Good eats: Let’s Dish

By Janet Gibson

Our favorite foods are often connected to fond memories

When you write about restaurants, people naturally ask for your recommendations. I’m more than happy to satisfy curiosity and wax poetic about mouth-watering dishes, too. Fair warning/shameless plug: You may have read about some of my favorites in the nearly two years that I have savored this gig. My hope is the descriptions rev up cravings and support for our great local eateries – even if it’s takeout or no-contact delivery. We also want you to chime in with your own favorite dishes at area restaurants. (See page 61 for details!)


Tortellini Primavera
Antonella’s Italian Ristorante
Antonella’s tortellini are lightly filled with beef in an addictive cream sauce and dotted with bits of ham and peas. Paired with the crunchy bread and butter = to-die-for and, quite possibly, enough for leftovers. 300 Hay St., downtown Fayetteville

Garlic Green Beans
Fabe’s Charcoal Roasting Co.

The Peruvian-inspired dishes here are givens – from the tender rotisserie chicken to the plantains. But I could make a complete meal out of the garlic green beans. Give me a mountain of those veggies. They’re so good. 2715 Freedom Parkway Drive, Fayetteville

Omelets and Club Sandwich
New York Restaurant
The omelets are spectacular at this Greek family-owned restaurant that attracts all forms of humanity. Ditto for the hefty Club Sandwich. Say “hi” to Nick behind the grill – and bring cash. (I still think this joint should be featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”) 201 N. Eastern Blvd., Fayetteville

Shrimp and Grits, add scallops
Mannings Restaurant
For the past few years, I’ve been on a quest for the best shrimp and grits. Handsdown, Mannings Restaurant in charming downtown Clayton takes the prize. Ample sautéed shrimp top perfectly cooked yellow stoneground grits enhanced with caramelized onions and country ham gravy. For a reasonable upcharge, add scallops to the dish. Superb! 406 E. Main St., downtown Clayton

Mediterranean Platter
Pharoahs Legacy
Owner/chef Ronnie Askharon nails it every time – and it’s impossible to go wrong ordering any of the platters. Notably, the King Tut, which includes an assortment of
kebobs, basmati saffron rice, hummus and more. If you’re closer to the Hope Mills Road area, check out their more casual restaurant, Pharoahs Village. 3310 Traemoor Village
Drive, Suite 100 (across from Jack Britt High School in western Cumberland County)

Papaya Salad, add shrimp

PJ Thai Cuisine
“Authentic” is the word perhaps used most often when describing the delicious food at PJ Thai Cuisine. One of my favorites is the Papaya Salad in a dressing that hints of both sweet and spice. Add shrimp for a satisfying, healthy meal. 329 Person St., downtown Fayetteville

Nova Lox Bagel
Big Steve’s Bagels
Just off the McGee’s Crossroads (I-40), about 40 minutes north of downtown Fayetteville, sits Big Steve’s for the best bagels this side of New York and Jersey (where Big Steve hails from, so he knows a good bagel). My favorite is the Nova Lox on a toasted poppy seed bagel with a schmear of cream cheese, capers, red onions, thin slices of cucumber and tomato and the pièce de résistance: paper-thin slices of delicious, brainboosting salmon. 12330 N.C. 210, Benson (McGee’s Crossroads exit 219 off I-40)

Chicken Adobo
Guatemala Centro America Restaurant
We tasted and tasted … and kept coming back to the Chicken Adobo, perfectly juicy and with just enough kick. Pair with black beans and rice and plantains – and end with
the house-made flan, if you like. This food is the real deal. 2805 Raeford Road, Fayetteville

Beef Burrito and Guacamole
El Cazador
Whenever I dine at a Mexican restaurant, 99 percent of the time I’ll order fajitas – usually a mix of chicken and steak. Shrimp tossed into the mix if I’m feeling daring.
El Cazador’s fajitas are excellent. But of late, I’ve taken a shine to their overstuffed beef burritos with a side of supremely fresh, chunky guacamole. The Skibo Road location is often packed, so I like to call ahead and pick-up in the drive-thru. Chef/ owner Agustin Alvarez delivers consistently excellent food (and the Margaritas are pretty swell, too)! 1904 Skibo Road and 2800 Gillespie St., #102 (Airport Plaza), Fayetteville.

Maine Lobster Roll
Cousins Maine Lobster
When I get a lobster craving, it attacks with a vengeance. Thank goodness for Cousins Maine Lobster food truck. Their Maine Lobster Roll is essentially a 20-buck splurge.
Savor every flavorful morsel of chunky, chilled lobster on a hot dog bun, two lemon wedges on the side for squeezing. It comes in at 400 calories (just in case you’re wondering). See where their food truck is parked by logging on to streetfoodfinder. com. Also, find Cousins Maine Lobster at the Morgan Street Food Hall in Raleigh.

Tom Kha
Prik Thai
Tom Kha is the traditional Thai hot and sour coconut soup that can take me from stressed to calm in two spoonfuls. Maybe it’s the combination of galanga root, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and mushrooms (doubles as aromatherapy). I like my Tom Kha with chicken or tofu. Specify mild, even if you like a little spicy, when dining at Prik Thai. 2429 Robeson St., Fayetteville.

Fried Chicken Wings
The Barbeque Hut
The stalwart Barbeque Hut has fed generations of hungry folks with the usual Southern fare: pork barbecue, slaw, hush puppies … and it’s all good. But I’m perfectly satisfied with their crunchy fried wings. I dab on Texas Pete and proceed, with extra napkins by my side. Finger-lickin’ good every time. 2802 Fort Bragg Road and 2965 Owen Drive, Fayetteville

Carolina Burger
Hot Diggidy Dog
Hot Diggidy Dog is known statewide for its hot dogs. I’m also partial to owner Zoe Kalevas’ Carolina Burger, a tasty four ounces of quality beef, done up on
a white bun with chili, slaw, mustard and onions. The strawberry milkshakes, made with real fruit, are da bomb diggidy. 106 Roxie Ave., Fayetteville

Mediterranean Salad and Baklava, 
Zorba’s Gyro On A Spit 
 

I’ve been going to Zorba’s ever since it opened in 1974. That’s when my big sister, Rosie, figuring we needed a break from McDonald’s, introduced me to the restaurant on Raeford Road owned by a dashing Greek named Tommy Frangakis. I remember being mesmerized as I watched Tommy carve thin slices of gyro meat from a spit with the precision of a surgeon. His boundless energy, charm and accent made me think he should be in a movie. For a kid from the western part of the county, a gyro drizzled with tzatziki sauce was a brand new and exotic experience. (I still cringe when people pronounce it JY-ro instead of the correct YEE-ro). Years later, as a young newspaper reporter, I wrote about the pita bread that Tommy used to make in-house. The framed article still hangs on the wall opposite the check-out counter. That always warms my heart. 
 
 
Today, I’m likely to call ahead for the Mediterranean salad, often with extra gyro meat, well-done, even a little charred – on a bed of lettuce with cucumbers, tomatoes, pepperoncini and feta cheese, all bathed in a light Greek dressing. Add extra Kalamata olives and onions, too, if I’m not headed into an in-person meeting. The baklava under a clear topper on the counter also calls my name and is a favorite of the family. So, naturally, I must get some sweetness to-go. I’m imagining a Greek woman who baked it that morning. With just the right amount of nutty filling, dripping honey and flaky phyllo, it’s the best baklava ever as far as I’m concerned. 
 

With a Diet Dr. Pepper in a bottle, and some extra napkins, I savor my solo picnic in the car. I smile knowing that Zorba’s is just one of many gems in my hometown. And realizing, too, that Tommy’s son John is carrying on the family tradition and making his dad proud. 
 

 
Chicken Schnitzel Salad and Apple Strudel, 
Max & Moritz 
 
My late Mama was from Berlin – and my sisters and I wouldn’t take her to just any German restaurant. Mama always gave the thumbs-up and her characteristic “Mmmmmm” to the chicken schnitzel salad and the apple strudel at Max & Moritz. High praise, indeed. 
 
 
The thin chicken breast is breaded and fried to a perfect nongreasy, golden brown, cut into bite-sized pieces, arranged over a bed of romaine lettuce, cheese and onions, and then topped with a creamy German dressing. The dish is served with a side of broetchen and butter. It’s not too filling that there isn’t room for apple strudel, light and flaky, which is best enjoyed with a cup of strong coffee. 
 
 
If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the name for the casual eatery and bakery, “Max und Moritz” is a longtime popular children’s book in Germany. Charming characters, just like the restaurant. 

 
 
Greek Salad (chopped) topped with grilled salmon, Chilean sea bass on a bed of sautéed spinach, and the Ribeye Marsala, 
Luigi’s 
 
So many amazing dishes, so little time. Several memorable meals have been shared with family and friends over the years at this Fayetteville landmark. For lunch, I’m most likely to go for a half or full-size Greek salad and specify that it be chopped because the flavors meld so well. Top with grilled salmon. 
 
 
If I’m splurging, the Chilean sea bass on a bed of sautéed spinach becomes more blissful with every bite. Luigi’s also boasts a bona-fide “beef program,” and their steaks will melt in your mouth. My favorite is the Ribeye Marsala. Add in wine from a much-heralded selection, and you’ve got the beginnings of the Luigi’s experience. 

Beef Pho and Avocado Smoothie, 
Saigon Bistro 
 
Kim and Kha, the gracious husband-and-wife owners of Saigon Bistro, have won the loyalty of repeat customers who appreciate the couple’s “slow food” cooking and, in particular, the Vietnamese comfort soup, pho (pronounced fuh)
 
 
For me, the soothing warmth of the beef pho at Saigon Bistro on a brisk day is nirvana. Toss in fresh basil, bean sprouts, jalapeños and put the squeeze on the lime wedges. And extra cilantro. (Did you know cilantro is said to remove heavy metals from the body, along with other health benefits?) 
 
 
Whether the weather is hot, cold or in-between, an avocado smoothie satisfies like a dessert or a well-deserved treat. Just say “yes” to whipped cream on top. 

Burnt Ends, 
The Redneck BBQ Lab 

What are burnt ends, you ask? “Burnt ends are cut from the point of a smoked brisket, put in a pan with some ‘sawse,’ and thrown into the oven,” according to the pros at Redneck. “This process creates the juicy and tender pieces of meat we like to call ‘meat candy’!” And they’re not kidding. The melt-in-your-mouth burnt ends make us swoon. “The Lab” has been featured in “Our State” magazine and won more barbecue awards than you can shake a stick at.  
 
Burnt ends are available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while they last. Sometimes I call in my credit card number to reserve a pound for parties or special dinners. Burnt ends are always a hit. Barring any traffic snafus, the restaurant is about a 40-minute drive north from downtown Fayetteville, just off I-40 at McGee’s Crossroads (exit 319). Postscript: Redneck BBQ Lab also features their food/food truck during select times at Dirtbag Ales in Hope Mills; call ahead to check. 

Saag Paneer and Chicken Korma, 
Bombay Bistro 

People often tell me that they shy away from Indian food because of its spiciness. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Two mild recommendations are the Saag Paneer, which is creamed spinach dotted with chunks of house-made cheese, and Chicken Korma, tender bites of chicken in a coconut cream-based sauce, punctuated with pineapple and cashews. Both are served over basmati rice. You might just be a convert. 

Any of the Mediterranean Platters, 
Pharoahs Legacy 

Owner/chef Ronnie Askharon nails it every time – and it’s impossible to go wrong ordering any of the platters. Notably, the King Tut, which includes an assortment of kebobs, basmati saffron rice, hummus and more. If you’re closer to the Hope Mills Road area, check out their more casual restaurant, Pharoahs Village. 

Mushroom & Swiss Burger, 
R Burger 

The Mushroom & Swiss Burger from the R Burger is heavenly. Big, beefy, memorable. All the satisfied burger eaters rushing the food truck couldn’t be wrong.

Grilled PB&J, 
Cooking With Miller’s Crew 

Even Elvis would approve of the grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich from this food truck that trains and employs young adults with special needs. Hint: They use Jif and offer a choice of strawberry or grape jelly.  
 

New York Cheesecake, 
Rude Awakening 

I’m a purist and enjoy traditional New York cheesecake, even though Rude offers very good, flavor-enhanced cheesecakes, as well. Co-owner Molly Arnold knows her customers and has been offering the cheesecake, shipped down from the Big Apple, for the better part of two decades. It’s especially wonderful when paired with a cup of java from their friendly baristas. 


 


Tell us about your faves!
Who makes the best ramen? The most authentic barbecue? Pancakes, fried pickles, pizza, soups, salads, spaghetti, sushi and so much more? We want to k now
about your favorite dishes at local restaurants, and why are they so good? Please email your selections (100 words or less) to: janetgibson369@gmail.com. Attach food photos,
if you like. We look forward to featuring readers’ feedback in future issues.