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: Mami Nora’s Chicken (Raleigh, NC)

For those whose thoughts of going out for a chicken dinner are shaped by industrial giants like Boston Market or KFC, allow me to introduce you to Mami Nora’s.  This is Peruvian style rotisserie chicken, and its presence is spreading in the Triangle.  While Lucky Chicken in Clayton has emerged as a favorite of Greg Cox, Mami Nora’s has recently expanded into Raleigh from Durham.  The ambience of Mami Nora’s in Raleigh is spartan, but the chicken (and the price) more than make up for it.  I recently ordered a ¼ chicken with two sides for only $5.50.  White meat will set you back $0.50 more, but you do get a fair bit more meat.  Either way, you can’t go wrong.  Inside the dark, flavorful skin was some of the juiciest, most tender chicken meat I’ve had in a long time.  While the white meat was well executed, the dark meat was mouth-wateringly delectable.  A sidebar offers the choice of two sauces, one sort of a mayonnaise-mustard hybrid and the other a potently spicy green salsa-like concoction, but you don’t really need either of them.  For side items, I tried the plantains and black beans.  Both were good, but the soupy, mildly spicy beans were particularly satisfying.  The beans came in a small sytrofoam cup that was easily big enough to share.  I also tried a special jerk chicken sandwich and some french fries.  The sandwich was large, but, surprisingly, a bit bland.  The fries were thinner than the wide-cut ones pictured on their website (and which I don’t usually care for).  They were more of a “Five Guys” style, and they were pretty good.  Mami Nora’s also has a huge selection of Latin sodas and beverages, including Coke with real sugar, Inca Cola, pomegranate drinks, and an intriguiging coconut soda.  They also have excellent caramel cookies.  These shortbread-dulce de leche-powdered sugar disks are crumbly and flavorful, but, at $1.75 each, a bit pricey.  Overall, Mami Nora’s is a great addition to Raleigh.  It’s cheap enough for the whole family, and good enough to keep coming back.  And it may make you forget about certain chain restaurants entirely.

Rating:  * * * *