Restaurant Profile: Scratch Kitchen & Taproom

Scratch’s poke bowl comes with tuna, sushi rice, wakame salad, avocado, cucumber, edamame and a wasabi-miso crema.

One glance at the menu reveals that Scratch Kitchen & Taproom in downtown Apex does things differently than most restaurants. That’s good news for adventurous regulars and would-be guests.

Meredith and Jeff Kromenhoek left the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Triangle, and in 2018, they opened Scratch Kitchen & Taproom in downtown Apex.

“We like to put our unique spin on everything,” said co-proprietor Jeff Kromenhoek, who spent 20 years running restaurants in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “If you like to experiment and try new things, Scratch is the place for you.”

Its rendition of a BLT sandwich, for example, is next-level good. Bacon is candied and finely diced. Tomatoes are a house-smoked green variety. The lettuce? Arugula. Then there’s the bread, a sourdough provided by Fuquay’s Stick Boy Bread Company. The mayo is a house-made kimchi-infused spread, in keeping with the restaurant’s Asian-influenced American cuisine.

Kromenhoek and his wife, Meredith, partnered with friends Jonathan and Maggie Pierce, owners of The Mason Jar Tavern and Mason Jar Lager Company, to open Scratch in September 2018.

“We share the same vision when it comes to hospitality, quality and family values,” Jeff Kromenhoek said. “We want to nourish an environment where there is a positive and encouraging culture.”

The restaurant, housed in Apex’s historic Tobacco and Mule Exchange Building, features exposed brick walls and wide plank flooring.

The dining room’s decor is informal and inviting. Eye-catching elements like a giant wagon wheel chandelier, shiplap, exposed brick walls and wide plank flooring catch the eye. The throwback accoutrements fit the vintage vibe of the historic Tobacco and Mule Exchange building that houses Scratch.

Prior to meals, each guest receives a small dampened cloth for cleaning their hands. It’s a good prerequisite to the overall dining experience, as the kitchen churns out ambitious offerings with generous portions.

The California Round appetizer consists of tempura shrimp and krab salad resting on a crispy rice patty and glazed with firecracker sauce.

Among the distinctive appetizers, the pimento cheese wontons stand apart from the pack. Cold-smoked pimento cheese is stuffed into wonton wrappers and fried to order. The wontons are served with a red pepper jam to provide a touch of sweetness.

Pork belly bites arrive at the table tossed with Brussels sprouts in a Thai chili-hoisin glaze. Street corn features roasted garlic and truffle aioli, cotija cheese and fresh cilantro.

When it comes to entrees, the cast-iron chicken is a star attraction. Infused with lemon and rosemary, the half chicken comes accompanied with butternut squash and caramelized Brussels sprouts.

Cocktails include the bloody mary, with pickled veggies and candied bacon.

Scratch’s take on shrimp and grits arranges tempura-battered crustaceans atop piquant stone-ground cheese grits. Vegetarian-friendly General Tso cauliflower involves sticky rice crowned with crispy florets tossed in a tangy Hunan-style sauce.

Feeling gluttonous? A truffle-imbued lobster mac and cheese is as decadent as it is delectable.

“Instead of heavy cream, we use lobster bisque as the base,” Jeff Kromenhoek said.

Cold-smoked pimento cheese and wonton wrappers combine for a distinctive appetizer.

For a healthier alternative, choose a tuna poke bowl with wakame salad, sushi rice, avocado, edamame, cucumber, wasabi-miso crema and mirin-soy glaze. Teeming with a confluence of flavors, the popular Korean bibimbap bowl features shaved, marinated ribeye steak, fresh spinach, carrots, grilled green onions, pickled red onions and an over-easy egg.

Leave room for the Coco Seduction, with chocolate mousse, graham cracker tuile, chocolate truffle and a chocolate-dipped marshmallow.

Brunch on Sunday, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., provides an opportunity to enjoy scrumptious dishes like Sriracha-inflected avocado toast, smoked salmon biscuit Benedict and a pork-belly bowl with scrambled eggs. Try the French toast flambeed with bourbon, maple syrup and fresh ginger. It’s topped with blueberries and house made whipped cream. Or settle in with a loaded bloody mary, containing mozzarella, pickled veggies, shrimp and pork rinds.

Leave room for dessert, as any of four scratch-made sweet treats are splurge-worthy. There’s a classic creme brulee; Coco Seduction containing chocolate mousse; and Muddy Jar with Kahlua coffee mud pie, chocolate fudge, chocolate-covered espresso beans and whipped cream on an Oreo crust. Don’t resist the strawberry rhubarb trifle highlighting layers of pound cake, pomegranate vanilla custard, fruit compote and whipped cream.

Libations at Scratch will not disappoint. Nearly two dozen beers are on tap, most of which are from local brewers like Southern Peak Brewery in Apex, Four Saints Brewing Company in Asheboro and Bond Brothers Beer Company in Cary. Creative cocktails and wine by the glass or bottle are available.

“What has really taken off for us are the bourbons and whiskeys,” Jeff Kromenhoek said.

“There really is something here for everyone,” added Meredith Kromenhoek.

The reimagined BLT has bacon, arugula and smoked green tomatoes between slices of Stick Boy’s sourdough bread.

The Kromenhoeks met in the U.S. Virgin Islands and have been married for nine years. The couple lives in Holly Springs and has three children.

As it turns out, Meredith Kromenhoek possesses a special talent that extends beyond her everyday ownership duties.

“She’s our resident baby whisperer,” said her husband, with a laugh. “If there’s ever a baby in here, and Meredith is working the floor, often parents are more than willing to let her take the child and walk around so the adults can enjoy their meal.”

Open seven days a week, Scratch is closed for lunch on Mondays and does not accept reservations. A cozy, covered patio seats approximately 30 guests.

Scratch Kitchen & Taproom
225 N. Salem St., Apex
(919) 372-5370


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