Judging by his daring attitude toward fusion cuisine, head chef Michael Schiffer probably tried to fry the rule book before throwing it out the window. He founded Maximillian's Grill in 1991 with humble aspirations: it would be a 32-seat pizza restaurant where guests could enjoy quiet meals. In four months, however, he had amassed magazine awards and a clientele that would line up outside the restaurant for an hour before he opened the doors. They were there, waiting patiently, to see what delicious fusion food would sail out of the kitchen that night—Michael hand wrote a new menu every day and often invented new dishes on the spot, fusing Italian flavors with creole and Asian influences.
Unfortunately, in 1998, a fire closed Max’s for good. Though he and his wife Gayle later opened a gourmet deli, it wasn’t until 2001 that they opened Max’s once again, this time in a roomier location with high ceilings, soft light, and tinted windows. The new joint even has a wine bar in the back separated from the dining room by a partition.
In the kitchen, Michael devises fresh takes on fusion cuisine while holding onto many of the dishes that made Max’s famous, classics as the grilled caesar salad—prepped by grilling the actual lettuce—and the peppercorn-encrusted Voodoo tuna. Michael has also archived his old menus on the restaurant's webpage, viewing them as a timeline for his culinary evolution and a way to remember how to spell "bouillabaisse."
zpizza— voted best pizza in Raleigh by CitySearch and Best Pizza in Cary by WakeCary Magazine —is known for its inventive, California-style pizzas: think zesty Thai-style chicken pizza with peanut sauce and cilantro, or Mexican-style pizza loaded with taco fixings. But even a simple cheese or pepperoni pizza from zpizza is sure to be memorable. That's because the restaurant's cooks use only top-shelf ingredients in their brick-oven-baked pies, from the Montana winter wheat that goes into their hand-thrown crusts to the organic tomato sauce and Wisconsin skim mozzarella layered on top. Diners can customize pizzas with other toppings, including locally sourced meats, fresh produce, and gourmet ingredients such as truffle oil.
Sip selections from 20 local wineries, get up close to Virginia wine country, listen to live music, and peruse the wares of more than 60 different crafters and artists. This fall's schedule boasts live cooking and wine-pairing seminars, while a kid's activity area keeps brooding broods entertained with crafts (kids 12 and under receive free admission). Along with free parking and unlimited samples of more than 200 great Virginia wines, admission also includes a take-home souvenir glass.
Art was the driving force in Craig Burt and Marianne Conti Burt's lives long before they opened Cary Wine and Design. The two met at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago in the early 1980s, when both were pursuing BFA degrees. Eventually, the two—now husband and wife—settled in Raleigh, and in 2011 they opened the first Wine & Design franchise in the state. They made sure their particular brand of art lived up to their high standards, from the quality of their professional instructions to use of cloth napkins. They also assembled an expert team of fellow instructors who are all talented artists in their own rights.
Together, these professional artists host nightly classes for students of all skill levels. Stroke by stroke, they help groups create one of more than 1,000 painting options, including works in the style of Van Gogh. The instructors work within two studio rooms, each equipped with a separate sound system that plays music during lessons. When they're not leading adult classes and kid's classes and camps, the artists host pet portrait sessions and private painting parties or bring their mobile studio to homes and businesses in Cary and surrounding area. Cary Wine and Design was recently honored with a Community Service Award from the Cary Chamber of Commerce, and was recognized as the Highest Performing Wine & Design franchise in 2012.
April Schlanger, a 15-year wine-industry veteran, believes that the words “organic” and “eco-friendly” are not mutually exclusive when relating to affordable wines. She and her husband Josh opened Sip... A Wine Store in the hopes of sharing their passion for and knowledge of organic wine and beer, earning the young store a glowing feature on CaryCitizen. Respect for the planet oozes from every design detail in the quaint shop, be it the VOC-free wall paint, reclaimed-wood display tables, or complimentary wine carriers given to customers upon arrival. Those hoping to challenge their palates and forego the day's to-do lists can sidle up to the tasting bar or partake in formal wine classes, focusing on specific producers or varietals.
Ethiopian main courses divide into two parts: injera, a thin flatbread, and wot, a stew comprising mostly meat or various beans. Ashee Ethiopian Cuisine adheres to tradition, serving stews of chicken, beef, or curried lamb and goat atop spongy slices of injera. Beyond its carnivorous dishes, Ashee caters to vegetarians with heaps of lentils cooked in berbere sauce and split peas cooked with mild green peppers. Feasts are served atop a mesob, a round table designed to encourage sharing among diners. Beers and Coke products can complement meals, though for a more authentic experience Ashee recommends ordering coffee, which is served during a traditional ethiopian ceremony.