A (Damn Good) Side of Southern Surprise

It has been a while since I have done a review for you all. You might surmise that this means that it has been a while since I went out somewhere. That would be the correct thing to surmise. It is easy to get so caught up in cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry, that one day bleeds into another and before you know it, entire weeks have gone by. This is especially true when you cook for a living, and especially, especially true when you cook for a living out of your home. Has anyone else experienced that challenge of looking out of their home office (often the kitchen table) and seeing at least 10 things in the house that need to be urgently cleaned/organized/put away? I mean, trading in the commute, the traffic, the need for ironed office-wear for a trip in your pajamas down the hall to the laptop, is decidedly a plus of working from home. But then... when you step away from work and cast your eyes on any other surface, it takes real self-control and discipline not to embark on a tangential cleaning project, does it not?

Anyway, I am thrilled to say that last night I finally did it - I hit "Save" on the project at hand, put the computer to sleep, and went out to Carrboro to meet a friend for dinner at ACME. I was not even going to bother writing a review for them because they are by no means a vegetarian restaurant. I don't think I would really even classify them as "veg-friendly." I took a brief look at the meat & winde laden menu and asked the waitress to just tell me what was safe for vegetarians. Bless her heart, she very candidly said "Oh. Vegetarian? Well. Hmm... Um..." Yep. That's what I thought looking at the menu. She very valiantly did suggest their (yes, you guessed it!) salads and a Southern Side sampler plate. Ordering the Side Sampler means that you can order 3 of their vegetable/bean side dishes, which are served with 2 of their special gluten free cornbreads, shaped like little ears of corn. With our order we pretty much exhausted their vegetarian-friendly options.

Now, you might ask, why would I bother writing a review for such a place? Well, the restaurant's tagline is a bold "Damn Good Food," and I have to say that I agree with them on that one. I think I have made my confession to

you all about my minimal enjoyment of salads.

These salads we ordered (there are only 2 of them on the menu) were surprisingly tasty, utilizing fresh, local greens and creative flavor pairings like the sweet crunch of roasted of butternut squash cubettes, candied pecans, & pomegranate seeds, with the pungent tang of mustard leaves, all coated in a delicious buttermilk dressing (dairy-free was a little much to ask). Welcome to salad, fine dining style!

The sides we ordered were cheese grits, fried brussel sprouts (though I truly think they were roasted), and gingered mashed sweet potatoes. I think these were all gluten-free as well. I have to give them credit for being rather gluten-free conscious, if not vegetarian savvy. They were sure to mark the gluten-free items on the menu, and it looked like there were quite a few of those. Our side-dish main dish took a long time to come, probably because we were there at the height of a Saturday night dinner rush. It wasn't a super big deal because we had eaten salad and were seated out on the back patio, which though small, is so filled with beautiful plants, waterfalls and reed fencing, that I mostly forgot that I was in the middle of downtown Carrboro waiting for food. I am sure that if I were into alcohol drinking, like many of our fellow patrons, I would have forgotten altogether.

I wasn't expecting fireworks from a side-dish main dish that would be split by two, and yet when it finally came, I had to come back to their "Damn Good Food" tagline. Everything was excellently prepared and flavored. This is Southern food, not Bubba food. Each dish had a rich medly of surprising flavors and was cooked to perfection. The waitress cheerfully came by when she saw our empty plates and offered to show us the dessert menu. Not expecting much, I asked her if any of the desserts were egg-free. They do have one! It is the Dark Chocolate Terrine. This dessert deserves a big, fat OMG! It was rich, creamy, beautifully dressed (picture white sauce drizzled in zig-zags over the chocolate), and you guessed it, damn good. Actually I was curious because the texture was very much like the chocolate tofu pie that I make. Yet, I knew that it wasn't made with tofu. I sent our waitress back to the kitchen to ask what in fact was in it. By the way, if you go to Acme, ask for Kirtsten; she was super helpful and a fantastic waitress. I promised Kirsten that I wouldn't repeat what was in said decadent dessert. Let me just say that it is indeed all vegetable based, and made with something (that comes in a can) that you would expect to find in a kitchen of the Deep South. No wonder they have been featured in "Garden & Gun" magazine... can't get more Southern than that. All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised. If I hadn't already gone through their entire veg. menu, I would go back again.

This Week's Menu:

Entree #1 - Marrakesh Vegetable Curry

Far from the Southern American cuisine that I just wrote about, this week's menu has a North African/Middle Eastern theme. It all started right here with one of those magical customer requests for this curry, which is outrageously rich in flavor. The combination of chickpeas, succulently cooked vegetables, and Moroccan spices like turmeric, curry, & cinnamon would be an amazing marriage all by themselves. But wait, there is more! The recipe also calls for a little orange juice, slivered almonds, and raisins. That kicks the flavor profile up several yum notches. I tell you, flavor combos like this are exactly why I find Moroccan cuisine so very sexy. *GF, soy-free

(photo allrecipes.com)

Entree #2 - Moroccan Inspired Carrot, Sweet Potato, & Lentil Soup

This soup has been a favorite every time we make it. What you see in the title is what you get in terms of ingredients. Don't let this short list fool you, though. Spiced with Harissa Paste and Ras el Hanout, a blend of 12 different exotic spices, this creamy bowl of goodness sings in your mouth and all the way down to your stomach. *GF, soy-free

(photo food52.com)

Entree #3 - Dal Makhani

Regardless of the theme of the menu, I like to include at least one Indian dal. Our customers (you all) have so steadily requested and supported the Indian dishes, that you just can't have a menu without dal. Dal remains, after all, the main daily protein source for millions of people on the Indian subcontinent. This dal recipe calls for whole urad dal and red kidney beans, both major protein powerhouses. The beans combine with tomatoes, whole spices, slow-cooking, and a dollop or two of cream (in our case coconut cream) for a truly decadent-ish version of this Indian staple, dal. *GF, soy-free

(photo vegrecipesofindia.com)

Side Dishes:

Brown Rice - $1/serving (1 cup)

Iranian Rice Pilaf -$3/serving (1 cup) Really the Iranian word for a fancy, spiced rice dish is "pollou" or "polow." But since the Turkish name "pilaf" is more widely recognized, I used it instead. This is a recipe from one of my favorite chefs, Kurma Das. It is very spicy - not hot spicy, but exotic flavor spicy. Calling for saffron, cardamom, cloves, cumin, fennel, and cinnamon, this recipe delights and surprises your palate. No time to sleep here! There is too much to be tasted. *GF, soy-free

(photo saveur.com)

Moroccan Fava Bean Salad - $6/lb. I made this cooked salad once upon a long, long time ago for a dinner party. Because it never made it into a weekly menu and newsletter, I had a bit of a challenge tracking down the link for the recipe again. Thank God for gmail search! So this is another one of those deceptively simple recipes - the ingredients called for are cooked fava beans, olives, preserved lemons, olive oil and some spices. Simple but oh-so-take-me-home-right now! *GF, soy-free

(photo moroccanfood.about.com)

Moroccan Stuffed Dates - $2/ea. or 2 for $3. The desserts from this part of the world tend to be a little heavy in white flour, and I was wondering what I could make that would be both delicious and GF friendly. Ah-ha! Yes, stuffed dates! Deglet dates are candy-licious all by themselves. When you add an almond paste filling and sprinkle on a couple chopped walnuts for garnish, the candy-liciousness goes through the roof. *GF, soy-free

(photo laurenslatest.com)

Giant Oatmeal Raisin and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies - $3/ea. or 2 for $5. As if we didn't have enough delectableness to choose from right? Now there are more options, I know. So a word about these cookies - they are egg-free, but do contain dairy and wheat. Every December the Krishna Temple in Hillsborough makes 1000's of these beautiful, chewy cookies to sell for their annual fundraiser. Govinda's will be offering them to you through the New Year. All proceeds go to the center. Quantity pricing available. These are lovely to bring to that office holiday party that you just didn't have time to bake anything for. Hint hint...

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