Bring on burgers and beers


Today's Epicurean news is brought to you by the letter B - as in burgers and brews.

In downtown Durham, owner Seth Gross has raised the bar for that classic pairing with the opening of Bull City Burger & Brewery (107 E. Parrish St.; 680-2333; www.bullcityburgerandbrewery .com ). A Culinary Institute of America alum and former partner in Wine Authorities, Gross is featuring grass-fed North Carolina beef in his burgers and natural casing hot dogs, and serving them on house-baked buns.

He's taken the scratch-made concept about as far as it can go, in fact, making everything from the condiments to the duck fat fries to the spicy chocolate sauce on the griddled pound cake in house. "There are only four things we don't make," Gross notes with obvious pride: "Boylan sodas, ice cream from Locopops, the pretzel crust on our deep-fried pickles and Heinz Simply Natural ketchup.

"But we pickle our own pickles, and as soon as local tomatoes are in season, we'll make our own ketchup."

They'll also brew their own beers. Bull City Burger & Brewery will live up to the last part of its name in the coming weeks, when the taps begin dispensing house-brewed beers. Look for a pale ale and an easy-drinking beer that Gross calls his "training wheels brew for Bud converts," as early as this weekend.

And brewing in Raleigh

In downtown Raleigh, Cherry Bomb Grill has morphed into Brewmasters Bar & Grill (301 W. Martin St.; 836-9338; http://brewmastersbarand grill.com ) after just a few months. The name change reflects an increased emphasis on local brews, which isn't surprising given that owner Mark Cook owns American Brewmaster, a home brewing supply store in North Raleigh. You can still choose from 66 draft beers, but now nearly half of those taps carry the names of North Carolina brewers.

Half-pound burgers are still the, um, meat of the menu lineup, although chef Scott Schabot has added a handful of entree temptations such as brown butter North Carolina flounder and Battlefield Black lager-braised pork belly. The new menu also sports helpful beer pairing suggestions.

The pairing of local brews and gourmet burgers has clearly hit a sweet spot, as veteran restaurateur Dean Ogan will tell you. Barely a year after opening Tribeca Tavern in Cary, he has opened a second location in North Raleigh (6004 Falls of Neuse Road; 790-9992; www.tribeca tavernnc.com ). And in May, he plans to open Draft, which he's calling a "downtown version of Tribeca Tavern" with an even greater emphasis on North Carolina produce, grass-fed beef and local brews, in the Hi5 space on Glenwood South. Stay tuned for further details.

Greg Cox is the restaurant critic and food writer for The News & Observer. He can be reached at ggcox@bellsouth.net. Read more about the Triangle dining scene at blogs.newsobserver.com/mouthful.

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