To Market, to Market

How can a restaurant located next to a chocolate factory go too wrong? That was the first thing a friend and I thought when we went to Market in Raleigh, N.C. for lunch recently. The aroma from Escazu, which shares the small building, alone was worth the trip and made it easier to find the restaurant than the microscopic sign did. But big isn’t the goal for this comfortingly casual neighborhood spot at 938 N. Blount St. in Mordecai.

Owner/chef Chad McIntyre’s goal for Market is to use as much local and organic food as possible, and to keep the dishes simple. We had a lunch of mostly ups, with a couple of downs. The Grilled Avocado and Roasted Corn Salad included a small miracle: Tofu that I actually liked. I’m famous for my disdain of the creepy curd. This tofu was sliced thin and seriously grilled, proving, yet again, that I WILL eat anything if it’s grilled. And with all the other fresh goodies, and slightly sweet dressing.

The soup of the day was misleadingly described as gazpacho – it was actually a creamy cucumber that came with pickled carrots and a sort of pico de gallo to mix in to taste. Good, but not gazpacho. My friend and I shared an order of Crack Fries. Now, ever since Momofuku came up with Crack Pie (which it has copyrighted), everyone’s trying to describe decadently good dishes as “crack.” It raises the expectations pretty high. These were some good fries – sprinkled with parmesan cheese and truffle oil – but what I liked primarily was how well the fries were cooked. (But, hey, I don’t even think Crack Pie is all that; it’s a rich chess pie from the old South.)

A couple of downs. When I asked what Kale Chips were, the waitress brought us a sample. They’re small leaves of kale flash-fried to crunchiness. I’ve seen basil done this way, but used as a garnish. As a snack, it left a little to be desired. And the tortilla on my friend’s fish tacos (made with nicely grilled fish) was hard. Also, I have to ask: If you’re stressing local ingredients, why no local brews on the beer list?

But that’s just a couple of things. I enjoyed the walk in-sit down-hang out vibe of the place. And the desserts held us longer. My friend got strawberries with balsamic vinegar and black pepper over mascarpone ice cream. I couldn’t resist the weird idea of coconut-avocado gelato. We each loved our own choice (well, I liked hers, too). The gelato was not overly sweet and tasted of both ingredients; it worked.

At the end of the meal, I noticed something. The food had not been overly salty. I’m sensitive to salt, and usually I notice it in restaurant food. I didn’t here. Also, there were no salt shakers on the tables.

Big week for sweets

Can you smell the delight of lovers of baked sweets? First, the Krispy-Kreme on Person Street in Raleigh, N.C. reopened June 1, after month-long renovations left seekers of “Hot Doughnuts Now” with the cold comfort of packaged goods.

And today, the doors opened at Scratch Baking in Durham, N.C. The long-desired permanent store at 111 Orange Street gives fans of baker Phoebe Lawless a place to get pies and doughnut muffins between her weekends at area farmers markets. The hours are Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lawless’ pies aren’t your grandma’s pies. The pan-less pies have rustic crusts folded up around exotic fillings, which peek through the center like an open purse tempting a pickpocket. A dark chocolate-sea salt pie I got for a picnic last summer still sticks in the memory.

Smile with tile

When I can get seafood right off the boat, I’m a purist. I don’t want it Parmesan-encrusted or chipotle-buttered. I want to taste the finny or shelly goodness. I like my soft-shell crabs crunchy fried and my clams steamed with only their brine as a sauce. Fat, honey-sweet scallops, broiled; shrimp, steamed and lightly spiced.

As for the kind of fish, whatever is freshest will usually do, except bluefish, which I just can’t stand (too strong). At Cape Hatteras, where my husband and I spent last week swimming through piles of books and mounds of seafood, I found one of my rare delights: tilefish.

Most people have never eaten it. You rarely see tilefish on coastal menus, and practically never on inland ones (I found it as a special once at Four Square in Durham, N.C. and 18 Seaboard in Raleigh, N.C. has been said to offer it). I really love this fish. It cooks up pure white, and is meatier than flounder but not as thick as grouper. Most unusual of all, it has a lightly sweet flavor. A Buxton waitress once told me that the flavor comes from tile’s diet of shellfish.

Scott Baker, fisheries specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant, verified that tile primarily eat crab and shrimp, with the odd sea anemone thrown in. Baker said tile is a deep-water fish species that burrows into the sea bottom and lives with only its head poking out. It’s not an easy fish to catch, because fishermen have to go where it is, not wait for it to swim by. “You almost have to specialize in fishing for tile,” he said.

He’s not sure why tile is such a rare sight on coastal and inland menus. I think it’s the old Catch-22: It’s unfamiliar, so people don’t eat it; because people don’t eat it, it’s not offered. Coupled with the challenges of catching it.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s FishWatch, tile are caught in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast. Around 2000, tile was considered overfished, but levels have come back since then and the fish no longer has that designation. Golden tilefish caught in the Mid-Atlantic have a Good Alternative designation from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

So, if you see tile, smile. Then call me.

Food news roundup

I like to keep my iced tea simple, but if you’re the type that wants to gussy it all up, today’s News & Observer (Raleigh N.C.) is for you. There are numerous recipes that stray from the straight and narrow. Read them here.

Kathleen Purvis tastes a plate of piggy happiness at a South Carolina barbecue joint. Read about it in The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, here.

I’m glad to see beets getting some love in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, here. I believe they are the second most popularly maligned vegetable, after okra. So unfair. Scrub them and roast them like potatoes, and you’ll change your mind. Just tell the kids they’re “red potatoes.”

A store in Charleston, S.C. sells cheeses made in all 50 states. Curd your enthusiasm and read about it in the Post and Courier, here.

Blackberries are just beginning to arrive at our farmers markets, but it’s high season for them in Texas right now. The Dallas Morning News has recipes and suggestions for handling the bumpy fruit here.

It’s like hearing someone say there’s no Santa Claus to read today’s Washington Post. You know those free-range, cage-free, bug-eating chickens roaming so many backyards nowadays? (There were so many stops on the recent Tour De Coop of backyard chicken coops in Raleigh, N.C. that I couldn’t visit them all.) The Post found in taste tests that the eggs they produce have no flavor differences from supermarket eggs, despite how much we rave about fresh eggs. Read it all here.

Bull City Street Vendor Rodeo

It’s wheels up for food fans on Sunday, June 6. A convoy of the area’s best examples of mobile food will be parked at Sam’s Quik Stop in Durham, N.C. for the first Bull City Street Vendor Rodeo. Taco trucks have been around for a while. But lately a variety of other foods have been on the move – burgers, cupcakes, smoothies and more are sold from vans and trailers rather than brick-and-mortar restaurants. Participants in the Rodeo, which will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1605 Erwin Road, will include OnlyBurger, DaisyCakes, Parlez-Vous Crepe and others.