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Food Porn visits: Mami Nora’s

In 2007 Durham-based Mami Nora’s hit the scene and was an immediate success. The fast-food Peruvian Chicken outlet expanded over here to Raleigh in 2010, and was met with the same reception, and for good reason!

Mami Nora’s marinated rotisserie chicken is cooked with lump charcoal, and is one of the best quick bites in town. I recommend ordering a side of soft corn tortillas, rice, and beans and making little tacos. If this were one of those Southwestern places, they would have some tomato-based sauces. Alas this is not, but there is an extremely hot green chili sauce that is delicious.

I wrote about how Mami Nora’s could add some cheese and some salsas and take over the world. Diner have two options: bring your own bag of cheese and salsa, or better yet, just show up for Taco Tuesdays!



FTA Approves Light Rail Development for Chapel Hill/Durham

LightRail Triangle Transit Authority tonight announced that the FTA has approved the request to begin development of a 17-mile light rail line that would connect Durham and Chapel Hill. The line would serve UNC, east Chapel Hill, the 15-501 corridor to South Square, Duke, Downtown, and NCCU. The project would use no rail corridors west of Duke University, instead using existing highway right of way.

The development phase will likely take 2 years, followed by a 3 year engineering phase. If all goes as planned, service would begin as early as 2024, and will cost $1.34 billion.

* * *

Whah! 1.34 billion for a 17-mile project? That comes to $79million per mile, but expect costs to probably double if all goes as planned. For comparison’s sake, the Triangle Parkway toll road cost 137.5million for a 3.4 mile stretch ($40m/mi) and the Western Wake Freeway cost $446.5 million  for a 12.6 mile stretch ($35m/mi). Those projects were completed in 2012.

Let the shouting match begin. People who oppose this are “backward”, “stupid”, and “living in the 50s” while those who are for it are “blowing all of our money” and “jacking up taxes”. Both sides have good points. A friction-free connector of the three universities and downtown Durham will really help all entities from a productivity standpoint. Perhaps if node-oriented development occurs, then fewer cars will be on the already congested, pathetic pair of roads that connect Chapel Hill and Durham.

On the other hand it isn’t prudent to ignore the costs and the state of technology. Light rail is a really expensive way to move people. One only has to look at Disneyworld to see a large transit system that has opted for bus transit for all expansion in the last 32 years. Also consider the prodigious number of transit systems that carry unsustainable costs. Are ridership projections accurate or would it turn out to be like Austin’s MetroRail which averages fewer than 2,500 riders a day ? Granted, Austin’s routing execution was poor and it runs few trains per day, so it’s considered a $130 million flop in that city.

My prediction is that this line will get built, but the costs will more than double by the time it is built. Given the large number of college-oriented riders this system would have, it would probably be well-traveled, so we, the public, just have to figure out if we want to support its cost structure.

map of planned route at N&O


Food Porn visits: Firebirds

One of the best chains in America is the Charlotte-based Firebirds , a mid-level steakhouse. The 35-store outfit is priced to compete with the ubiquitous Outback Steakhouse, however the level of quality in every way is superior.

Today’s entry is the Chili-rubbed Delmonico Steak with a Loaded Baked Potato. This steak cut is a bit of a fatty one, however the chili rub on this piece of meat is outstanding, as is the quality of the bacon on that potato! While the hamburgers are disappointing, other sure-fired winners at Firebirds are the BLT Salad, the Grilled Tenderloin Salad, Colorado Chicken Salad, and the ribs (which are some of the Triangle’s best).

One of the best deals in Raleigh is the half rack of ribs from the kids menu. the $8 meal comes with two sides (nutritionally relevant choices include a salad, fruit, green beans, veggies, and mashed potatoes), milk/soft drink, and a small pack of Oreos. For about  a dollar more you can get a baked potato as one of the sides. It’s one of my daughter’s favorite meals in any restaurant.

Firebirds has locations at North Hills, Morrisville, and Southpoint Mall.



Union Station Presentation Set for Thursday

UnionStation The fourth public meeting regarding plans for Raleigh’s new train station, Union Station, will take place on Thursday from 6pm to 8pm. The public is invited to attend a brief presentation of updated plans at 6, followed by a review and comment session.

Union Station’s is a joint initiative project by the NCDOT Rail Division and the City of Raleigh. The project (site plan .pdf) aims to provide an adequate facility for current and future demands as well as offering an adequate platform size for longer trains. The current proposal calls for converting an abandoned warehouse at the end of W. Martin St. (behind Flanders Gallery) into a two story terminal. The building is the only structure in the triangular space, the “wye”, of a 3-way train intersection. The plan calls for putting a 39-car surface parking lot as well as passenger pickup/drop-off zones.



Food Porn visits: Taverna Agora

Today’s Food Porn tour takes us to Taverna Agora , the crown jewel of Lou Moshakos’ LM Restaurant Group. The Greek taverna sits in a former Miami Subs location out Glenwood Avenue, but you would never know it as their food stands up pretty well to Greek restaurants like the excellent Kyma in Atlanta and the incredible Stella’s in Richmond.

Featured in today’s photo is the Chicken Fettucini (lemon chicken fettuccini with sautéed spinach, garlic,tomatoes, and fresh herbs in a white wine lemon sauce with Manouri cheese, $14). This dish is a full-on winner. The grilled pork chops dish, however, is phenomenal, and one of my favorite items served in Raleigh’s great selection of restaurants.


A couple of other tips: The Greek Village Salad is excellent, but does not come with lettuce by default. Ask for lettuce if you want a Greek Salad like the ones served in most Greek restaurants. Avoid the Athenian Chicken.


Food Porn visits: Kimbap

Today’s Food Porn tour takes us to downtown Kimbap , a fast casual Korean restaurant in downtown Raleigh. Pictured is the Bibimbap, a mixed bowl of rice with bulgogi (beef), seasonal vegetables, kimchi, and a sunny side up egg. The sauces at Kimbap are excellent, but the pork dumplings are the best I’ve had anywhere.



Food Porn visits: Zoe’s Kitchen

Today’s Food Porn tour takes us to Zoe’s Kitchen , a Greek/Southern fast-casual restaurant. This particular item is one of their nicest, the Steak Kabobs. For $11.50, the dish comes with two steak kabobs (of pretty decent quality), red bell peppers, onions, grilled potatoes, and roasted vegetables. Other winners at Zoe’s include their Greek Salad, Pimiento Cheese, Rice, Chicken Orzo Soup, and Greek Chicken Marinara (on orzo) .

Zoe’s has three area locations: Oberlin Rd (at Wade), North Hills East, and Park West Village (Morrisville).



Vinyard Vines Coming to North Hills

vineyard-vines Great news for the Raleigh clothing scene! Upscale casual clothing retailer Vinyard Vines will open their 32nd store in North Hills, in the 3,500 sq ft location where The Varsity and Acorn once were. The nautical-themed stores feature bright, preppy pastels in a classic Massachusetts nautical style. This will be North Carolina’s second location (the first is in SouthPark Mall in Charlotte).

Boaters will love the arrangement of sconces at the stores’ entrances; one green light, one red light. (true enthusiasts will know which light will be on the right when shoppers are returning…to the store).


Triangle Racks Up Beard Nominations

magnolia A hearty congratulations goes out to all of the area chefs named today to the 2014 Semifinalists list by the James Beard Foundation . Out of the 433 national nominees, 9 are in the Triangle area, joined by 3 others from the rest of North Carolina for a total of 12 in this state. No restaurants from Charlotte, the Triad, or Wilmington were nominated. Only 6 nominees went to each Virginia and South Carolina, while 11 went to Georgia. Austin, Texas? They got just 3.

The North Carolina-based nominees for 2014 are:

National Categories

Regional Categories

Best Chef: Southeast

Honorable Mention

  • Outstanding Restaurateur: Mike Klank and Eddie Hernandez, Taqueria del Sol , Atlanta
    (Taqueria del Sol has a location in Crossroads Plaza)

The 2014 James Beard Awards will be held in New York City on May 2 and 5.


Food Porn visits: Casa Carbone

One of Raleigh’s great, old family joints is Casa Carbone. The family once owned the great Italian restaurant Villa Capri in Ridgewood Shopping Center. Eventually the family found a new home “out Glenwood Avenue” in Oak Park Shopping Center, where they have continued to build an extremely loyal, older, and quiet following.. Casa Carbone is one of the best places in the Triangle to get Italian veal dishes. Featured in today’s entry is Veal Piccata which comes with a side of pasta and a salad. I requested Fettucine Alfredo. One of Casa Carbone’s delicacies is the bread, which is delicious with that brown sauce!



Food Porn visits: Red Monkey Tavern

I had always heard that Red Monkey was put there to catch the runoff from the long waits for tables at the Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s. We had a coupon, though, so we tried it. As expected the salads tasted like they came out of a food service bag, and my wife’s hamburger was just OK. However my dish was a real knockout: Duck Enchiladas. The red chile sauce was outstanding and gave this dish the punch that so many Mexican dishes in the area lack. At $17, this dish is one of the best bargains in the Triangle.



Food Porn visits: Busy Bee Cafe

Yesterday we took in the Sunday brunch at the Busy Bee Café in downtown Raleigh. The menu selection was somewhat limited, however what was offered was excellent. My wife got the Crab Eggs Benedict which was a good dish, though the crab meat was cold. My dish was much better: Pulled Pork Hash. The dish starts with pulled pork that thankfully doesn’t offer as much vinegar kick as expected. Then they add onions, tomatoes, potatoes, a fried egg, and hollandaise sauce. All in all a really nice dish, plus a fantastic waiter.. Keep up the good work, Busy Bee!



Food Porn: Valentine’s Edition

This one goes out to all you lovebirds who…love like you do. This is a little dish I put together for my wife last year: Homemade Brownie with Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream, Strawberry Hearts, and Frangelico Chocolate Sauce. It was delicious, but be careful with the Frangelico. A little bit goes a long way.


The recipe comes from the September 2009 Bon Appetit issue.

Brownie Heart Ice Cream, Strawberry Hearts, and Chocolate Sauce

Amt Meas Ingredient -- Preparation Method

--- ---- --------------------------------
1 c Sugar
2 tb Sugar
1/2 c Unsalted butter
1/4 c Water
10 oz Bittersweet chocolate -- chop
3 Large eggs
1 t Vanilla extract
1 c Flour -- all purpose
2 t Flour -- all purpose
1 1/2 T Baking soda
1 t Salt
3/4 c Macadamia nuts -- chopped
2 qt Vanilla ice cream
8 oz Bittersweet chocolate -- chopp
1/2 c Hot coffee or*
6 tb Frangelico(hazelnut liqueur)
* or 1 1/2 tbsp instant espresso powder dissolved in 1/2 c hot water.

Strawberries, sliced and shaped into hearts, sprinkled with sugar
Fresh Mint, for garnish

FOR BROWNIES: Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. Line 17x11x1in baking sheet w/ parchment. Bring sugar, butter and water to boil in heavy large saucepan over med. heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low. Add chocolate; stir until smooth. Whisk eggs and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot chocolate mixture. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt, then nuts.

SPREAD batter over prepared sheet. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 min. Cool completely. Freeze until firm.

CUT around brownie to loosen. Turn out onto work surface. Peel off parchment. Trim brownie to heart shape. Place on baking sheet. Cover brownie w/ ice cream. Freeze until slightly firm.

FOR SAUCE: Stir chocolate and coffee in saucepan over low heat until smooth. Add liqueur. (Can be made 1 wk ahead. Cover; chill. Rewarm before serving.)

SERVE by topping brownie with scoop of ice cream, several strawberry hearts, sauce, and a mint garnish.

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