Best New Restaurant

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill has been well received in Western Wake, as noted by its Maggy win for Best New Restaurant.

“Our Morrisville location has been a welcome addition to the Triangle area,” said marketing manager Becky Hall. “Guests love the convenience of our location at Park West Shopping Center next to the Stone Park West 14 Cinemas, and gathering at our FIREBAR and patio for Happy Hour."

Based in Charlotte, Firebirds has 36 locations across the country, featuring bold selections prepared in-house like hand-cut steaks, fresh seafood, chicken and ribs, all seared over local hickory, oak and pecan wood.

Popular menu items, Hall says, include the restaurant’s signature Lobster Spinach Queso appetizer, the Firebirds BLT Salad, filet mignon, slow-roasted prime rib, Wood-Grilled Salmon (recipe at right) and Crème Brulee Cheesecake.

On the kids’ menu, items such as grilled chicken and fresh fruit and vegetable sides are certified by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program.

Firebirds also partners with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to help fight childhood cancer, donating $1 to ALSF for every fresh-squeezed lemonade purchase.

Honorable mentions in this category go to two other big-hit newbies on the Western Wake restaurant scene, City Barbeque and Blackfinn Ameripub.

Firebirds’ Wood Grilled Salmon

Serves 4 8-ounce salmon filets
Kosher salt, to taste
Cracked black pepper, to taste

For Key Lime Butter:
2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup fresh key lime juice or Nellie’s Key Lime Juice
2 tablespoons A.1. Steak Sauce  
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon shallot, chopped
1/2 tablespoon chipotle pepper, chopped  
1 tablespoon honey

For Key Lime Butter:
Combine all ingredients, except butter, in a blender and puree. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Using a stand-up mixer or hand mixer, whip the butter on low speed, slowly incorporating the pureed ingredients until well blended.
Use immediately or store in airtight container in refrigerator or freezer for future use.

For Salmon:
Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Place on the grill, skin side up, and cook until medium well.
Plate salmon and top with one tablespoon of Key Lime Butter per each salmon filet.
Recipe courtesy of Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

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Best New Restaurant

Restaurant Profile:
Dean’s Seafood Grill & Bar

Fresh is best. That’s essentially the credo at Dean’s Seafood Grill & Bar, Cary’s newest outpost for well-prepared fish and other sea-centric fare that was likely hauled in just days before being served. The restaurant also just nabbed a Cary Magazine Maggy Award for Best New Restaurant.

The restaurant’s primary hook? An impressive seafood menu that changes weekly and features seasonal offerings from around the country — including Alaska and Hawaii — and beyond. Whether it’s mahi mahi, Corvina sea bass or Opelu Kala (unicorn fish), variety abounds. Of course, then there are selections like rainbow trout and bigeye tuna caught right off the North Carolina coast.

The menu provides a handy lexicon to enlighten. Consider these pearls of wisdom: Sea scallops are day-boat caught; black drum’s mild flavor is comparable to red snapper; and Virginia-sourced Chincoteague oysters boast skinny, elongated shells and deliver a salty punch.  

Among the standout seafood specialties, the pistachio-encrusted salmon is served with grilled asparagus and wild rice pilaf.

Seafood and shellfish are available grilled, pan-seared or fried — or, in the case of oysters and clams, raw or pan-steamed. Oyster enthusiasts would be well served to order the sampler, which features bacon-wrapped, casino, Rockefeller and buttermilk-fried.

Standout seafood specialties include pistachio-encrusted salmon served alongside impeccably grilled asparagus; shrimp and  scallop gnochetti suffused with sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, capers and prosciutto; and blackened fish tacos containing chipotle ranch slaw and tomatillo-cilantro salsa.

More than a dozen distinctive “accompaniments” range from Thai peanut sauce and lemon-tarragon aioli to mango chili sauce and cumin-tinged spicy harissa garlic butter.
Salivating yet?

If you’re not in the mood for seafood, a “food without fins” menu section offers tantalizing choices such as the wood-fired filet, ribeye, New York strip and even a double bacon burger with smoked blue and hoop cheddar cheeses. An orange-mint-marmalade-infused pork chop also deserves serious consideration.

A $6 kids menu includes entrée, drink and dessert. Besides the requisite chicken tenders, mac and cheese and burgers, children 10 and younger can choose to relish out-of-the-ordinary items like grilled salmon, fried shrimp, barbecue ribs and wood-fired crab legs.

The bounteous oyster sampler features bacon-wrapped, casino, Rockefeller and buttermilk fried varieties.

Save room for dessert. Among the nine irresistible choices, you can’t go wrong with white chocolate banana bread pudding, peanut butter brownie cake with warm chocolate ganache, or the vanilla bean crème brulee.  Most desserts are sized to share, especially the indulgent chocolate sampler with enough goodness for two people or more.  

Proprietor Dean Ogan, owner of Rocky Top Hospitality, which also runs local establishments Twisted Fork, The Daily Planet Café and Rocky Top Catering, opened Dean’s  in January 2013 and considers his newest establishment a comfortable place with something for everyone to enjoy.

“We put a strong emphasis on providing a high level of service for our guests,” Ogan said. “Training is intensive, and it results in a really knowledgeable and educated staff who know the menu inside and out.”

When it comes to libations, 14 craft beers are presented on tap, and more than 80 wine selections plus a signature cocktail list vie for consideration. Nightly specials are an attractive draw, including happy hour in the bar from 5 to 6 p.m., with half-priced oysters, shellfish, appetizers and $5 burgers. A tempting Sunday brunch buffet, which is served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., features all-you-want oysters and peel-and-eat shrimp.

An upscale casual décor features deep ocean blue walls and attractive earth-tone striped banquettes. Custom aquatic-themed sculptures created by local metalsmith Nelson R. Smith are showcased in the center of the dining room.

“Nelson did a beautiful fish sculpture that my wife and I have in our home, so it’s nice that he could design such great pieces of modern art that really stand out in the restaurant,” said Ogan.

What’s more, the walls are adorned with black-and-white framed photos from Ogan’s various globetrotting excursions.

Dean’s is open daily for dinner. Private rooms and an adaptable patio are available year-round for large parties and group dining events. Reservations are accepted.

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