just a few stools) and a long-abandoned fireplace, as well as plenty of white Christmas lights, it makes for an intimate experience.  This is an upscale restaurant, and the space feels elegant, but simple wooden tables and a few light-hearted prints along an exposed brick wall keep the place from seeming too fancy or stuffy.  Even though the tables against the wall are arranged quite closely together, this is a great restaurant for a date or special occasion.  Tiny fluted glasses of prosecco brought to the table shortly after seating reinforce this celebratory sentiment.

The menu generally represents a sort of hybrid of Italian and Southern American cooking.  The restaurant is completely devoted to local ingredients; a box on one side of the menu shows you where just about every component of your meal comes from and the distance it has traveled.  Impressively, these range from about walking distance (herbs) to no more than a couple hundred miles (NC seafood).

Panciuto is only open for dinner, Wednesday – Saturday, from 5:30pm – 8:30pm.  On Wednesdays and Thursdays, small plates are the order of the evening.  Our waiter informed us that, in general, these were appetizer sized portions, and suggested ordering two selections per person.  Noticing the large plates around us, we were skeptical and went with the following 3 items:

  •     Ricotta gnocchi en crema with baby beet greens, sunny duck egg, vincotto, and asparagus ($12)
  •     Pappardelle with grilled pulled pork, shiitake mushrooms, arugula, mustard butter, and parmesan ($17)
  •     Grilled pork chop with buttered polenta, fried green tomatoes, and green-garlic tomato gravy ($16)

While we waited, a small bread selection arrived at the table.  It featured a very slender slice of focaccia (fine) and a super-buttery soft and flaky parker house roll (better).  But these were both trumped by a wedge of something whose composition most closely approximated that of a muffin, although it was sliced as though from a thin tea cake.  The flavor was lemon poppy seed with just the right amount of rosemary.  It was soft, delicate, and heavenly.

Thoughtfully, the waiter offered to bring us the first dish as an “appetizer” followed by the other dishes.  This worked out perfectly.  The gnocchi dish was beautifully presented, with tiny thimble-sized soft pillows of ricotta arranged around the egg, adorned with the cute microgreens.  This was indeed a small dish – there weren’t more than two or three asparagus tips on the whole plate, but the balance of flavors was lovely.  The vincotto brought a complex and subtle sweetness, and the egg contributed a luxurious richness.  We were off to a great start.

The next two dishes were much more substantial, with the pasta in particular being enough to fill a hungry diner.  The pork chop (an ossabaw heritage breed) represented the apotheosis of grilling.  It was maybe a little overdone, but the flavor was exemplary.  It sat on a small bed of gnocchi-shaped polenta balls and was topped by a few thin slices of excellent fried green tomato.  A small amount of fresh tasting tomato sauce tied it all together beautifully.  Almost as good was the pasta dish.  As with the pork chop, the pulled pork in this dish had a terrific smokiness, but in this case the meat could have been just a little more tender.  There was certainly plenty of it, and plenty of rich cheese as well – combined with the excellent homemade noodles, it made for wonderful comfort food on a cool night.  I felt that the shiitake mushrooms, which were barely cooked, didn’t contribute much to the dish.  I did like that the mustard butter and arugula lent a subtle lemony edge, but it wasn’t quite enough to balance out the cheesy creaminess of the dish.  Still, it was delicious, even if the overall flavor profile wasn’t as sophisticated as that of the pork chop entrée.

For dessert, we opted for the “crema di cogne with sugar dusted cornmeal zeppole and soft whipped cream” ($6).  This was basically two doughnuts with sort of a soft chocolate pudding/mousse accompaniment – another great value as it was perfect for two people.  For me, the zeppole were rather average – light and airy, yes, but just fried dough.  The cornmeal wasn’t lost in the dish, but didn’t really elevate it, either.  The crema di cogne was rich and silky, and I really enjoyed the chocolate flavor with what seemed to be just a hint of liquor.

Overall, our dinner at Panciuto was one of the best meals we’ve had in the Triangle, and it’s easy to see why chef Aaron Vandemark was a James Beard award finalist for best chef in the Southeast.  His restaurant delivers superb flavor in a lovely setting (and outstanding value for certain dishes).  So while Hillsborough itself is worth a drive to check out, Panciuto makes the town all the more special.

Battistella’s (Raleigh, NC)

I’ve been quite excited to try out Battistella’s, the new(ish) Cajun restaurant in downtown Raleigh.  I’d heard great things about their former location (out near Crabtree Mall), and the menu looks enticing.  I finally had the chance for brunch on a recent lazy Sunday morning.

The restaurant is located in Raleigh’s City Market, a historic area that has charm but has seemed to me to have always struggled to fulfill its potential.  The cobblestone streets are lovely, sure, but, until recently, the lack of exciting tenants has rendered the area more of a curiosity than a destination.  In the past few years, the additions of the Epona & Oak boutique, Benelux Cafe, Troy Mezze Lounge, and now Battistella’s offers hope for revitalization.

The inside of the restaurant is divided into two spaces – one primarily occupied by the bar, the other by the small dining area.  Despite its size, the ambience was not especially cozy, though I imagine at night it could be rather charming.  The restaurant is clearly aiming to capture the mystique of New Orleans, with large pictures of that city along the artfully decrepit walls, blues music on the radio, and an interesting chandelier lending intrigue to the space.  There are a few cafe tables out on the sidewalk as well.  At 12:30pm, there weren’t many people in the place, and it oddly felt as if lunch service was wrapping up.

The menu for brunch was a bit different than what’s posted on their website.  The choices that day were much more limited, with quite a few of the starters and entrees, and all of the side items, missing or different.  The prices were also off by a dollar here and there.  A chalkboard lists the day’s specials, and another one shows off an impressive list of local farms that provide many of the restaurant’s ingredients.  I ordered the pain perdu ($10) and my wife chose the “Blount St. Benedict” ($12).  Both were very nicely presented.  Mine was an elegant stack of four large bread slices, a large hunk of split andouille sausage, and a dollop of cinnamon whipped cream.  It was good french toast, if not excellent.  The sausage was very good, although spicier in some spots than others.  I loved the use of cane syrup.  This was my first experience with it, and with luck not my last.  It offered a darker, more complex flavor than maple syrup – like a cross between that and molasses.  Unfortunately there was just too much of it, and the whole dish was too sweet as a result.  I didn’t try much of my wife’s eggs benedict dish, except for a few bites of outstanding tasso ham.

While it wasn’t the most exciting meal ever, and it might not be my first choice for Sunday brunch in Raleigh, I definitely want to return and try more of the menu.  The biscuits in particular looked fabulous, and I’ve got to try a poboy or some beignets.   Battistella’s certainly fills a void in Raleigh’s dining scene, and brings some upscale flavor to City Market, so here’s wishing them great success.