Drawing on 25 years working in prominent Thai restaurants, owners Oddy and sister, Kanchana, have lined Thai Cafe's menu with recipes from their home digs of Bangpoo––a village southeast of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand. Striving always to balance the four basic Thai tastes of salty, sweet, sour/bitter, and hot, the duo also instills a precise flavor profile through meticulous knife work. Finely cutting ingredients into smaller pieces ensures seasoning coverage, stir-fry crispness, and an ego boost for the self-conscious baby corns.
Butter-hued walls prepare senses for yellow-, red-, and green-curry dishes insulated with tender morsels of chicken and beef. Skilled sushi artists slice sashimi and form hand rolls from yellowtail and tempura shrimp, and chef specialties dispatch from the kitchen with Thai barbecue, crispy catfish, and roasted duck––many of which have been left to marinate or cook overnight. Thai Cafe also conveniently represents each dish's spice level by placing two red peppers beside hot dishes, three beside Thai hot dishes, and an invisible pepper beside secret-recipe dishes for the eatery's magician clientele.
Though Carolina Smokehouse Grill is relatively new to the triangle culinary scene, the eatery has wasted no time making its mark. Under the direction of restaurateur Matt Naugle and executive chef Caroline Pudova, grillmasters smoke up tasty southern favorites that have earned spots on WRAL’s Five Favorites lists for Best Ribs and Best Mac and Cheese. Braised short ribs simmer slowly in beef broth, or pork ribs smoke slowly before dressing in sauce or keeping it casual by arriving to the table dry-rubbed and singing Journey songs. Pudova also prepares eastern North Carolina–style chopped pork barbecue with vinegar-based sauce, or beef brisket that grills for nine hours before sliding onto plates underneath a tomato-based sauce. Carolina Smokehouse Grill pairs these entrees with sides such as fried okra or cheesy bacon grits, as well as specialty peach and berry cobblers topped with vanilla ice cream.
As a college student in Wilmington, David Berent picked up odd jobs in restaurants to get by. In the process, he stumbled into an unexpected love of the restaurant business, and in 2005 he married his love of cooking with his love of fishing and opened Blue Fin’s Bistro. In addition to presenting the eatery’s fresh seafood dishes and tangy ribs, Berent pays homage to his heritage with Italian pasta plates and marinated chicken dishes. To foster a strong community spirit, he strives to keep the restaurant small, refusing to fill massive orders of krill from hungry blue whales. And he still cooks the clam chowder himself, eager to please diners seated in the exposed-brick indoor dining area or chatting in the restaurant’s outdoor area.
At Kalamata Grill, chefs show up in the wee hours of the morning to start prepping ingredients for breakfast. They populate the sizzling surface of their grills with rounds of pancake batter and eggs before putting away their waffle irons and omelet whisks just in time for the ensuing lunch and dinner rushes. Using herbs, citrus, and yogurt-based sauces, they add a Mediterranean touch to the seasonal vegetables, tender cuts of lamb, and tuna that accompany warm slices of pita bread or fluffy beds of basmati rice. They specialize in seafood dishes, such as the halibut kabob and calamari fritti, which showcase the ocean?s wide range of culinary offerings without the hassle of training a mermaid to act as maitre d'.
From behind walk-up and drive-thru windows, staffers dip cones into chocolate and butterscotch, top turtle sundaes with nuts, and twirl twist cones with specialty flavors such as tiramisu and cheesecake. But the Dairy Depot's signature confection is the Train Wreck, a combination of soft serve and candy, fruit, pretzels, or other toppings. The eatery also features unsweet treats including The Pullman, a pulled-pork sandwich; The Steam Engine, a chili-topped coney; and The Conductor, a sloppy-joe sandwich. As guests ponder these and other menu items, they can draw inspiration from a sign outside. It pictures a black and white steam locomotive with a sugar cone smokestack that seems to be powered by soft serve, much like fuel-efficient vehicles on the North Pole.
Courtside Diner invites guests to taste something "down home countrified," with their chefs whipping up every dish on the homestyle menu from scratch. After nabbing a seat at the counter, rising grill steam prophesies morning offerings of three-egg omelets and soft blueberry pancakes. During lunch and dinner, flames kiss juicy burgers, and a stone oven bakes New York style pizzas to a bubbly finish. As guests dress greens at the fresh salad bar, they can peruse the diner's collection of wall placards, which are emblazoned with motivational phrases such as Simplicity, Faith, Family, and Exit This Way.