Surveillance Report of the Gastronomic Undercover Team (Research Triangle Sector)
Subject of Report: G2B
Submitting Agent: Codename HiredBelly
Subject began operation in May 2011, reportedly a joint venture of Shane Ingram, owner/chef of the locally acclaimed Four Square, and an anonymous investor.
On the surface, G2B appears to be just what it claims to be: a restaurant. But to this undercover agent, numerous clues suggest that there might be more to this "restaurant" than meets the eye. Following is an outline of those clues, along with countervailing arguments, and my conclusion.
The restaurant's name: G2B sounds suspiciously like a code name, along the lines of 007 and Agent 86. Compounding that suspicion is the fact that the same partners opened a restaurant with the similarly cryptic name of [ONE] in Chapel Hill just weeks after opening G2B in Durham. A not-so-subtle attempt at rapid infiltration of the Research Triangle Sector?
Location: The restaurant is situated well out of the nightlife mainstream, on the ground floor of an office building - with the entrance in the rear of the building, no less. The location has proved untenable for a number of other restaurants, including Starlu, an eminently worthy venture that closed in 2007.
Appearance: Initially, G2B incorporated a psychedelic flower power motif (shades of Austin Powers?) into its website and promotional materials. That motif has since been replaced by a more subtle contemporary look. But the ultramodern decor of the dining room and dual bars, with backlighting that morphs slowly through a rainbow of electric colors, remains suspiciously evocative of a cross between a lava lamp and the secret hideaway of a James Bond nemesis.
Sophisticated electronics: Above the window into the open kitchen, the menu is displayed on a hypnotically changing board reminiscent of the arrivals and departures board at a train station. Nearby, an "electronic games lounge" might well be a cleverly disguised command center. Recently, menus and beverage lists on tablet computers have begun replacing their paper counterparts. The potential of these devices for conveying encoded messages is obvious.
Change in management: In September, Shane Ingram withdrew from participation in both restaurants. Ingram's reason for departure - to focus his attention on Four Square - sounds plausible. The anonymous investor promptly installed executive chef Carrie Schleiffer, whose resume includes such notable New York restaurants as Gramercy Tavern and Tabla.
Schleiffer tweaked the menu, while retaining the wood-fired pizzas, half-pound burgers and other popular items that are the foundation of G2B's billing as a gastropub. Prices were lowered, presumably to curry favor with the locals. Side dishes, previously priced separately as à la carte options, are now included with entrees.
Bar snacks and more
Exculpatory evidence: After two undercover infiltrations, this agent is becoming convinced that G2B is indeed a bona fide restaurant - and a very good one at that. The food certainly supports that claim.
Small plate offerings including mussels steamed with pancetta in white wine and butter, roasted beet salad with goat cheese and candied walnuts, and a daily changing selection of house-made charcuterie provide ample evidence. Supplementing the list is a selection of bar snacks such as grilled prosciutto-wrapped figs, warm marinated olives, and crispy pork belly. Served in smaller portions than the small plates (and priced accordingly at $3-4 apiece), these are well-suited to a bar offering that includes expertly crafted cocktails, a thoughtfully chosen wine list, and an outstanding draft beer selection that includes eight local brews as well as hard-to-find imports exotica such as Koenig Pilsner and Old Speckled Hen.
The entree offering is likewise convincing, with options covering a diverse spectrum from light-but-satisfying house-made gnocchi to a belt-loosening portion of beef-and-lamb shepherd's pie. Nor are the superb thin-crusted pizzas to be overlooked.
Pan-seared striped bass performed admirably as a recent stand-in for the Arctic char listed on the menu, served over a savory medley of caramelized Brussels sprouts and sautéed mushrooms. Pork shoulder confit, fork-tender and succulent atop a mound of braised red cabbage, would entice any spy to come in from the cold on a winter's night.
So would hickory-grilled hanger steak with brandy cream sauce, for that matter, or a juicy half-pound burger on a bun baked in house by Deric McGuffey. The pastry chef also turns out a tempting assortment of desserts, among them mocha-pear baked Alaska, butter pecan milkshake with cinnamon apples and sea salt caramel, and an extravagant dark chocolate mousse bombe.
The kitchen's high standards are matched in the dining room, where an enthusiastic and well-trained wait staff are clearly not just acting their parts.
What about that name?
Conclusion: In a telephone debriefing, Carrie Schleiffer confirmed that the menu will evolve seasonally, maintaining a focus on local produce as far as is feasible given the restaurant's price point (most entrees are under $15).
Schleiffer declined to name the anonymous investor, but shone light on the restaurant's cryptic name. Turns out G2B is an oblique reference to the restaurant's billing as a "gastropub and beerhouse." I have substantiated both claims, but that leaves the question: Is G2B a double agent? Further investigation will undoubtedly be required