August 19, 2015

Durham Businesses to Back - From a Soul Food Truck to a Vegan Cafe

This week, two local foodie businesses launched crowd-funding campaigns to help make their dreams a reality right here in the Bull City.

Boricua Soul Durham
Logo: Boricua Soul
The first is one I've been excited about for months….Toriano Fredericks, the owner of the deliciously wonderful food blog La Buena Vida, is working towards fulfilling his dream of opening a food truck in the Triangle. Boricua Soul will serve Caribbean-inspired soul food honoring the culinary traditions of both Toriano and his wife's families. Between his mouth-watering photos on Instagram and inspiring and heartwarming video, I'm hooked! Boricua Soul will be handing out samples at noon on August 29th at Fullsteam Brewery. In the meantime, don't miss the opportunity to contribute to their Kickstarter campaign!

Vegan Flava Cafe
The next business worth backing is one that local vegans and vegetarians will be excited about…Vegan Flava Cafe, an established mobile caterer in the Triangle, is expanding and opening inside the former Blue Note Grill location at 4125 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd. in Durham. Along with fresh vegan/vegetarian bites, they will make smoothies, give in-house demos, teach healthy eating classes, and more. They recently launched an Indiegogo campaign for additional funding towards the expansion. On Facebook they share information about hosting a grand opening on August 29th at 1 p.m.

August 13, 2015

Photo Tour of New Durham Hotels

There will be no shortage of lodging options for visitors to Durham - or for Triangle residents looking for a little staycation. What's great about Durham's latest boutique hotels is that they are right in the heart of the city, in easy walking distance to the theater, galleries, the farmers market, and of course, a list of restaurants that would take weeksprobably monthsto work your way through…starting with the restaurants that are right inside the hotels themselves.

Below, we take a look inside two of Durham's newest hotels: The Durham, which opened this July, and the Aloft Durham Downtown, which opens at the end of the month.
The Durham Hotel lounge and restaurant
The Durham hotel offers a funky mid-century modern design with a comfortable lounge, serving breakfast  from 7-11 a.m. and coffee/tea until 6 p.m. This will soon be the home of the restaurant run by Lantern's Chef, Andrea Reusing. 
The Durham Hotel outdoor seating
Penthouse suite at The Durham hotel
The rooftop bar and deck is off and running, serving snacks and a raw bar from 5-11 p.m. (open 'till midnight). High above the Bull City, you can enjoy a vantage point most have never experienced before; it's gorgeous on a clear night.
The rooftop of The Durham hotel
The inside of the rooftop bar has an interior that sticks with the modern theme and is already a popular hangout.
Rooftop bar in Durham NC
Where to stay in Durham NC
Just down the road, wrapping around the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) is the new Aloft Durham Downtown. Bites of Bull City took a hard hat tour of the space a couple weeks ago and can't wait for Nana's Chef, Scott Howell, to open his newest ventureNanaSteakin the bottom floor of the new space (pictured below). The restaurant is expected to open in late fall, while the hotel opens to guests in mid-September.
Aloft Durham Downtown hotel
Right inside the main entrance of the aloft, on either side of the check-in desk, will be the bar and lounge and small cafe. A dual indoor/outdoor fireplace welcomes guests coming to stay for a while or those just grabbing a quick bite or drink before a show.
Outdoor dining in Durham NC
Aloft Durham
The views from the hotel are very "Durham," with the gym and pool overlooking American Tobacco and rooms that overlook DPAC and the Durham Bulls Stadium.
American Tobacco Durham NC
Durham Bulls Ballpark

August 5, 2015

Pre-Opening Q&A with Luna

Foodies will soon have new downtown Durham restaurant to rally around: Luna - it's where South American flavor meets the American South. There will be Peruvian rotisserie chicken, empanadas, braised brisket, and so much more.

We can't help but fall in love with the flavors Luna's Chef and Owner, Shawn Stokes, describes in our Q&A below. Pair that with his commitment to sustainability-produced food and we think Luna has the recipe for something Durhamites will dig.
Luna restaurant in Durham
BBC:  What is the inspiration behind Luna? 

LUNA: For me, Luna completes a circle that began at age 14 when I got my first job as a dishwasher at a fried seafood joint in FL and worked my way up to line cook. Fifteen years later, with a culinary degree and a half dozen restaurants under my belt, I decided to give cooking a break and carve out an alternative career path. I knew I could always go back to cooking, but figured if I didn’t take the leap then, I’d likely never do it. So, I went back to college, studied business, and became really interested in international microfinance. From there, I gravitated to international development, mostly working to improve agricultural production and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in developing countries. Frequently, this work led me to Central and South America, where I fell in love with the varied cuisines.

BBC: What will be some of Luna's signature dishes and drinks? 

LUNA: For food, we’re importing a wood/charcoal-fired rotisserie oven from Peru. So, of course, we’ll be serving pollo a la brasa, known as “Peruvian chicken.” I’ve contracted a local metal artist, Jeff Goldman, to make some custom spits and baskets for the oven, which will allow us to braise brisket and roast whole fish in the rotisserie. We also have some small plates, like Luna fish and chips: cornmeal-crusted catfish with yucca frits, spicy pickled jicama, and chili-lime remoulade. 

My partner, Sean Sullivan, is leading up the bar and has some amazing South American-inspired drinks up his sleeve. In addition to the staples, like a pisco sour, he has some less-traditional drinks like the Carretero—a mix of pisco, Fernet, and red vermouth. All fruit juices will be made fresh, in-house, so he plans several seasonal variations of the caipirinha. He and I both love bourbon, so we’ll have plenty of bourbon cocktails. We’re really excited about the South Star—Bulleit with lemon juice, maple syrup, and a little muddled jalapeno. Beers are where we stay local: the beer selection at Luna will be sourced entirely from NCno exceptions. We have so many delicious beers in this state, there’s just no sense in looking elsewhere.

BBC: In what ways will you blend South American cuisine with Southern food?

LUNA: Without giving too much away, we have a side dish of pimento hominy ‘mac’ and cheese. In the South, we grind hominy into grits, but in the Andean regions of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, hominy is served whole. So, we take a classic southern dish and replace the elbow pasta with hominy. It’s fantastic. We also mix cuisines through technique: Southern cuisine has a lot of braised, pulled meats, so we’re preparing meats with healthy doses of South American herbs and spices, but serving them pulled.
BBC: What’s driving your use of sustainably-produced, local ingredients? 

LUNA: For me, the sustainable comes first, then local. Our current means of food production—concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), monocropping, etc.have a profound impact on the environment and on our health. The biggest threat is meat production; eighty percent of antibiotics consumed in America are given to healthy animals, increasing the threat of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The environmental impact is also huge. Nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from CAFOs contributes to a 6,000 square mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and depletes oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay. Understanding that these issues are critical, we’ll be serving only grass-fed, antibiotic-free meat. In NC, I can source beef and pork, but there is no affordable source of chicken, so until there is, we'll serve an antibiotic, free-range product from PA, called Freebird. 

BBC: What will the restaurant’s atmosphere be like?

LUNA: First of all, it will be fun! We're going for something accessible to many different types of people. I have two young children, so it’s important to me that families feel welcome. But it’s also a place entirely appropriate for a pre-theater meal, a long, casual dinner with friends, or a late night snack at the bar with cocktails. It’s a counter-service restaurant, but we’re trying a hybrid type of service. If you think you might want to hang out a while, order another round of drinks or bottle of wine, have dessert, etc. then cashiers will offer to have the check transferred to a cocktail server who can provide service to you at the table. 

As for how the space looks, we’re having a lot of fun with it. The building was built in 1926. It has 16 ft. ceilings with exposed brick walls. Our metal sculptor, Jeff Goldman, is putting together a very cool functional installation for some of our lighting, and another local artist, Carlyn Wright-Eakes, is painting a couple indoor murals. We have an open kitchen, so everyone can check out what’s spinning on the rotisserie.
Wall mural at Luna
Sneak peak at the wall mural by Carlyn Wright-Eakes
BBC: What made you want to settle and open a restaurant in downtown Durham?

LUNA: In 2009, my wife, Maria, and I moved to Durham—she to go to nursing school and I to graduate school. We immediately fell in love with Durham and the community, so that’s what compelled us to settle and start a family here. The forces that led me to open a restaurant started around the same time. I noticed the city was growing rapidly, as was the demand for quality restaurants. I also noticed that few places near downtown offered much along the lines of South American food. I started talking with Maria about how cool it would be to open up a little empanada shop. Over the following five years, the idea continued to evolve until I eventually couldn’t resist the opportunity to open Luna!

BBC: What is left to complete before Luna opens?

LUNA: If history is a guide, probably a lot more than I’ve accounted for. I knew this would be a huge undertaking, but I’m still blown away by how much foresight and coordination goes into opening a restaurant. I’m doing my best to let go of the things over which I have no control, such as construction and permitting, and just focus on testing new recipes and hiring a talented, skilled staff to execute them.

Luna will open at 112 W. Main  Street in downtown Durham later this month (August, 2015)

July 26, 2015

Introducing the Food Gallery

When I go to restaurant previews, openings, or other special events, I often enlist the help of my husband, who serves as my foodie cameraman. Over the past 10 months, we've had the privilege of capturing many unforgettably delicious meals around the Bull City that taste as good as they look!

While you'll often see these photos interspersed throughout the blog post about the eatery we're featuring, I wanted to create a gallery to showcase some of our favorite shots all in one place, hence, the newest page on the site under the label "Gallery."
We hope you enjoy browsing through some of our favorite images captured along the way, and that you will check back often as we plan to keep updating the page with more mouth-watering photographs of some of the best food & drink in Durham!

July 16, 2015

Mesa Latin Kitchen Menu Preview

A few days ago, Bites of Bull City published a Q&A with the James Beard Award-winning chef behind the new menu at Mesa Latin Kitchen—a Latin tapas restaurant opening in the former Gregoria's Cuban Steakhouse on Hillsborough Road in Durham.

Today, we're giving you a preview of some of the delicious items from the new menu, including salads, snacks, flat breads, small and large plates, and desserts—food you can look forward to tasting yourself during Mesa's opening weekend, which begins tomorrow (Friday, July 17 at 4 p.m.).
Mesa Latin Kitchen
Check out the snazzy new modern bar inside Mesa Latin Kitchen.
Mojito and pork belly at Mesa Latin Kitchen Durham
Pictured above is the pork belly with spinach, quinoa, and coffee roasted carrot puree ($18) alongside the mojo mojito with fresh mint, lemon, lime, sugar cane, jalapino, shaken with rum and cucumber sake.
Goat cheese fritters
The goat cheese malanga fritters are served with garlic aioli and are a "snack" item on the menu for only $3.
Cuban slaw salad
The crunchy Cuban slaw features 12 vegetables and is served  with lemon vinaigrette, red pepper dressing ($9)
Charred sweet corn
Charred sweet corn with chipotle glaze and cojita cheese ($6) will be a hit.
Latin tapas in Durham
As will the smoked tuna taquitos with lettuce and pickled jalapeƱo ($7), pictured alongside the Cuban sandwich sticks: crispy pastry wrapped smoked ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, pickles, and honey mustard glaze ($7).
Cuban flat bread
To the right is the serrano ham flat bread with dry figs, roasted onion, oregano, manchego cheese, and arugula ($10). On the left is the start of dessert: Lime guava pound cake wrapped in the same crispy pasty as the cuban sandwich sticks, complimented with delicious pistachio ice cream.
Goat cheese flan
Above is the goat cheese flan with strawberries.
Tapioca coconut pudding
This tapioca pudding is served inside a fresh coconut and comes with a cookie.
Durham NC outdoor dining
Guests can also look forward to enjoying evenings outdoors on the patio, where Mesa plans to have a steady rotation of musical performances and bands.

July 11, 2015

Pre-Opening Q&A with Mesa Latin Kitchen

The news that Gregoria's Cuban Steakhouse on Hillsborough Road in Durham was closing its doors and transforming into a new Latin tapas restaurant is bittersweet. The food at Gregoria's was authentic and delicious and, surely, it will be missed. On the other hand, the news that it will be re-emerging as a fresh restaurant that will bring other innovative Latin cuisine to the area is exciting. 
Mesa Latin Kitchen
James Beard Award-winning Chef Douglas Rodriguez is the mastermind of the menu. Bites of Bull City asked Chef Rodriguez a few questions about what brings him to Durham and what we can expect from the new menu, which guests will be able to experience during Mesa Latin Kitchen's opening weekend next Friday-Sunday (July 17-19).
BBC: What was the inspiration behind Gregoria’s change to Mesa Latin Kitchen?

MESA: Fares Hanna, owner of Mesa Latin Kitchen, recognized the need for an upscale, tapas-style Latin restaurant in Durham and was inspired to use his love for Latin flavors to open the new concept. I, too, have a passion for Latin food. Soon after he and I met, we realized we could turn that mutual zeal into a truly amazing menu.

BBC: Tell us about yourself and what brings you to Durham?

MESA: I was raised in Miami and developed a passion for food early on, having been brought up with the sights, smells and tastes of Cuban-American cuisine. After working for numerous restaurants throughout my young adult life, I opened my first restaurant, Yuca, in Miami in 1989. While Yuca served distinctly Cuban cuisine, I constantly studied new flavors, ingredients and ideas influenced by Latin American countries. I went on to New York City to open a few more award-winning restaurants and from there, appeared on national television programs and in national magazines. In 1996, the James Beard Foundation awarded me the Rising Star Chef of the Year Award, which was a huge honor. Since then, I’ve been continuing to work on books and restaurant openings. 

Fares and I met a few years ago, and when he came up with the idea for Mesa Latin Kitchen he reached out to me to be his menu consultant. I’ve traveled back and forth from my home city of Philadelphia to Durham over the past year to work with the executive chef at Mesa Latin Kitchen to perfect the new menu. We’re beyond excited to show everyone what Mesa Latin Kitchen has in store! 

BBC: What menu items will be carried over from Gregoria’s to Mesa? 

MESA: Mesa Latin Kitchen’s menu will include a few favorites from the Gregoria’s menu, including the Stewed Skirt Steak Ropa Vieja. The new menu includes so many amazing new dishes and we can’t wait for everyone to try them!

BBC: What are some of the signature items on the new menu at Mesa?

MESA: A few signature items include Smoked Tuna Tacos, Cuban Sandwich Sticks, Seafood Ceviche, Octopus Salad, Vaca Frita and Coconut Tapioca Pudding.

BBC: What are some of the main changes to the atmosphere of the restaurant?

MESA: The space has undergone a complete aesthetic redesign, and overall, the atmosphere is more elegant and modern. We don’t want to give everything away quite yet, but we’ve added a custom cement-top bar, new flooring, wood beam ceilings and captivating lighting fixtures to name a few.

BBC: What can patrons expect during Mesa's Latin Kitchen's grand opening July 17-19?

MESA: The food alone is going to blow everyone away! We’ll have food and drink specials along with live music on the patio all weekend long. We strongly encourage locals to make a reservation now for the grand opening weekend so they can dance the night away after enjoying delicious Latin cuisine at their new favorite spot! Reservations can be made by calling (919) 973-2717. 

July 5, 2015

Now Open and Coming Soon: Summer Foodie News

Durham, North Carolina
Summer has not slowed down as far as food news goes. In fact, there is so much going on in the Durham restaurant world, it seemed a good time to do another recap post to summarize what new places you should check out and what you can look forward to opening in the very near future.

* Just a couple weeks ago, The Blue Note Grill opened in its new location on Washington Street in downtown Durham. They have food; they have bands; and, very soon, they will have a brand new next-door neighbor: Durham Distillery.

Ramblers Bottle Shop also opened in late June on Fuller Street in downtown Durham. They are a beer store and lounge with free wi-fi. They're also pet- and cycling-friendly.

The Durham hotel
* In other news, The Durham Hotel is set to open July 10. Andrea Reusing, Lantern chef, who will be heading the new hotel's restaurant and rooftop bar recently announced the concept of the restaurant will focus on local sustainable seafood.

* It's the end of a chapter for Gregoria's Cuban Steakhouse on Hillsborough Road, which officially closed this week in order to transform into a brand new Latin tapas restaurant called Mesa Latin Kitchen. We'll be running a special Q&A here on the blog before the grand (re)opening of the space the weekend of July 17.

* We're also really looking forward to the opening of Luna, a rotisserie and empanada restaurant on West Main Street in downtown Durham. We'll feature more coverage of Luna prior to their grand opening, which is expected to be by early August.

For an up-to-date and complete list of upcoming restaurants, keep an eye on Bites of Bull City's "Coming Attractions" page.