Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brixx Pizza | "If You're Dumb As Bricks, You'll Love It!"

"Mom, I'm not old enough to drive yet."
[Original Air Date: 2009]
After a very, very long day of driving, fighting with a rear-suspension, picking up and dropping the kids off, showering, getting ready, shopping at Wal-Mart, and taxi-ing Shan back and forth while we're down to one car, I said the "Hell with it" and decided to go out to eat tonight. We ended up at Brixx. It was a spur of the moment "Hey we've never been there.... look at all the pretty lights... let's go" kind of thing. Brixx Wood Fired Pizza is the modern day version of a neo-Pizza Hut but upgraded with beer and wine but minus the 'Mr. Mister' playing from the juke box. It's yuppie, and features a unique niche ploy of "Wood Fired" pizza which makes people who can't think for themselves clamor to them like bugs to a zapper. While it wasn't bad.... it wasn't all that good either. 
There's two types of people who go to Brixx apparently, (besides the curious like me) one is the couple who accidentally had children a few years back and now longs for the days of going out to the bar for a beer. Most of the people who were there tonight where in this category. The parents got drunk while the kids shoved their faces with cheese pizza, and watched Rusty Wallace on the big-screen do burnouts. One family was so interested in having a beer without the cost of a baby sitter that the kids broke out a portable DVD player and was watching "Monsters INC." while their parents slouched in the corner of the booth foaming at the mouth. The second group of people were the rich white single yuppies who think they're "hip" because they found a restaurant with a wine list, and they can SMS their friends about the ambiance of the roaring fire and psychedelic lights.

"Dood.... the feng shui at Brix is much better than that place we thought was cool last week!"

Now that we've gotten that out of the way... let me say the staff was nice, the service good, and it's food is "meh". I think where this place would stand on it's own is if you got your food to go, and took it home in lieu of the larger "pizza chains", and in that, the gimmick (wood fired pizza) isn't as cheapened... For $10.00, it's reasonable, and just as bad as everyone else out there. It's food, and it's rather blah. 
When we first arrived I remarked how much it reminded me of another Italian chain I've been to recently: Strada, (don't try looking.... they hide it from the Brixx crowd) but then as I sat there and took in the worn out parents, the yuppies pretending, and some women with the most annoyingly pitched voice talking about how it wasn't fair she couldn't trade her Mercedes in on cash for clunkers like the poor people she's tired of subsidizing.... I realized.... it's oceans apart.

Maybe it's the fact I wasn't drinking. Maybe that's my problem. Maybe I'd love commercial gimmicky pizza places, and complain about poor people instead of not having health care if only they had a pizza that came with cheese and anti-depressants, a side of A.D.H.D. medicine, and a pitcher of beer to chase the wine down that I just spent my child's allowance on. 

The reason Brixx is so distasteful to me is because it's an Italian restaurant that's been dumbed down for Americans, not a Italian restaurant. It's the happy meal of upscale pizzerias, it's purgatory for people who can no longer live their lives, or too stupid to actually figure out how to order a dish in another language. I may not be that bright, but I'm not going back to Brixx.... I'll be saving my money for some Pollo alla Milanese.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Five Guys Burgers - If you're not in love with it, then you're ordering it wrong.

If your burger doesn't look like this, you're doing it wrong.
Are you ordering your Five Guy's burgers wrong? You might just be.

GREENSBORO - My first review of Five Guy's came just as they arrived in Greensboro back in the Fall of 2009. My parents had brought home to me a typical, lettuce-tomato-and-pickle topped cheeseburger that I described as a "Gourmet burger, served in a fast-food setting, sans the drive-thru." I was under-impressed. It was okay, it may have been good, but it wasn't special. What was the President clamoring about? The truth was, I was doing it wrong. I've heard numerous patrons of Five Guy's since then echo my same previous sentiment. That's when I stop and inform them I've discovered the secret to Five Guy's. I can honestly say this is probably one of the darn, finest burger in all the country. See, the secret I found to ordering Five Guy's isn't to order a "normal" sandwich, but to go all-out, with tons of toppings, unusual toppings, like mushrooms, jalapenos, A-1 and BBQ sauce. The beauty of it is they charge one price for their sandwiches, ($6.59 for a bacon cheeseburger) and you can add as many toppings as you like. Combinations of flavors, and sandwiches a mile-high. That's what makes this place awesome. Don't go in and order your normal cheeseburger expectations, no, oh no- if you're under five toppings you're doing it wrong.
Fresh Cut Fries in the bag too. Awesome. 

But let's say you're too embarrassed to go to the counter and order a Five Guy's Bacon Cheeseburger all-the-way, with mayo, ketchup, mustard, onion, jalapenos, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, mushrooms, and extra cheese, like I do. Then do like Liv: I just whip out my Android smart phone, (or order from a lap-top,) tap a few buttons and custom build the perfect burger. You could also call in a creepy voice and pretend to be someone else, if it makes you feel better, but I use the app. I add a fry, a drink, then pay with my credit card as I'm walking in all from my phone. I walk up to the counter, give them my name, and walk right past the embarrassment and the queue to pick up my bag of heavenly hamburgers and grease. What's better, is next time I arrive my order is saved, and I only have to click on the reorder button if I choose the same weapon of taste bud destruction. No I'm not being paid by 5 Guy's, I'm just a fan of their app. It's probably the best in the food industry, and it is a Godsend to order the kids food without having them holding up the line, staring off into space, when I ask "Do you want both onions and grilled onions on your burger?"

Ren loves the wobble tables. Why do they wobble?
I can only assume some of you are disgusted by the idea of these supreme burgers, these extravaganzas of toppings and condiments. You're probably the same type of person who likes their pizza with peperoni and cheese only or hearts  (gasp) bologna. If you're picky, then this place is most definitely not for you. On the other hand, if you've just been doing it wrong this whole time, try it my way and then go outside on the patio of Five Guy's; sit, and eat cafe style feeding the little birds of Friendly Center with some Idaho french fries while you enjoy the best burger in Greensboro. Hands down.

    Five Guys Greensboro
    Friendly Center
    3124 Kathleen Avenue
    Greensboro, NC 27408

    Tel: 336-856-2201
    Fax: 336-856-2202

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fincastles Burger - A Diner even Superman would love.

Fincastles Diner, Downtown Greensboro
So I've been wondering about this place ever since I first heard Fincastles from a friend who works downtown. It's a restaurant that tries to do a good old flashback to the fifties, a cliche'd corner diner, a teenage hangout, complete with a juke box in the corner, and the double straw milkshakes.

Opened in 2005 by Emmett and Jody Morphis, Fincastles immediately makes you feel like you've walked into a Superman comic book, the moment you enter the door. It's a brick diner with steel accenting on the lunch bar that screams of metropolis. There are however, a few clues to suggest you're still in Greensboro, like the outdoor seating or the college waitress dressed with a groovy 70's skirt and tank, anklets made from nature, and her obvious "I'm a student" demeanor. It's an eclectic restaurant with a unique staff that was more than friendly the day we showed up for an "Official Fincastle Burger."

Now here's some insider's advice. Order the onion rings said our waitress. They are down-right smashing, and surprisingly one of the best part of our meal. The fries were okay, but the onion rings are huge, deep-fried, beer-battered, homemade onion rings with a pleasant texture and taste. You're going to want to save a couple them for my next recommendation. Put one (or two) on top of your burger. See, the local's secret to the ultimate Fincastle experience is to take your burger, remove the lid, and add a couple of this ginormous onion rings to it.
The Fincastle Experience
The Fincastle burger by itself was fresh and tasty. It's made fresh with real beef. and you can even ask the cook if you can see his balls of meat, which sit in a cooler beside the grill. Upon your order, they reach in and grab one of their fresh balls of ground beef, slap it on the sizzling grill, and cook it flat with a hamburger press. No frozen hamburger patties at this place.

But the secret to any popular 50's based restaurant was the sauce. Think Big Boy's or Shoney's and their tartar sauce, or McDonald's and their Big Mac sauce. Fincastles realized they needed a proprietary sauce, that would not only make their burger patron's crave the food but also become a synonymous flagship taste of their establishment. To me it was kind of like a spicy ketchup, which isn't necessarily my forte', but for a ketchup lover it could be the answer you've been looking for. What makes it even more rebellious, is that most famous restaurants who have had "secret sauces" generally base them on mayonnaise. It's definitely a unique, and innovative flavor.

Here's the thing. I think Fincastles may really be onto something. Starting with the location on Elm street downtown, the ambiance of a retro fifties burger grill, and the fresh homemade burgers- It's definitely a winner. However there is something lacking. Something that its predecessors had, a product that instantaneously grabs you by the stomach and says "I don't care how much this costs, you're coming back." The other negative is the price. With two adults and two kids, the cost of a meal cost over $30.00 with gratuity. That's a lot of money, even for uppity Elm street. I don't mind helping a small business pay the over-priced rent of Greensboro's revitalization efforts, but to put that in perspective, when I took the whole family out to the posher Macaroni Grill over at Friendly center the week before, the grand total was only $40.00.

The Bottom Line? Expensive but unique. The food was fresh, the service was great, and it's about the only thing on Elm street giving it a go at breaking out from the norm. I'd highly recommend it at least once, and after that keep it to a maximum of ordering onion rings until the next paycheck.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Corner Slice - The Cheesiest Pizza in Greensboro

So tonight I made it downtown for a slice of (pizza) pie at The Corner Slice, a neighborhood pizzeria in Fisher Park. You'd never know when you walked in that the place use to look like this:

...or that this very building is haunted with the murder of its previous tenant. For this reason alone there's some sort of ironic poetry to this posh upscale bar serving pizza and beer.

The metamorphosis of The Corner Slice is a right-fit it appears for the area as I counted no less than a hundred designer dogs and their cher owners walking by. The question is of course is the food any good? Well, that's a loaded question.

Yes it's good. It has some high points and some low points. Let me break it down. First we ordered up some salad.
It's very fresh and plentiful at $4.00 for their 'Dinner Salad'. Mixed greens, purple onions, tomatoes, cheese and great Ranch sauce. Not the best salad in the world, but definitely not the worse. It's what you would expect at a small cafe, not a bar. The corner slice has a split personality.

Next up, the starters, stuffed potato wedges with bacon and cheese.
In my opinion these were good, but average. Made considerably better by the great dipping sauce. (Ranch)

Next was the Pizza:

...and this is when the review got a bit tricky. One might already argue that any pizzeria place that serves Guinness in a can clearly doesn't have a clue, (this is a bar isn't it?) but in all honesty the pizza has some good things going for it. It's super greasy. There's tons of cheese (best part) and it's got a really great taste. In fact the cheese alone makes this pizza a consideration for me to return for a visit. If I approach the whole visit as a patron I'd say it was a good meal. I've had better and I've had worse, and this is slightly better than the McDominos and other chains and it provides a better pizza than these overpriced specialty pizza bistro chains. I mean they do some things you just don't see these days like the golden torched to perfection cheese, greasy super thin sliced pizza, large proportions, and that "old school" pizzeria taste. Now, if I approach this as a cook I'd say the sauce is mediocre lacking the nuances the modern palette requires of gourmet pizza and the crust while nostalgic lacks some of the distinctions that could make it amazing, but the main negative? Lack of toppings. They're sparse and spread out.

So what's the final verdict? The cheese will have me coming back. That's the deal breaker. Everything else is average, but the cheese on this pizza is bountiful and untouchable by any other pizza place in Greensboro that I've tried. What's more important is what this place is. It's the corner bar with a personality disorder. If you lived down the street or wanted to pick up a pie on your way home from work (or the nearby ball park) then this is the perfect convenient neighborhood pub which serves up the cheesiest slice of pizza you've ever had. If you want to escape the average doldrums of normalcy for some less than ordinary corner bar, some local socializing and better than average pub experience... than The Corner Slice is your posh nosh destination.

The Corner Slice Inc
600 North Elm Street
Greensboro, NC 27401
(336) 333-3077

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sleep, Park, and Fly For free when flying out of Raleigh's RDU.

If you're flying out of Raleigh, you might want to consider what we did when we flew to Cairo a few weeks back. Park, sleep and fly at a local hotel, and save on airport parking. We managed to do it for free.

 We had a 6 am fly to New York's LGA the morning we left, and frankly I didn't feel like driving the 1.5 hours to RDU if we didn't have to. My father had been doing "Park & Fly" with a particular hotel in Raleigh which he discovered through a website online, but had particularly high rates the night before our departure. Luckily I found a unique way to save some cash, and get free parking without going through the usual way. There's a Holiday Inn that offers park and ride service less than a half mile away from the runways. Better yet, I went on to American Airlines and was able to book both a night before departure and the night we returned with AAdvantage miles. They also happened to be running a promotion that day which allowed us to book it for 30% less miles. So not only did we get the room for free, we also saved $85 in parking fees by simply advising them on arrival we'd like to leave our car with them. In the morning we took their free shuttle the short 5 minute ride to the airport, after printing out our boarding pass downstairs in the hotel, and walked straight through security and onto our gate.

On our return, we pulled out a business card given to us at check-in, dialed the desk and advised them we returned. When we got to the hotel pickup (zone 15) just outside of baggage claim, our shuttle was waiting with drinks and snack. In minutes we were back to the hotel ready to crash after 24 hours of flying from Cairo. It was the most pleasant way of returning I've ever experienced.

We did discover their breakfast buffet is about $12 a person but after eating Egyptian cuisine for four days it's rather pleasant to eat eggs and sausage once again. I highly recommend this hotel, and parking and flying with them.

Something to be aware of is that there are two Holiday Inns within about half mile of each other. An Express immediately off the overpass, and a full-service Holiday Inn on the same road a few blocks down. We stayed at the full service.

So to recap on how to park and fly for free.:
1. Book the room on AAvacations with your frequent flyer miles. (Holiday Inn at 930 Airport Blvd. Morrisville, NC)
2. Show up the night before your flight, and check-in parking your car at the Holiday Inn lot.
3. Check in requesting shuttle service at a particular time, and a wake-up call.
4. Request a business card or program their phone number into your cellphone for your return.
5. Wake up, go downstairs and print your boarding pass.
6. Take a short 5-10 minute ride to RDU and onto your flight

It was a fairly nice room. 42 inch flat screen, two queen beds, and the usual assortment of bells and whistles like bottled water at check-in and etc. Definitely would do again.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Greensboro's Downtown Farmers' Market

Organic fruits and veggies.
Thanks to Jamy, we visited the downtown farmers' market on Greene Street today here in Greensboro. The place is great. Amazing farm fresh tasting vegetables, meats, baked-goods, and cheeses. They do take credit cards, and the prices are reasonable.

Green Street's "Green Grocery"
Downtown Farm Market is a community supported agriculture (CSA) market featuring the best natural foods grown on the most eco-friendly North Carolina farms. NC farm fresh!

To be frankly honest, I've come to the belief that the vegetables at your local grocery store aren't worth the money they ask. The underdeveloped, unripened, pesticide covered, tasteless foods are commercially created to make money- not be vessels of nutrition, and is poisoning our idea of what food should be. Getting fresh tomatoes, peaches, and plums today was literally like raiding a candy store. The foods were fresh, and sweet. They actually had taste! Imagine that? Remind me again how supermarkets managed to convince us tomatoes taste like what they sell? (They taste like butt to me.) Because, they really don't taste like tomatoes. A fresh vine ripened tomato tastes nothing like the chemically induced puberty of a supermarche's Weird Science tomatoes.

Farm fresh natural produce direct from the farm! Locally grown organic produce, Homeland Creamery Milk & Ice cream, local honey, cheese butter, free range chicken, free range eggs, grass fed beef, buffalo meat (NC Bison), lamb, goat, rabbit, turkey, quail, country ham, bacon, sausage, pork chops, dried fruits, cakes, bread, homemade jams, jellies, sauces and more. 
Inside the Farmers' Market
For the record, this isn't the farmer's market on Yanceyville street that I've yet to manage to get to since the weird hours are always in conflict with my schedule. It's also not the "massive" farmers market out on Sandy Ridge Road which was built where no one lives, and no one wants to go. (I've been saying for years a centrally located open and free farmers market is what's missing here in Greensboro.) This is a little retail establishment perfectly situated right downtown, and is split into two adjacent buildings. In one you have the majority of products, in the other, a giant white dog that winks and wags its tail at you in the dark as you try to figure out if it's real. (It is, and scared the crap out of me when it winked.) The dog (and his owner) also sells homemade, high quality hummus, jams, and middle eastern spices and foods. It's pretty bloody groovy, and everyone we met was super nice to us making sure we only received the freshest quality products.

Downtown Greensboro's Farmers' Market
505 N. Greene St.
Greensboro, NC
(One block North of Marriott Hotel)
336 210-1947
M-Sat 9-6
[email protected] (Mike Causey)

Jack In The Box Fried Tacos - Please come to Greensboro?

Fried Taco Goodness.
We need a bloody economic incentive to get one locally. No seriously. I've been patiently waiting for years now with anticipation. My assumption was since Jack In The Box made it to Charlotte, we soon would be next. How much longer do I have to wait? Now before I lose you, before you quit reading, I need to garnish your attention. Why is Jack In the Box important? FRIED TACOS.

Jack is back.
I left NC around 1998. Loaded up a huge moving van, tossed my motorcycle in the back and drove to college in California. I knew no one, was 3000 miles away from home and I buried myself in school. As an acting major, you know your quickest way to fitting in, is getting to know everyone behind the scenes. So I took a class, one person of about 3 whom worked on Sets with a teacher named Willy. Willy was an ex-hollywood set man, who had resolved himself to living in the Ventura Hills and had settled down with a family while working at the community college. In return he got a nice paycheck, and no one gave a crap that he did it all stoned. Having the munchies, and being around lunch time, Willy approached me one day and asked if I wanted to go to lunch. We volleyed small talk- "where", "I don't know, what's good?"- "Jack in the Box", "Why"- "FRIED TACOS". Leave it to the stoner to introduce me to Jack In the Box's fried Tacos. For the record, Willy was also the one who turned me onto Tommy's. So in my eyes, Willy was one of the few college teachers who taught me something I still actually use.
People kill for these in Compton.

Okay. So I'd later find out that (if I had grown up in L.A.) that Jack In The Box tacos play a pretty big part of "Stoner Mythology" in Southern California. Just the same as Jan's House does in Greensboro... but on a much bigger level.

Two regular Tacos come in at $.99 cents. They're deep fryers can candle 5 at a time, so it's not uncommon for people to order a bag of them. Our first apartment in CA was about 500 feet from a Jack In The Box, so I have them to blame for much of the excessive baggage I gained in my 20s and am now trying to lose in my 30s. So it felt like a drug addicts acid trip when we pulled in to the Jack In the Box in Charlotte yesterday. Everything looked exactly the same as my Saticoy location in California.
It's bigger on the inside.

The food is cheap and good. One of my favorite burgers is their Sourdough Jack, and their deep fried jalapenos are out of this world... but the one you want, the thing they're known for? DEEP FRIED TACOS!!! Which if you think about it, fits perfectly in with our redneck southern diet. We fry everything. Chicken, Funnel Cakes, Tomatoes, Twinkies, Snicker Bars... Taco's are a logical southern food.... and they're super yummy.

(For the record these are nothing like chimichangas, a traditional fried Mexican food.)
My dealer.

All of Jack in the Box's tacos come in with the meat in cheese in the shell. They fry them for a short time, and top it with Jack's special sauce and some lettuce. But don't forget the Jack's Hot Sauce packets. You've got to squeeze some of that on the taco before you delight in these wonderful creation which are just utterly amazing. It's unlike any fast-food you've every had. It's horribly bad for you, cheap as can be, and you'll scratch your head and wonder why you've never had a fried taco before.

La Farm Bakery and Parisian Cafe - C'est parfait!

La Boulangerie
I went to the most perfect place in NC today. A French cafe which serves up the essence of Europe without leaving home. See this is what I expected of Simple Kneads but didn't find. Google France +NC and you get La Farm, in Cary NC. We went there today after I mistook the text GTCC texted me indicating that school was delayed. Unfortunately they failed to properly communicate it was only the Greensboro campus, not Jamestown. So it became a "Ferris Bueller's" Day off for moi, and ma amie as I was now too late for class. We hopped in the car and headed east. 40 miles later we were in Cary, entering La Farm Bakery.

Outdoor seating just like Paris.

This place is perfect. Cafe seating outside, and in. (face your chair outward and observe the world!) Dark roasted coffees, and French style made food. The inside is decorated old-world-style with exposed bricks and arches. Wooden tables, nickel coated iron benches, and an exposed working bakery. Asiago and farma breads line the walls with baskets of baguettes... It's a Livvy dream come true. Attached is their boulangerie (bakery) and patisserie (pastry shop). You walk in go up to the counter and order. Apparently everything is out-of-this-world, and I wouldn't doubt it for a minute, we managed to arrive there for the breakfast and ordered a croque madam: a buttered, and grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. Served with fresh fruit, a smile lit up on my face as our "garcon" (waiter) brought the freshly prepared dish to our table. It was absolute perfection! Gooey egg and cheese, crispy, tender bread... made to the perfection.... It was angelic.

CROQUE MADAME ham and gruyere on toasted 
La Farm bread with Mornay sauce and two fried eggs
After enjoying a slow breakfast, we couldn't wait to go shopping in the boulangerie. We grabbed a giant wooden basket and began filling it with breads, tarts, scones, stuffed rolls, and all the beautiful things Americans are never supposed to discover. (and can't find in Greensboro.) Interestingly, the place did seem like a melting pot of customers, though I'll admit I was saddened I wasn't greeted with a "bonjour", nor was I able to use my French. On the other hand, in "speak-English" America, this was the nicest staff I've ever met. We've only taken a few nibbles of our take-home bounty, but everything, has been life altering. In comparable to the foods I had in France, I'd say this place nailed it on the head.
Real Baguettes! OMG!

Perhaps the best part about this place is the prices. Super cheap. Most of the time, French restaurants are fancy business attire special occasion restaurants. This place gives you big portions, a casual French cafe atmosphere, and a uncanny, always perfect tasting menu of comfort foods. When I say, go... I mean go... before you're plucked from this world or suffer some horrible debilitating disease leaving you without taste-buds. It's that good. It's that perfect. If I can't move to France then I'm buying a house next to La Farm. Just one question, what do you see in this cup of coffee? Wait don't answer that...

Du Cafe aux Phallus?
La Farm Bakery & Cafe
Preston Corners
4248 NW Cary Parkway
Cary, NC 27513

Papa Murphy's Pizza - Take, Bake and Wallow in Gluttony

So tonight we stopped at Greensboro's Papa Murphy's Take & Bake Pizzeria up on Battleground to take home dinner. We've never been there, or been to one, though I was familiar with the concept because of Greensboring's Matt and how he use to rave about their pizzas. Unfortunately they picked an odd location for the place, it's way out... like almost to Reedy Fork. One lone woman named Mary entertained the kids, and piled on mountain loads of toppings on our Chicago style deep dish pizza. She carefully explained the process, and how to cook it. (It's a take and bake.)

In less than 10 minutes and for under $25 dollars we left with 7 plus pounds (according to Mary) of pizza and bread sticks. It's really a unique concept. You go in and order a pizza, and they assemble it subway style then wrap in in saran wrap for you to take home and cook in your oven. You might be asking, "what's the draw then?" Well it's abundance. It's fat indulgence. It's cheap food, and a whole lot of it. Mind you the pizza is good, I've had better and I've had worse, but the overwhelming size and proportion of the food you get for the money makes this place amazingly cool. The toppings reminded me a bit of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell all in one. I can't explain it, you'll just have to trust me. The crust is an industry standard delayed fermentation crust which rises light and fluffy with a tad bit of a crunch. It lacks the flavoring many of the pizza places like Domino's do but you could easily add that at home. (butter, garlic, and imported 3 cheese)

Where Papa Murphy's pizza really shines, (beside making a French-person cringe in disgust at our glutenous fat arses here in America) is the additional options in purchasing pizza. First, they take EBT, which for anyone on or has been on food stamps will know... allows you to get their pizza (because it's not cooked) on food stamps. (Republicans will be lobbying the state legislature to get that overturned I'm sure.) and more importantly you can now pick up your delivery style pizza in advance, maybe even days, and have it warm and fresh when you want without the whole waiting 90 minutes for some snotty punk nose kid to show up at your door demanding a tip. No tip, and cheap abundant pizza... it's not a bad deal.

French Food In Greensboro? Oui, Le Print-Works Bistro!

C'est le Print Works!
Who the Hell names a French restaurant "Print Works?" What the heck does it all mean? I mean, there's the Print Works in Manchester England, an entertainment complex in the place of a former print shop and press... but why for a French restaurant in Greensboro? There's not even a "Le" in front of it! The only answer I can come up with is, is that it's a disguise to keep the social classless rednecks such as myself completely ignorant to the fact Greensboro has a French food restaurant. I mean, after all, you don't want me showing up in jeans and a shirt demanding to be served quality food. I might realize there's more to life than K&W Cafeteria and revolt. I mean the place doesn't even print the prices on the menu, so how is the less than average person such as myself decided if they can even afford it while begging for change on some corner of Martin Luther King JR Drive?
En Greensboro, Ouais!

I've watched enough television to know, if you have to ask the price then the place isn't for you. Unfortunately for them we didn't quite care, and went anyways. If the credit card gets declined, then "Oh well", what are they going to do- pump my stomach? I mean, I was dying for some French food. My go-to cheap French place in Cary was too far to drive, and literally if I didn't do something fast I might have stabbed someone with a baguette if I didn't get some NOW!

Located in one of the world's most eco-friendly hotels: The Proximity (also the greenest Restaurant in America) we walked in and were seated outside by a tiny stream, (may have been a decorated sewage run-off) under an umbrella table with French music playing. It's upscale and faux French. Don't get me wrong, it's nice- just not very French. In France, they'd face you toward the road... and you'd observe people cursing, dogs crapping, and children crying. Here there were butterflies, and several well-dressed executives giving us dirty looks as we ordered without their snoberish accent. Luckily our waiter garnered a bit of respect when we correctly pronounced "frites" instead of "FRY-TEZ" or worse "French fries".... and that's where the tables began to turn. Our Garcon (waiter) wasn't very French, heck, he didn't even have an accent. Sure he was nice, attentive, and everything you could ever want in a waiter... but he wasn't French. In fact other than the food, I was clearly the most French thing there. I really wanted to order in French... but I didn't think he'd understand. After-all he was just somebody from Greensboro paid to be nice. It was a job, not a lifestyle. He probably leaves in his Camaro to watch American football and protest with the Tea-Party. Let's up the ante Proximity, and buy this guy Rosetta Stone. Teach him a few French phrases. S'il vous plait?
Steak and Frites. 

But lets not dwell on that. What the Chef has done here is offer many, what would be, rather cheap French street (or cafe) foods, and make them "upscale". Steak and frites, croque monsieur, and quiche lorraine all available for a rather reasonable price that taste amazing. The seared hanger steak in my dish was probably the best steak I've ever had in my life. Shannon's pan seared bacon wrapped scallops were enough for her to claim she had a mouth orgasm. I was a bit disappointed to not find a Le Americain (or a shawarma baguette) just to blow my mind a bit; but, whatever they're doing here, food-wise, is perfect. A bit pricey, ($37 for us two) as expected, (Somebody has to pay for the London taxi out front.) but cheap enough that even us average people can afford it. (At least on lunch.) Since it's the only place in town serving real (Americanized) French food... that's really good... I'd say it's a bargain. Technically this might be the best restaurant in Greensboro. Seriously. I can't wait to go back.

Print Works Bistro
702 Green Valley Road,
Greensboro, NC 27408

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cincy's Downtown Restaurant - How to Experience Greensboro Right

Cincy's Downtown Greensboro
For almost a quarter of century, Cincy's, a Cincinnati chili inspired restaurant has been serving up plates of spaghetti topped with Greek inspired goodness in downtown Greensboro. It's tucked away on a side street (February One Place), in a little restaurant with a very tall sign reminiscent of an era when the downtown was a bustling area robust with businessmen. (think Clark Kent, Manhattan, 1930s) Today it's a secret locale almost directly across from the News & Record. You can almost imagine a 1930's journalist walking out the doors of the newsroom and going go up the street for some chili at Cincy's. Of course in reality the restaurant, at least on the inside is a fairly modern one. (Though it looks like they robbed it from a Puerto Rican selling chairs in a Miami back alley.) A small kitchen, and a small dining room with a typical modern arrangement of tables and chairs. It's packed, and loud. Southerners are just generally loud anyways, but put them in a small confined place and it's deafening. It's a price worth paying though since Cincy's is only open 3 hours a day from 11am to 2pm.
Cincinnati Chili 

One of the things I loved about Cincy's is that their chili is low-fat. They mix lean ground beef and turkey to get was has got to be the healthiest food downtown, but then, it's chili and it's a comfort food: that's an amazing paradox.

The prices are great, and the service was quick and prompt. The best part though was the fact that I got my fill of Cincinnati chili-mac without having to board a crowded Delta flight to Kentucky. (Factoid: The Cincinnati, OH airport is in KY.) For an ex-Ohioan... this is a dream come true. The chili was spot on too. Just the right amount of tang, texture, and flavor. The onions were chopped fine and the cheese shredded to perfection. It is for a better lack of words, "almost perfect". I love the location, and love the food. I like that it's tucked away and hidden, and I love that they serve non-native, regional comfort foods from my home state. For everything that's wrong in the city of Greensboro, this is one thing that's right. It's tradition, it's culture, it's the answer you need when asking yourself, "How do I do experience Greensboro right?" You go to Cincy's Downtown.

Cincy's Downtown
115 East February One Place
Greensboro, NC 27401
(336) 378-9774

Country Barbecue Restaurant - You'll eat your slaw and you'll like it too!

Every town has that one restaurant the eventually becomes synonymous with the city it resides in. Misplaced residents are often left to suffer as they merely can munch on the memories of their former hometown and its cuisine.

I've lived all across the United States and in every place I've lived, there has been that one place. In Los Angles it was Tommy's Burger. In Toledo, Ohio it was Tony Packo's. And in Greensboro, It's honestly a toss up between Country Barbecue on Wendover or Beef Burger on Lee Street.

While I'm sure people will think I'm a heathen for saying this, I plan to do it anyways. I don't like BBQ, but I do like chili cheese burgers. And this restaurant, Country BBQ on Wendover Avenue gets the mouth full of food award of the week for the best chili cheese burger in Greensboro. Besides where else in Greensboro can you actually order french fries by the pound?

I very rarely get a chance to go to Country Barbecue, because one, they don't take credit cards, and two they are located on Wendover, which in my opinion makes going there a life or death situation.

But I decided yesterday, after paying off those freaking charity leeches at work: the United Way, and having a few dollars in my pocket I would tempt fate during "Cyber Monday" and get me some yummy greasy burgers. "I'll have 2 cheeseburgers with mustard, chili, and onions please," I said to the drive thru speaker which looked more like a 5th grade science project, than a fast food drive-thru. The speaker responded..."Two Burg (static) with All (static) the pull thru (static) your total." Sure I said, thinking they better not put slaw on my darn burger. Several minutes of waiting behind an SUV with a license plate of "1 KULMOM", and I pulled up to this ancient burger contraption called the drive-thru whirl-o-matic. It's kind like those revolving doors they used to put in shopping malls and hospitals. The lady inside has this huge money claw device that comes out to attack you as you pull up. I stuck my money in this torture device and the lady practically snapped my hand off as she rotated the window.

I peered through the window to see a very large man preparing my burgers.... squirting mustard on my buns, slopping chili on my burger... and...

"NO........", I screamed.


I beat on the window, screaming "NO. NO. NO." but they didn't notice. Then I realized I had my window rolled up. Too late. The bag had made its way into the rotating drive-thru of death back to my car door. I reached out to my bag disappointed, and figured what the heck, I'll scrape em. So there went the top bun, and that gross gooey slaw. A small smile came to my face as I realized I now had a partial Atkin's Burger. All the grease with half the carbs. Yeah.

Johnson's Drive In Restaurant - "The Best Burger in North Carolina"

Johnson's Famous Sign
If there will ever be one place, one restaurant I'll ever miss if I ever move away from North Carolina, it's Johnson's Restaurant in Siler City. Those who know me, know my favorite cheeseburger in the world, prior to Johnson's was Tommy's out in Los Angeles. This rivals it. So take this post as one of the most serious one's I've ever written on the subject of gastronmy . It is not a joke, not a drill, this is some serious taste-bud armageddon they've got going on at Johnson's.

Claxton Johnson, Hero of Burger Lovers.
To experience chili-cheeseburger history in the making, it does require a short drive from Greensboro. It is however, a pilgrimage you shouldn't ponder, for never in your life will you taste a burger so divine as what this quest will yield. Trust me.

 I had learned about Johnson's burgers from a co-worker on my first job, after returning to North Carolina several years back.Whether it's true or not, I was told by my former co-worker, that Johnson's is one of two connected restaurants which serves a unique type of chili-cheeseburger. The first restaurant is called The Stockyard; located in the Siler City cattle auction that takes place each Monday, and the other Johnson's Drive-In, a kitschy greasy spoon off Highway 64. The auction which is where the beef comes from, offers the additional service of pick your own cow, where as my co-worker explains, you can have it butchered, and cooked by Johnson's staff right there in the restaurant. This also explains why Johnson's Restaurant is closed on Mondays, and also is the reason that their beef is always fresh and unique. It's because it comes in each morning, freshly ground from the stockyard. Hand picked, never frozen, Carolina blessed, grain-fed beef, that is grilled only after it's ordered. Fixings such as cole slaw and chili are prepared daily for your hamburger, which tragically- but tastefully, had a heart beat just a short twenty-four hours ago.
This is what heaven looks like.

Sounded compelling to me. The problem is there's a catch. (Again according to lore.) They only have a certain amount of beef each day, ground fresh each morning, so when they run out, they close up shop for the day. So at about 10 AM the crusade begins, as hordes of people descend upon Johnson's Burgers.

The first time we ever went to Johnson's, it was life changing.

Chili-Cheese Fries.
I ordered two Chili Burgers with lettuce, tomato, chili, mustard, and onions under the hood with a mountain of chili cheese fry. You will melt as they assemble this weapon of mass hunger destruction, covered in a slice of cheese, 1/2 inch thick, gooey, melted, Velveeta cheese, beautiful enough to make any American proud. I was anticipating a good burger- It wasn't: it was transcendental  It was like a food epiphany. The meat was so tender, so juicy, so unbelievably incredibly good, that I cannot for the life of me, recall a single hamburger in my thirty years in this world ever tasting anything as good as this. It's seductive, sensual, it's a burgergasm that will leave you screaming for more. You'll crave this burger, dream of this place. Johnson's Drive in is a legend to be sung among burgerphiles for all time. It is, without a doubt, the best burger in North Carolina, if not the entire east coast- perhaps even all the way to Barstow, CA and my Tommy's. This is one darn, darn, darn amazing burger. This is the definition of comfort food, of soul food if you will. Johnson's knows what they're doing. They're not to be messed with...

It's hands down the best burger in North Carolina.

Welcome to Burger Happiness.
Johnson's Drive-in Restaurant

1520 E 11th Street
Siler City, NC 27344

Better than a taco truck: Carniceria El Mercadito

 A lot has changed at Carnicera El Mercadito but the food is still amazing. It's still has the best, hands-down, tacos I've ever eaten. I've been to a lot of places and have eaten a lot of Mexican food in my life, but these tacos rival most anything I've had here in the U.S., Mexico, or elsewhere.

This is the most authentic Mexican food place in Greensboro. It's what you call in Spanish a "Taquería" or taco stand, and it's amazing! However, don't take my word for it, look at this:
Food Truck style tacos without having to chase the truck.

Located in the old BoHogs or Rock Ola restaurant location on Muirs Chapel Road they've combined with "Panaderia El Buen Gusto" (a Mexican bakery) to form what I like to call the mega Mexican market! They now have tables, chairs, and shelves of fresh baked goods that rival more expensive local "posh" bakeries unlike their original location they began from.

Today they have a English menu in addition to the Spanish menu. They also had several people on staff which seemed to be able to translate and speak English. You may still find a need for some minor Spanish, but it's relatively easy. Simply go to the back counter/grill in the back of the building which is run by no less than two identical Mexican sisters who make tacos. This is where you say I'd like [one=uno, two=dos, three=tres] "order of Tacos" and then you need to decide if you want it "Con Al pastor" which is pork marinated in Achiote and vinegar, or "Con [carne] Asada" which is steak or "con chorizo" which is Spanish Sausage or "con pollo" (with chicken). Further more if you show up on the weekends they do a special "carnitas" that isn't available during the week. If you'd like everything on it simply say "con todo" (everything) which includes cheese, cilantro, lettuce and tomatoes.

...and, that's it. Next you stand around while some Mexican looking guy with the face of Joey from "FRIENDS" works up his best English and asks "How youz doin?".... and... a few minutes later and for about seven dollars (yes, only seven dollars), you leave with the most beautiful, wonderful four taco platter you've ever seen. Complete with a grilled pepper, onions, and piled high with cilantro, avocados, queso de fresco, and tomatoes. Don't forget their fresh-homemade salsa which, for me, makes this is the best Mexican you've ever had in Greensboro.

Carniceria El Mercadito reminded me of a little Taquería down in Saticoy, California where I use to eat at when I first moved to Ventura. It's authentic, it's real, and it's good. It's not Americanized burritos like Moe's nor even your local "Authentic" Mexican restaurant which is really an Americanized version that tricks gringos (white people) into believing it's Mexican.. No, this is truly the real deal.

Of course on your way out you can always pick up some sugar cane, spices or warm home-made tortillas for some home-made Mexican food adventures of your own.

We also grabbed some baked goods today which you can purchase by grabbing a tray and tongs, grab what you want then take it to the counter for purchase. We opted for about 10 items which costed just over $6.00. I recommend the rectangle pastries with the cream cheese. Muy deliciouso!

El Milagro: The Miracle Palace of Tortas

Greensboro's Best Torta Place?
So the other day I mentioned this place El Milagro that Adam told me about. I didn't have time to fill you in on all the details because I was nose deep in school at the time, (I also didn't plan on writing about it- so that tells you how impressed I was) but I feel this deserves my full attention. I shall explain all, so hold on to your paper napkin hat, here we go. For my whitey demographic, Torta's are a Mexican sandwich. El Milagro translates to "The Miracle", and indeed this place is. Officially it's called El Milagro: El Palacio de los Tortas or in other words: The Miracle Palace of Tortas. With a name like that you'll probably have high expectations and El Milagro doesn't let you down. In fact they're right next door to a tire and wheel store where while you eat you can get 20" chrome dubs, and a booming car stereo installed.

So the food? Unbelievable!!! There's definitely some immigrant grandmother in the back kitchen chained to the table hand making this food. Hand baked bread, freshly cooked meats, and one the hottest and best salsas I've found locally. It's definitely one of my new favorites.

As a primer, you may have heard someone who admires a sandwich called the Cubano. You may have not realized that this is a torta. Here's how a El Milagro's Cubano stacks up:

Beans, two types of sausage, cured pork, two types of cheese, ham, & milamesa (breaded beef steak) [Image credit: Adam Arney]
These are 1/4 foot tall sandwiches, that you can lather on some of the most amazing salsas in town. What's more is these aren't just great for lunch. I was Jonesing for a breakfast burrito the other day, or something different here in Greensboro. Even googled "best breakfast in Greensboro", and ended up at my own website faced with the repetitive biscuits, hash-browns and egg style southern restaurants. It was about 10:30am, (I believe they open at 10am) and that's when I remembered Adam's picture of El Milagro's tortas. Luckily they were open, and I was able to order their Olimpica, a torta with eggs and cheese, smoked ham and breaded steak. To say the least, Livvy was one happy camper.

Shan got a platillo a flat bread version which translates to "flying saucer".

To make it extra authentico we ordered flavored water. It's like Kool-Aid for adults and is available in several fruit flavors. The taste is out of this world. Every nuance is spot on, and you can tell this is some quality stuff. This is the real deal when it comes to real food, a palace in a city of run down food choices which I highly recommend visiting.

El Milagro: The Palace of Tortas
3008 High Point Rd
Greensboro, NC 27403
(336) 851-9222

-English speaking staff.
-Credit cards accepted.
-Take-away offered.