You’ve got to eat, right?
Then you might as well get your fill from the innovative chefs and restaurateurs who are keeping the Triangle up to the moment with the food scene’s hottest and latest. Creative flavors, traditional techniques and unique ingredients — here are five trends to put on your plate, now.
Salsa verde, fresh corn tortillas and cilantro may not sound like your typical breakfast, but at Verandah in Cary, those ingredients are satisfying diners daily.
Listed alongside Southern breakfast staples like biscuits and gravy and eggs Benedict, the Mexican-inspired breakfast bowl and pork montadas stand out with flavors inspired by executive chef Steve Zanini’s childhood.
“It’s new and different, but still approachable,” said Deanna Crossman, owner of Verandah and The Mayton Inn. “It’s Southern comfort with international inspiration.”
The pork montadas star house-smoked pulled pork, but in this case the Southern delicacy is layered between corn tortillas and topped with salsa verde, jack cheese, eggs and a blistered jalapeno.
Then there’s the Verandah breakfast bowl, which sounds a lot like a burrito bowl (with rice, beans, kale and avocado), until you realize it’s breakfast, and you get to add cheese, eggs, bacon or sausage. The breakfast bowl (without the additions) is vegan, an important offering according to Chris Santucci, executive sous chef.
“We wanted to have something available for vegans. If you make something up on the fly, it’s maybe not as good as something you’ve actually put thought into and composed,” he said.
“The community here is really international. They might be wanting to try out some of the Southern dishes, but they might want to try something else. We’re just here to offer it.”
301 S. Academy St., Cary
Trend watch: Also seen at First Watch in Cary and Brigs Restaurant.
“It’s really easy to do,” said Chef Sean Fowler of Mandolin, where more than two dozen types of pickled fruits and vegetables have appeared on the Raleigh restaurant’s menu.
Mandolin uses a mixture of vinegar, water, sugar, fresh herbs and spices to pickle everything from green strawberries and okra to ramps and, of course, cucumbers — much in the same way Fowler’s grandmother did.
“I see a larger movement of going back to more traditional methods of preparation and preservation,” he said.
Artisan pickles are appearing in all types of restaurants, from the neighborhood sandwich shop to innovative fine dining establishments.
Nostalgia plays a part in the trend, but he says unique flavors are also highlighted through pickling.
“The new generation of chefs has found creative ways to keep pickling relevant and make them taste better and different than our grandmother’s pickles,” said Fowler.
At Mandolin, pickles are incorporated into entrees for a unique jolt of vinegary flavor. Or try the pickle plate to sample an assortment of preserved produce.
“The great thing about pickling is you can enjoy an ingredient when it’s not in season,” he said.
2519 Fairview Road, Raleigh
Trend watch: At the Umstead Bar & Lounge, you’ll find pickled okra, ramps and more.
At Pro’s Epicurean Market and Café, charcuterie plates have been one of the most popular orders along with menu favorites like quiche Lorraine and Italian specialty sandwiches. Chef and owner Richard Procida, “Pro,” didn’t initially know how the platters would perform.
“We were not sure how (charcuterie) would be embraced. There weren’t a lot of places in the area that were doing that,” he said. “The response has just been amazing.”
Artisan cheese, olives, cornichons, dried fruit, mustard and jam are all featured on Pro’s Epicurean’s charcuteries, which can be ordered as small plates or catering trays, but the standouts are the cured meats — imported specialties from Spain, France and Italy.
“Salami with pistachios and lemon, or orange zest and oregano. The flavors are incredible,” said Procida.
And he thinks the interest in charcuterie will continue to increase.
“More and more people are experiencing it. They are more available than they used to be,” he said Procida. “This is all about excitement for the food. People want to try different things.”
Procida grew up with strong Italian food traditions, like six-course holiday dinners set for 20. He opened his retail market and café to share a love of food with others.
“When you see people talking about the different foods, that’s where the excitement really comes in,” he said. “When it’s like, ‘Oh my, here’s something I’ve never tasted before, and it’s amazing.’”
Pro’s Epicurean Market & Café
211 East Chatham St., Cary
Trend watch: Dean’s Kitchen+Bar also serves a charcuterie and cheese board.
Authentic Global Cuisine
It’s not difficult to find area restaurants serving Vietnamese, Indian, Ethiopian or Cuban cuisines, to name a few. This local appreciation of authentic world flavors is mirrored on the national scene.
Bo Kwon thinks Korean is poised to become the next darling of the national food scene.
“In the ‘80s, Chinese food was exploding in popularity, then Japanese. This time it feels like Korean food is on a wave,” he said.
Kwon owns Bo’s Kitchen, a Korean food truck, that he operates with his wife, mother-in-law and father-in-law. Cooking with family is familiar to Kwon, who grew up in Seoul learning to cook in his home kitchen.
“We had a thousand different types of mom’s recipes, for things like kimchi and bulgogi,” he said.
Both of which he’s now sharing with Western Wake residents. On the food truck the most popular offerings are the mandu or Korean dumplings, and traditional bulgogi, which is offered with beef, pork or chicken over rice and served with kimchi (a fermented cabbage side dish) and Bo’s sauce, made with one of Korean cuisine’s flavor powerhouses — gochujang.
“Gochujang is red pepper powder, rice powder and soy sauce base, then fermented,” Kwon said. The result is flavorful — but not overly spicy — with a little sweetness.
Trend watch: Try Guasaca Arepa & Salsa Grill in Morrisville for Venezuelan or Awaze in Cary for Ethiopian.
Hawaiian for “cubed” or “sliced,” poke is a raw fish salad, frequently served with rice, sauce and a variety of toppings. Widely available on the West Coast, this island favorite has made its way to the Triangle.
Janet Lee of Zenfish Poké Bar grew up eating poke on visits to Hawaii and in California, where she says poke restaurants are as common as Starbucks. After attending Duke University, she opened ZenFish, first in Durham and now Morrisville, as an outlet for spreading love through food.
“Poke is a much more fun way to eat a salad,” she said. “It’s an easy, delicious way to eat your veggies.”
Zenfish offers countless ways to customize a bowl, and friendly staff are happy to guide guests through the ordering process.
“It can be overwhelming because of all the options. We simplify it choice by choice,” Lee said.
Start with a base, typically rice, but quinoa, green salad and zucchini spirals are also options. Next pick a protein, such as house tuna, salmon or yellowtail. Much of the fish is served raw, but shrimp and tofu are among many cooked options. Then you’ve got toppings galore to choose from: mango, green onions, edamame, seaweed salad, kimchi, avocado and seven housemade sauces.
“Poke is all about the sauce, quality of the fish and the toppings,” Lee said. “You can eat at different places and have a totally different experience because of the unique sauces.”
It’s great for restricted diets, too. Zenfish’s sauces are gluten-free, and since bowls are made to order, you can select each ingredient according to your needs.
ZenFish Poké Bar
9924 Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville
Trend watch: Also seen at Hi Poke in Morrisville and Kale Me Crazy in Cary.