A trip to North Carolina proves to be an adventure in food.
I have very dear friends who live in North Carolina. David is a retired bed and breakfast owner and chef, and his wife Lisa is a physical therapist. I always eat well when I go down to visit, but this past trip turned out to be an amazing food adventure. It wasn’t just about the places we ate. We created our own “Top Chef” type food challenge.
My husband, two sons and I hit the road at about 5:30 a.m. with a cooler packed with homemade ravioli from Mr. Sausage in Huntington. When David and Lisa come to New York, they always ask for Sal Baldanza’s homemade ravioli. So we figured we’d surprise them with a Mr. Sausage night at their home. We packed the ravioli with a ton of ice and set out on our journey. After a ten hour car drive we finally arrived in Siler City, a small town outside Raleigh-Durham, and were greeted by our friends. Knowing the last thing we’d want to do is to get back in the car and go out to eat, they had a special dinner prepared for us – a taste of Siler City, as they called it.
Siler City has a large Mexican population and some wonderful Mexican food. We had a delicious soup and tamales brought in from an authentic restaurant, and some slow cooked black beans which Lisa had made. Lisa learned the secrets to making these delicious beans from a good friend, who is an outstanding Mexican home cook. The beans were really the best I’ve had. David made some homemade guacamole to accompany some other interesting dishes we were served. It was pure Mexican comfort food.
The next morning we went on a two mile hike at Jordan Lake, which was a short drive away. Thank goodness for this hike because of all the food we would be consuming that weekend. Straight from the hike we stopped at a little outdoor eatery called Small Street B&B Café located in the heart of Pittsboro, NC. It is owned by another couple named David and Lisa, oddly enough. This local organic eatery features delicious home-cooked meals with sixty percent of ingredients coming from local farmers. I had a hearty dish of scrambled eggs made with chopped fresh vegetables and herbs, crispy “smashed” potatoes, and bacon. I couldn’t resist a mason jar filled with sweet tea to go with it.
That night we went to my favorite restaurant of all time, The Fearrington House Restaurant, located just outside of Chapel Hill. The restaurant has been a Relais & Châteaux member since 1988, and it has been ranked one of the top ten restaurants in America by OpenTable diners. It is also the only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five-Star restaurant in the U.S. to be Green Certified. Their website states, “Executive Chef Colin Bedford and his team’s commitment to exceptional farm-to-fork cuisine is highlighted through partnerships with local farms, and dishes that celebrate North Carolina’s four distinct seasons.”
Upon entering the beautifully restored farm house converted to an elegant restaurant, we were escorted to a lovely private dining room set up for the six of us. The attentive waitstaff handed us our menus and served the amuse-bouche. Once our orders were placed, a medley of warm homemade breads and rolls were served. For my appetizer I chose confit wild salmon with cucumbers and caviar served with horseradish, cream cheese, sea beans and field peas. It was art on a plate, and was light and delicious.
For my entrée I chose a boneless rolled quail with peaches, buttered chanterelles and charred corn with pasta, Cipollini onions, butter beans and black quail. This was a magnificent dish. Finally, no trip to Fearrington would be complete without my favorite dessert – Valrhona Coeur de Guanoja chocolate soufflé with hot chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. There is really nothing better in the world.
On Saturday morning we were really in for a treat, and here is where the true food adventure began. Lisa told us she had a surprise for us. We were going to do a “Top Chef” food challenge amongst the six of us. All the items used to create the dishes had to be local or grown in David’s garden. We would head out to the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, a huge market which is nationally known, and we were divided into teams. I was paired with Lisa and we were to prepare the first course. My oldest son, who is sixteen and aspiring to be a chef, was teamed up with David to prepare the main dish, and my husband and youngest son were preparing a dessert course. We couldn’t wait to get started.
We drove to Carrboro, which was about an hour away, and I was amazed at how many vendors were there. Lisa and I had decided to recreate one of the dishes I had on a Kerriann Eats assignment at the Palm Court at the Carltun. I will never forget the layered beet and goat cheese salad that Chef Rodrigo Bernal had prepared for me. It would definitely be a challenge, but we were determined to recreate it. Lisa told me that David had lots of beautiful beets in the garden so we were good there. We picked up some local arugula, microgreens, some green garlic infused sea salt, some local North Carolina pecans, which we planned to candy, and some creamy goat cheese from Celebrity Dairy, a place I’ve been getting my cheese from for years. It was great to see Britt at the farmers’ market selling his delicious cheese. We also picked up some homemade Danish rye bread. The only thing missing was the nasturtium, beautiful orange edible flowers that Chef Bernal graced his dish with. What were the chances of finding this at the farmers’ market? As luck would have it, as we passed by one of the vendors, I saw a cup of bright orange nasturtiums. I couldn’t get over to it fast enough! I was beyond excited to have found them, and it made our dish complete.
When our shopping was over, we met up with the other “teams” and headed to lunch in downtown Carrboro. As we walked along I saw a bright pink food truck in the distance. We were going to get homemade crepes at Parlez-Vous Crepe, owned by Jody Argote who learned the art of crepe making while living and working in Beaune, France. The crepes proved to be spectacular. I had a delicious crepe stuffed with mesclun greens, warm brie, ham and apples. It was so good! After lunch we made one last stop to the Weaver Street Market, a community owned market featuring local products, where we picked up some items our teammates were in search of.
We made it back to Siler City in the early afternoon, and our day of cooking and preparing began. Lisa and I headed out to David’s garden to pick beets. They were big and beautiful. We picked some potatoes and shishito peppers as well. We decided to make an additional course of blistered shishito peppers with a homemade preserved lemon aioli. We put the beets on the grill, and smoked them using apple wood, which we picked up at Weaver Street Market. While the beets were cooking we grilled the peppers and made the aioli, as well as the candied pecans. The beets took quite a while to cook. When they were done and cooled, I cut them in even slices and layered them with the same size slices of goat cheese. It came out beautiful, although not as perfect as Chef Bernal’s. It tasted great with the additional use of the smoking process and the candied pecans.
Our “competitors” had equally wonderful dishes, and everything was paired with wine. For the main course, David and my son prepared stuffed zucchini served two ways, one with local chorizo and one with local sausage. They were combined with onions, garlic and dried Roma tomatoes over a smear of homemade roasted Anaheim and sweet pepper coulis. Fantastic!
The third course consisted of both a cheese course and dessert, prepared by my husband and youngest son. Five different local cheeses were served as a cheese plate, and was accompanied by local raw honey, local wild pepper jelly and a seeded ciabatta and sourdough baguette from Chicken Bridge Bakery. For dessert, there was a lovely local chocolate mousse, topped with Chapel Hill toffee crumble and Chapel Hill chocolate nibs. It was a perfect way to end the meal.
There were no winners in our “Top Chef” challenge, because we determined that all the teams’ dishes turned out great. Still, we thoroughly enjoyed the competition.
Our food adventure continued the next day when we went to the Saxapahaw General Store, owned by Chef Jeff Barney. Despite what they say about eating in restaurants located next to gas stations, this popular eatery prides itself in its logo – “Saxapahaw General Store, your five-star-gas station.” Built in a restored cotton mill, the Saxapahaw General Store is known for their homemade biscuits, and serves fresh, local food products. I settled for a bacon, egg and cheese on a homemade biscuit with a side of creamy grits. You can’t get more Southern than that.
After breakfast we took a walk towards the end of the old mill building where the Left Bank Butchery was housed. The smell of smoked meats hung in the air, and I was amazed at the amount of meats and products they carried. Left Bank Butchery is “a whole animal butchery.” They buy whole, heritage breed animals from local farms, and they utilize all of the animal in order to produce outstanding and sustainable food. David bought some thick cut, smoky bacon for our breakfast the next day, along with some pork belly. I have to say that both were fabulous.
Our last night was a taste of Long Island, and David and Lisa treasured the items we brought with us from Mr. Sausage – peppercorn cheese, soppressata, antipasto and of course, ravioli. First up was a burrata and black truffle ravioli. We sautéed some wild mushrooms in butter and olive oil, and this became our sauce. The second ravioli was one of Lisa’s favorites, a zucchini blossom ravioli simply dressed with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.
Our trip to North Carolina turned out to truly be an adventure in food. Upon my return however, it was back to the gym and to Kala Luna in Huntington for my pineapple kale drink.