My friend Sharon treated me to a walking food tour of downtown Cary for a belated birthday gift. I’ve been on such excursions with both local companies and can heartily recommend Triangle Food Tour. It’s a fun outing to indulge in as a local, or if you’re hosting out-of-town guests.
For three hours we strolled from eatery to eatery, visiting eight establishments altogether and noshing samples at each. With your first tasting, you tend to think, “Wow, this isn’t much food.” But by the end of the tour you’re about to burst! It’s the small plates concept taken to an extreme. Believe me, if you participate in one of these tours, don’t plan to eat anything else all day long.
Perhaps most interesting of all, at each restaurant the chef and/or owner and/or manager talked with us about their history, inspiration and mission. What a treat!
I won’t describe our experiences at all eight spots, but suffice it to say they were all unique little gems, most of which I wasn’t at all aware. What follows are a few highlights.
Roma’s Italian is an unassuming little joint on North Harrison (sorry, no website) that serves straightforward, traditional Italian-American treats. Hot and cold sandwich fillings are stuffed between slices of bread baked in-store. Pizza, calzones and stromboli are also on offer. But we were treated to something I’d never had: a “spiedie” (pronounced “speedy”), a delicacy from New York state. Chunks of meat — in our case, chicken — are marinated for a long time, skewered, grilled, then served on soft Italian bread with no condiments. A simple yet packed-full-of-flavor sandwich, with the juice from the tender chicken soaking into the bread. Apparently we Southerners aren’t the only ones who offer finger lickin’ goodness.
The Chatham Street Cafe was a total surprise, a lovely, small, upscale restaurant run by a former software professional. There’s live music on Friday and Saturday nights, rosemary scones on Sundays, and the owner promises “more-ish” food — my new favorite phrase for food so good you want to have more. The creamy shrimp and grifts we tried were ideal on that bright and breezy day, and the carrot cake was more intense than most, and one of the best I’ve had.
The young blond owner of Klara’s Restaurant — bet you can guess her name — realized her dream of owning an eating establishment just eight years after attending restaurant school in her native Prague and moving to America. Klara has elfin features, charming native pride and a generous nature. We enjoyed two types of Czech beer and steaming hot platters of potato pancakes, roasted pork loin and pork schnitzel, with all the trimmings. (She explained that most Czech schnitzel is made with pork, while German wiener schnitzel is veal.) The schnitzel was perfect — very thin, very crispy crust. Everything was delightful, actually, including the restaurant’s atmosphere. But the shining star was the sauerkraut. Made from scratch, as is everything on the menu.
Don’t grimace. Many Americans base their negative opinions on the canned stuff, which is indeed awful. Freshly made sauerkraut can be awesome, and that’s what Klara’s delivers. It smelled wonderful, was opaquely beautiful (look at that photo below!) and had a wonderful piquancy. Another gentleman on the tour and I scraped every last bit off of the serving platter.
Klara’s traditional Czech menu is large and I can’t wait to sample more. They’re hosting a “Bohemian Big Feast” on April 9, complete with plenty of good Czech lager, homemade sausages and polka fun. I wouldn’t miss it!
Rounding out the day’s binge were cherry cokes from Ashworth Drugs (and soda fountain); lemon squares and jalapeno scones from Once in a Blue Moon Bakery; ribs, beer and fried “pickle chips” from Harrison’s Bar and Grill; excellent sangria, plantains, slow-cooked pork and rice and beans from Havana Grill (can’t wait to go back in warmer weather and enjoy lots more more sangria on the patio); and truffles from a day-before-Valentine’s-totally-slammed Chocolate Smiles.
Sharon and I have eaten our way through downtown Durham and Cary so far with Triangle Food Tour. Next on the agenda is the Chapel Hill/Carrboro combo. My mouth’s watering just thinking about it.