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Competition heats up in the Triangle burger market

This is a post by N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox:

In the mood for a burger? You’ve got more - and more varied - options than ever. The nationwide gourmet burger trend, given a boost in North Carolina last year by relaxed regulations regarding the doneness of ground beef, shows no sign of letting up. 

Zinburger (8030-905 Renaissance Pkwy.; is on target for an early November opening in the Streets at Southpoint. The small New Jersey-based chain raises the ante on the traditional burger joint with a distinctive “burger and wine bar” concept. As the whimsical wine-sipping cow logo suggests, though, Zinburger is a casual place. Not inclined to order the Ravenswood “Vintner’s Blend” zinfandel that’s the suggested pairing for your Nueske’s bacon-topped Samburger? Feel free to order a salted caramel shake instead.  

While you’re waiting for Zinburger to open, you can check out Town Hall Burger and Beer (7830-100 NC Hwy. 751; 919-973-0506; nearby - so near, in fact, that you could walk there in a pinch. But don’t trust Google Maps on this one; the restaurant is in the new shopping center at the intersection of Hwy. 751 and Renaissance Parkway. Service is fast food style, but the burgers are anything but: a half-pound blend of chuck, brisket and rib, char-grilled to order and served on your choice of brioche bun, tandoori naan or pretzel bread. Choose from a dozen draft beers to wash it down. Enjoy your meal on the patio, if the weather cooperates.

Over in Chapel Hill, Al’s Burger Shack (516 W. Franklin St.; 919-904-7659; raises the ante with NC pasture-raised beef. Burgers are offered in three sizes (the 3-ounce Buddy Bite, 6-ounce Junior, and 9-ounce Big Al), with topping combinations ranging from chili cheeseburger to the Paco (guacamole, tomato, jalapeño and habanero jack). On the downside for medium-rare burger fans, Al’s is a we-cook-it-medium holdout. For consolation, try J Bo’s Sweet “Burger” for dessert: Mapleview Farms vanilla custard sandwiched between locally baked amaretto almond cookies.

Send restaurant news to Greg at Be sure to tune in to Greg's radio show at 11 a.m. Saturdays on WPTF.

El Cuscatleco brings Salvadoran cuisine to Cary

This is a post by N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox:
The owners of El Cuscatleco in Durham ( have opened a second location in Cary. The website hasn’t yet been updated with details about the new location (1383 SE Maynard Rd.; 919-650-2706), but the menu is essentially the same as at the original.
Both offer a broad sampling of the Mexican repertoire, from taqueria-style soft tacos to Tex-Mex combination plates to house specialties such as El Migueleńo (a protein extravaganza of fried pork ribs, grilled chicken breast and head-on shrimp, served with yellow Spanish rice and salad).
But the main attraction is Salvadoran fare, a cuisine offered at only a handful of restaurants in the Triangle. 
Pupusas, the country’s distinctive thick corn tortillas stuffed with pork, cheese, refried beans or a combination, are available à la carte or as part of a sampler platter with fried yuca, sweet plantains, tamal, and savory chicken-filled pastries called pastelitos. Other options include carne guisada, Salvadoran-style beef stew; chuleta entomatada, grilled pork chop with sautéed onions, peppers and tomatoes; and camarones en crema, shrimp in cream sauce.
El Cuscatleco is open daily for lunch and dinner.
Send restaurant news to Greg at Be sure to tune in to Greg's radio show at 11 a.m. Saturdays on WPTF.

Lafayette Village in North Raleigh gets a double helping of new dining options

This is a post by N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox:

Nunzio Scordo, who had returned to his hometown of Cleveland, OH a couple of years ago after a stint as executive chef at Paparazzi, is back in town. This time he’s opening his own restaurant, just across the way from Paparazzi in Lafayette Village.

The chef has ambitious plans for Driftwood Southern Kitchen (8460-112 Honeycutt Road), which he hopes to open by mid-November in the old Antonio’s Market space.

“It will be an open, rustic, fun place with serious food that will define regional farm to table cooking in this area,” he says. “I was exec chef at Hot and Hot Fish Club and Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham. The food will be similar in style but more approachable and playful.”

Scordo is developing a menu with a regional focus that will include sections dedicated to raw bar, house-smoked fare and a constantly evolving market-to-table selection.

He’s giving the dining area a major makeover, too. Large accordion doors will open onto the Lafayette Village courtyard, merging indoor and outdoor spaces when the weather cooperates. Another room, which he’s calling the Harvest Room, will feature communal tables where family-style dining will be promoted.

As if Scordo isn’t busy enough with the startup of his own place, he’s also helping out his neighbors at Vinos Finos y Picados (8450-110 Honeycutt Road; 919-747-9233; Until now, the wine bar’s food menu has been limited to nibbles that could be made in a minimally furnished “kitchen” consisting of an oven and a panini press.

To broaden their offering, the restaurant’s owners are installing an actual kitchen, complete with new oven, six-burner stovetop and requisite exhaust hood. Scordo is helping to develop a menu to take advantage of the new equipment. The new offering, which will include the likes of grilled skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, Cuban style roast pork, and pan-roasted jumbo scallops with jalapeño-creamed corn, should be available by the end of the month.

Send restaurant news to Greg at Be sure to tune in to Greg's radio show at 11 a.m. Saturdays on WPTF.

Duo from Vin Rouge opening Oval Park Grille and Tonic bar in Durham

This is a post by N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox:

Todd Whitney, who was the opening chef at J. Betski’s in Raleigh and more recently has worked as chef de cuisine at Vin Rouge, is teaming up with former Vin Rouge bar manager Greg Demarchie to open Oval Park Grille (1116 Broad St.) in the old Broad Street Café space next to Watts Grocery.

The partners are targeting a December opening for the restaurant, which is named for a historic neighborhood park nearby. In keeping with that spirit, the partners are aiming for a casual neighborhood grill atmosphere and what Whitney is calling a “no frills” menu of sandwiches, salads and daily specials to match.

“The food will be ingredient-driven and chef-driven,” he says, but we won’t be serving on fancy plates.”

Demarchie will run the front of the house. His experience at Vin Rouge will also come in handy in developing the bar offering at Tonic, which the partners are opening next door in an erstwhile violin shop.

Send restaurant news to Greg at Be sure to tune in to Greg's radio show at 11 a.m. Saturdays on WPTF.

Chef Ashley Christensen opens Joule Coffee in downtown Raleigh

This is a post by N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox:

After a week of ramping up with limited hours, Joule Coffee (223 S. Wilmington St.; 919-424-7422; is slated to open its fully caffeinated version tomorrow (Sept. 4) with an all-day menu and cocktail service.

In the mornings, that translates to traditional hot breakfast fare supplemented by house-baked pastries - including croissants that were getting snapped up last week as soon as they came out of the kitchen (word to the wise: they’re baked hourly, and usually hit the dining room a few minutes before the hour).

Brunch, offered Saturdays and Sundays (and on long weekends like the one just past, Mondays as well), covers the sweet-to-savory spectrum from tuna carpaccio Niçoise to Georgia peach hotcake. Sherry-spiked Carolina shrimp and grits was a big hit with the opening weekend crowd.

Joule’s lunch and dinner menus will be inspired by the cuisines of the world’s coffee regions - which, in turn, are represented by one of the area’s most impressive coffee selections.

The coffee menu (yes, there’s a coffee menu, complete with glossary) lists nine different bean and/or plantation options, from Mexican Las Milpas to Ethiopian Idido. These are ground to order and prepared as you specify: drip coffee, pour-over, French press or espresso. Iced coffee and decaf options are also offered, as well as a small selection of teas and botanicals, chocolate with milk (hot or cold) and caffeinated concoctions such as the Australian iced latte.

Joule Coffee is the latest venture of Ashley Christensen, owner/chef of the nationally noted Poole’s Diner, as well as Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s, and Fox Liquor Bar.

Send restaurant news to Greg at Be sure to tune in to Greg's radio show at 11 a.m. Saturdays on WPTF.

Greg Cox gives 3 stars to Vivo in North Raleigh

Go HERE to read Greg's review.

And go HERE to read Greg's review last week: FOUR stars to Bleu Olive Bistro in Durham.

And HERE is a link to Greg's Cheap Eats, a monthly round up of tasty bargains.

McDaid’s Irish Pub coming to the former Porter’s space on Hillsborough Street

This is a post by N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox:

Good news for fans of Porter’s Tavern, the restaurant that closed last weekend after a ten-year run on Hillsborough Street. Robert Beebe, the local restaurateur who bought the space, is keeping the Porter’s kitchen and dining room staffs, as well as many of the old menu favorites.

Beebe, who is a partner in a number of Irish pubs in the area (including Doolin’s in Durham and both Trali locations), also plans to add a few Irish pub classics to the bill of fare.

To reflect the changes, the restaurant will get a new name and a quick dining room makeover. If all goes according to plan, Beebe hopes to McDaid’s Irish Pub (2412 Hillsborough St.) by mid-September.

Send restaurant news to Greg at Be sure to tune in to Greg's radio show at 11 a.m. Saturdays on WPTF.

Latin Quarters opens next week in North Raleigh

This is a post by N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox:

Richard Camos, owner of Camos Brothers Pizza, expects to open Latin Quarters (7335 Six Forks Road; 919-900-8333; on Tuesday, following a series of private trial runs this weekend. Camos, who owns Camos Brothers Pizza in the same shopping center (and a second location in Cary), will explore the other side of his Italian-Argentinean cultural heritage with his latest venture.

And then some. Camos hired chef J.P. Murcia (“a fellow Queens, New York boy”) to serve up a culinary tour of Central and South America, from Peruvian ceviche to Mexican gorditas to Argentinian churrasco steak with chimichurri to ajiaco
Santafereño, a meal-in-a-bowl Colombian soup of potatoes, corn and chicken served with rice, tostones and avocado.

Latin Quarters will serve lunch and dinner daily. After 10 p.m., when the restaurant morphs into a club with live Latin music, a bar menu will offer an assortment of nibbles including empanadas (Argentinean and Colombian style) and Peruvian beef skewers with yellow aji pepper dipping sauce.

A full bar will feature favorite tipples of the region, including Fernet-Coco, a mix of Fernet Branca and Coke that Camos says is more popular than wine in Argentinean wine country.

Send restaurant news to Greg at Be sure to tune in to Greg's radio show at 11 a.m. Saturdays on WPTF.

Elevation Burger opening this weekend in Brier Creek

This is a post by N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox:

The first Triangle location of Virginia-based chain Elevation Burger (8301-101 Brier Creek Pkwy.; 919-999-2774; elevationburgercom) is scheduled to open this Saturday in Raleigh’s Brier Creek Commons. Inspired by the U2 song “Elevation,” the restaurant’s name signifies the goal of offering a burger experience that rises above the norm.

On the menu, that translates to 100 percent organic, grass-fed, free range beef and house-cut fries cooked in olive oil. People with special dietary needs get plenty of love, with options including a lettuce-wrapped burger and two veggie burger variations (“fire-roasted taste” and a “tastes like veggies” vegan burger).

At the other end of the spectrum, you can indulge in guilty pleasures that include the Vertigo Burger (three to ten patties, with choice of toppings) and a variety of shakes and malts.

The “Elevation” concept extends to the dining room, where environmentally friendly practices include the use of sustainable materials, energy-efficient equipment, and recycling of waste – some of which is destined to become bio-diesel fuel.

Send restaurant news to Greg at Be sure to tune in to Greg's radio show at 11 a.m. Saturdays on WPTF.

Kalamaki brings Greek street food to Chapel Hill

This is a post by N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox:

Kebabs - lamb, chicken, pork or veggie - grilled with fresh herbs, lemon, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt - headline the menu at Kalamaki (431 W. Franklin St.; 919-240-7354;, which opened last week in Chapel Hill. The restaurant is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The street food-inspired offering also includes gyros, souvlaki, rotisserie-roasted lemon chicken and Greek burgers. To round out your meal, choose from a small but varied selection of salads, meze and Greek desserts.

Whatever you order, you’ll have to get it to go, because Kalamaki is - true to the tradition that inspired it - a takeout-only shop. Fair weather permitting, you won’t have to take it far. Kalamaki’s entrance faces The Courtyard, an inviting al fresco dining spot shared by other area eateries (including, notably, Vimala’s Curryblossom Café just across the way).

Kalamaki’s location directly behind Kipos, another relatively new Greek restaurant, is more than coincidence. Both belong to Giorgios Bakatsias’ ever-growing collection of restaurants, a diverse assortment of concepts from French bistro (Vin Rouge) to prime steakhouse (Bin 54).

With Kipos and Kalamaki, Bakatsias returns to his Greek roots. And by clearly differentiating the two - Kipos the sit-down restaurant with a full bar, and Kalamaki the street food vendor - Bakatsias shows he’s still got the marketing savvy that has made him one of the area’s most enduringly successful restaurateurs.

Send restaurant news to Greg at Be sure to tune in to Greg's radio show at 11 a.m. Saturdays on WPTF.

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