Tag Archives: downtown Greensboro

A Look Back at Our Chef’s Table at Blue Denim

When you visit Blue Denim, it might be a good idea to wear your stretchy jeans.

Located in the heart of Downtown Greensboro (217 S. Elm Street), lovingly nicknamed “Jeansboro,” as an ode to the city’s textile heritage, particularly to Cone Denim, Blue Denim has established itself as a cozy, modern eatery with a focus on creole and cajun fare. Owner Jody Morphis, came to Greensboro by way of New Orleans in 2000. His first job in the Gate City was at the former Restaurant Pastiche. Five years later, Morphis opened Fincastles Downtown, a beloved burger-centric diner that became a part of Greensboro’s locally-owned burger boom. After enjoying 10 years at Fincastles, Morphis sold the diner and stepped away from the kitchen for a brief while. But the proverbial phrase, “I could not stay away” rings true here. So in 2015, Morphis and his wife opened Blue Denim, right next door to the former Fincastles (now White and Wood Wine Lounge).       

Opening a cajun restaurant wasn’t too far a stretch, as Morphis often featured a Mardi Gras menu at Fincastles that was quite popular. Morphis grew up in Meridian, Mississippi, and after college went to culinary school in New Orleans. There he stayed as a chef in New Orleans at Cafe Giovanni,and then at House of Blues. “I always loved gumbo and étouffées. Growing up in Mississippi, we grew up on that too,” Morphis told me. An eclectic globally-inspired menu with a cajun and creole focus takes special attention and Morphis says he enjoys playing around with flavors and local ingredients.

While many of the featured chefs “surprise” the guests with the multiple courses, some like to present a menu and Chef Morphis’s menu was presented beautifully with a custom printed napkin tie to mark the occasion. Each course was detailed in such a way to highlight a region or event that is meaningful to Morphis and we noted that here with each course.

Mobile (Course 1)
Rock Shrimp Zabuton

“Mobile is where the first recorded Mardi Gras took place in the United States”

Marscarpone, rock shrimp, chives, raspberry & mango puree, roasted ginger pepper demi, pea shoot pesto.

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This little crepe like “pillow” was beautifully presented. The creamy filling worked beautifully with  the sauces and demi. You know how it’s so yummy to take the last bite and dredge it through all the beautiful glazes? Every bite was like that. Guest Scott Fancett declared, “This sauce is so good, it should’v come with a spoon.”

Chabaud (Course 2)
Holy Trinity & Friends

“Chabaud is the last name of the family that kind of took care of me when I lived in New Orleans,” Morphis described of this course. “They have been family friends since the late eighties. I have had many memorable meals and experiences with the Chabaud family, and just wanted to honor them.”

Gate City Harvest spring onions, roasted sweet peppers, celery, pork, toasted gorgonzola, Blue Denim Sauce

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This dish was deemed a favorite by guest Bill Norman, who owns Fainting Goat Spirits. This deconstructed “holy trinity” had the components separately presented, but the magic happened when you combined the flavors getting a little bit of everything. The toasted gorgonzola added a beautiful cheese straw like texture and flavor.

Bacchus (Course 3)
Duck, Duck, Gumbo

“Bacchus is another Krewe in New Orleans,” Morphis explained of this dish. “Bacchus was formed in order to include people from outside of New Orleans to revitalize carnival in NOLA. Duck gumbo is revitalizing and a very inclusive dish in itself.”

Smoked Joyce Farms duck, andouille sausage, lemon-grass scented filé gumbo, Louisiana popcorn rice

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The gumbo has been a featured item in the past few weeks at Blue Denim, the warmth and spiciness is everything you love in a gumbo. It was a bit heartier thanks to the duck with a great kick of heat.

Zulu (Course 4)
Grits & Daube

“Zulu is the first parade to roll on Fat Tuesday, which to me is the meat and potatoes of carnival season.”

Old Mill of Guilford Grits, USDA Prime Denver Steak, Cabernet beef jus reduction, parsley oil

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A riff on shrimp and grits, brings us steak and grits. It was a hearty entree to cap the evening’s savory courses. 

Endymion (Course 5)
Oh My Darlin’ Lemon-Thyme

Endymion is one of the super Krewes and largest parades that roll during Mardi Gras,” says Morphis, “When I lived in NOLA, the Chabaud family lived on the Endymion parade route. I had some sweet times there, so dessert was named for Endymion.”

Lemon Thyme Cheesecake,bourbon rosemary blueberry sauce, lemon curd, mint

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The dessert, with its golden, purple and green, which I’m sure was a hat tip to Mardi Gras, was sweet, tart and herbaceous. I absolutely love a lemon dessert with some component of berry. It was absolute perfection for me.

Morphis says when considering what the city needed, he saw a place in the market for great cajun cuisine. “I make a concerted effort to do it the right way and with the right ingredients. The bread for our Po’ Boys come from New Orleans.“

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“We work closely with Gate City Harvest and get with Aubrey to find out what he’s growing and it’s getting easier to build our menus earlier now and utilize as much locally grown produce as possible.”  He adds, “I also love to read a whole lot and study cookbooks to see what other people are doing…and study what other cultures are doing too so that we might be able to do that here at Blue Denim.”

Morphis says he’s happy he has been able to discover a passion and deliver what he loves to do in Greensboro and now he has regulars that dine at Blue Denim that keeps the drive alive. “I don’t take loving what I do for granted. I knew I wasn’t going to get rich, but we make a nice living. We also found good people that work with us that share that desire to create a great experience for our guest. I don’t take that lightly.”

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A Lao Chef’s Table

Hi, foodies…

I want to make sure you get our recaps of our Chef’s Table when they happen…and …um…I might be a bit behind. But here’s a look at our event from May 6, with Lao Restaurant + Bar. It was an amazing evening of courses shared family style, as is the Lao tradition.  This story ran in YES! Weekly!  but of course I’m gonna lay it all out for you here too.

Fresh off YES! Weekly’s Triad’s Best, Lao Restaurant + Bar is basking in the glory of being named Best Restaurant in Guilford County. The Laotian restaurant opened with much anticipation and excitement last summer and they’ve feeling the love. What’s interesting is that for YEARS I’ve been saying a restaurant like Lao would kill it in Winston-Salem. Well, Greensboro beat WS to the punch and the city still remains the place to be for great Asian cuisine. 

Fifty guests of a recent sold out Chef’s Table at Lao prove that even further.  Here’s a little of how it went down (paraphrasing):

Me: I’d love to feature you at a Chef’s Table in the future.

Vonne: But I’m not a chef.

Me: It matters, not. This is about you, your restaurant and your delicious food.

Vonne: Let’s do it on Monday, May 6.

Me: Great!  (creates event, tickets go live, tickets sell quickly–all the while thinking “huh…they’re closed on Monday so that’s cool that she’s doing something special”)

Vonne the next morning (less than 12 hours later): Uh oh, I messed up. We’re closed on Mondays. Ooops. But maybe we can still do it, depending on ticket sales.

Me: Well, it’s sold out at 25 tickets so…now what?

Vonne: Add 25 more tickets!

And in the end the Lao Chef’s Table, with the additional 25 tickets, was sold in out 24 hours. So owner Vonne Keobouala closed her restaurant for all 53 of us as she and her team gave us an exclusive peek at some of her favorite Lao dishes. By the way, the restaurant is now open on Mondays.

Vonne Keobouala was born in Laos, which is in Southeast Asia between Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. At age seven and as a result of the Vietnam war, her family moved to California.

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photo by Wong Kim

She grew up surrounded by a community who enjoyed their culture’s food. But as time went on, they adapted to the American way of life and eating. Still, Vonne says it has always been important to her to share the culture and cuisine of Southeast Asia.  When her brother, Matt “Jit” Lothakoun, moved to North Carolina, she followed soon after and they opened Simply Thai in Elon, with a focus on Thai food and sushi.  Ten years have passed and they have since expanded to a location in Jamestown. But it was the food of Laos that Vonne says needed celebrating. “Here, there are Asian restaurants. We see Chinese and Thai, but not the food of Laos, not the food of my mother. But I think people are ready to accept our cuisine. Food brings people together and we want to introduce our culture through our food.”

What makes Lao food different is the vibrant colors and unique textures of the dishes. The freshest herbs and produce make for meal that’s pleasing to the palate while you enjoy working with your hands. And that’s mostly how the guests at Chef’s Table enjoyed their meal. Hands washed, enjoying a family-style meal of lettuce wraps and other hand-held items that were crispy, crunchy, spicy, sticky and just tantalizing in so many ways.

Guests were greeted upon arrival with platters of Shrimp Crisps. They looked like colorful pork skins with a similar crispy texture but they were made with shrimp. They were great for snacking and conversation.

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Appetizer
Vegetable Spring Rolls & Sakoo Sai Moo
Tapioca dumpling pouches filled with pork peanuts, caramelized palm sugar and fried garlic

You can’t go wrong by starting out with the quintessential spring roll and Lao’s is one of the best around.  The Sakoo Sai Moo were sticky little dumplings with a little chili kick and we wrapped them in beautiful lettuce leaves for a fresh yet sticky, sweet, salty, spicy bite.

First Course (photo by Wong Kim)
Nam Khao
Lettuce wraps, crispy rice, coconut flakes, peanuts, sour pork, with fresh cilantro, green onions

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More eating with our hands. These wraps were similar to what you might find in a great Chinese restaurant with lots of cilantro and onions. The crispy rice in this dish helps it stand out.

Second Course
Chicken Laab
Chopped roasted chicken seasoned with spicy lime sauce and fresh herbs

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This popular Laotian larb was fantastic as well.  Served with a bowl of sticky rice, which acted as your vessel from hand to mouth. You made a bowl in your hand with the rice and placed the chicken mixture inside. If you like playing with your food, this dish is for you. “Laotians use sticky rice like bread,” Vonne told us.

Third Course
Lao Sausage & Beef Seen Lod
Jeow Dipping Sauce
Sticky rice

The sausage and beef may also play nicely as an appetizer. Like a Lao charcuterie board, the spicy sausage was so full of flavor and the Beef is considered to be like jerky.  The dish was served with more sticky rice and a delicious dipping sauce.

Fourth Course
Aom
Chicken Herbal stew with fresh dill, green long beans and Lao eggplant

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The description says it all. The stew was hot and herbaceous and filled with chunky chicken and veggies. Great for a cold day.

Dessert
Nom Vaan Lorm
Mixed flavored jellies, cantaloupe and corn, served in sweetened coconut milk

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Now this little dessert might read odd. Flavored jellies? Corn? But it was fantastic to me. It tasted like a coconut infused cereal milk. You know how Sugar Smacks taste? That’s what it reminded me of…but with the freshest of real fruit  mixed in.

To say that the Chef’s Table guests were stuffed and blown away is putting it mildly. And Vonne says she loves seeing the faces of happy customers enjoying the cuisine of family’s heritage.  “Seeing people come in, meeting them and knowing they are so happy to be here and enjoy the food and then they continue to support us…that’s the biggest reward.”

I just love her.

Lao Restaurant + Bar is located at 219-A South Elm Street, Greensboro.

Click here for my podcast with Vonne on the Triad Podcast Network

 

Check out my podcast with Chef Jody Morphis of Blue Denim

Good afternoon, foodies!

My podcast with Chef Jody Morphis of Blue Denim is live. You can listen here.IMG_6490.jpeg

Jody is the featured chef of my next Chef’s Table on March 26. We can’t wait to find out what is in store.  I love talking to chefs and finding out how they got where they are.

And it sounds like, Chef Jody is doing exactly what he feels called to do.

Read more abut Blue Denim here. by visiting their website and seeing the menu!  We’ll have a complete recap of our Chef’s Table next week in YES! Weekly.

If you’ve got some time to spare (while you’re driving or cleaning), all of my podcasts are on the Triad PodcastNetwork along with a lot of great podcasts by local businesses.  Outlook-1495762201.jpg

foodie b’eat: Triadfoodies Chef’s Table at B. Christopher’s

To see this article in YES Weekly, click here. Featured in the 2/28 edition. 

Something special happened on the evening of February 19. Gone was Valentine’s Day, but love was certainly in the air. The love of food and fellowship. Thus, the story of another Chef’s Table. This one, featuring Chef Chris Russell of B. Christopher’s Steakhouse. It could’ve been made special by the fact that the 40-seat dinner sold out in two days flat. It could’ve been made special by the fact that Chef Russell added four more seats that sold out in ten minutes to accommodate a waiting list. But what made it most memorable and extraordinary was the sheer delight in the camaraderie of Russell’s guests, some who’d never stepped foot in his restaurant. And that’s what Chef’s Tables are all about. To introduce you to a chef, get to know him or her a little better and to dive in and try a restaurant that maybe you just haven’t gotten around to yet. Oh, and it’s to also have a little fun. And by the chatter in the room, I feel pretty certain that folks were having a great time.

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Established in 2000, B. Christopher’s American Steakhouse was a popular restaurant in Burlington and enjoyed business there for nearly 15 years before Russell relocated to downtown Greensboro four and a half years ago. I’d just eaten there for the first time last August and reviewed it here on Page 8 after a wonderful experience. It was then we all agreed that this steakhouse, which was about much more than just steak, was a natural fit for a Chef’s Table. Russell spent part of his growing up years in Burlington and attending Elon College before he began his culinary journey. He says his first love as a chef has been roasting and grilling proteins but he’s enjoyed and going in many other directions over his 30-year professional career. “Lately, I don’t think about what I cook or how I’m cooking necessarily, but why I’m cooking and putting this on a plate,” he says. Russell says today he’s taking a more artistic approach. “Not to be too serious about it because it is just nutrients that people need, but like any artist, I want people to see what I’m up to. Hopefully people will see the care in it, whether it’s the knife skills or vegetable cuts, the layers and depth of flavor. Our palates works in a linear way and a bite may catch you one way and by the time you finish the it may taste another way.”

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Chef prepared four courses, each featuring a different key component from Shellfish to Sweet. Shout out to my girl, Ericca Smith for taking photos of the courses. She’s a great photog.

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Shellfish
Scallop Crudo
Citrus/ Thai chile / mango / ginger / rice vinegar / mint / oil

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Salad
Grilled Pear Salad
Greens / pears / candied walnuts / blue cheese / mustard vinaigrette / caramelized onions / balsamic

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Meat
45-day Dry Aged Ribeye
Horseradish potatoes / roasted roma tomatoes / foyot sauce

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Flourless Chocolate Torte / raspberry coulis

Each course was thoughtfully prepared and I heard more than one person say that the salad was the best they’d ever had. I, for one, love a great steak. And Russell’s ribeye was simple, yet beautifully presented. I can’t think of a single time I’ve ever enjoyed a flourless chocolate torte, but our dessert that evening was very creamy and very rich and really delicious.

Speaking of his cooking style, Russell told me, “I like clean approachable ingredients that people are familiar with and I like to sneak in some that people aren’t and that’s also fun.” Russell’s approachability extends far beyond just his food in the kitchen. After welcoming the guests at the Chef’s Table and retreating to the kitchen to get some courses out, Russell made it a point to come out and speak to each guest, often taking a seat at their table to enjoy some conversation. Chef’s Table “alum” Meg Lohuis, of Greensboro said, “Not only was the food phenomenal, but it was awesome that Chris was as involved with the group as he was. It was great chatting with him. It really struck me how personable he was.”

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Russell has also been a mentor for many young chefs in the area, most notably, Chef Kris Fuller of the widely regarded Crafted restaurants in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.  “When I met her as a teenager, I knew she had more get up and go in her pinky than most people had in their entire body, so it’s wonderful what she’s done and today I get inspiration from her and she and her family are very good friends.” Fuller recalls the day she walked into his restaurant and he took her under his wing, “Chris and his brother Eric were so kind and patient with me as just a kid in high school trying to figure out if my passion for cooking meant that this should be my career path. I didn’t know it then, but I know now that my time with them was very important in me pursuing this career. And all these years later, it’s great to have had worked under them and to still have a relationship with Chris to this day.”

Russell says he considers it a great accomplishment that he has been able to serve as a mentor for many sous chefs and others in his restaurant that he’s seen leave to achieve their own dreams.  “It is one of the greatest feelings that one can have, when you can mentor or inspire a person in a way that they go on and do great things. I want to take what I’ve learned and give that to someone else. It should be the natural way of the world, to pass on our knowledge so that others can move on and do better. I take a lot of pride in that.”

Wanna go? B. Christopher’s American Steakhouse is located at 201 North Elm Street, Greensboro. bchristophers.com 

#followmeto…a 1618 Food Crawl

foodie b’eat….From YES! Weekly

Thinking how much we love a good food crawl, the hubs and I contemplated what we could do on our date night. And since 1618 Concepts has 3 successful restaurants all reasonably close to one another (driving distance), we thought, wouldn’t it be fun to crawl just those three spots? Owner Nick Wilson and business partner George Neal’s three restaurants are supremely popular and we’ve watched them grow from the Grille on Friendly to three restaurants and a food truck (1618 On Location). We saw that it was the last weekend that all 3 locations would have some sort of calamari on the menu and the Wilson and his personable team were encouraging all kinds of interaction on social media, etc. We decided to get in on the fun.

Remember, food crawls take pacing and if you’re on a budget, just be mindful of costs going in. Appetizers (or even entrees) are meant to be shared. Preferably with more than two people. We were on a date night, so we knew we’d only likely order one plate per restaurant.  Are you going to get drinks with your shared apps? Consider that too, as wine or cocktails can be $8-12 and beer around $4. If you avoid cocktails (but why?), you can do a 3 x food crawl for about $50-60 with tip. Mr. foodie and I almost never play it that way. There’s almost always a cocktail at least one place and usually the menu looks so good, we want one more item to try. Like I say, the more the merrier. Bring your peeps!

Going in you have to plan and that’s just what we did. Our itinerary: 1) 1618 Seafood Grille 2)1618 Downtown 3) 1618 Wine Lounge. When we got to the Grille, it was p.a.c.k.e.d.  Even the bar. So, going in you also have to be flexible so we altered our plans, decided first to hit the Downtown location, then come back to the Grille. So first stop…

1618 Downtown, 312 South Elm Street, Greensboro

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Szechuan Glazed Calamari

The featured calamari was a Szechuan Glaze with basil cream sauce, roasted peanut remoulade, chili oil, sesame carrot sprout and cilantro salad. Beautiful to look. The calamari was incredibly tender. The roasted peanut remoulade and the chili oil gave it a great sweet and spicy kick you might have had on sesame noodles at an Asian restaurant. We were really hungry and plowed right through it. It’s about enough for 2 people. This is the only calamari that is leaving the 1618 menus this week. It’s very customary for 1618 Downtown to change its menu often and the only items staying are the sandwiches. We ordered one more item, the spicy tuna crispy sushi roll. The reason is that we want to show you something that will be familiar when you go. There’s almost always a sushi grade tuna dish on the menu here. This tuna roll was still shareable, with pickled butternut squash, granny smity apple wasabi and balsamic caviar. We wish it had been a bit bigger, but it was still great. Still, calamari wins and I really wish they’d consider keeping it on the menu for a few more weeks (just so you get the chance to try it). Libation Manager, Jake Skinner, had his own suggestion, “You could do a 1618 crawl just on pomme frites. They’re that good.” If you don’t mind the carbo load, they’re of the truffle variety with spicy ketchup and honey parmigianno reggiano aioli.

Stop 2….1618 Seafood Grille, 1618 West Friendly Avenue

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Wasabi Glazed Calamari at 1618 Seafood Grille 

So in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I’ve had the calamari at 1618 Seafood Grille.  And since, it has set the standard for any calamari I’ve had far and wide. It also has some very odd ingredients as far as calamari goes. Tossed in a wasabi glaze over red bean salsa, chipotle remoulade, sprouts and fresh basil oil. They like their sprouts at 1618. This visit was no exception. Still the most tender, crispy flavorful calamari. The red beans are very tender and have a hint of cumin, then the sweetness of the wasabi glaze and basil oil, the spicy remoulade. It’s indescribable. They absolutely won’t take it off the menu because it’s such a hit. It goes down easy and is over too soon. We would’ve order something else, but a 3rd calamari was calling our name.

Stop 3…1618 Wine Lounge, 1724 Battleground Avenue

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Back when my blog, triadfoodies.com was just a little bitty baby, 1618 Wine Lounge was my very first real post. My, haven’t we come far! And the Wine Lounge is just as popular as it ever was. Stylish, sexy and a great vibe. And just as known for its terrific small plates. The calamari is tomato glazed with percorino romano cream, fresh mozzarella, basil salad and lemon aioli. It reads like the kind of calamari you are used to. The kind that has a slight Italian spin which is dipped into marinara. But it certainly doesn’t look like that. It was so pretty, with lovely sweet heirloom grape tomatoes that paired nicely with the pecorino romano cream and the mozzarella. It almost didn’t need the aioli, but a little dab here added brightness overall. We were told by one of our servers that this calamari dish is here for another couple of months.

Winner of the night: 1618 Seafood Grille’s gorgeous wasabi glazed with the red beans. The beans!! No lie. It’s the best and we’ve ordered calamari…well, lots of places.

Sufficiently filled with baby squid, we then called it a night, only to start scheming about our next food crawl. Who wants us? Winston-Salem?….High Point?…Kernersville?

Shout out to #followmeto, founded by photographer Murad Osmann and his wife, Nataly, who travel the world and take photos of her leading him….or him following her to exotic or interesting places worldwide, hence the hashtag. They kind of started a movement so we thought we’d have our own foodie version of it here.

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Wanna go? 1618 Seafood Grille is located at 1618 West Friendly Avenue, open daily for dinner as well as Sunday brunch; The Wine Lounge is located at 1724 Battleground Avenue, open Monday-Saturday evenings until late. 1618 Downtown is located 312 S. Elm Street, open for lunch Monday-Friday and dinner Tuesday-Saturday. For more details and links visit 1618concepts.com