Coal-Fired Pizza Finally Here

June 30, 2010

I love pizza, and even mediocre pizza is pretty damn good.  But great pizza is so hard to find — the Triangle has not had a great pizza place.  And when I say “great”, I mean the pizza is hauntingly memorable, where you can’t get the taste out of your head.  I’ve had great pizza in New York, New Haven and Phoenix.  This pizza is all about the crust, with a slight char, where the toppings almost melt into oblivion.  Moreover, these pizzas (or pizze) are inevitably cooked in super-hot ovens, typically 900 degrees or more and fired with coal.  Most pizza joints have gas-fueled pizza ovens, which can get up to 500 degrees or so, but still far cooler than what’s needed.  Wood-fired ovens get a bit hotter, but not quite enough.  Coal is where it’s at.  And we now have a coal-fired pizza oven in the Triangle.  In Cary, of all places.  And very close to my home.

This place is Bella Mia, in the Arboretum at the corner of Weston Parkway and Harrison Avenue.  The place is owned by Rick Guerra, a New Yorker if there ever was one.   Guerra is friendly and passionate about what he does.  His sons man the two ovens that are fueled initially with oak, and then hard coal to bring up the heat.  The flour is imported “00” grade.  The tomatoes, San Marzano.  The mozzarella, from water buffaloes.  This place doesn’t put second rate ingredients on its pies, and damn, the crust is so good.

We’re talking fairly thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizza here.  And as I said above, it’s all about the crust — perfectly charred, with just the right amount of texture and salt (and not even the slightest bit of sweetness, thank you very much).  I’d prefer it just slightly thinner, but I’m not complaining.  This is the real deal, folks, and I suspect Bella Mia will soon have lines snaking out the door, as NO ONE in the Triangle has a pizza this good.  Just order the Margherita and enjoy.  I just finished an hour ago, and I’m already wanting to get back.

Bella Mia
2015 Renaissance Park Place (in the Arboretum off Westin Pkwy)
Cary, NC


Restaurant Review Roulette: Carini

June 30, 2010

Another week, another review of a restaurant that I may never visit.  Oh, the glamorous life of a restaurant reviewer!  Seriously, I know Greg Cox’s primary objective is to be a consumer advocate.  He’s trying to help his readers make dining decisions, but for god’s sake, wouldn’t it be maddening to have to go to middling places day after day?  Places that are new not in concept or cuisine, but only in name?

This week’s subject: Carini, an Italian place in Cary (warning: home page has music that cannot be turned off).  Now this is the exact type of restaurant I look for in unfamiliar towns when I’m trying to line up a team meal for one of my kids’ soccer teams during a tournament.  I want the tried and true Italian-American menu, with lots of inexpensive pasta offerings and the availability of pizza.  There are thousands of places like this across the country (maybe even the state), and rarely does one stand out, on either the good or the bad side.  But this is not the type of place I generally want to visit on a night out in the Triangle.  I’m sure it’s just fine — but that’s the problem.  I want more than “just fine” when dining in the area.

I don’t know the history of Carini.  I don’t know the owners.  I don’t know how long they’ve been around.  I don’t know what type of pizza they offer or whether their red sauce is piquant or sweet.  I don’t know if their desserts are made in house or purchased from a supplier (I suspect the latter based on the pictures).

What I’m pretty sure of is that you can probably get a very reliable meal at Carini, just like most other Italian joints.  I base this on a couple of diner reviews floating around the internet.  It’s not great and not bad.

So, I’m guessing it gets 3 stars.  Not great.  Not bad.  Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 150 to 1

4.5 stars – 80 to 1

4 stars — 14 to 1

3.5 stars — 3 to 1

3 stars — 2 to 1

2.5 stars — 3 to 1

2 stars — 7 to 1

1.5 stars — 25 to 1

1 star — 45 to 1

If website design were part of the review, I would have given the place less than 2 stars, but even Greg Cox doesn’t use that in his process.  How many stars do you think Carini will get?


Edit — July 2, 2010: As predicted, Carini received 3 stars.  No, it’s not that I’m that good in predicting what Greg Cox will do, it’s just that this restaurant was so predictable.

Restaurant Review Roulette: Tribeca Tavern

June 2, 2010

Rocky Top Hospitality’s latest restaurant, Tribeca Tavern, is an homage to burgers.  And it’s the subject of News & Observer restaurant critic Greg Cox’s review this week.  Located in a huge space in Cary, I’ve heard a few decent things about the place and their burgers.  I’ve heard they grind their own beef and bake their own brioche rolls.  I’ve also heard that the service is a bit suspect, which should not surprise anyone — as any new place of this size will take quite some time until they get the kinks worked out.

I love me a good burger, and I’ll be heading over to try a Tribeca Tavern version one of these days, regardless of what Greg Cox’s review says.  I suspect he’ll like the burgers.  I suspect he’ll not like the service.  I suspect he’ll think the menu is too expansive, leading to inconsistency in other foods.  And I suspect he’ll give Tribeca Tavern 3.5 stars.

Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 50 to 1

4.5 stars – 14 to 1

4 stars — 5 to 1

3.5 stars — 2 to 1

3 stars — 4 to 1

2.5 stars —  7 to 1

2 stars — 11 to 1

1.5 stars — 18 to 1

1 star — 64 to 1

So, what do you think Greg Cox will give Tribeca Tavern?


(Edit — June 4, 2010) — Well, it’s a 3-star review for Tribeca Tavern.  Restaurant critic Greg Cox noted that the place was still on the upside of the learning curve, and the burgers outshine anything else on the menu.  Cox also prefers his burgers to be of the simple variety, instead of the myriad “baroque” combinations on the menu.

Point of correction: the buns at Tribeca Tavern are not baked in-house.  They’re baked by the local Neomonde bakery.  They get a lot of their stuff from in-state providers including beef, cheeses, produce and even pickles!  Thanks to owner Dean Ogan for pointing this out to me.  I’m really going to have to give their burger a try.

Restaurant Review Roulette: Giorgio

April 14, 2010

This week’s review in the News & Observer will focus on Giorgio, the Cary-based creation of local uber-restaurateur, Georgios Bakatsias.  Bakatsias has opened over 35 restaurants over the years, and I believe Giorgio is his first venture into Cary since Cafe Georgios back in the 80s and early 90s.  He hired Chef Ricky Moore from Chapel Hill’s noted small plate restaurant, Glasshalfull.  The restaurant sticks to Bakatsias’ roots with a Mediterranean focus, not unlike his Durham outpost, Parizade.  In fact, I sense that Giorgio could be called Parizade of Cary.

I’ve not eaten at Giorgio, but I know Greg Cox has not been a big fan of Parizade, giving it only 2.5 stars (he originally gave it 2 out of 4 stars, which has subsequently been adjusted to 2.5 out of the current 5 star system).  The discussions on Chowhound and Yelp are mixed, so I’m thinking that this place wouldn’t dazzle Mr. Cox.  This tells me that Giorgio is going to get right around 3 stars — yet another middling restaurant in the eyes of Greg Cox (with whom I’m almost always in agreement in that regard).

Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 2,048 to 1

4.5 stars –128 to 1

4 stars — 16 to 1

3.5 stars — 4 to 1

3 stars — 3 to 2

2.5 stars — 5 to 1

2 stars — 12 to 1

1 to 1.5 stars — 50 to 1

Have you made it Giorgio yet?  If so, how many stars do you give it?  And what’s your guess for the Greg Cox review?


Edit (4/16/10):  Wow, was I ever wrong, as Greg Cox gave Giorgio 4 stars in today’s review.  This prognostication thing is a dangerous game to play, particularly when you know nothing about the restaurant.  I’m glad I’m not running an actually betting parlor on this, as I’d be out of business.

Triangle Restaurants That Sound Like Sex Shops

April 7, 2010

This is a blatant rip-off of a recent piece in the Seattle Weekly, but I don’t give a damn.  Here are a few local restaurants that could be a sex shop if you didn’t know any better.  Sure, I may be making fun of some foreign language issues, but I’ll get over it if you do.

7.   Humble Pie — Frankly, any place with the word “pie” in it will qualify here, but this Raleigh institution fit the bill.

6.   Wang’s Kitchen — This is a silly, slightly politically incorrect take.

5.   Fu Kee Express — See above, but this one is a lot funnier.  If you need a quickie . . .

4.   Buns — So simple.  Sir Mix-A-Lot would like it here.

3.   Woody’s — Anyone with this name deserves a spot here.

2.   Twisted Noodle — I really don’t want to think too much what might go on in this place.

1.   Jerk Masters — They’re the absolute best when it comes to a nice jerk.

Honorable Mentions: Pho Cali (come on, say it out loud), Roast Grill (actually, just for their “Hot Weiners” sign), Casalinga (sounds dirty to me), Hot Pot, Globe.

Dine Out for Haiti

January 21, 2010

This Sunday and Monday, a number of Triangle-based restaurants will be donating 10% of their proceeds to two charities for the relief efforts in Haiti.  This effort was initiated on Facebook by local chefs and foodies, and as of the time of this post, there are 20 restaurants participating.  Here’s the list of confirmed restaurants:

Watt’s Grocery (Durham)
Bogart’s American Grill (Raleigh)
Crook’s Corner (Evening Service Only – Chapel Hill)
Cup A Joe (Chapel Hill)
HI5 (Raleigh)
Joe Van Gogh (Durham)
Michael Dean’s Seafood Grill (Raleigh)
Milltown (Carrboro)
Panzanella (Carrboro)
Red Room Tapas Lounge (Raleigh)
Saladelia Cafe (Durham)
Saxapahaw General Store (Saxapahaw)
Southern Rail (Carrboro)
The Mash House (Fayetteville)
Twisted Fork (Raleigh)
West End Wine Bar (Durham)

ACME Food and Beverage Co. (Carrboro)
Cup A Joe (Chapel Hill)
Cypress On The Hill (Chapel Hill)
Foster’s Market (Durham/Chapel Hill)
GlassHalFull (Carrboro)
Globe Restaurant (Raleigh)
Joe Van Gogh (Durham)
Lantern (Chapel Hill)
Mad Hatter’s Bakeshop and Cafe (Durham)
Neal’s Deli (Carrboro)
Parker and Otis (Durham)
Pop’s (Durham)
Rockwood Filling Station (Durham)
Ruckus Pizza Pasta and Spirits (Cary)
Rue Cler (Durham)
Sandwhich (Chapel Hill)
Six Plates Wine Bar (Durham)
Toast (Durham)
Tyler’s Restaurant and Tap Room (Carborro, Durham and Apex)
West End Wine Bar (Chapel Hill)
Zely and Ritz (Raleigh)

More information on this fantastic effort can be found on this Facebook page or this new blog that’s been started.  The blog says that 10% of profits will be donated to the charities, but that is a misprint.  It is 10% of sales.  So go to brunch on Sunday and then to dinner on Monday.  And spread the word!

(Edited to reflect changes to participating restaurants at 8:15 AM, 1/23/10)

My Return to Herons — Part 3

November 2, 2009

Herons Crew

(Note: This is the third and final part of a series describing my time spent working in the Herons’ kitchen.  Part 1 can be found here, and Part 2 is here.)

I knew that the chefs at Herons had taken it easy on me on the first day, giving me plenty to do, but simultaneously allowing me to see what goes on and to taste dishes as they were being put together.  I also knew that my second day might be a little different, as it was a big day – the biggest day for Herons since Chef Scott Crawford took over.  The Umstead Hotel and Spa was hosting a group of powerful CEOs from across the nation for a few days – we’re talking Fortune 100 companies.  I joked that if someone had dropped a bomb on the hotel that day, the US economy would be crippled.  No one thought that was funny, of course, as they knew that 35 of these heavy hitters would come into the dining room at one time and our job was to feed them as quickly as possible.

Even though the menu was going to be limited for these guests, they could order whatever they wanted if they truly chose to do so. Herons is all about taking care of the customer, even when the customer is wrong.  Yes, the customer can be wrong, but the customer gets what he or she wants. Read the rest of this entry »