Restaurant News & Reviews

Chef rises to more visible spot

File this week's restaurant news under "U" for "ups and downs."

As owner/chef of Underground, Daniel Taylor served up some of the area's most inventive and skillfully executed contemporary tapas. Unfortunately, too few people found their way to Underground's offbeat subterranean location, and the restaurant closed late last year after a two-year run.

Taylor's fans will be happy to know that he has resurfaced, this time in a much more visible location in downtown Raleigh. As chef at Martin Street Pizza (14 W. Martin St.; 301-8791), he's turning out artisanal pizzas with toppings ranging from classic Margherita to house-made sausage with roasted peppers and onions. They're available as whole pies or -- can I get a hallelujah from the downtown lunch crowd? -- by the slice.

Not surprisingly, given his talents, Taylor isn't limiting his offerings to pizza. A modest but tempting assortment of sandwiches (rare roast beef with fresh horseradish and watercress; roast pork with fries and slaw) and salads (grilled romaine chicken Caesar; arugula with prosciutto and figs) rounds out the lunchtime offering. In the evening, the sandwiches are replaced on the blackboard by a handful of antipasti, pastas and entrees such as spaghetti with crab, chile and garlic oil; grilled lamb with red onions and balsamic vinegar; and gnocchi bolognese.

Martin Street Pizza is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day but Sunday. Taylor, who opened the restaurant last week in partnership with local restaurateur Don Bender, hopes to expand those times to include late-night hours once the restaurant is up and running smoothly. He also plans to expand the menu, which he says is inspired by Mario Batali's Mozzo in Beverly Hills.

Chrystal Kelly hasn't set the sights quite that high for The Down Under Pub (802 W. Main St.; 682-0039; www.thedownunderpub.com) in Durham. But Kelly, a longtime bartender at the pub who recently bought the place (and still tends bar there on Fridays), has been making lots of changes in an effort to elevate its status. She's installing a new bar, for starters, and is emphasizing local breweries such as Big Boss, Carolina Brewery and Triangle Brewery in the pub's lineup of 14 draft beers.

A more significant change, given that the pub has long been known as little more than a place for a beer and, well, another beer, is its new expanded menu. The offerings include an eclectic assortment of sandwiches, burgers, salads and entrees from fish and chips to Jamaican jerk chicken to chipotle barbecue pork chops. I'm hankering to try the peanut butter bacon burger.

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