Includes: J. Betski’s in Raleigh, NC; Sandwhich in Chapel Hill, NC; and a recipe for a salad featuring figs
I’m with most people who don’t get excited when faced with the prospect of dining at a restaurant that serves German and Polish cuisine. (Of course, exceptions to that lack of excitement are evident in those who have lived or visited there, or are of German or Polish descent.) Let’s face it: It’s just not usually very sexy food.
But J. Betski’s. Ahhh! I’ve been enjoying meals there since they opened nearly five years ago, and have worked my way through every non-meat item on the menu. Standouts for me include the cheese spaetzle (so rich! so creamy! very sexy for spaetzle), the potato and cheese pierogies (the first pierogies I’ve ever liked, actually), the roasted beet salad and the smoked salmon and frisee salad.
So I figured it was time to see why some Yelpers write things about J. Betski’s like, “This is why I could never fall in love with a vegetarian.” And most of the time, they’re referring to the house-made sausages.
For lunch last week I somewhat warily ordered the sausage/pierogie combo, with spicy kielbasa and bratwurst. The wariness had nothing to do with the bratwurst — I adore brats. (The real, authentic kind — not the Americanized ones you can find in the grocery store.) But I’ve never been that wild about kielbasa, finding it a bit greasy and oddly flavored.
However, I was hard pressed to decide which was best at J. Betski’s. The bratwurst was awesome. Delicately yet deliciously flavored, as expected — one of the best brats I’ve had. And the kielbasa was juicy and spicy and oh-so-savory. They were served with good mustard, but honestly, the sausages were so delicious on their own I eschewed the condiment. The fresh sauerkraut was also great — even my dining companion who declared she hated sauerkraut said so. (If you’ve only ever had the canned stuff, you need to give homemade kraut a chance.) And it goes without saying that the pierogies were, as always, excellent.
The second meat adventure was at Sandwhich in Chapel Hill. (Sorry for the lack of a link — Google is currently saying the site may be compromised.) I ate there a few times when it was in its original small space and only served lunch, and I loved the fresh, unique sandwiches. Now it’s much roomier and open for dinner as well.
I never intended for last week to be a two-meat week, and had planned to eat one of Sandwhich’s fantastic veggie offerings for lunch last Saturday. But one of the specials was a Bahn Mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwich) featuring lamb, my cheat-meat. (I rarely crave any meat since I decided to be mostly pescatarian. And even when I was a daily omnivore I never yearned for a good burger or steak. But lamb is hard to resist …)
It was pretty phenomenal, comprised of lamb, pickled cucumber, cilantro (lots of it — it’s a good thing I’ve learned to like it over the years), jalapeno, shredded carrots and lettuce. Every element was near-perfect. The lamb had been braised and was shredded into tender, juicy bits. The cucumber was cold and piquant. The carrot and lettuce added good color and texture, and the jalapeno gave it a nice burn. The toasted bread was delicious. In fact, I relished the bit left on its own at the end, soaked through with the lamb juices. Ummmm.
The Bahn Mi demanded a sweet followup, so I tried Sandwhich’s Most Excellent Brownie. Although it wasn’t my favorite style of brownie (dense, heavy), I’d rate it a close second. The description said it used Valrhona chocolate, and lots of eggs to give it a baked pudding-like texture. Wonderful flavor, and so moist and soft that even if you didn’t have teeth you could easily gum it!
Two other quick notes:
I gave Durham’s most recent, largest and highly publicized food truck rodeo the ol’ college try. It officially started at 5:30, and I think I arrived at about 6:15. By the time I tried to make a quick pass to check out all the trucks (quick being impossible), chose which one I wanted to try, found the end of the correct line (no small feat; I waited in a wrong line for a while, then inadvertently cut in front of others when I finally joined the right one), and waited for more than 45 minutes, the truck sold out of all offerings when I was only about 10 people away from the order window! By that time I was hungry, all the the lines were incredibly long and other trucks were selling out, too. So my cousin Kat, her husband Joe and I bailed and went to Mellow Mushroom for pizza.
The rodeo was still kind of fun — great people watching! But I think from now on I’ll just do it the normal way, and seek out Durham’s food trucks one at a time via their Twitter feeds.
I’ll leave you with a recipe I made for dinner last night, and the accompanying photo: Martha Stewart’s Pan-Seared Figs on Baby Greens with Hazelnuts. What a nice way to take advantage of that sumptuous, late summer fruit. For the cheese component I used a Rogue Smoked Blue the Whole Foods cheesemonger recommended — nice and mild and smokey. Perfect.