Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review of Church Street Pub & Deli, Swansboro


          Megan and I are still exploring the restaurant scene in the Crystal Coast, however when we felt in the mood for a deli sandwich, we knew that we had to try the Church Street Deli.  I had been hearing many good things from locals in the area, and I love the historic district of Swansboro, so I had big expectations upon arriving.  In my mind, I was picturing a wonderfully thick sandwich, made with the best quality ingredients that would have an intense flavor making me want to come back every day.  In reality, the sandwich was rather depressing and left me wanting more, much, much more. 
            We followed another couple into the deli (not the bar area, the deli) and the sign said to seat yourself.  We all did.  Then the waiting began.  Three minutes, five minutes, seven minutes, eventually a waitress noticed us and said she would be right back.  Ten minutes later, she returned and we got to order drinks.  Service…poor. 
"Famous" Grilled Reuben
          I ordered the “Famous Grilled Reuben”.  It was their thinly slicked corned beef on grilled rye bread with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and by my choice, the Thousand Island dressing.  While the flavor was actually quite good, the quantity of the sandwich was minute.  Thinly sliced apparently also meant thin quantity.  Two slices of bread, sauerkraut, corned beef, Swiss, and the dressing still made up a sandwich of less than an inch in thickness.  I don’t know if this is the normal quantity or a rare exception where they ran out of corned beef without giving me the option to change, but it was disappointing.  After the sandwich, the small amount of potato chips in the basket, the super thin pickle, and slice of orange, I was still famished.  This could be a great $5.99 lunch or after-school snack, but this was no dinner portion.  And at the price of $9.95 for the sandwich, it is absurd! 
            Megan ordered the “Fabulous French Dip”, light on the grilled onions.  It was anything but 
"Fabulous " French Dip
fabulous.  It had no flavor, like none.  The accompanying au jus didn’t even have the flavor of a mild beef broth.  There was no slight thickness to it either, it had the consistency of brown water, and a similar taste.  Again, the small sandwich and accompanying sides were not enough for a dinner.  At least my sandwich had good flavor, this roast beef did not even have that.
            I really am hoping that since we were at the Church Street Deli on a Tuesday, it was just an unfortunate series of missteps.  We never did get a refill on our drinks.  However, I really do not see the point in going back to Church Street Deli to overpay for an inadequate meal.  We actually had to pick up some Chinese appetizers afterward to fill our stomachs.  


Category
Scale 1-5 stars
Food Quality
\bigstar\bigstar
Food Creativity
\bigstar\bigstar
Service
\bigstar
Atmosphere
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Value for the Price
 \bigstar\bigstar

Friday, March 22, 2013

Review of Riverside Steak & Seafood, Swansboro


            Upon moving to Swansboro, there were two restaurants that our friends recommended that we had to try, Yanna’s and the Riverside.  First up was Riverside, and I can tell you that our friends were not kidding, Riverside Steak and Seafood is fantastic!  From the appetizer to the salad to the entrée, our meal was just great.  In fact, it was so good, that we were back three days later, and then again a week after that.

Scallop Nachos
            For our appetizer, we ordered Scallop Nachos.  We are talking about lightly blackened Sea Scallops topped with cheese on top of homemade tortilla chips.  It was combined with black beans, sun dried tomatoes, and house-made salsa.  Then, it was lightly broiled to melt the cheese.  This dish was epic!  It was eight huge sea scallops on top of perfection.  While this dish is not on the menu, only an occasionally special, ask for it anytime you visit the Riverside.  This dish was absolute perfection in a bite.  I don’t know which of the chefs, Steve or Jeff, made this dish, but they deserve to be nominated for a James Beard award for the simple perfection of this appetizer.  No question about it, this is the best appetizer that I have ever eaten. I have yet to hear of anyone who hasn't fallen in love with this dish. 

           Each dinner came with a salad and muffin.  Normally, I wouldn’t write about the salad, but each one of their dressings are homemade.  The blue cheese dressing had at least three ounces of blue cheese chunks in it.  It was creamy and delicious.  The Parmesan peppercorn was fabulous.  However, the best dressing that they make is the Hot Bacon dressing.  Yes, it is warm, so don’t be shocked, but it is a fabulous vinegar (probably balsamic) reduction with chunks of bacon in it.  Our waiter, Jimmy, told us an amazing tip.  Get the Hot Bacon dressing, but then ask for honey mustard dressing on the side.  The combination was phenomenal!  Jimmy, by the way is such a good waiter.  Make sure to ask for his section, because not only is he great, but he can make perfect recommendation on dishes, alterations, etc.  Really, it is worth waiting just to be in his section and if he advises it, believe me, you want to order it.  The muffin was a fresh-baked Sweet Potato muffin.  Each bite is just sheer perfection.  I understand why they sell them separately; they are so, so good.  You don’t even need butter on them, though I would prefer it were available. 

Salmon Oscar
 In our three times at the Riverside Steak & Seafood, each dinner has been good, not as good as the appetizers, but still very good.  In our times there, we have had Salmon Oscar, Shrimp & Grits, Tuna & Grits, The Carpetbagger (Filet & Shrimp), and Lobster Ravioli with Shrimp in a pesto cream sauce.  While each was a quality, hearty dish, there are two that I would like to highlight.  First, would be the Salmon Oscar.  I was served a huge piece of salmon; I mean a 12-16 ounce slab of fish.  It was cooked perfectly with asparagus, and potatoes.  On top was crab; now the crab was cold, which was a bit shocking, but still, very fresh, great crab.  The hollandaise sauce topping everything was mildly lemony and of an ideal creaminess.  The combination was heaven in a bite. 

Tuna & Havarti Grits
            The other dish that blew me away was the Tuna & Grits.  It was a delicious Havarti grit cake topped with a large cut of sashimi grade tuna that I ordered seared.  The dish was topped with long cuts of Tasso ham and a light citrus buerre blanc sauce.  On the side were season vegetables.  Honestly, nothing beats fresh tuna, unless you combine it with grits. 

            All of the other dishes were good, Megan loved the lobster
ravioli and with the addition of shrimp, made it one great meal.  In fact, of all the dishes, the only slight misstep was with the Filet.  It ended up being much closer to medium-well than the medium-rare that was ordered.  However, the flavor was still great. 
Lobster Ravioli
            The Riverside Steak and Seafood in Swansboro is a fabulous restaurant.  The food quality and preparation is fantastic and the service is impeccable (be sure to ask for Danny).  While the prices can quickly add up, remember two things, you are at the beach and this is a fine dining establishment.  Main courses are going to run you $18-$30 while appetizers range from $5 to $16 for the scallop nachos (a price totally worth the quality and quantity of the dish).   I can guarantee that for as long as we live in the area, most life events, celebrations, or birthdays will be including a dinner at Riverside.  It really is just that good. 
           
Category                    Rating 1-5 stars
Food Quality               \bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Food Creativity           \bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Service                      \bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Atmosphere               \bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Value for the Price     \bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar

Riverside Steak & Seafood on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 16, 2013

We've Moved! Expect new adventures.

Hey everyone,
So it has been a whirlwind, but we have relocated.  We now are in the Swansboro/Cape Carteret/Emerald Isle/Morehead City region of North Carolina, right on the coast.  So, that means that there will be many upcoming changes to the blog.  For starters, most of the restaurants we review will now be in our new area.  Also, we will be adding recipes and products we are testing to the blog.  Don't lose hope, our main focus will still be our dining adventures.  Additionally, we are going to do our best to dine at each local restaurant twice before we post our reviews.  Yes, there might be exceptions if something was amazingly good or horribly bad, but our plan is 2-3 times per restaurant.  So keep reading and we'll keep eating and writing as we dine on our "Southern Sustenance."
-Erik & Megan

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Review of Saltwater Grill, Swansboro



            After spending the morning in the historic area of Swansboro, Megan and I were rather hungry.  We took notice of the Saltwater Grill from about a block away.  The large building is right on the dock.  In fact, they have some table out over the water if you prefer.  Since we it was well over 90 degrees outside, we preferred the indoor dining room.  The restaurant is located on the second floor, but once you enter, you can see an expansive view of the water.  It is a breathtaking view and it doesn’t hurt that every table has a waterfront view.  When we arrived at 11:30, there was no one else in the restaurant, but it was a Tuesday. 
            Both Megan and I ordered the She-Crab soup.  Lump and claw meat were gently folded into cream, crab roe, and sherry.  They claim that there is a dash of hot sauce, but on our visit, the chef must have been a little heavy handed.  The soup was great, but when both of us came up coughing and in need of water after one spoonful, then that is too much heat.  Aside from the spice, which I assume was a one-time mistake, I highly recommend ordering the She Crab Soup.  It is fresh, creamy and delicious.    Just be prepared in case it normally is that spicy. 
            For Megan’s entrée, she ordered the Crab Cake Slider.  I don’t know why it is called a slider and not sliders, since there are three of them, but that doesn’t affect their quality.  They were fabulous.  We could easily tell that the crab was literally, just out of the water, and made into three good-sized crab cakes, with very little filler.  There was just the perfect touch of slaw on the sliders as well, slightly creamy to accentuate the crab.  The sliders were served on Hawaiian sweet rolls, which made the combination of each bite great.  The creaminess and crunch of the slaw, the sweetness of the bun, and the delicate sweet and savoriness of the crab made this an amazing lunch.  For the side, Megan had the pasta salad.  Honestly, I didn’t try it for some reason, but she said that is was very good and flavorful. 
            For my lunch, I ordered the Saltwater Taco (again, it should be plural since there were three of them).  When prompted, the waiter suggested that I get them grilled instead of fried.  I’m glad I took his advice.  The shrimp were probably swimming that morning it was so fresh.  It was grilled just enough to cook it through and not scorch the shrimp.  It was served with lime-steamed soft tacos, shredded lettuce, house-made salsa, shredded mild cheddar, and chipotle ranch, which I am sure, was just regular ranch.  I did like that I could put together my own tacos, so I could decide how much lettuce, etc to put in each taco.  Now with only 9 shrimp on the plate, you could only put three per taco, though they could have held five.  At ten dollars, and since they come right out of the water that is mere feet from the restaurant, shrimp should not have been so scarce.  However, they were cooked well and combined for a refreshing and filling lunch. 
            All in all, our experience at The Saltwater Grill was well above average.  The waiter was helpful, even if he did get lost for about 20 minutes after giving us our check.  Our drinks were consistently refilled and the food was exceptional.  I’d love to come back for dinner some time and try that out.  But I can definitely tell you, that when I am in Swansboro again, this is the place I’ll be visiting for lunch.  
Category
Scale 1-5 stars
Food Quality
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Food Creativity
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Service
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Atmosphere
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Value for the Price
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar



Saltwater Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fire in the Triangle: Battle Certified Angus Beef







Competition Dining has been the brainchild of host and restaurateur Jimmy Crippen.  By dividing the state into four regions, he hosts Iron Chef style competition featuring local chefs and ingredients.  On Wednesday July 10th, my wife (on her birthday) and I had the pleasure of attending one of the battles in Fire in the Triangle.  The battle we witnessed was between Chef Scott James of the Midtown Grill in Raleigh and Chef Ryan Payne of Weathervane in Chapel Hill.
For days ahead of the battle, Megan and I were speculating about what the secret ingredient could be.  We feared foods like rabbit, mussels, egg, pigs’ feet, or tomato.  Thankfully, Jimmy Crippen announced that we were at battle Certified Angus Beef!  We were stoked, as we knew both chefs would prepare amazing dishes. 
First keep in mind that this is a blind contest.  In other words, you have no idea which chef prepared which dish until the end of the entire meal.  This way, you can’t vote a better score for your favorite chef and you have to be honest and accurate.  As far as the voting, you judge each dish on six categories: Presentation, Aroma, Flavor, Accompaniments (the things on the dish other than the secret ingredient), Creativity (with the secret ingredient), and Execution of the secret ingredient.  In each category, you can score the dish between a 0 and 5, with a 5 meaning that the dish is greater than what you would expect to get at a very accomplished restaurant.  The audience makes up 70% of the total vote, while the expert, professional judges are the other 30%.  I loved the idea that my opinion would get to count in the results.  Each chef prepares three dishes: an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert.  I’ll be honest, I was both excited and nervous about what desserts the chefs would prepare using angus beef. 
Course one was a Dr. Pepper Bulgogi Skirt Steak, with Radish and Cucumber Kim Chee, Candied Ginger, and Red Rice.  Additionally, there was a small bok choy topping the rice.  I really enjoyed the Asian influences in the first dish, as well as the spiciness of the Kim Chee.  The beef was sliced thinly and was subtly sweet, from the Dr. Pepper, however, it was very fatty and chewy.  The rice was also a little mealy and slightly dry.  This was my first red rice experience, but it seems to be very similar to brown rice in flavor and texture.  While voting should be a secret, since the competition is over, I see no harm in publishing my votes.  I gave this dish a 19 out of 30 with high scores on presentation and accompaniments, and lower scores on creativity and execution.  Later on, we learned this dish was prepared by Chef James of Midtown Grill. 
Course two was a Rosemary Smoked Sirloin, Black Bean and Corn Succotash, Crispy Duck Fat Potatoes, and a Citrus Butter.  The aroma of this dish was amazing.  The potatoes were more of a thin French Fry, but the duck fat, made the flavor pop.  I could have easily eaten a plateful of the potatoes.  No one at my table could taste the rosemary flavor of the sirloin, but it was cooked perfectly medium rare and the lime-flavored citrus butter was a great addition to enhance the steak.  The succotash was good too, but I am not a black bean fan.  Surrounding the dish were a few, well placed drops of  Aged Balsamic Vinegar.  I gave this dish a 22/30 with high scores on everything but the flavor, since without the rosemary flavors, the sirloin was fairly plain, until you add the butter.  This dish was made by Chef Payne of Weathervane. 
Course three was Certified Angus Beef Bolognese topped with a Goat and Ashe County Cheese Tortellini and surrounded by Portobella Mushrooms, Basil, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  For starters, the tortellini was amazing!  I mean, these could easily constitute an amazing meal in either restaurant with a simple sauce.  The tartness of the goat cheese accentuated the soft, delicate pasta.  The Bolognese did not impress me though.  Honestly, it reminded me of a high-class Sloppy Joe.  I don’t know why Chef James chose to grind up CAB and mix it with peppers and a tomato base.  I gave this my lowest score of the night, a 14/30, with a high score for accompaniment only.  Strangely, this was also the dish that the professional judges gave their highest score of the night. 
Course four was a Braised Sirloin with Skirt Steak Ragu, Potato Dumplings, and “House Made” Ricotta.  Additionally, there were heated Kalamata Olives surrounding the Ragu.  The steak was very reminiscent of a beef stew.  I did find the irony in the fact that both chefs decided to shred the CAB and put in into a tomato based sauce.  The ricotta was a nice creamy touch that added texture and flavor to the Ragu.  The dumplings were basically just gnocchi, but I loved the addition to the dish.  I scored Chef Payne’s dish an 18/30.  I scored the flavor at a four and creativity at a 2, with everything else a 3.  This would be a good, hearty dish, if served in a large quantity, but for Competition Dining, I guess I just expected a little more. Don’t worry, the creativity overflowed in the desserts. 
Course five was “Meat and Potatoes.”  It was a Cocoa and Molasses crusted CAB Sirloin with a Rosemary Sponge Cake, Balsamic cooked Cherries and a Purple Sweet Potato Custard.  The concept of meat and potatoes for dessert is slightly disturbing, however this was my favorite dish of the entire night.  The sliced sirloin was sweet, the cherries slightly tart due to the Balsamic, and the purple sweet potato custard was just sweet enough to add a great sauce to the dish without overpowering it.  The sponge cake was my favorite though.  The rosemary was very subtle, which was probably good for a dessert.  But the cake had a great dense texture and flavor to die for.  It was all topped with crunchy fried sweet potato strings.  I loved this dish and scored it my highest of the night, a 27/30 with many fives and the lone three for aroma.  Chef James was the author of this dish, which I hope makes it onto Midtown Grill’s dessert menu soon. 
Course six was another dessert titled “Meat and Potatoes.”  This Chef Payne dish was a Potato Doughnut with a Salted Caramel glaze, a Potato Doughnut hole rolled in cinnamon and sugar, Chocolate Candy Covered Skirt Steak, a Lemon Mousse and a Watermelon Jam.  The doughnut came out warm and just melted in your mouth.  This dish had style and finesse.  The sweetness of one doughnut was offset by the slight saltiness of the other.  The Lemon Mousse had a creaminess that could stand-alone or be used as a dip to sweeten the doughnut.  The watermelon jam really didn’t set and most people at my table couldn’t even tell it was there aside from a slight pinkness to a small part of the dish.  Everything to this point was exceptional.  The chocolate steak really didn’t add anything to the dish.  In fact, it was almost like an afterthought that was used just to add the secret ingredient.  While I like chocolate covered bacon, I won’t be ordering chocolate covered steak any time soon.  I gave this dish a 22/30.  The aroma, flavor, presentation, and accompaniments were all exceptional, but the execution of the secret ingredient was uninspired.  I would gladly take more of the doughnuts though. 
At the end of a wonderful night of food and company, Chef Payne of Weathervane was declared the winner.  He scored an approval rating of 72.6% to Chef James’ 69.3%.  I was wrong about predicting which chef made which dish, as well as which chef would win.  Regardless, both chefs prepared amazing food and the camaraderie of the chefs and respect for each other could easily be seen.  In fact, the chefs announced that both of them could be doing a guest chef night at the other’s restaurant.  Be sure to check that out, I bet it will be great.  I wish more tickets were available for other Fire in the Triangle battles, but they sold out very quickly. 
Jimmy Crippen has shot lightning into the NC culinary scene.  I am so happy to say that the Competition Dining will be back next year, because I can’t wait.  Also, I can’t wait until the final battles.  The winners of the Fire on the Dock, Fire on the Rock, Fire in the Triangle, and Fire in the Triad will all compete in a grand finale that will most likely take place in the Raleigh area.  I would advise anyone with an interest in supreme cuisine to be on the lookout for those tickets, they will gone quickly.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review of Britt's Donut Shop, Carolina Beach


            Since 1939, there is only one place in the Wilmington area to get a truly classic and exceptional donut, Britt’s Donut Shop.    Located on the Carolina Beach boardwalk, you can literally smell the fresh donuts from blocks away.  The closer you get, the more your mouth will water, until you can’t help but purchase donuts. 
            Their menu is about as simplistic as it can get.  They sell glazed donuts, only.  However, when you can make every bite seem more magical than the last, that’s all you need to sell.  Sure, you can get fresh brewed coffee or milk to drink, but most people tend to take their donuts out.  My preference is to set my chairs up on the beach, take in some early morning sun, and then get my donuts as soon as they open at 8:30 each morning.  Even though they seem to open later than most donut places, the wait is worth it.  And if you get there after 9:30, then trust me there will be a wait, sometimes 20-30 people deep. 
The donuts are served in a simple, white paper bag. You can order them individually, by the half-dozen, or as I prefer, a dozen at a time for only $7.  Trust me, you can never eat just one…or two.  All of the donuts are fried and turned by hand once they are golden brown.  Then, they are topped with a house-made glaze that is just sweet enough to make you drool.  The donuts are always hot, whether you are there are 8:30am or at 11pm.  They are light, fluffy, and just so amazing that they are hard to describe. 
Britt’s donuts are classic, and something this good should never be messed with.  This place is historic.  Any trip to Carolina Beach is incomplete without donuts from Britt’s.  Families for generations now have been bringing their kids to Britt’s to get fabulous donuts.  And based on the lines I saw, many, many families will continue to feed their children amazing donuts for a long, long time.  

Category
Scale 1-5 stars
Food Quality
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Food Creativity
\bigstar\bigstar
Service
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Atmosphere
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Value for the Price
 \bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar



Britts Donut Shop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review of Olde Salty, Carolina Beach

The Olde Salty restaurant on the boardwalk of Carolina Beach has been around for 19 years.  In that time, they have definitely learned how to make great fried seafood.  Its fun, colorful atmosphere and the fact that it is only steps from the beach, make it a great place for lunch.  Inside, the bar dominates the space as it expands almost the length of the restaurant, but there are still plenty of tables for hungry patrons.  We got there upon opening at 11:30.  While that may be a little later than other places, remember, this is beach time. 
            Megan ordered the Soft-Shell Crab sandwich with fries and slaw on the side.  The crab wasbattered and fried to a perfectly dark brown, with just hints of the red, soft-shell peeking through.  It came out piping hot and on a very fresh, plain Kaiser role.  The sandwich was great.  The fried batter was crispy, yet light and was perfectly seasoned.  Every bite of the crab was amazing.  The fact that they have soft-shell crab on their menu year-round is great, even though I thought soft-shell crabs were only around part of the year.  The fries were hot and fresh with a perfect pinch of salt added.  The slaw is definitely intended to top on the sandwich, but Megan opted not to.  It was just creamy enough to hold the slaw texture while adding bits of pickle.  It is not a stand alone side, but it is a perfect accompaniment to the fried sandwich. 
I ordered the Fried Shrimp sandwich with a side of fries.  If I had to sum this up on one word, it would be Fabulous!  Last year, I was highly disappointed in a “shrimp burger” from El’s Diner in Morehead city, so I was hesitant.  I am so glad I ordered it.  The medium sized shrimp were fried in a light batter that left them thinly coated with batter, but yet perfectly crunchy.  The shrimp were very hot and filled up the sandwich roll and about half of the remaining space on the plate.  I love generous amounts of food.  I took the waitress/owner’s suggestion and got their homemade tartar sauce on the bottom half of the bun and their slaw on the top half.  The taste combination of perfectly seasoned and cooked shrimp with slaw and tartar was virtually orgasmic.  I gobbled my sandwich with glee.  The fries were a nice accompaniment, but if I could suggest a slight change to the owner, advertise them as “beach fries” or “crab fries” and season them with some Old Bay spices.  I think it could be a big draw. 
            In order to successfully write about Olde Salty, I must bring up their most newsworthy accessory.  They have a sign near the front door that says, “Screaming Children will NOT be Tolerated.”  This sign has set off a huge debate among parents and has gotten Olde Salty mentioned in news sources both locally and nationally (MSNBC, youtube, etc.).  Some people claim that it is anti-child, but that’s not what it says at all.  My take is that they realize that other diners don’t like unruly children running around and screaming.  Now most good parents will voluntarily take their child out of any situation where their child is a huge distraction, but some parents today apparently don’t care, hence the sign.  I applaud them for doing finally saying what many people have been thinking quietly to themselves.  Yes, all children are welcome at Olde Salty, but parent need to be in control of them, as they should be in any situation.  Heck, I would ask the owner to take the sign to a new level and mention that “screaming or unruly children OR adults will not be tolerated.”  While some parents are very touchy on this issue (and probably are the ones who need their child removed), most adults are level headed enough that they do not want the experience of other diners ruined by an unruly person. 
            Olde Salty is quickly becoming a Carolina Beach classic.  With their great quality, fresh food, and fun atmosphere, it is the place to take a break from the hot sun and fill up your belly.  I’ll definitely be back and trust me, for a simple, quality lunch at the beach, this is the place to go (unless you can’t control your kids). 


Category
Scale 1-5 stars
Food Quality
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Food Creativity
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Service
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Atmosphere
\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar
Value for the Price
 \bigstar\bigstar\bigstar\bigstar


Olde Salty on Urbanspoon