Living

Review: Revisiting two longtime Durham restaurants, and learning that change is good

Parizade’s squid ink paella incorporates the daily catch, shrimp, scallops and saffron aioli.
Parizade’s squid ink paella incorporates the daily catch, shrimp, scallops and saffron aioli. jleonard@newsobserver.com

From time to time, I take a break from checking out new restaurants, and pay return visits to ones I haven’t reviewed in a while. This time around, I drop in on Guglhupf and Parizade, a couple of old friends that continue to shine in spite of their locations outside the spotlight of the downtown Durham renaissance.

Note: In December 2007, ratings changed from a 4-star scale to a 5-star scale.

Guglhupf

2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham

919-401-2600

guglhupf.com

Last review: 4 stars in 2010

New rating: 4 stars

Last year, when I learned that Guglhupf was getting a makeover, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the changes might upset the delicate balance that had made the restaurant a truly unique dining destination.

Was the new “more casual Biergarten’ style of dining” — featuring a cheese-and-charcuterie focused “Brotzeit” menu — a signal that the restaurant was sacrificing the best German food in the Triangle on the altar of the tapas trend? Was the addition of a bar a move to capitalize on another trend — craft cocktails — at the expense of an excellent selection of German beers? Would the changes include the transformation of one of the area’s most enchanting patios into a stereotypical German biergarten, complete with lederhosen dancers and oompah bands?

OK, just kidding about that last one. And at any rate, I should have known better than to doubt — even briefly — the vision of the restaurant’s owner, Claudia Kemmet-Cooper, who has skillfully managed Guglhupf’s evolution since its opening as a tiny artisanal German bakery in 1998. A few years later, Guglhupf expanded into the neighboring space, adding a cafe that quickly became a popular spot for weekend brunches and midday sandwiches on house-baked breads. In 2009, the menu expanded to include a full dinner menu.

The most recent changes hold true to that vision. The Brotzeit menu, for starters, is offered Tuesday-Saturday from 3 to 5:30 p.m., filling a gap between lunch and dinner — when it continues as a supplement to the main menu. Paired with a better-than-ever beer selection that includes both local and German brews on tap, the Brotzeit menu — a tantalizingly varied selection ranging from house-cured beef tongue pastrami to artisanal cheeses to the best pickled herring this side of Bremen — is a can’t-miss recipe for an evening of Gemütlichkeit with friends.

But it doesn’t come at the expense of the regular menu. Longtime chef David Alworth, who has returned to Guglhupf after brief stints elsewhere, has adroitly updated the offering while preserving traditional favorites.

The pork Schnitzel I enjoyed a couple of weeks ago was the best I’ve had since — well, since I had Schnitzel at Guglhupf a decade ago. Mussels, steamed in Hefeweizen beer punctuated with garlic and Nürnberger bratwurst, will have you ordering an extra Brezel knot to sop up all the shellfish goodness. And the bratwurst with sauerkraut and potato salad may have you thinking an oompah band wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.

2NDRY_GUGLHUPF1-FE-021419-JEL
Guglhupf in Durham still has one of the area’s most enchanting patios. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Meanwhile, Guglhupf’s reputation for excellent vegetarian fare is upheld by a seasonal offering that, even in the dead of winter, impresses with the likes of cheese Spätzle with foraged mushrooms, red lentil cakes (a veggie riff on German Frikadellen), and Maultaschen, dumplings filled with English peas, potatoes and smoked cheese, floating in a caramelized onion broth.

For dessert, all you need to know is that Guglhupf has been turning out some of the best pastries in the Triangle for 20 years. The selection changes, but feel free to follow your sweet tooth whim.

As for sour notes: The open, two-story dining room is still noisy, and in the evening it’s dark enough that you’ll need your cellphone flashlight to read the bill. But I’m willing to bet that, when you see the total, you’ll feel that you’ve gotten more than your money’s worth.

NOTE: Guglhupf opened a satellite bake shop in Chapel Hill in 2017. This review is for the restaurant at the original Durham location.

Parizade

2200 W. Main St., Durham

919-286-9712

parizadedurham.com

Last review: 2-1/2 stars out of 4 in 2000

New rating: 4 stars out of 5

For such a prolific restaurateur, Giorgios Bakatsias has an impressive batting average. I’ve lost track of how many restaurants he has opened over the past three decades, but according to the Giorgios Hospitality Group website, current holdings number 11, with one more on the way. Three of those 11 are worthy of best-in-class honors: Bin Fifty-Four (steakhouse), Vin Rouge (French) and Kipos (Greek).

By all rights, Parizade deserves to be called Bakatsias’ flagship restaurant. The contemporary Mediterranean menu has roots in his native Greece, for starters. The decor — a dramatic pastiche of columns, crystal chandeliers and oversize lamp shades, and a surrealistic fantasy ceiling mural — is classic Bakatsias “dining as theater.” By far his oldest restaurant, Parizade has been winning fans for more than a quarter century.

I’ve always considered myself one of those fans, but I’ve never been able to get as excited about Parizade as it seemed I should.

RAL_PARIZADE13-FE-021419-JE
Parizade’s grilled bronzino is stuffed with shaved fennel, orange, sofrito and finished with greek olive oil and fennel pollen. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Then I paid the restaurant another visit in January. Well, color me surprised. From apéritif cocktails (here’s your chance to try that Spanish-style gin and tonic you’ve been reading about) to dessert, the entire experience was an utter delight.

Even the miscues amounted to little more than quibbles. The freshly grated parmigiano romano on our Caesar salad (split at no charge) was generous to a fault, burying the whole baby romaine leaves beneath a snowdrift of cheese. There were a couple of small stowaway bones in the fennel-and-orange stuffing of a “filleted” grilled whole branzino. The pastry crust could have been a shade crisper on the beef Wellington that was offered as a special that night (presumably a little poetic license with the “contemporary” part of contemporary Mediterranean cuisine).

If those three dishes barely missed the bulls-eye, everything else I sampled that night hit it dead on. Bacalao fritters — crispy, slightly flattened orbs with a filling of pureed potato and salt cod, were exemplary, with a surprisingly delicate flavor. So delicate, in fact, that my wife (who is most emphatically not a fan of “fishy tasting” fish) liked them.

Another starter, lamb keftedes, served up a trio of grilled lamb meatballs (traditionally seasoned, but here formed into patties) on a bed of yogurt — which, along with a “Greek slaw” of bitter greens and radishes, played bright counterpoint to the meaty succulence.

The black velvet praline torte, a rich, layered confection of milk chocolate and gianduja, chocolate caramel praline and chiffon cake, ended an already delightful meal on a high note for my wife. A Tunisian orange cake soaked with citrus honey syrup did the same for me.

Much of the credit for the best meal I’ve ever had at Parizade goes to executive chef Jason Lawless, whose star-studded resume includes chef de cuisine under James Beard nominated chef Grey Kunz in New York. Lawless joined the kitchen team in 2017.

New wood floors, tropical greenery wallpaper, and Euro-style love seats and banquettes have given the dining room a cozier feel without sacrificing the trademark Bakatsias flair for visual drama. Combined with service that’s welcoming, attentive, and polished, it makes for a vibe that’s at once exciting and soothing. Perfectly suited, you might say, for the food.

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