Food & Drink

Chew on This

A few weeks ago in this space, I reflected on a handful of area restaurants that are notable for staying true to their purpose, even when it goes against conventional wisdom. I invited you to share your own contributions to the list on my blog (http://blogs.newsobserver.com/epicurean).

Some of the restaurants you named were so noteworthy, I wondered why I hadn't thought of them myself. Irregardless, for instance, which was not only a pioneer in offering vegetarian fare, but in 1983 became the first entirely smoke-free restaurant in North Carolina. Frazier's, which proved that a fine dining restaurant could indeed thrive amid the pizza joints and bagel shops on Raleigh's Hillsborough Street. And Dos Taquitos, which was offering authentic regional Mexican fare long before the taqueria wave hit the Triangle. Your suggestions were so good, in fact, that they inspired me to come up with a few more of my own:

Lantern, Chapel Hill -- Owner/chef Andrea Reusing was advocating local and organic ingredients before it became fashionable, and she continues to lead the way. In addition to practicing what she preaches with her regular menu of contemporary pan-Asian fare, she also has implemented a special dinner series, called the Lantern Table, to showcase the wares of local farmers and artisans.

Zely & Ritz, Raleigh -- Talk about supporting locally grown organic produce. Owner/chef Sarig Agasi and his wife Nancy have taken the concept to its logical extreme, taking on Richard Holcomb, owner of one of the area's leading organic and biodynamic farms, as partner in their restaurant. With Holcomb's Coon Rock Farm supplying everything from pork to poultry to honey to heirloom tomatoes, Agasi turns out one of the area's finest tapas offerings.

Magnolia Grill, Durham -- To speak of local and organic produce without mentioning Magnolia Grill owner/chef Ben Barker, the granddaddy of the local effort, would border on sacrilege. Given the number of area chefs who got their start under his tutelage and are now working in restaurants all over the Triangle, Barker's influence on the local culinary scene is incalculable.

Side Street and Sunflower's, Raleigh -- Neither of these quirky little eateries accepts credit cards. Sunflower's doesn't even have a Web site. Call them neo-Luddites if you wish, and complain about the inconvenience. But, with a combined 54 years in business, these two restaurants have acquired plenty of customers who find their food well worth a little inconvenience.

Poole's Diner, Raleigh -- Fans of owner/chef Ashley Christensen's inventive American bistro fare are willing to overlook a couple of minor inconveniences, too. In an effort to save paper, Christensen doesn't offer a printed menu but instead writes her daily changing menu on chalkboards. And because Christensen is a perfectionist who insists on preparing virtually everything from scratch in the restaurant's tiny kitchen, food can take longer to get to your table than at most other restaurants. Is it worth the wait? You bet.

One final note, sure to be good news for fans of restaurants that stay true to their convictions: Tasca Brava, one of the two restaurants whose closings inspired my original column (the other was Red Palace), has already reopened on Glenwood South. I'll have details in my Epicurean column next Wednesday.

Greg Cox

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