You say you count yourself among the growing number of pork belly fans? Then you'll be in hog heaven at two promising new restaurants that feature this trendiest of cuts on their menus.
At Capital Club 16 in downtown Raleigh (16 W. Martin St.; 747-9345; www.capitalclub16.com), pork belly is smoked, seared to order on a black cast-iron skillet, and served up alongside mixed grilled sausages, a smoked pork chop, sauerkraut, oven roasted potatoes, sautéed apples and house mustards. Called The Butcher's Plate, the dish is one of several that reflect the influence of German cuisine on owner/chef Jake Wolf.
But Wolf is hardly a one-trick pony. For every bratwurst, schnitzel sandwich and potato pancake on his menu, there's a chicken Valdostana, shrimp skewer with cheese grits cake, or fish of the day with lemon brown butter sauce.
The beverage selection is similarly eclectic, with options from the hand-crafted mahogany bar (reclaimed from the venerable Lüchow's German restaurant in New York) ranging from sidecar to Grüner Veltliner to Aviator American Wheat, one of four draft beer selections. "I wanted to create a place that looks like it has been here since the 1930s," says Wolf, referring to the bar, salvaged heart-pine floors and period details he and his wife, Shannon, preserved in the Art Deco building. It's a suitable setting for the food, which is at once refreshingly different and as comforting as an old friend.
In Chapel Hill, you'll find slow-braised Berkshire pork belly with bitter greens on the menu at Kitchen (764 Martin Luther King Blvd.; 537-8167; www.kitchen chapelhill.com ). The dish is part of an offering that chef/proprietor Dick Barrows describes as a cross between bistro and gastro pub, backing up his claim with temptations such as house-made Merguez sausage, chicken tagine, duck leg confit, seared salmon with green lentils and bacon, and four variations on the moules frites theme.
There's an international selection of bottled and draft beers (including two local brews), as well as a small but thoughtfully chosen European-leaning wine list. True to Old World tradition, the house red and white are available by the bottle, glass or 8-ounce quartino.
Barrows and his wife, Sue (hers is the welcoming smile that greets you in the dining room), come to the area from Pennsylvania, where they operated two restaurants over the course of two decades.