Comfort food stars on two menus

CORRESPONDENTApril 27, 2011 

The latest round of foodie news serves up a double dose of comfort - as in comfort food - for North Raleigh.

Relish Café & Bar (5625 Creedmoor Road; 787-1855; www.facebook.com/relishraleigh), which opened April 5 in the old Simpson's space in Creedmoor Crossings, serves up "comfort food with a new Southern twist." On the menu, that translates to an offering that spans the Sunbelt from shrimp and grits to chicken fried steak to fish tacos. Appetizers, which you'll find under the "Relishes" heading, include fried green tomatoes, homemade pimento cheese and crackers, and deep-fried black-eyed peas.

You'll also find mac and cheese skillets among the something-for-everyone offering, as well as homemade soups, salads and a varied assortment of sandwiches, from "BL & fried green T" to Carolina chili burger to variations on the grilled cheese theme. Sweet comforts include fried-to-order cake-style doughnuts and banana pudding served in a Mason jar.

A small gourmet retail shop at the front of the restaurant sells salsas, preserves and other products made and used in the restaurant. Owner Sharon May plans to expand the offerings to include baked goods and eventually hopes to offer cooking classes.

Meanwhile, at Crabtree

Comfort food gets the gourmet treatment at Red Monkey Tavern (4325 Glenwood Ave.; 896-7412; redmonkeytavern.com), which is slated to open in early May in Crabtree Valley Mall. Owner Payman Bazooband, whose other restaurants include Baba Grill and Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse, is calling his latest venture a gastropub.

The eclectic menu lives up to that billing with the likes of lobster macaroni and cheese; shepherd's pie made with lamb, fresh herbs and truffled potatoes; and double-cut bone-in pork chop stuffed with smoked apples, dried cherries and walnuts. Sharing menu space with such updated classics is an assortment of contemporary fare covering a wide spectrum, from deep-fried avocado to spicy duck enchiladas to grilled chicken and country ham club sandwich.

The chicken in that sandwich is humanely raised, and produce is local and organic when available. The locavore focus applies to the bar, too, where all 12 taps dispense North Carolina brews.

With dining rooms on both levels of the mall and a Steampunk-inspired decor that's evocative of a Jules Verne novel, Red Monkey is as attention-getting as its name. Looks like a perfectly suitable match for the menu, too.

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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