Thursday, June 27, 2013

Emma Key's Burgers & Fries

They really are beautifully delicious, it's just that they're a tad tiny for $7.
Let me start off with saying I hate writing bad reviews, I really do. I'm not a News & Record food critic committed to never writing a bad review for the sake of the community or public favors, I'm a real person, a UNCG student, and I've been blogging since 1999 and I pay for my own food when I go out. I'm also a cook, and a dedicated one at that- I know when food is good, and when it's bad. That said, I try to look on the bright side of things as much as I can (but I probably come across as a complete a-hole [with that, grin and bear it- it's nothing personal, I love all of you]).

 At Emma Key's they've got a lot of really awesome things going on. Great architecture, beer, they let the children (and adults) draw on the pavement with chalk, they serve diet Cheerwine, and the staff was super friendly. It's location in a residential neighborhood of UNCG is kind of cool, but parking is hit-or-miss, with no parking-lot. The menu is your typical posh nosh hamburger of copy-cat burgers like The Penguin's Pimento Burger (Charlotte), or  Carl's JR's BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger. You can get an egg on you burger like in Germany, or settle for some French fries with ranch dressing. It all sounds great. The concept is witty and chic. There's a potential for amazing things to happen here, you can feel it, but something gets in the way: the food.

It looks better than it tastes. The ranch was the winner of this combo.

The truth is the food was just meh. I mean, this is one of those times where expectation definitely exceeds reality. They've got a food review from the local paper (N.R., or maybe Yes Weekly, I do not recall) hanging on the wall that they point out to you when you walk in (though I haven't found it online), they exclaim on their website they were voted the number one cheeseburger in the Triad. It should be amazing, but it wasn't. Now before I offend anyone (I may have already done it), I wanted to point out some other reviews. When I came home I really wanted to find out why such a highly revered restaurant didn't make the cut for me, that's when I found some reviews on Urbanspoon:

  • Food was mediocre. Service was the worst I've ever had. 
  • The fries are above average but the burgers and shakes are not. 
  • The "homemade" chili on my burger was terrible.  
  • Not going back, over-priced, slow, grumpy service.

Of course there's also many positive reviews (they hold a 91% on Urban Spoon), and to-each-their-own. I'm curious about the financial success of the venture, as that itself would paint a picture of the restaurants success. The owner even responded to one of the bad reviews on U.S., saying they've grown more than they expected, suggesting I'm completely wrong, but...

Exactly how do you obtain a flat-top? As far as buns go, I preferred the Brioche at Big Burger.

 Here's my opinion:
  • I paid $40 for four people (two adults, two children), and that's a lot of money. The portions were tiny (the burgers), and the fries were separate.
  • The burger (I purchased the Lone-Star) was not unique in flavor or taste, and lacked sauce.
  • The fries were great, the ranch was awesome, but I ordered Three-Way with Chili, Bacon, & Cheese. Sounds awesome, till you realize the chili is nothing but mashed and seasoned beans.
(Record screech.)
The place was dead when we went. 

Let me pause for a moment and explain something. I can handle the spaghetti-like chili often placed on burgers and hot-dogs in the South (see review of Burger Spot). I may not like it, but I can deal with it.... but BEANS, on a BURGER? ARE YOU FLIPPING INSANE??? (See I have no censor.)

I mean, I suppose if you love beans... but chili, especially condiment chili (traditionally known as hot-dog sauce) is not supposed to have beans in it (it's somewhere in the 10 Commandments). In fact in all of my existence, and all of my travels, I have never had chili cheese fries with mashed beans on it. I just can't fathom this! The Gordon Ramsey voice in my head was cursing silently in response to the idea that everything I ever fantasized in a chili fry had been destroyed. The idea you place the word gourmet on a burger, and don't even grasp the consequences of the chilimageddon you've accidentally set in motion bothers me beyond words. Cooking 101: chili has no beans. PERIOD. 

It made the whole dish almost inedible for me. The idea was great, it's just that the recipe (and execution) isn't there. Truthfully, that was the problem the entire time. I kept getting excited about the idea of a super awesome burger (after-all they're $7 a piece), but kept getting disappointed. I love the idea of a huge plate of fries with chili and cheese (which they did bring), but began to cry when I tasted what looked like Kal Kan on the French fries.

It's not that it can't be saved, it's just they need some better recipes, and more bang for the buck. I really had high-hopes for Emma Key's considering I'm entering my senior year at UNCG, but alas it just disappointed me. 

My last few moments at Emma Key's was in the toilet where I discovered toilet paper on the floor and just a rather disheveled women's room. I've been search everywhere for the best burger in NC, and Greensboro, and while it troubles me to say this, Greensboro just doesn't have what it takes yet to become No. 1 in my opinion.

If you're going to go to Emma Key's, my recommendation is order anything but the chili burger or chili fries. The Lone-Star taste good, but needed more sauce. Expect to pay $7 for a burger + $7 for a fry (which can be split) + Drink. They do have beer which is nice, but my recommendation would be go for the Bucket O'Water on the back shelf for free (technically .25 for the cup). I've never drank from a bucket before. That's an experience which much like the chili will make you go WTF?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Natural Science Center and Aquarium

Giant Tortoise.
Outdated, but still cool the T-Rex at the Natural Science Center.
It's almost like Greensboro in its infinite wisdom realized that having a zoo, might be a good thing (it just took several decades to figure that out). Look, the Asheboro Zoo is nice, but the fact that it's always 110 F and they've managed to make the three mile trek from Africa to North America uphill both ways limits my visits to the cooler days of Spring or Fall. Yet yesterday, despite being a scorching 89 F with 200% 300% humidity- I survived a visit to the Natural Science Center in Greensboro. There's adequate shade, water-fountains, and at the very worst, there's air-conditioning inside most of the buildings.

The NSC is just days away from their grand-opening of their aquarium. Ticket prices are going up, but there was still much to see in the ever expanding Animal Zoo attached to the Science Center. It seems to get better every-time we go.  The animals are closer to the visitor (than Asheboro), and seem more lively than their Asheboro counter-parts; though you can expect the ever-lazy Tiger to be snoozing on his back just like my house-cat. Perhaps next time I'll bring some cat-nip?

The staff and volunteers are amazing and informative. Swing by Ruby the talking bird and watch it heckle staff who ask it to "come here".

 We caught an alligator feeding, and got mooned by the gibbons which are unique to the Greensboro Zoo and one other zoo in the country.

Inside the older part of Natural Science center, parts of it, appear dated. The expansion and renovations over the last decade have been slow to replace exhibits with old CRT TVs with lines rolling through the picture, or buttons in the black light crystal room which just have a vacant hole. I really can't complain as I never thought Greensboro would ever consider the possibility of positioning itself as more of a state attraction with the aquarium. Considering the land available at the nearby Country Park- this zoo, and the Science Center could begin to over-shadow Asheboro's aging zoo. The day Greensboro gets a big polar bear, doing high-dives into a ice-cold water tank, I'd say it's over for Randolph County.

It's a good day for some shade. Good news is NSC has tons of it.

Is it too soon to hope for an amusement park too?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Big Burger Spot

Big Burger Spot's Chili Cheese Fries, Bacon Cheese Burger & Greek Salad

Big Burger Spot, a orange and green painted comic book themed burger stand semi-adjacent to a gas station near Wal-Mart on Battleground has built a reputation as being Greensboro's best burger. It was rated number four on a top list done by CBS Charlotte, and a favorite among many. I had never heard of it till a few weeks ago, but once I did, I knew I needed to judge for myself.

To cut to the chase: I'd agree it's good, real good, and yes- it's one of the best in Greensboro.

It reminded me a lot of a Burger place I used to go to in Belgium called Burger Republic where I could get truffle sauce on  my burgers. The Big Burger Spot doesn't put it on their burgers (though I'm wondering if I asked), but they do on their fries (white truffle [B.R. uses dark truffle sauce]).

Bacon and Blue Cheese "Almost" Big Burger
Both restaurants boast fresh ingredients, and unique combinations, like blue cheese and bacon-bacon burgers, or a Hawaiian Chicken sandwich.

As a cook, I got the sense that the menu came from very creative people, but I suppose if I had any constructive criticism it would be the chili. It's perfect for eating alone, but its just a bit too much tomato rich for my tastes as a condiment chili, or hot-dog sauce (which are typically more beef flavored). However I can't really complain, it's a typical style of chili common in the area (Carolina), which a lot of people love. Honestly Big Burger Spot's version is far better than their competitors like Cook-Out or Country BBQ.

Big Burger Spot's Menu

However the burgers are epically delicious, and cooked medium (or how you prefer) which is unheard of these days (but just how I love it). In a law-suit happy America, I've grown sick of over-cooked burgers, and it's a breath of fresh air to get a hamburger the way it was meant to be made: pink in the middle.

The chili cheese fries, though suffering from my previous critique, were served on a pizza pan, and huge. Definitely wowing all of us over with it's volcano of cheese.

The winner of the day was Chance's Bacon-Bacon Cheeseburger, and the Blue Cheese & Bacon Cheeseburger.

I can't wait to come-back to try something new. I have no doubt this is one awesome burger joint, probably the best in town. It's not cheap ($39 for four), but it's well worth the money. Stay clear of the chili unless you like spaghetti sauce on your sandwich and fries- but do order  it if you want a cup of stand-alone chili. Recommendations: anything with bacon, and go for some Bacon & Ranch Fries.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Time Out Restaurant - Chapel Hill ~ Chicken & Cheddar Biscuit

This thing is the size of a softball.

Time Out's Chicken and Cheddar biscuit is one of the best things I've ever ate.

Near the campus of UNC Chapel Hill resides the biggest and best biscuit I've ever eaten. It's an over-sized biscuit filled with a de-boned chicken breast. No I'm not talking about a chicken patty of processed white meat chicken, I'm talking about a honking huge piece of chicken breast covered in cheddar cheese on a huge multi-layer biscuit dripping in butter.

The do sell other stuff, I'm just not sure why you'd order it.

Where is this incredible breakfast biscuit? Time-Out Restaurant on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. It's a rite of passage for students, a Tarheel favorite they claim.Walk in to the Carolina blue dining room and you'll be met by a sign that reads "Over 3.8 Million Sold". That's a lot of chicken and biscuits.

Is it good? Oh yeah. It's unfreaking believably good. It's unfathomably belly filling breakfast deliciousness of taste-bud sexiness for only $5. It's one of the best things I've ever ate.

That's right, Biscuitville, Bojangles, and your grandma's kitchen all pale in comparison to this beauty. Best part is it's cheap, and Time Out is open 24 hours, so there's no excuse not to go now and experience the best breakfast biscuit in North Carolina, if not the world.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Pick Your Own Blueberries (and Pineapple Cake too)

Pick your own Blueberries in North Carolina? YES!

We've been picking our own strawberries for years at Greeson's, but recently we stumbled upon a place where you can pick your own blueberries. Not only can you pick them right off the vine, but they have several other home-made products that will blow your mind (ice-cream, cakes, squishees). Well worth a lazy-day's drive, thirty miles into the country in my opinion.

The place? Millstone Creek Orchards, near Ramseur, NC. It's a little farm in the middle of nowhere, that sells touristy style, farm-fresh foods, but are really darn good. My favorite? Organic real-juice raspberry and apple cider slushies. They're out of this world, and perfect for these hot-summer days. You will get brain freeze, but that's part of the fun! Check their facebook page for picking "forecasts", and enjoy the freshest fruits you've ever picked.

Most delicious pineapple cake I've ever eaten.

Millstone literally has the family grandma stashed in the back somewhere turning out cakes. These won't win any awards for looks, but they're home-made, full-fat, and completely delicious. The pineapple cake it out of this world. In a world of store-bought, factory made cakes, the concept of driving to a farm, buying a home-made cake from someones grandma is absolutely unheard of (and sort of cool).

So what are you waiting for? Hop in the car, and pop on down to Millstone Creek and pick some blueberries, grab a slushy, and take home a cake. It's a day-trip of fun that might become your secret hot-spot for farm-fresh fun.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Damn Good BBQ & Burgers: Allen & Son's BBQ

Kids had a camping trip out at Lake Jordan, so we stopped on the 501 in Pittsboro at a little house tucked on the side of a ridge in the middle of nowhere for lunch. The place: Allen & Son's BBQ.

It's about 50 minutes from Greensboro, but well worth the drive. It's a old home on the side of the road with a pick-up window in the front of the house (perfect for those drives home from RDU), and a dining room in the back. Here they sell one of the best darn double cheeseburgers and homemade BBQ you can find. Hand cut fresh French fries, fresh squeezed lemonade, and homemade buns make this an insanely cool place that people literally pull over on the side of the road and eat.

It's cash only, and about $10 a person, but my double cheeseburger was HUGE, as were the platters. I'd grab a bottle of their BBQ vinaigrette sauce even if you don't order the BBQ and slather it all over the burger and fries too. It's out of this world!

The food was tasty, greasy and yummy, but they were busy at the lunch hour rush, and the lack of refills on the lemonade, did make me wish this along with the very outdated decor inside should be changed. The hot-pant wearing waitress was overwhelmed with a health-inspection at the same time, which may have led to some delays, but it didn't thwart the customers from breaking down the doors for the food.

I'd definitely recommend the place, but be sure to grab the sauce, that's what really makes this place hot!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cheaper alternatives instead of Cable : The DB-8 Antenna

So I dropped Time Warner cable a few months ago, but never really blogged it. Lot's of people have been asking for advice since, so I thought I'd post something online about my set-up, and answer a few questions.

The big question everyone wants to know is how much I save. Well, I had a relatively cheap cable package, but my bill was on average about $66 a month. That's $792 a year, which I save. I do miss a few channels, but to be honest most of the programming is complete crap in the U.S., and can be supplemented with internet versions, so honestly it's no loss. What I've lost I've gained, like the BBC News at 11:30 on Public Television via HDTV antenna.

What you might not know is that television since the digital switch-over has completely changed watching TV by antenna (I was dumbfounded by the clarity and picture). TV reception is actually BETTER than cable. Cable compresses the digital signal, but aerial DTV signals are uncompressed. What's more is there is a relatively large number of tv channels out there, including MTV like country music channels, religious (tons of these), and more than enough to peak you interest when your not using Hulu, Amazon Prime, or Netflix. I'm also wondering if networks might try to bypass cable companies all together in the future as it's so simple to broadcast a signal wirelessly to millions of people again.

It's fairly simple to install a antenna too. I recommend doing it right the first time, and never having to worry about it. Spend a little more and get more. With my antenna set-up, just south of Greensboro, NC, I get about 45 channels including ABC, CBS, & NBC (plus a ton more). Now here's the cool part, I aimed the antenna at Raleigh, because I prefer those channels. I could have aimed it towards Greensboro and received perfect reception, even when some antennas (like WXII) are 50 miles away. With this set-up though, I get my Big-3 out of Raleigh, and pick up the Greensboro channels 2, and 8, fairly well off the back of the antenna. I chose this because I preferred a more liberal slanted demographic newscast than our conservative based channels (if such a thing exists in NC).

What you need:

DB-8 Antenna $69
There is now a more-expensive DB-8E if you're really nuts, but for $69 on Amazon shipped free to my door, this was the deal I wanted. It will pull in signals up to 70 miles, and you can mount it in your attic, on your roof, or even on the back patio of an apartment with a non-penetrating mount (similar to what I did). Why the DB-8? Well I did my research, and despite what anyone tells you, this is about the best out there. If you want the best, external, out-door antennas are necessary, and this one is the highest rated one on the market, and it's what the professionals use. I even tried a MOHU Leaf knockoff prior to the DB8, and found I received less channels than a home-made tin foil antenna. By comparison once the DB8 was install, I gained 20+ channels. It just wins, and yes size matters.

Antennas Direct STM-715 30-Inch Antenna J-Mount $25
This is what you mount the antenna to. You may not need it if you currently have a satellite mount and wish to just mount the antenna to that. This is also available through Amazon.

RCA TVPRAMP1R Outdoor Antenna Preamplifier $24
This is clearly an optional item, but I highly recommend it. In order for it to work right you likely will have to re-wire you coaxial cables if you have multiple tvs, the reason being, is it uses a single source of power before any splitters. If someone is installing this for you, it should be an easy add-on. This definitely cleared up some fringe channels and gave me all the reception I could possibly attain from it. The purpose of this device is to eliminate signal loss in the cable. It takes the signal directly at the antenna before it's weakened on its way to your tv. It makes things rock-solid, and clearly you know you're getting the best signal possible with this simple upgrade.

As mentioned before, you might need so coaxial cables, cable ends, crimps, cutters, waterproof sleeves, grounding cable, grounding stake, grounding block, and a cement brick if you choose to mount it to it rather than the roof. Most of these are tools a professional would have, if you hire someone to install it, you could order the above three things, and they should have no problem. 

Since I didn't want to shoot bolts through my roof, I chose to mount it to a brick. I'm not 100% sure of the longevity of it staying up there since it's a slanted roof, but so far so good. If it's a flat roof or a patio you're probably going to be just fine. I tethered it to an exhaust pipe just in case. I'd likely recommend mounting it to the roof with silicone in the holes to prevent leaking if this is a permanent install.

A tip I just discovered tonight that improved reception on our living room TV:
3 ways splitters have different resistance on different ports.
 I put the main TV on the port closest to the IN, (e.g. the left port; No. 1),
and hooked the kids on to the other ports. Definitely improved reception for our living room TV.

Next I connected a short cable to the pre-amp, then ran the coaxial down the side of the house, tacking it with cable nails, and grounded it at the junction box Time Warner installed (I moved it). Here it's grounded, and then heads into the living room where the power-supply for the pre-amp is plugged in. Behind that, I can now splice the signal (splitters stop the power from getting to the pre-amp) and send it out to the two other tvs in the kid's rooms. 

It works great, and I haven't touched it since I installed it. Total cost for me was $125 (I have most of the tools) which I paid off in two months. The kid's get great channels on public TV, and I feel they've become more active and intellectual as we moved away from the mass-marketed cable entertainment that kept them brain-drained like zombies before. Their grades got better, and I have one less bill to pay. I highly recommend cutting the cable cord, and going to a digital antenna.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Top 10 Best Cheeseburgers in NC

Let me disclose, that this list is distinctly from my perspective of living in the Triad of North Carolina. That said, the geography of these burgers spans from the Queen City to the Triangle, and represents some of the best burgers I've ever had. The following list of top 10 best burgers in NC is presented from best to good (1 to 10+). Enjoy!

Heavy weight champion of the south, this burger by all marks is phenomenal. In my opinion, it's the
second best chili burger in the world. That's how good it is.

1. Johnson's Drive In's Velveeta Cheese-Burger - Siler City, NC.
No matter where I drive, and what I eat, Johnson's is still No. 1 in my book, with its thick slices of Velveeta on hand-picked fresh beef patties, and their chili is the undisputed winner of chili-cheese fries. Other burgers might come close, but you can't beat the quality of the beef at Johnson's that's butchered fresh straight from the stockyard.

The McPhersonator
2. McPherson's Bar & Grill's The McPhersonator - Greensboro, NC
This thing is epic, a almost 2 lb burger of beef, bacon, toppings and sauces that make this $15 burger worth every bite. It's a food challenge, a prize winning culinary combination of flavors that make this not only a road-side attraction worth stopping at but an institution of deliciousness that I can say makes the McPhersonator Greensboro's No. 1 cheeseburger. Grab some of the finest onion-rings as a side, and you'll never take out-of-towners to anywhere else, ever again.

An epically huge burger at Elois. The Daddy is one burger you won't leave hungry or dissatisfied.

3. Elois Restaurant's Daddy Acre Burger - Bear Creek, NC
This burger is one that you must go and try it for yourself. The beef was still better at Johnson's, but this Grandma prepared, home-made, half-ton burger is epically huge, dripping with taste and flavor, and makes for the perfect pit-stop to almost anywhere.

Five Guys, with every topping they have.
4. Five Guy's Everything Double Bacon Burger - Greensboro, NC, Raleigh, NC, Charlotte, NC
Despite being a national chain, most people still haven't experienced Five Guys the way you should. Unlimited topping for free, and I get everything thanks to their Internet application: lettuce, tomato, pickle, mustard, ketchup, jalapenos, mayonnaise, mushrooms, green peppers, extra cheese and bacon. The thing is the size of a house, and despite its pop following. it is so good, that I can recommend it on this list in the No. 3 spot- but only ordered with everything.

Big Burger Spot's Bacon Bacon Burger and Chili Cheese Fries.

WTF? Seriously, WTF?
5. Penguin Drive-In's Kitchen Sink Burger - Charlotte, NC
It's been on Food Network, on Man Vs Food, and it known to be the king burger of the Queen City with its Pimento cheese and fried pickles. It's a worthy sandwich, but I would definitely add their outrageously delicious chili to their burgers to make it worthy of this list. Don't forget a chili-cheese fry, and you have a decent pub sandwich, and one of the best cheeseburgers in the state.

6. Big Burger Spot's  Bacon Bacon Cheeseburger - Greensboro, NC
Angus beef, applewood bacon, and for about $10 you can order it in Colossal form which is a 1 lb cheeseburger served on a pizza platter. Order the cheese fries, or ranch and bacon fries- but skip the chili in my opinion. It's probably the best burger in Greensboro, and one of our top competitors statewide.

Allen & Son's
7. Allen & Son's BBQ's Double Cheese Burger - Pittsboro, NC
Hand cut french fries, homemade buns, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and a mile-high double cheeseburger makes Allen & Son's Double Cheeseburger a definite winner. The trick is their BBQ sauce though. That's right, BBQ sauce! They sit it on the tables, and it's awesome on the burgers, fries, and of course their BBQ. Yum!

Rufus Burger = stone cold country.
8. Rufus's Restaurant's Rufus Burger - Goldston, NC
Before we ate at Elois, we visited the little town of Goldston for their delicious plus sized chili-cheeseburger in a Pepsi themed diner. Cost just $5, and it's one of the best burgers for the money you can get. The tastes were right, and the fries were surprisingly golden perfection.

Muzzie Burger - I swear they put crack in these things.
9. Kidd's Drive-In's Muzzie Burger - Liberty, NC
I grew up a few blocks from Kidd's, and I adore their simple cheeseburger. They're not huge, they're not exotic or special, and they don't hold a candle to Johnson's (our no. 1 pick), but yet I'm addicted to them. I crave them like a pregnant woman on a chili-burger zombie craze. There's just something about the simplicity of their method that produces a product, I can't buy anywhere else.

10. Cook-Out's HUGE Cheddar Style or A1 Style - Greensboro, NC, Asheboro, NC, Burlington, NC
Epic comfort food at Cook-Out.
Cook out is one of the few restaurants in the top-10 that doesn't include a chili burger. They do serve one, it just doesn't compare to the competitors. However, their A1 and cheddar style burger are still some of the most delicious fast-food(s) in North Carolina, and it deserves a place in the top 10 for their unique artery clogging deliciousness.

The Rollie Burger with Mac & Cheese sauce fries. 
Notable Mentions:

11. Chris's Drive-In's Rollie Burger - Siler City, NC
It's crinkle-cut fries in Velveeta that's been creamed to a gravy that first makes you go, "hmmm", followed by "miammmm" when you bite into their Rollie Burger. You can't lose with the combination of a delicious burger, chili-cheese fries, and unlimited lemonade.

Beef Burger's Cardiac Killer
12. (Biff's) Beef Burger's Super Burger - Greenboro, NC
Served from the whirl-a-burger of cooking apparatuses, the same way since the hamburger was invented, this cheeseburger is infamous around UNCG. It's an old-fashioned style burger that can only be described as  a true fifties style drive-in burger with true grease appeal. You're going to feel dirty, and wild after one of these.

Hurricane Jane's Velvetta Twister
13. Hurricane Jane's Velveeta Burger - Liberty, NC
The Velveeta Burger crawls north into Hurricane Jane's as a tropically inspired restaurant with a darn good burger, and chili-cheese fries. It's far better than anything you'll find in a drive-thru, and for the price of what you get, it is a great deal. In addition, it's one of the only burger places where you can enjoy a beer with your burger- which makes this Velveeta Burger one of the most worthwhile burgers to obtain in NC.

14. Country BBQ's Chili-Cheese Burger - Greensboro, NC
Country BBQ's Traditional Southern Chili Burger.
When I worked on Wendover in the 90s, this was the defacto lunch spot, and all I knew as a chili-burger. They still pound out hundreds of their chili-cheese burgers daily, and while they're dwarfed by our top-three cheeseburgers, I can still say I love a Country BBQ chili-cheese burger. Technically you might want to get a sack of them, four or five minimum. They're like snack burgers, addictive, cheap, and oh yeah, you can order crinkle cut fries by the pound.

Of course, I'm always open to modifying, and adding to this list as information comes along. If you think have a contender for a the top ten, send me a email, or comment below, and I'll do my best to check it out!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Vespa "Real" Italian Restaurant

Pork Loin in apricot and port sauce with garlic potatoes.

So a few years ago I got in on this massive deal for several $25 gift certificates for $1. They've been stowed away for years with no expiration date. In fact a good many of the restaurants which I purchased have gone out of business (both in Greensboro and the Triangle). Well, I finally used one at Vespa's in Chapel Hill. Six months ago I was literally in Rome, Italy eating pizza, pasta, and gelato till I could eat not more, which made this the first real Italian meal since arriving state-side. American's concept of fancy Italian is slightly distorted. Most of the places I went to had simple dishes, no more than three ingredients. Food is generally cheep, and most true Italians would laugh at those of us (silly Americans) going out to spend $100 on dinner. None-the-less if you want to dine like the Romans this is what you must do in North Carolina.

Orecchiette Porcini
We took a lazy Sunday afternoon to drive to Chapel Hill (about an hour away) for our 5:00 reservations at Vespa. The place was just coming alive, as dinner is served all the way to 2 AM, something I wish we had more of here locally in the Triad. Vespa which clearly inspires scenes from the movie: Roman Holiday and Audrey Hepburn's rampage on a scooter through Rome, is in actuality, right beside Jimmy John's and a parking lot that Chapel Hill students love to skateboard in. The inside is decorated in classic blue, with posters adorning the wall. World-Market's European Romance CD is on auto-shuffle, yet this is an upscale place with white napkins, table cloths, and the cook over-looking your table. This is a personal experience with your food, and that's what you're paying for: the service of a prepared dish.
Chance (11 Years old) loved his lasagna. Described it as the "Destroyer of Happy Meals".

Overall it was really really good. Everything I tasted was flavorful, bordering on Sicilian with tastes that pop out at you. We even took our two kids, who loved the lasagna and the salads. It's definitely an American take on the perceived Italian genre, (for instance there was no cacio e pepe). However it was delicious fun meal, rightly priced, and how many elementary school children can go in tomorrow saying they had Italian Gelato the night before?

I'd highly recommend Vespa, where the clear winner appeared to be the lasagna of all of our dishes with it's special white sauce. Go for some vanilla gelato, and escape for a bit to the middle of Europe with only a short drive to the Triangle. My only recommendation is they need to add cacio e pepe to the menu, and free Vespa rides with a Gregory Peck imitator around the block while waiting for your food.

Cost $105 for four (included 20% gratuity) - $25 gift certificate.