A new fast-casual restaurant with wood-grilled chicken and Caribbean-inspired recipes is set to open in May.
Papaya Chicken & Grill will open in Bent Tree Plaza on Falls of Neuse Road, near the intersection with Strickland Road.
Owner Michael Burbage describes the restaurant as Caribbean and Latin with flavors inspired by travels to Costa Rica, Mexico, Jamaica and other tropical locales. He expects to open in mid-May but a date hasn’t been determined. The space is still being built.
“We’re not trying anything super-ritzy,” said Burbage, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Dr. Tina Gupta, a Raleigh dentist.
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“It’s really good food,” he said.
The restaurant’s main feature is the papaya bowl. Diners start with white or yellow rice, add beans and then add a choice of grilled chicken or pork. The bowls come with toppings like grilled onions, roasted peppers, guacamole and salsa.
Diners also can order plates with a choice of meat (chicken, roast pork or ribs) and two sides. Sides include rice, beans, fried plantains, sweet corn and a vegetable of the day. A sauce bar features homemade salsas and curry mustard, teriyaki, jerk and guava barbecue, among others.
There will be beef and chicken empanadas, fresh-made juices (pineapple orange papaya or the juice of the day) and desserts (cocoa brownie, tres leche and chocolate chip cookies, all which can be topped with ice cream).
Family meals and sides can be bundled together or sold a la carte.
“If there’s anything people are going to love, it’s going to be chicken, black beans, rice and the desserts,” Burbage said.
While Burbage worked in restaurants in college and went to culinary school in Wilmington, even working as a pastry chef at a restaurant, this is his first restaurant. He worked at Lenovo for six years in marketing. His team did everything from mobile apps to an internal website.
But Burbage said his wife inspired him to open his own business. She has two offices for her dental practice, and being his own boss was appealing.
Once he decided to open a restaurant, it took time to settle on a location and concept. He remembered enjoying a similar type of restaurant in South Florida, when he would visit family. He and his wife went to Costa Rica on their honeymoon and have dined in Cuban restaurants in Miami.
He wanted to incorporate those flavors in his chicken. He has spent at least a year creating his own spice rub and brine for the chicken, which is fired over wood. Gupta has been his taste-tester.
“Many variations later, I’m a master,” Burbage says proudly. “We’ve come quite a ways.”
He said he also has perfected his recipes for rice and for the brownies.
“I went through 100 brownie recipes,” he said. “We finally nailed one down.”
The sauces are made fresh, and the spices are ground in the kitchen.
“Hopefully people will love it,” Burbage said.
Jessica Banov: 919-829-4831; @JessicaBanov