Category Archives: North Carolina

Dina’s Best of 2017

As 2017 ends, it’s a time to reflect on all the delicious meals and treats I had this year.  I had some firsts this year that have become favorites:  pupusas,

pasteis de nata (Portuguese egg custard tarts),

pasteis de nata

adjaruli khachapuri (a Georgian boat-shaped bread filled with sulguni cheese and topped with an egg and butter)

and hot pot. 

hot pot at Good Harvest

It was a year of great food with the exception of two disappointing meals, one at one of those cheesy (pun intended) fondue restaurants that served mediocre cheese and another at the much-acclaimed Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina.  I had high hopes for Chef & the Farmer, especially since I lived in southeastern North Carolina for a number of years and know its farming history, but it turned out to be up there with my Dovetail experience a few years back as one of the worst restaurant meals I’ve ever had.  Regardless, I ate well this year, especially on my New Jersey pizza tour. 

pizza

I declared Star Tavern in Orange, NJ, and Brooklyn’s Coal-Burning Brick-Oven Pizza in Hackensack, NJ, as the best overall pizza in New Jersey with Papa’s Tomato Pies in Robbinsville, NJ, having the most traditional and flavorful crust. 

ice cream

I did a best ice cream in New Jersey tour too.  My favorite ice cream was from 

  1. Denville Dairy in Denville, NJ–the creamiest soft-serve ice cream.
  2. Magnifico’s in East Brunswick, NJ–best cherry-dipped cone.
  3. Cookman Creamery in Asbury Park, NJ–delicious vegan options.

I discovered Calandra’s Bakery and returned to my childhood with delicious pepperoni bread as well as many other great pastries.


There was a lot more, but these stand out as the most memorable of the year.

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Poole’s Diner

I have been wanting to try Poole’s Diner for a long time.  I’d been to Beasley’s, one of Ashley Christensen’s other Raleigh restaurants, and I thought the food there was very good.  I got fried chicken and waffles.  It was delicious–and I don’t even like fried chicken.  However, I was not crazy about the uncomfortable seats and the chalkboard menus.  Poole’s has the same chalkboard menus but normal seating.  We got here early, one of the first customers, and we waited until the restaurant officially opened.  We were seated quickly then and the dining room took no time to fill up.  I did notice that, despite the fact that we were one of the first people there, food kept coming out of the kitchen and going to other tables while we waited for our order.

We started with the pimento cheese appetizer.  Both of us thought it was a little hotter than we like pimento cheese.

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Of course, we got the famous mac and cheese.  I really liked it.  I love a creamy mac and cheese.  My friend was hoping for a more traditional mac and cheese.  But I think the blend of Jarlsberg, Grana Padano and white cheddar is fab.

Poole's Diner macaroni and cheese

We also got the root vegetable au gratin, and maybe it was because of the mac and cheese, but I wasn’t tasting the au gratin part very much.

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I got the special of the night, a pork chop with escarole and bread pudding.  The pork chop was a tad dry, which is better than undercooked pork which I sometimes get when I order pork chops.  I liked the escarole.  The bread pudding tasted a bit like Thanksgiving stuffing.

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For dessert, we shared a chocolate church cake with hazelnuts.  This cake was great.  If you like rich chocolate ganache, you’d love it.

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Standard Foods May Be Standard But It Is Far From Ordinary

Standard Foods is the perfect name for this Raleigh restaurant by former Herons executive chef Scott Crawford. All the foods here are locally sourced, whole foods. And there’s a market attached so you can purchase them to cook at home. Kudos to you if you can cook them with an expert hand like this chef. I’ll stick with dining at the restaurant.

My friend and I started with smoked pecans from the snacks section of the menu. I guessed they would have some kind of seasoning on them. But they tasted like they had been cooked in a smoker. They are so wonderfully addictive.

smoked pecans

We ordered a turnip and apple salad from the small plates section. Is this the first time someone is writing that a turnip salad was absolutely delicious? But this one is. All the elements, including the creamy dressing and cheese, work well together.

turnip and apple salad

We followed with a nice, slightly sweet butternut squash ravioli.

butternut squash ravioli

The roasted chicken breast and leg cooked in duck fat with mushrooms and carrots is a very generous large plate. The chicken breast was cooked perfectly. The leg was very rich. We shared this dish, so it worked out well for two. The carrots had a delightful sweet glaze.

chicken

The potato puree arrived in adorable Le Creuset cookware. I really liked this very smooth version of mashed potatoes.

potato puree

The sopping bread was a very nice multigrain bread from Boulted Bread.

Boulted bread

For dessert, I got the sweet potato cheesecake, a deconstructed version of cheesecake with these caramel popcorn pieces and a creme fraiche. Divine! Just wish the serving was bigger!

sweet potato cheesecake

Martha Washingtons or Bonbons

I made these Martha Washingtons or bonbons from Our State magazine. With pecans, cherries and coconut, these no-bake treats are very popular for the holidays.

Martha Washingtons

Day 10: 12 Days of Southern Food Gifts

To represent the 12 Days of Christmas (which start the day after Christmas but I’m doing it earlier so you can give these as Christmas gifts), I’m showcasing 12 days of delicious artisanal food treats from the American South.  These are hand-picked by me, Dina, because I’ve tried them and they are delicious.

pottery, bacon cooker

Day 10, Seagrove, North Carolina: Bacon cooker pottery

North Carolina is known for its pottery, and the town of Seagrove boasts the largest community of potters in the country. It’s a fun day trip to tour the different studios. I have a collection of North Carolina pottery, and I’m always looking for an interesting new piece. The hot pottery of the season is the bacon cooker, made to cook bacon in the microwave, and it is available in many colors from many different potters. Mine is from McNeill’s pottery. If you pick one, make sure you get one like mine that has a tall enough cup to fit the bacon onto.

Day 9: 12 Days of Southern Food Gifts

To represent the 12 Days of Christmas (which start the day after Christmas but I’m doing it earlier so you can give these as Christmas gifts), I’m showcasing 12 days of delicious artisanal food treats from the American South.  These are hand-picked by me, Dina, because I’ve tried them and they are delicious.

Videri, chocolate

Day 9, Raleigh, North Carolina: Videri peppermint chocolate

Peppermint bark is one of my favorite holiday treats. But I don’t buy it these days because of what’s in it. Well, Videri has made it possible for me to enjoy peppermint bark without worry. The only ingredients are organic ones–including the crushed candy canes! The bar has a deep chocolatey taste with a nice minty crunch. A great stocking stuffer too.

Day 7: 12 Days of Southern Food Gifts

To represent the 12 Days of Christmas (which start the day after Christmas but I’m doing it earlier so you can give these as Christmas gifts), I’m showcasing 12 days of delicious artisanal food treats from the American South.  These are hand-picked by me, Dina, because I’ve tried them and they are delicious.

Big Spoon, nut butter

Day 7, Durham, North Carolina: Big Spoon Roasters nut butters

Big Spoon is the best thing to happen to peanut butter since, well, peanut butter. The nuts are roasted by hand and then they are milled to create a coarse texture. The owner learned how to make peanut butter this way while in the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe. Try the peanut pecan–the perfect blend of North Carolina’s two favorite nuts.