This year, our annual Taste of the Town tour spanned six different Triangle-based dining destinations during the course of several weeks. We started with appetizers in Apex and ended with desserts in Durham. In between, we enjoyed salads, sushi, burgers and entrees. What’s more, we encountered everything from exquisite fine dining to elbows-on-the-table casual. It was a treacherous assignment, but we persevered!
Here’s the skinny on the places we visited.
It’s fitting that a chef with the pedigree of Phil Evans would own Apex’s first gastro-pub. Evans earned a degree in culinary arts from Paul Smith’s College in New York and spent time in France, Houston and Aspen, even enjoying a stint with Wolfgang Puck. Just a few short years ago, he worked as executive chef at Herons, located in Cary’s renowned Umstead Hotel.
These days, the genial Evans enjoys getting to know patrons by name and takes pleasure in using fresh, seasonal ingredients to prepare everything from chicken wings to burgers. “Virtually all the food is scratch-made, and we put our own twist on the traditional favorites,” he said.
While burgers, sandwiches, salads and the “mains” are all well-represented, an impressive appetizer list is worth more than a second glance. Take, for instance, the dozen styles of chicken wings, including garlic parmesan, honey hot, Miami madness and zesty ranch. There are also two exceedingly scorching wing choices — nuclear explosion and (pardon us for this) rectal fire. “Those are so hot we require customers to sign a waiver before eating them,” Evans said with a smile, but he wasn’t joking. An added bonus: Wings are just 25 cents each on Tuesdays.
Other standout starters include foot-long mozzarella sticks, country sausage dip and the quesadilla club, a mouth-watering concoction featuring corn tortillas filled with refried beans, cheddar and jack cheeses, house-made guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo.
Rudy’s also offers breakfast on Sundays from 8–11:30 a.m., which includes huevos rancheros, pancakes with blueberries or chocolate chips and the massive “Rudy’s,” comprising a six-ounce Angus burger, two eggs over hard, pit-smoked ham, applewood bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and home fries, topped with hollandaise sauce and served on a challah roll. Another plus: Kids eat free all day on Sundays.
Rudy’s is open seven days a week.
Craving fresh, authentic Thai and Vietnamese fare? Look no further than the Lotus Leaf Café. Delicious food and a cozy ambiance await all who visit this charming full-service café, complete with a serene covered patio and a rewarding menu that’s reasonably priced.
The restaurant’s more popular selections include pineapple fried rice, Thai curries and Vietnamese standout dish vegetarian duck with chili, a stir-fried tofu specialty with chili-basil sauce, bell pepper, scallions and onions.
An assortment of distinctive salads feature everything from honey-roasted duck to calamari to spicy shrimp. “The papaya salad is the most popular,” said general manager Ann Pak, who hails from Thailand. This healthful, Thai-style selection steps up to the plate with shredded green papaya, string beans, tomatoes, carrots and roasted peanuts mixed with spices and lime juice.
Daily specials are also available. “We create something out of the ordinary each day that is not on the regular menu,” Pak said.
Be sure to treat yourself to a refreshing Thai iced tea or Saigon coffee along with your meal — you won’t be disappointed.
The Lotus Leaf Café is open for lunch and dinner daily.
This stylish, family-owned restaurant’s slogan couldn’t be truer: “Quality is our recipe.” Indeed, sushi aficionados will find first-rate rolls, sashimi, nigiri and other traditional Japanese fare.
House specialty Ahi Tower features a vertically presented assortment of spicy tuna, crabmeat, avocado and three kinds of caviar. “This is our best selling item,” said Korean-born owner Thomas Sun, who opened Yuri almost a year ago along with his son, Edward.
“Edward has worked as a sushi chef in Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, so he brings a lot of experience with him,” Sun said. Edward added: “We want to emphasize that we use fresh fish whenever possible, because many other places use frozen fish. Our tuna and top-grade salmon are always fresh, never frozen.”
More than three dozen house special rolls are available, including creative concoctions such as the Green Hulk (shrimp tempura with crabmeat, crawfish and baked wasabi cream); the Panic (crabmeat, spicy tuna and jalapeno pepper); and Cary Parkway (soft shell crab, eel, salmon, tuna and seaweed salad). “You won’t see most of these creations anywhere else,” Edward said.
The atmosphere at Yuri is more tranquil than you will find at most other local Asian restaurants, and the service is a cut above as well. “This is a great place for people to come for a quiet business lunch or relaxing dinner,” Sun said.
Yuri is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and nightly for dinner.
Since opening in early 2010, Tribeca Tavern has quickly become the go-to place for distinctive gourmet burgers and regional microbrews. Tribeca is also the first Cary venture for Raleigh-based independent restaurant outfit Rocky Top Hospitality, which also runs popular establishments Mash House, Hi5, Red Room and Twisted Fork.
Tribeca boasts a vibrant, family-friendly sports bar vibe. Large state-of-the-art TVs adorn the walls — even at some individual booth-top tables. A striking 15-foot stone fireplace showcases an oversized photo of a guy eating pizza.
The restaurant’s menu features various salads, sandwiches and entrees all available for less than $15. “We are committed to offering quality food for a good value,” General Manager Rob Pollock said.
The most popular food by far is Tribeca’s prodigious, all-natural burgers. “We source top-quality Blue Ribbon Angus beef from Coastal Cattle Company in Ayden, N.C.,” Pollock said. “We also get artisanal cheeses from places like Chapel Hill Creamery, Ashe County Cheese and Holly Grove Farms.”
Be sure to choose from the impressive “Chef’s Burgers” list, which includes 17 winning options like “You’re My Boy, Blue Burger” with buttermilk blue cheese, roasted red peppers and fried basil, and “Really Mean Mexican,” featuring guacamole, salsa, chipotle coulis, habanero cheddar and fried jalapeños.
Open daily for lunch and dinner, Tribeca offers Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations are accepted, and outdoor seating is available for 100 guests.
Long considered among the state’s preeminent fine dining establishments, the Fearrington House Restaurant is an esteemed Relais & Châteaux member and one of the few places in North Carolina to receive the coveted AAA Five Diamond designation. Situated in an original family farm homestead, the restaurant is also a Certified Green Restaurant thanks to solid environmental responsibility.
If these walls could speak, their words would contain nothing but class. Fearrington’s intimate and elegant dining rooms are furnished with European antiques, distinctly Southern art and delicate fine china. Five welcoming fireplaces also grace the premises, adding the perfect touch of character.
The ever-changing dinner menu at Fearrington (view daily selections online) includes superb main-course offerings such as seared flounder with truffle mashed potatoes and red-wine poached Angus beef tenderloin in potato gnocchi and Maitake mushrooms.
The Fearrington House represents high-end dining at its finest, thanks largely to the culinary masterwork of Executive Chef Colin Bedford. A native of England, Bedford honed his skills as an apprentice at The Castle Hotel, an elite culinary destination in the United Kingdom, and also worked in Ontario’s prestigious Prince of Wales Hotel. Since coming to Fearrington, he has gained exposure to the farm-to-table movement.
“I am a strong believer in using the freshest ingredients possible,” Bedford said. “Some of our produce is harvested from our own gardens, but we also depend on partnerships with local farmers.”
Created to balance the restaurant’s exceptional cuisine, Fearrington’s award-winning wine list features more than 800 outstanding selections. Expert sommelier and Wine Director Maximilian Kast chooses varietals from exclusive growing regions around the world. Wine pairings also offer patrons another opportunity to add adventure to their meal.
As expected, exceptional service reigns supreme at Fearrington. Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday. Reservations, as well as jacket and tie for gentlemen, are highly recommended. When you go, consider arriving early and strolling through the romantic ornamental gardens that surround the house.
The Federal I Download Story
914 West Main St., Durham
Locals call it the Fed, a fusion of no-frills bar with top-flight cuisine. Where else will you find hanging cage lights illuminating your saffron risotto entrée? Make no mistake: The cement floor, black vinyl seats, stainless steel tables and vintage memorabilia adorning the walls will remind you that you didn’t come to this diamond-in-the-rough establishment for the ambiance. You came for the food.
Somehow, magically, it works.
Laid-back chef Scott McKenney, who has worked in various restaurant and resort kitchens since he was a teenager, enjoys uninhibited freedom to create ever-changing specials. “We don’t really have a set format, so we can cook whatever we want,” the Durham native said. “Our menu spans the globe, and we change it every season.”
Even at lunchtime, inventive concoctions abound. To wit: chicken liver pate with cherry-shallot marmalade; Belgian endive salad with roasted beats and cornmeal-encrusted goat cheese; and beer-braised pork carnitas with fresh salsa, cilantro and guacamole.
Whatever you do, don’t overlook dessert. On the day the Cary Magazine crew rolled in, McKenney whipped up fresh strawberry shortcake, crème brûlée with blackberry compote and a life-changing good flourless chocolate cake topped with peanut-infused caramel sauce and made-in-house vanilla ice cream. Needless to say, it was well worth the drive.
The Federal is open daily for lunch and dinner, and outdoor seating is available. A website is not.
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