Looking for new ways to spice up your dining? Willing to stray a little off the beaten path? Check out these new hidden treasures.
You'll find Battistella's New Orleans Kitchen (3920 Arrow Drive; 571-7465; www.battistellaskitchen.com) in the Raleigh Crabtree Inn, ensconced in the dated but cozy space that was once the lounge. Not exactly the first place you'd look for authentic Cajun and Creole fare.
But it's fun to imagine the looks on the faces of weary travelers when they check into the modest motel and discover that they've stumbled across some of the best gumbo this side of the Louisiana bayou. Owner/chef Brian Battistella is a native of New Orleans, where he worked in several noteworthy restaurants (including Commander's Palace) before Hurricane Katrina blew him up to the Triangle. While he was getting back on his feet, Battistella operated Louise's, a catering and takeout shop in Clayton (where I first tasted his excellent gumbo). He opened Battistella's New Orleans Kitchen several months ago, initially as a catering operation, and quietly added the full-service restaurant in April. For now, the restaurant is open for dinner only, 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The menu is brief but varied, with options including grilled shrimp in a rustic Creole sauce, fried (or blackened) catfish, and several variations on the po' boy theme. There's also a weekly specials menu with offerings such as sugar cane shrimp, crawfish étouffée, red beans and rice with andouille sausage, and grilled filet mignon tips with blue cheese macaroni. The crispy skin red snapper I sampled from that menu recently was first-rate. The country gumbo (chicken, andouille, shrimp and crabmeat) was every bit as good as I recall scarfing down in the car outside Louise's, too. Better, actually, because now I don't have to eat it with a plastic spoon.
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You'll also find Laziz Biryani Corner (2316-100 Hillsborough St.; 821-7991) in an unlikely location: tucked away in a corner of Gopaks Bazaar, a convenience store across the street from N.C. State's campus. If you're a fan of Indian and Pakistani food, though, this little counter service eatery is worth seeking out. What's more, a meal will only set you back a little more than the price of a gallon of gas.
Laziz is a modest family-run affair, with owner Sarwar Sultana doing the cooking and her daughter Aysha taking orders at the counter. A native of Mumbai who lived in Pakistan before coming to America, Sarwar Sultana has extensive experience in both cuisines. She cooked locally for two years at Biryani House (744-A E. Chatham St.; 469-0006), itself a hidden gem in Cary, before opening her own eatery.
In addition to three variations on the house specialty biryani (chicken, mutton and vegetarian), Sultana's offering includes about a dozen selections, evenly divided between vegetarian and nonvegetarian. Vegetable pakora, chicken curry, lentil dal and chicken tikka masala are among the dishes that should be familiar to most. Options for more adventurous palates include chili chicken, mutton curry and baghaare baigan (Asian eggplant with ginger, green chiles, fried onion and lemon zest). Laziz Biryani Corner is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday.