Chefs from Mateo, Nana’s, and Scratch are 2015 James Beard Award semi-finalists

I just spotted the list of nominees for the prestigious culinary award over at WRAL. I had to double check that I wasn’t looking at last year’s nominees, seeing as how two of the Durham chefs are repeats from last year:

  • Best chef in the southeast: Scott Howell of Nana’s
  • Best chef in the southeast: Matt Kelly of Mateo
  • Best pastry chef: Phoebe Lawless of Scratch

I can personally vouch for the quality of all three of these establishments. Check ’em out.

Heavenly Buffaloes is amazing and you should eat food from there

OK, I’ll be frank with you: I’ve ordered from Heavenly Buffaloes about once per week since its opening about two months ago.

The humble wing shack off Broad is the latest venture of Dain Phelan and his wife Jennifer, who are probably best known for (surprise) Dain’s Place (which, as awesome as it is, was even awesomer when they briefly served brunch. Boy, I miss that…).

I mentioned the restaurant’s opening in a DNO&E a while back, but I’ve been meaning to write a proper blog post with pictures. The problem, though, is that once I had the food in front of me, I couldn’t stop shoving wings into my face long enough to grab my camera.

Until now.

Basically, it works like this: there’s a shack. The people in there make wings. If you call them up, they’ll bring wings to you. And the wings are really good.

After tasting probably everything on the menu, I think I’ve perfected my order. This feeds three people (or two, if one is (like me) basically a Neanderthal):

  • 7 Sweet Thai Coconut Chili (sweet, coconutty, peanuty) (left)
  • 7 Chipotle Barbeque Wings (spicy, tangy, kind of hint of smoky sweetness) (center)
  • 7 Heavenly Buffaloes (dry rub, moderately spicy, crispy) (right)

Don’t forget… the fries. Especially don’t forget the fries.

  • Sweet potato fries with the mesquite BBQ dry rub (the rub is crucial!)
  • Idaho potato fries with the garlic parmesan dry rub

Regular orders of fries are huge, and those are half orders pictured above (you may be able to sweet talk them into selling you half orders of the fries, but no guarantees – it’s not on the menu). Also, get some extra ranch for the fries. You’re welcome.

Aside from wings and fries, they have vegan wings, which I actually liked. They’re little slices of tofu with the normal wing seasoning on them, and I found them plenty tasty (albeit not especially wing-like in texture or shape). You can also order beer, with a credit card, delivered directly to your door. Which is kind of great.

Heavenly Buffaloes is open long hours: from lunch right on through to midnight most weekdays, and all the way through to 3 a.m. on the weekends, which (combined with its proximity to Duke) should make a lot of college students happy. And, more importantly, it makes me happy.

If you stop by for lunch, there are a couple of picnic tables on which you can eat outside, but this really is a takeout / delivery joint; don’t expect even a Saltbox level of ambiance here.

So, if you’re in the market for some wings, I don’t think you can do better around here. Carpe Durham and Joe both seem to dig the place, too.

Monuts is moving to the old Magnolia Grill building, Pizzeria Toro is re-opening this week

Well hey, I guess things are going well for Monuts, as they’re moving to a much larger building! The structure on Ninth St. that used to house Magnolia Grill (and which was damaged by fire earlier this year) will be their new home.

I’m personally a bit bummed to see Monuts leaving downtown, but it’s great to see that they’re expanding, and I’ll gladly ride the few extra blocks to get my bagel sandwich fix. It also sounds like they’re planning to keep something going downtown, at least for a while. According to the H-S:

Monuts still has three and a half years on the East Parrish Street lease, and Gillespie said they have a few ideas for how to use the location, but haven’t decided yet.

Also from the same article, the H-S confirms that Toro is reopening “by Saturday.” Not much to add at this point, beyond… well, welcome back, guys.

FOOD NEWS: Pizzeria Toro slated for July re-opening, Dashi gets location, Fullsteam on TV

A couple of downtown restaurant odds and ends for ya:

First up, following many months idle and with little fanfare, Pizzeria Toro has announced its return:

You can make that two wood-fired pizza options come late July, when the outstanding Pizzeria Toro, closed by a fire in November, is slated to reopen.

Toro’s been closed for months following a kitchen fire, and its return is definitely welcome.

By the way, I’m also pretty well impressed with Pompieri (from the BCBB crew) which opened during Toro’s absence. More better pizza options are good for everybody – now one of you guys needs to start delivering!

Next, Dashi – the upcoming noodle bar which is a joint venture of Toast’s Billy and Kelli Cotter and the Cookery’s Nick and Rochelle Johnson – has a final location. The restaurant will be near Rue Cler on W. Chapel Hill St, near the intersection with N. Mangum.

And finally, Fullsteam is going to be featured in this week’s episode of “Brew Dogs,” which airs tonight (Wednesday) at 9:00 p.m. on the “Esquire” cable network (or, alternately, whenever you feel like it on the Internet).

Toro Dreams of Spaghetti was pretty sweet! Next week: Toro Dreams of Chupacabra!

As discussed previously, Pizzeria Toro has been out of commission following a fire in early November. With no restaurant at which to work, the staff decided to keep busy by hosting a charity event for PORCH at the Cookery in the interim.

We found a sitter and headed over for the 8:00 p.m. seating (we live like three blocks from The Cookery, so this location always makes me especially happy). When we arrived, lots of people from the 6:30 seating were still hanging out, enjoying some signature drinks (and even Ponysaurus on tap!) at the bar. In the background, a movie was playing on the projector with the sound muted.

I got some crazy hibiscus champagne thing at the bar (cause I have high blood pressure) which was pretty good. The SO started with a margarita, but somehow managed to trade it for some crazy bitter concoction (the details of which escape me at the moment). I’m kicking myself for forgetting to circle back around to try the Ponysaurus, but maybe next time.

Upstairs, there was a dude with meat. Lots of meat! He was shaving tiny little slices of some kind of ham, which was super yum. Problem: the meat slices were really tiny! Solution: scoop up a whole lot of them!

Before the dinner proper kicked off, Cookery owner Nick Hawthorne-Johnson and the Pizzeria Toro owners (mostly Gray Brooks) opened with some touching words both about the restaurant and about the role they want to play in the community. PORCH was represented as well.

Food! ‘Twas good: salad, two varieties of spaghetti (one with marinara, one with anchovy sauce), garlic bread, and some seriously kicking meatballs. Afterwards, hot cocoa, coffee, and cookies were to be had on the patio. Temps were in the 30’s, so bundling up beside the fire or heaters was a must.

TL,DR: it was neat! I highly recommend that you check out the “Toro Dreams of the Chupacabra” followup, which is scheduled for Monday, Dec 9, and will feature Mexican street food (including goat, of course). This time, proceeds will go to Urban Ministries of Durham.