Fasten Your Seatbelts, this food tour is about to begin. This “What I Eight” from the week of June 25 is a bit of a travelogue as it will take you from practically one end of North Carolina to the other with a list of tasty bites you simply must try when you find yourself traveling, as I did last week, between Raleigh and the coast of this Old North State.
It all started with a trip to our state’s capital city. For the past three years, the NCRLA ( The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association) has hired me to organize and host an event called the NCRLA Chef Showdown. The Showdown this year takes place in Charlotte on Aug 27, 2018. Twenty-One chefs and pastry chefs ( and six mixologists) from across the state will be competing for the top honors of the NCRLA Chef of the Year, Pastry Chef of the Year and Mixologist of the Year. You can read a general description about the event ( and purchase tickets) here. Stay tuned for more, as you’ll be getting details from me next week when we announce the final list of competing chefs; but for now its enough to say I was in Raleigh for the third in a series of private semi-final rounds of competition. My day on Monday featured ten talented chefs in Central NC each cooking a dish and contending for a spot in the Aug 27 event. This third semi final round followed our first round in New Bern, NC for Eastern NC chefs; and our second round in Hickory NC for Western NC chefs.
The What I Eight (and what I sipped): Vidrio Restaurant in Raleigh NC
This third round of NCRLA Chef Showdown semi finals, was held at Vidrio, a beautiful family-owned Mediterranean restaurant at 500 Glenwood Avenue. The “What I Eight” here all came from the extensive menu of Greek-style tapas plates and exciting craft cocktails. After our day of competition in the gorgeous upstairs private dining area – I couldn’t help but snap a quick photo of the Greek tiles floors upstairs. Then, our team took some time to gather round the table ourselves and enjoy the food and drink on the menu at Vidrio.
While I am not a big tequila drinker the “Perla Grenada”, crafted with Lunazul Tequila, Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, Lemon, Pomegranate Foam, Grenadine Pearls was deliciously fun. The drink was refreshing and though slightly sweet, packed enough of a punch, that I knew I probably shouldn’t have said yes to another. The grenadine pearls added a playful touch – like bubble tea on steroids. The Taylor’s Velvet Falernum used in this cleverly crafted cocktail was new to me, but with just one sip I now know its a must for my summer bar ( and yours too!) – its a an infusion of spices and lime juice into sugar cane syrup and Barbados Rum to make a liqueur made for mixing the most fabulous of summer cocktails. Get some today!
The What I Sipped at Vidrio was followed by a host of the “What I Eight” – a spicy lamb sausage bruschetta topped with manchego, lemon and a well done sofrito; a melt-in-your-mouth baked barrel-aged feta with sweet and hot chilies, roasted onion, Greek oregano and a side of fresh baked pita on which to slather it all. A fabulous Risotto Nero followed with black rice, mushrooms, kale, pecorino, herb butter and this wood oven charred octopus served on a bed of corona beans and dressed with a delicious chorizo vinaigrette rounded out our tapas selections. Honestly, I had stopped eating and ordering octopus as I generally find it to be over done, but this was octopus baked to perfection and the oversized tender corona beans ( like giant limas) and the chorizo vinaigrette were the icing on the cake! If I lived in Raleigh, I would order this one time and time again. Make reservations at Vidrio for your next trip to Raleigh – check out the menu for more details on the “What I Eight” at VidrioRaleigh.com.
A summer media tour to Eastern North Carolina, offered a lot of the “What I Eight” this past week. All from small, for the most part, unheard of, independently-owned restaurants between Raleigh and the Outer Banks. All of it worth a stop the next time you head northeast to the Carolina coast. #TellThemHeidiSentYou
The second half of the last week in June, my food-centric travels took me from Raleigh, NC to the north eastern part of the state. On this interactive media tour sponsored by my good friends at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, we made several stops to learn more from local farmers about large production produce operations, North Carolina fisheries & more. I will have stories and social media posts to share about the trip for many months ahead, so stay tuned; but for now, the next four additions to this week’s “What I Eight” agenda are all from places we stopped for a meal on our travels between Raleigh and Nags Head and all the great little North Carolina towns in between.
The What I Eight: Tomato Pudding at Nothing Fancy Cafe in Edenton, NC
If your travels across the Carolinas have yet to take you to Edenton, NC, you must make plans to visit soon! This charming and historic town is nestled on the Albemarle Sound in Chowan County. Edenton, is the county seat of Chowan County and is located on the northern end of North Carolina’s Inner Banks region, just 30 minutes south of Elizabeth City, NC. We started our visit to Edenton with a wonderful lunch hosted by farmer Jeff Smith of AJ Smith & Sons, one of the most diversified farms in this part of North Carolina farm land. Jeff and his three brothers are the second generation to run this family farm and now Jeff’s nephew Brandon and his granddaughter Samantha work the farm as well. More to come about Smith’s nearly 70 year old farm operation and the original Turkey Neck Farm property in another post; but first lets talk about the “What I Eight” at a lovely lunch at Nothing Fancy Cafe at 701 North Broad Street in Edenton.
This popular little cafe is a mom and pop “meat & three” style diner and a vintage shop with used books, knick knacks and whatnots, all rolled into one. On the menu: long time Southern classics such as Cathy’s Mom’s Meatloaf, liver and onions ( One of Jeff’s favorites), Aunt Delsie’s Salmon Cakes, Hot Pickled Herring and Mrs.Boswell’s Cornbread. The “What I Eight” here was a vegetable plate with chicken pot pie soup and a side of Aunt Delsie’s Tomato Pudding. I don’t know exactly who Aunt Delsie is, or how she is related to the restaurant, but I can tell you the woman can cook. I adore tomatoes anytime of the year, and this tomato pudding, an old time Eastern North Carolina recipe is spot on – its sort of a cross between stewed tomatoes and a tomato chutney. All Jeff could tell me about the recipe – which I am in search of even as you read this – is that it is baked in the oven. All I can tell you about this “What I Eight” from Nothing Fancy Cafe in Edenton, North Carolina is that it was fabulous and has left me craving more. You can follow Nothing Fancy cafe to learn more on their Facebook feed at @NothingFancyCafe . And, if you know Aunt Delsie or have her recipe for tomato pudding, please send it my way!
The What I Eight: Stuffed Cabbage Roll at Cypress Creek Grille in Elizabeth City, NC
After the afternoon harvesting cucumbers on the farm with Jeff; a lovely carriage ride through Edenton and a climb up inside the 1886 Historic Roanoke River Lighthouse, we headed to the Fairfield Inn in Elizabeth City, NC to freshen up before dinner at another locally owned restaurant, The Cypress Creek Grill. This local restaurant is owned and operated by Chef Brad Chambers and his family and is all about serving local produce and proteins. The dinner we very much enjoyed featured a menu prepared just for us with as much local Got To Be NC as Brad could get his hands on, but his style is American cuisine, and he does it well. I loved the jalapeno bites we enjoyed to start. I decided to make the plate of local soft crab a picture perfect photo opt – so I actually took it outside and walked across the street with the plate to get a shot of the crispy crab by the lovely Pasquotank river – check out my Instagram feed or my Heidi Billotto Cooks Facebook page to take a look at this one! It was a delightful evening, but if pressed, I would have to say my favorite “What I Eight” this night was the expertly prepared stuffed cabbage roll with local cabbage, local beef and a host of other local just harvested veggies. Delicious stuff – go see Brad and the crew at Cypress Creek Grill when next you find yourself in Elizabeth City – you won’t regret it! Find out more and read their whole story on their website here.
The What I Eight: Award winning Sweet Potato Liverwurst and Curry Ketchup at Weeping Radish Brewery in Grandy, NC
Lets start with the historic importance of Weeping Radish. The brewery holds the distinction of being the first ever micro brewery in North Carolina. Yep, that’s right – before there was ever anything in Asheville or Charlotte, there was Weeping Radish Brewery in Manteo, NC. In fact owner Uli Bennewitz is the one to thank for making micro brewing legal in the state of North Carolina. He came to the Outer Banks in the 1980s and had the idea to open a brewery like the ones he enjoyed in his home of Bavaria. His brother sold him the family business, just one problem: such a thing was illegal in North Carolina, so Uli set to get the law changed. He did and now with some 260 GotToBeNC Micro-breweries later, the rest as they say, is history.
Yet, my interest in Weeping Radish was not about what you’ll find in the steins – for me it was all about the sausage.
You see Bennewitz’s reputation proceeded him, as he is the one responsible for making the oh so fabulous local hot dogs once available from Charlotte area certified organic grass fed and finished beef at Proffitt Farms in Kings Mountain, NC; the grass fed and finished Angus beef at Poplin Farms in Albemarle, NC; the pasture raised, rotationally grazed beef at Gilcrest Farms in Iton Station NC ; and for others as well. I am sad to say “Once” because due to a host of state and federal restrictions and regulations that cannot be adjusted for a small production like that at Weeping Radish, it has become too hard and too costly to make and privately label hot dogs and brats for local ranchers. I thankfully have two packages of this fabulous hot dogs in my freezer to be on the “What I Eight” list later this summer, but after that they will only be the stuff that dreams are made of.
The good news is that you can go to visit Weeping Radish, now located in Grandy, NC in Currituck County on the Outer Banks and make your own dreams come true! On our visit, we toured the facility and tasted pairings of beer and sausage at Weeping Radish before we enjoyed a hearty lunch of all that Uli and his team do so well.
The “What I Eight” this day for me was the award winning Weeping Radish Sweet Potato Liverwurst. It is smooth and creamy, with a slightly sweet note that comes from local sweet potatoes and is a delicious way to start any meal. I enjoyed it as an appetizer that I shared with my table of fellow food bloggers sliced thick atop toasted slices of bread, but you can by it in a roll from the Weeping Radish deli case and take it home to enjoy in a myriad of ways.
As we were mid trip and temps were soaring in the high 90s for the whole of our three day excursion, I decided not to try to pack up sausage, hot dogs, brats and the delicious liverwurst to take home, but I did purchase two jars of Uli’s famous curry ketchup – the perfect condiment to anything you’d like to slather it on or dip it in! Can you say, #IllHaveWhatHeidisHaving ? Find out more about Weeping Radish on their busy social media feeds or on their website and plan to visit Uli and his team soon!
After our lunch at Weeping Radish our travels took us to Nags Heads where we checked into a lovely little hotel called the Oasis Suites. Nestled on the island with views of the Roanoke Sound and of the ocean across the street, The Oasis Suites Hotel offers lovely rooms with charming kitchenettes and dining areas, separate living rooms and bedrooms and large baths with walk in showers and whirlpool tubs. Each room has one or two little balconies to take in the waterfront views and there is a gazebo on the sound side for taking in the sunsets and sun rises. Its a wonderful place to call home base for your stay at the Outer Banks. For more info visit their website and make reservations for your OuterBanks getaway anytime of the year
The What I Eight: Locally Caught Soft Shell Crabs at Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe in Nags Head, NC
Just up the road from the Oasis is the historic Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe. The long standing family owned restaurant is practically synonymous with the mention of the words, “Nags Head”. All the fish on the menu comes from North Carolina and most is locally caught. I love the fact that fisherman are mentioned on the menu under the listing of every fresh catch. This night my ‘What I Eight” was the platter of perfectly fried soft crabs we ordered for the table to share. the crabs were cut in half making them an easier appetizer and were ever so lightly coated and then flash fried – the way soft crabs were meant to be served. For a recipe you can make yourself at home, check out this post from a trip I took to the coast last year.
The What I Eight: Breakfast Pizza from Mandolino’s Artisan Pizza in Davidson, NC
Nothing like a tour hosted by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture to drive home the importance of shopping and eating local. So once I was home from the tour I decided to hop back on the road again headed to Davidson NC to see what was shakin’ at the Saturday morning Davidson Farmers’ Market. The results of my trip were a lot of local for dishes I wanted to cook this week. You’ll be reading about them all and more on these pages next week. But, the news here is that as I was headed back to the car with my locally grown and produced goodies, I stopped in at the new Mandolino’s Artisan Pizza for a taste of what was on the menu. The breakfast pizza seemed the perfect answer for an after market Saturday morning brunch option. The oven baked and wood oven finished dough offered the perfect crispy crunch and this morning’s toppings of cheese, artichoke, sun dried tomatoes and a fried egg, all finished with drizzlings of pesto, EVOO and fresh basil leaves, really hit the spot. To see all the menu options at Mandolino’s Artisan Pizza visit their website here.
Thats a wrap on this “What I Eight”. With the Fourth of July holiday plop in the middle of the week this year, the cooking and the “What I Eight” list for this week has already begun – can’t wait to tell you all about it! Cheers!