Thursday, December 29, 2016


Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar
Director: Garth Davis

Running Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Rating: PG-13

"Lion" is a wonderfully refreshing, feel-good movie, that's bound to make you tear up a few times. This film is uplifting, optimistic and although it's a bit predictable, it's a great reminder that the truth is often stranger and more exciting than fiction. "Lion" tells the true story of Saroo, a little boy who gets lost in India and is adopted by an Australian couple. When he gets older, his curiosity about his roots leads him back to India, in search of his birth family. Everything about this film is beautiful, and it's my favorite of the season so far.

The cinematography is stunning, as we're introduced to India through shots of crowded streets and tiny houses, while we see Australia's gorgeous coastline and sandy beaches. The precious and talented Sunny Pawar plays 5-year-old Saroo, who is obsessed with his older brother and helps him do odd jobs that pay very little. One night on a job at a train station, Saroo wanders off, and it's heart-breaking when he wakes up on a train heading nearly 1,000 miles away from home. Not only is language a huge barrier when he arrives in Calcutta, but Saroo doesn't correctly remember his town's name, or know the name of his mother. The kid isn't helpless, though. It's hard to imagine how he survived in the streets, but there were thousands of kids doing the same alongside him. He is sent to an orphanage where shortly afterwards, an Australian couple named Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) file for his adoption.

Dev Patel plays Saroo 23 or so years later, and let me just say - Dev has beefed up from his "Slumdog Millionaire" days. Hello biceps! Saroo is close to his family, having taken on their Aussie accent and helping raise his unstable, also adopted-from-India brother, but it's not until he meets Lucy (Rooney Mara) that he begins questioning his identity and longing to find his Indian roots. Mara doesn't have much of a role here, but the two have good on-screen chemistry. Thanks to Google Earth and modern technology, Saroo sets down a rabbit hole to find his family in India, whom he knows practically nothing about. What ensues is a miracle.

It's wonderful hearing Nicole's natural Aussie accent, and she is getting buzz for her role as the epitome of a strong, yet emotional mother. This character is excellent for her. I would love for Patel to start getting some real leading roles (not just ones about Indian men, or characters from India running a hotel or looking to leave their small Indian hometown. Rant over.) The score is familiar, but very good, and it's difficult to hold back tears during the last 15 minutes. The ending credits even feature clips and photos of the real life Saroo and his families. The film is named "Lion" for a reason that will give you goosebumps, but I'll let you go see it and learn why for yourself.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Nocturnal Animals

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Director: Tom Ford
Running Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Rating: R

I was so excited to see this movie. The anticipation was killing me. I'm a fan of writer/director Tom Ford, Jake Gyllenhaal is in my top 5, and I've done a movie with Amy Adams (seriously, see "Trouble With The Curve"). While the trailers don't give you much of an idea as to what the premise entails, the actual plot is very different from what I was expecting. Even if you go into this blindly, it will take you about halfway through the film to get an idea of what's going on. Gyllenhaal and Adams do a terrific job in their roles, and you'll see lots of friendly...well...familiar faces in this film. However, there's no need to rush to see it in theatres, and don't rush to see it period if you're easily creeped out, like me.

Former spouses Edward and Susan (Gyllenhaal and Adams) are reconnected when he sends her a manuscript of a brutal and haunting novel he has written and dedicated to her. I would really be doing you a disservice to divulge more of the story line. I'll note that several scenes made me incredibly uncomfortable, even beginning with the opening credits. "Moonlight" was one of the most stressful films I've seen in a long time, but "Nocturnal Animals" was stressful in a different way. It felt almost invasive. Terror versus discomfort, really.

Michael Shannon brings utter fabulousness to each one of his supporting roles, and doesn't disappoint here as a West Texas sheriff. He is a wonderful character actor and has had quite the year (including a small part in "Loving," a beautiful story but rather slow film). Aaron Taylor-Johnson is getting buzz for his role as psychopath Ray, and rightfully so. Several of his scenes are charged with utter depravity. He plays disgusting very well.

This film will leave a bad taste in your mouth. It's dark and haunting, but for some reason, you can't look away. Perhaps its because you want justice done for the characters who were wronged, or perhaps its (thankfully) just so different from all of our lives that we find relief in the fact that its pure entertainment. Or, perhaps it's because Amy's wardrobe in the film is sensational. She's getting so much screen time this season and I love it ("Arrival" beats "Nocturnal Animals" any day). If you were hesitant to go see this in the theatres, your instincts were correct. Wait until you can watch it another way and don't worry - there's plenty of awesome stuff coming out in the coming weeks you can catch.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Manchester by the Sea

Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Running Time: R
Rating: 2 hours, 17 minutes

"Manchester by the Sea" has been getting a lot of awards show season buzz. They're practically calling it Best Picture already, and engraving Casey Affleck's name on the Oscar. I thought it was pretty good, not great, but indeed a well-delivered performance by the stronger actor of the Affleck brothers. (Yes, I'll go out on a limb here and say that Ben has superior directing chops while Casey has him in the acting department; see "Gone Baby Gone" as Exhibit A.) The narrative is a nice change, as we learn most about the characters in flashbacks, and the cinematography and score are both strong. But the star here is Kenneth Lonergan's screenplay and Affleck's understated performance of the main character, Lee. Michelle Williams and newcomer Lucas Hedges also offer memorable supporting roles. That being said, I'm pretty lukewarm about this film.

Lee is a custodian living in Boston, doing whatever it takes to get through the work shift and the day. We learn how he ended up like this in flashbacks with his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler, yum) and ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Lee's personality is pretty even-keel, but it's because he's suppressing some serious pain and grief that he hasn't come to terms with yet. He doesn't want to handle this pain nor does he know how. Joe's expected yet ill-timed death brings Lee back to his hometown of Manchester, where he is reunited with his nephew, Joe's son Patrick. Much to Lee's dismay, he finds out he is to be Patrick's guardian, as his mother is out of the picture.

The "present day" scenes take place in a matter of days: Lee and Patrick set about planning Joe's funeral, pick out a casket, postpone the burial because the ground is frozen outside, and all the while Lee attempts to "parent" Patrick to the best of his ability. He drives him to hockey practice, band practice and monitors Patrick's girlfriend situation (he has 2). The conversations and dialogue between characters, especially Lee and Patrick, is incredibly realistic and at times, humorous.

After learning about Lee's tragedy, one might wonder why he wasn't given a cathartic, emotionally-driven, waterfall of emotions kind of scene. This would have been the easy way out, and it's interesting that Lonergan didn't write one for him. Affleck plays this stiff, stifled emotion incredibly well. Williams delivers Randi's waterfall of emotions kind of scene with the excellence that only she knows how.

This film didn't stick with me, but it might be worth a re-watch. My colleagues, the critics, are getting way excited about this movie, but the pace was too slow for me, and it dragged on about 30 minutes too long.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

WP Kitchen + Bar

WP Kitchen + Bar in Greensboro has done quite an exceptional job re-branding this past year. I had dined here a few times since it opened in 2012, but it was never on my frequent-visit list. After a recent meal where I was able to sample several offerings on their menu, I rank this restaurant among the best in the Triad. The service and management is professional, the menu is adventurous yet the flavors and price points are accessible, and the restaurant sources local ingredients like Goat Lady Dairy cheese and Giacomo's Italian Market salami. I was thrilled to meet Wolf's brother Klaus, who makes regular visits to all of the Puck-owned restaurants. It's clear that this team cares deeply about their brand and their customers. They want to feed people delicious food, and they execute that very well. I encourage you to read on, but only if you don't have lunch or dinner plans and can make reservations at WP Kitchen + Bar today, because after these descriptions, you're going to want to run there.
With my buddies "The Man Who Ate The Town," Tim Beeman and triadfoodies' Kristi Maier!
Pull up a seat at the bar, where craft cocktails are the specialty (unless you prefer the Wolfgang Puck Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, of course!) A Pomegranate Bellini is a festive take on the traditional champagne drink, while the Eggnog Martini is really too easy to drink. It's less heavy than the holiday favorite, with just the right amount of sweetness and booze. The Cherry Sour is also a highlight, with brandy cherries, Amaretto, Campari and Bourbon. You can't go wrong with any of these.
Eggnog Martinis coming right up!

Cheersing with Chef Nikki Miller-Ka aka NikSnacks!

Appetizers are quite tasty and easy to fill up on, my favorite being the house-cut Truffled Potato Chips with blue cheese fondue, blue cheese crumbles, chives and truffle oil. Just stop. I can't imagine a more delectable flavor combination, and each chip has the perfect amount of truffle oil and cheese. It's a huge pet peeve when truffle flavor is promised and it doesn't deliver. These definitely deliver, and then some. Sorry Hams, but these are the best chips in Greensboro.

Calamari fans will delight over the thin, crisp batter and tender squid, but the kicker here is the tangy pepperoncini scattered over the dish. The acidity is a nice addition, as are the housemade spicy marinara and pesto aioli. Squash Soup is a beautiful light orange hue, thanks to the kabocha pumpkin and acorn squash. It's a bit sweet, but the texture is nice and velvety, and the cardamom cream gives it an intriguing spice.
Clockwise: Fennel Sausage Bolognese, Flat Iron Steak with garlic herb butter, Truffled Potato Chips with Blue Cheese Fondue, Kale Salad
Puck knows how to make a pie. You know they mean business when they let their dough proof for 5-7 days. The pizza oven is gorgeous and heats to 750 degrees. There is beauty in simplicity in the Margherita Pizza. San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozz and basil - this is a classic combination for a reason. I loved the Giacomo's Pepperoni Pizza, a much spicier and more flavorful take on your standard pepperoni pie. They use oven-dried tomatoes, too! The Goat Cheese Pizza uses Goat Lady Dairy goat cheese (the best!) with fresh pesto, roasted tomatoes and basil. Their crust has a great chew, and I appreciate the tang of the tomato sauce. While the pizza is indeed special, I think they were wise to re-brand as "WP Kitchen + Bar" to emphasize all the other fabulous offerings on their menu, too.
Executive Chef Matt Culpepper giving a pizza tutorial!
If you don't think kale salads can be sexy, you haven't had WP's version, with gorgeous green goddess dressing. It's luscious, light and packed full of fresh flavors like basil, parsley and lemon. Kale is tossed with a citrus vinaigrette and sprinkled with fried quinoa for a nice crunch. This would make a great meal alongside the Fennel Sausage Bolognese. I was worried about the fennel flavor overpowering the dish, but it wasn't offensive at all. Housemade herbed ricotta is dolloped on top, and while the pasta was a bit too al dente for my taste, the flavor of the sauce was outstanding, as if it had been cooking all day long.

Are you salivating yet? Ready to move onto entrees? NC Mountain Trout is grilled and topped with lemon butter, making it extra decadent. The fish is perfect. It's flaky, substantial, and served alongside fabulous roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts. I'm not a Salmon fan, but I actually really enjoyed the pan-seared salmon, because it wasn't overwhelmingly fishy, and it was topped with a tangy olive tapenade. A fresh, citrusy, shaved fennel salad is paired with it.
Klaus Puck serving 1808's Tina Firesheets
Cooking a good chicken is a testament to an excellent chef. While we all know that Puck is one of the greats, his Springer Mountain Farms Chicken is moist, bursting with flavor and drizzled with an umami-forward bourbon chicken jus. If you think chicken is boring and done too often, come try this. It will change your mind. It's served with crispy potatoes that are boiled, smashed, fried and finally tossed with garlic and red pepper flakes. They are killer!! The grilled Flat Iron Steak is cooked medium rare, has a nice salty crust and made even more luxurious with a pat of garlic herb butter to top it all off. Housemade steak sauce gives any bottled variety a run for its money (and would sell quite well if they bottled it!) Frites are thin and crispy, with strong garlic flavor - quite addictive.

Other noteworthy sides include the Truffled Mac & Cheese - the truffle flavor is in the breadcrumbs! - and Roasted Cauliflower, tossed with brown butter and pepperoncini. An order of each would provide a solid and satisfying meal, and were two of my favorites from the evening.
Truffled Mac & Cheese

Be sure and save room for dessert. Coffee fans will love the Espresso Semifreddo (semi-frozen, like ice cream) with a chocolate "straw" tuile, while Cinnamon Sugar Donuts are any-age friendly. The star dessert is the Salted Caramel Pudding with creme fraiche whipped cream and chocolate cookie crumbles. It's like they took a batch of salted caramel and added a rich custard to it - the flavors are absolutely perfect and I would eat a gallon of this. You can even order warm Chocolate Chip Cookies, studded with still-melty chocolate chips!
Cinnamon Sugar Donut, Espresso Semifreddo and Salted Caramel Pudding
Are you calling WP Kitchen + Bar for reservations right now? They have themed dinners each month, too, that are hosted on their heated patio. I am so excited to return and enjoy my favorites (it will be incredibly hard to pick just a few!) If you haven't been in a while, take it from me - this spot is absolutely fantastic. Head over when you need a break from shopping at Friendly! You will not leave disappointed.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Auli'i Cravalho, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison
Director: Ron Clements and Don Hall
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Rating: PG

"Moana" is Disney's latest sensation, and with good reason. The animation is gorgeous - I felt like I was at sea the entire time - the music is catchy, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda's lending hand, and our protagonist is a strong Polynesian girl - both strong-willed AND she's pretty ripped. (The girl has incredible upper body strength!) While my favorite animated film of the year was "Kubo and the Two Strings", "Moana" is sure to delight audiences of all ages, and it's a film I would enjoy watching again and again. Any Disney fan will love it.

The film's portrayal of Polynesian culture is genuine and sincere. I have no doubts that the writers, animators and producers took careful thought with each element of this movie. We meet Moana as a toddler, already enchanted by the sea and the unknown that lies on the other side of it. As a young girl, her father Chief Tui encourages her to stay put on the island and learn how to be the leader she inevitably becomes; meanwhile her Gramma Tala feeds her adventuresome side and tells her the legend of Maui, an ancient demigod who accidentally set a curse among their people. The curse can only be removed by the one "chosen" by the sea. Naturally, Moana's curiosity is heightened.

In a soaring number ("How Far I'll Go"), Moana sets across the sea in search of Maui, alongside the help of Hei Hei, an adorably idiotic bird (but sadly not Pua the precious pig!) Maui is voiced by Dwayne Johnson, and while I'm not a huge fan of The Rock, his comedic timing and vocal skills deliver. The two are in for a wild ride, fighting off coconut pirates, battling a fire giant named Te Ka, and barely escaping the claws of a giant crab named Tamatoa. Needless to say, their journey is a lot of fun.

I could have used several more songs from Miranda, but the ones we have are catchy, melodic and will certainly stay in your head. This is a beautiful film and Moana is an inspiring protagonist, though my screening partner commented on the fact that it has been a while since Disney produced a "prince" movie. We named a few: Tarzan, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but as far as Disney movies go, princesses are king.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Fratellis Steakhouse

Fratellis Steakhouse in Winston-Salem has quickly become one of my favorites in the area. It's great for family dinners or special occasions, and they have a more casual bar for dates or getting together with friends. This location has been home to several restaurants throughout the years, including Staley's, Frankie Rowland's, and most recently, Old Staley's Bar and Grille. I'm thrilled that it has stayed Fratellis, and if they keep doing what they've been doing, I have no doubt it will stay here for a very long time.

Everything I've tried on the menu has been wonderful, including their craft cocktails. All entrees come with the Fratellis Family Salad, featuring apples, dried cranberries and pecans, or you can upgrade to the Wedge, my personal fave. Bacon, Grape Tomatoes, Gorgonzola crumbles and Gorgonzola dressing is a classic combination. It would be easy to get full on this, alongside their dinner rolls with herbed olive oil, but don't do it! There's a lot to look forward to with your entrees. The Greek Village Salad could serve as an entree though, with Tomatoes, Cukes, Kalamata Olives, Onion, Bell Peppers and Feta Cubes (!!) over chopped Romaine. It's like eating a delicious garden. The crunch and freshness of the ingredients is wonderful.

Being that it's an Italian joint, you know Fratellis is going to have a killer pizza. Their chicken pizza has mushrooms, caramelized onions, bacon and spinach and rivals just about any pizza you've had anywhere. The crust and sauce are so flavorful, and the slices aren't TOO big, so you don't feel guilty having 3 or 4.

My favorite entree is their Seabass. It is outstanding. The fish is incredibly tender, and served atop flavorful lemon basil risotto, with cherry tomatoes for a bite of acid and a pop of color. Add some capers and a drizzle of feta cream, and you have a killer dish. It's hard for me to not get this every time I come here!

You could also opt for any of their flavorful steaks, with crusts like mushroom marsala, homemade boursin or horseradish cream. I also like to order their tender scallops a la carte, which come 8 ounces to an order, which equals anywhere between 4-8 scallops. This dish comes with two sides, and the sides alone could be a satisfying and fulfilling meal. Parmesan-blistered corn is exactly what it sounds like: charred corn is sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Needless to say, it's delicious. Roasted Brussels Sprouts are made even more delectable when they're paired with crunchy, sweet apples, and chewy, salty bacon. They're really hitting on all flavor and texture points here. Fratellis gnocchi is some of the best I've ever had. It has incredible flavor and is toothsome, so it doesn't just wilt away. It's sprinkled with salty parmesan cheese for extra decadence.

You must save room for dessert, whether it's their signature Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding, or my favorite, the Bananas Foster. This isn't the traditional Bananas Foster you're used to, either. A thick slice of buttery pound cake is topped with a caramel rum sauce, sliced bananas, vanilla ice cream and the star of the show: candied pretzels. The pretzels give a necessary salty crunch to break up the richness of the dish. It's one of the best restaurant desserts I've ever had. My party and I went HAM on it (look it up on urban dictionary) and it was difficult to resist ordering another one immediately.

I love Fratellis. If you live in Winston and haven't been, make a trip here ASAP. Reservations are recommended, because the word is getting out that this place is the jam. We have plans to return for my parents' anniversary later this month and I can't wait. That will also mark the 5th anniversary of my blog! Holy cow. Time sure flies when you're seeing great flicks and eating killer food.

Monday, November 28, 2016


Starring: Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders
Director: Barry Jenkins
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

Rating: R

"Moonlight" is one of the most heartbreaking films I've ever watched. To call this a coming of age story is a bit of an understatement. Yes, we see our protagonist Chiron develop from age 8 to age 28 (or thereabouts) but we also see his attempt to overcome being a gay black male in a rough Miami neighborhood. This isn't just your average tale of growing up. The acting is incredible, each actor doing their character justice, with spot-on cinematography and a hauntingly beautiful score. Will this be a contender come Oscar season?  It's hard to say, but this is an extremely well-done film that's sure to leave tears in your eyes and a heaviness on your heart.

The film is broken into three parts. We first meet 8-year-old Chiron, aka Little, as he is running away from bullies. He finds himself in a drug house, and we immediately realize the type of neighborhood he lives in. Juan (Ali) finds him and serves as a sort of mentor, though he is in fact a drug dealer himself. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Monae) are seen parent figures to Little, much more so than his mother (Harris) who has recently developed an addiction to crack. Even at age 8, Little questions his sexuality and wonders why kids at school tease him and call him cruel, gay slurs. His friend Kevin encourages him to not be "soft" and fight back when he is bring picked on. This friendship with Kevin develops into a touching story line that we follow throughout the film. Juan and Teresa struggle with their role in Little's life, knowing his tumultuous home situation. The moment Little realizes Juan sells drugs for a living, and his mother takes drugs, is heartbreaking.

During part two, we meet Chiron, the alienated and bullied high school student, still being tormented for his sexuality. Chiron's struggle with his sexuality isn't the primary focus of the film, because everything in his life is an equally difficult struggle. He continues to spend time with Teresa as his own mother falls further and further into the drug world. One day, Chiron hits his breaking point. We see it building and building until it finally comes to a head. It was only a matter of time, and it's devastating to watch.

Part three introduces us to a whole new man: Black. He has become a drug dealer in Atlanta, and has developed a hard persona - the sensitive and naive boy we once knew is long gone. He gets a phone call from his old friend Kevin, and when they reunite, Kevin is also shocked at Black's new lifestyle. The two share a few powerful scenes over dinner at a diner, but for the most part, this was the weakest chapter in the film. It was also hard to see the vicious cycle of poverty and crime life continue to be played out.

Obviously, this is not a feel-good movie. My brow was furrowed the entire time. The three actors that played Chiron did it with such grace and courage. It's a beautiful movie, in its own dark way, but was very hard for me to watch.

Monday, November 14, 2016


Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Running Time:1 hour, 56 minutes 
Rating: PG-13

It wasn't until a few years ago that I got into the sci-fi film genre. "Aliens," "Interstellar," and "Gravity" helped me get on the bandwagon, and now I'm excited anytime a new space film gets released. (I finally saw the very first Star Wars just last month!) The fact that we know so little about aliens, outer space, other galaxies and the like, leaves a lot of room for creative story lines and interpretations. "Arrival" is the latest sci-fi/alien film, and it's the best movie I've seen all year. I would advise you to not watch the trailer, so there are truly no spoilers.

It's always difficult to write about films like this - not divulging too much of the plot, but wanting to entice my readers to go see it. The cinematography is beautiful, the score haunts, and you'll alternate between being on the edge of your seat and being totally lost. Director Denis Villeneuve is fresh off "Sicario", a fabulous, underrated movie that has quite a bit in common with "Arrival". While the plots couldn't be further apart, we're on a journey through the eyes of a female protagonist, figuring everything out at the same time with her.

Amy Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, an expert linguist hired to communicate with paranormal creatures that have arrived to Earth. The arrival came in the form of 12 UFOs, scattered randomly throughout the world. Adams brings such grace to this role that it's easy to empathize with her. Jeremy Renner, though a bit miscast, does a fine job as physicist Ian, who works alongside Louise to figure out how to communicate with the aliens. I could always use more screen time with Forest Whitaker, the military officer who hired them.

Louise, Ian and the team are allowed inside the UFO every 18 hours, when a door opens. Their first trek inside will cause anyone anxiety to watch. I was worried that seeing the aliens would take away the intrigue and mystery, but it's always interesting to see different writers' and directors' interpretations of the creatures. The plot slows a bit during the middle, but every other scene jerks you back to the pressure cooker Louise, Ian and the rest of the world are in. What seems like a daunting and impossible task isn't made easier when each country shuts off communication with each other, out of mistrust and fear of the unknown.

I hate to stop here, but that's really all I can say without giving away too much. You don't have to enjoy sci-fi films to enjoy this movie. If you do enjoy them, you'll really love this movie. It's one of the most unique filims that I've seen in a long time. The story, though strong on its own, is supported significantly by Amy Adams, a true tour de force. She has a lot to carry with this film and she doesn't disappoint. You'll leave, still thinking about the movie for days to follow.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Pieology just opened its doors at Friendly Center in Greensboro, next to the new Rise Donuts. Nothing (major) against the Cheesecake Factory, but the Pieology - Rise duo is about to be the hottest new stop in the shopping center. Last week, I got to sample 6 of Rise's famous donut flavors including Original Glazed, Sprinkles with Vanilla Icing, Chocolate Chocolate Cake, Pumpkin Spice Latte, Cheerwine Glazed and my favorite of the bunch, Fruity Pebbles. Last week was a great week because I also got to attend a Private Media Event and enjoyed a sneak peek at Pieology, a fast-casual, customize-your-own, unlimited fresh toppings pizza joint. I repeat: these two are about to be the hottest spots at Friendly.
Beauties from Rise!

When you walk into Pieology, you notice several things: it's bright, clean, and there are endless toppings with which to decorate your pie. Literally endless - you can put on as many toppings as you like, which is good news to a "too much is just enough" kind of gal. Salads are fresh, with a nice assortment of toppings and presumably homemade dressing, and you can build your own, too. But the main event here, is the pie.

My favorite of the night was the Smokin' Buffalo Chicken. This promises heat, and it delivers. An olive oil base is a nice, neutral bed for chicken, fiery buffalo sauce, gorgonzola, mozzarella and the kicker - cilantro. The flavors all shrine through and satisfies all of my buffalo cravings. It's simple, yet packs a huge punch. Not for the weak palate!
Smokin' Buffalo Chicken

Alfredo's Alfredo is another flavor bomb, with a three cheese alfredo sauce base, mushrooms, artichokes, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and tons of fresh garlic. With both the Smokin' Buffalo and Alfredo's Alfredo, I didn't miss the tomato sauce base, which I typically prefer. This pie has enough going on to intrigue my taste buds and satisfy my texture buds, too. This one is a winner.
Alfredo's Alfredo
The Rustic Veggie is a great healthy option, served on a whole wheat crust with that tomato sauce I had been lusting after. They call it the Mardi Gras pie, because it's so darn colorful! Just about every veggie you can think of is on top: green peppers, roasted red peppers, corn, red onion, garlic, basil, with ricotta and mozzarella to boot. Why hasn't corn been a common pizza topping until now?  The crunch and sweetness is fantastic. I would probably add more garlic next time, but I was impressed that the crust didn't bend with the weight of the toppings! It may be a super thin crust, but it is crisp and sturdy!
Rustic Veggie

Gotta do a Classic Margherita when you're sampling pies. This was my second favorite: beauty in simplicity.  Tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, garlic, Parmesan - this one will have even the heartiest carnivores out there smiling. These ingredients were made for each other, and Pieology's version is one of the better Marg pies I've had in the area.
Classic Margherita

I didn't feel overly stuffed after eating several slices of Pieology's pizza. That's not something I can say about other pizza joints. Thankfully I had room to try their Chocolate Chip Churro Dessert Pizza, which nailed my sweet tooth with just the touch of sweetness I needed. The crust is super thin, almost too crisp for my liking, but you don't need much to get your fix. The mini chocolate chips are precious, the cinnamon sugar sprinkle with the icing glaze is reminiscent of a cinnamon roll, but this doesn't feel too rich or gluttonous. And in case you can't finish any of your pies, there are brilliant half-pizza size boxes for you to leave with!
Chocolate Chip Churro Dessert Pizza
I have no doubts that both Pieology and Rise will take off the moment people get word of their openings. Both are active on social media, too. Check them out, and let me know what you think!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Traveled Farmer

The restaurant formerly known as Marshall Free House in Greensboro is getting a brand-new concept. Next month, it will become The Traveled Farmer, led by Chef Jay Pierce and mixologist Mark Weddle. The team, along with Marty Kotis, will emphasize local foods, highlighting farmers and seasonal produce, and best of all, they're even planning to have a mini farmer's market in the restaurant! "Why wait in farmer's market lines on the weekends?" they thought - you can stop by the Traveled Farmer for lunch or dinner and pick up some collards and butter while you're there! They'll even have a case of prepared foods like pimiento cheese, chicken salad and housemade crackers. They've pretty much thought of it all. And if their recent preview is indicative of the creativity and quality of food they're going to offer, we're all in for a real treat.

The menu is a sampling of dishes from around the globe. Chef Pierce remarked that people tend to associate "local" and "farm-to-table" restaurants solely with Southern food. This is not always the case. Just looking at the menu, I recognized dishes from Mexico, Korea, China, Italy, and since we are of course in NC, the South. "NOT Pimiento Cheese" combines aged white cheddar cheese with green chiles, and is served with housemade crackers, pickled okra and pickled green tomatoes. This is my kind of spread - spicy, tangy, with a bite, unlike some heavy mayo-based pimiento cheeses that tend to be on the sweet side. The dish got its name because too many people were asking where the red pimientos were, and didn't think the green chiles were an acceptable substitute for it to truly be considered pimiento cheese. Call it what you want, it's fabulous.
Pickled okra and green tomatoes with housemade crackers and NOT pimiento cheese

One of my favorite dishes of the night was the "Street" Shrimp, though they were more like Shrimp Tacos or lettuce wraps. The fried shrimp had an incredibly flavorful batter - some of the best I've ever had - and believe me, growing up in the South, I've had a lot of fried shrimp. About 3 or 4 beauties rest in a lettuce leaf, with Valentina hot sauce and a creamy white sauce drizzled on top. Blistered corn, queso fresco and sliced radishes round out the dish. Three come in a serving - they are incredibly satiating. You could easily make this a meal.
"Street" Shrimp

Rare Tuna Tostadas present three beautifully rare pieces of ahi tuna on a crisp tortilla shell. The chipotle glaze and ancho aioli bring some serious heat, but they're more spice-forward than heat-forward, if that makes sense. Avocado is nice and smooth and cooling. Cabbage provides crunch, and a squirt of lime is just what you need to balance the flavors. You get two in a serving here.
Rare Tuna Tostadas

Mixologist Mark Weddle is pretty well-known in the national Bloody Mary competition world, so when he appeared with a tray of Reposado Tequila and Carrot Juice bloodies, I could hardly contain my excitement. The rim is Old Bay seasoning, and the heat comes from horseradish and black pepper. This drink is called "The Wild Hair" and it is absolutely wild in the best way.
The Wild Hair

Brussels Sprouts could NOT be more trendy right now, which is lucky for me, because I love them. Chef Pierce makes his shaved, pan-roasted Brussels a satisfying vegetarian meal all on its own. He adds mushrooms for texture and meatiness, sherry vinaigrette and chile for depth of flavor, and the best part - salty, crispy leaves for crunch. This dish is a fabulous texture ride.
Pan-roasted Brussels
Broccoli Pasta sounds just like what you think it is, but it's so much more exciting because of the warm Caesar vinaigrette and fresh pecorino cheese. Angel hair pasta from Drake's in High Point gets coated with these tasty flavors, with a pop of al dente broccoli for texture and color. Another satisfying vegetarian option, that even tastes light and healthy.
Broccoli Pasta

As if we had room for much more, we moved onto the entrees. I think Chef Pierce served us his pan-roasted Chicken Breast with Sweet Potatoes, Creamed Collards and Country Ham to remind us that there is beauty in simplicity. The chicken was perfectly seasoned (with just salt & pepper I believe) and was so tender - not overcooked. The collards screamed flavors of rosemary, which caught me by surprise, but anyone who thinks they don't like collards are sure to enjoy these. The sweet potatoes were cut into rounds and sauteed, perhaps flash fried, but otherwise left in their natural state. The pretty pink china plate might have been the prettiest part of this dish, but it's a reminder that you can taste the love in simple dishes, and they can be truly pleasing.
Pan-roasted chicken breast with sweet potatoes, creamed collards and country ham

Perhaps my favorite dish of the night was the Korean Bowl. This is something I don't make for myself at home (I don't make most of what we ate at home, either!) but this felt like a special treat. Charred Pork with Gochujang, Greens "Kimchi", Shiitake Mushrooms, Pickled Turnips, and a beautiful Soft-Boiled Egg sat atop a bowl of delicious sticky rice. A dining companion remarked that the rice was not sticky enough for her liking, and that it crumbled too easily, but this diner didn't have an issue. In fact, I liked that it was only slightly gummy, and thought the flavor was fantastic. Again - I'm not sure how many times in my life I've thought rice was so tasty! Beauty in simplicity! The greens "kimchi" was super salty, not tangy like you'd expect to find with kimchi, but the pickled turnips gave me the acid I was looking for. And the best part was breaking the soft egg yolk to coat everything with its beautiful yellow blanket.

Korean Bowl

Just when we thought we were about to pop, mixologist Mark appeared with little saucers with a few Cocoa Puffs - yes, the kid cereal - in each one. This cereal fanatic was freakin'. We were instructed to pour a carafe of vodka, butterscotch schnapps and kahlua on top of the puffs, and drink out of the bowl, as if we were drinking the cereal milk like we did in our youth (or this morning). The whimsical drink is aptly named The Cereal Killer, and it truly is killer. Alongside, we enjoyed a chocolate cake with chocolate mousse frosting, to make it extra moist and rich. The best part was the earthy banana caramel that cut through the richness.
Chocolate Cake and The Cereal Killer
Are you impressed? I left with my jaw still on the floor. I cannot wait to see what else these guys have in store, and to try other fabulous-sounding items on their menu, like Eggdrop Soup with a soft egg and cilantro, or the Sweet Potato Dumplings with Blue Cheese and Candied Pecans. Their hard work on this new concept is evident. They should be very proud, and you should be very excited.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Girl On The Train

Starring: Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux, Allison Janney, Haley Bennett
Director: Tate Taylor
Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes 
Rating: R

There are only a few books out there that have given me the heebie-jeebies. The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins was one of them. I couldn't read it before bed, which was a problem, because I couldn't put it down. I absolutely loved this book - all the drama, twists and turns kept me guessing until the last few chapters. I was skeptical when I heard they were making this into a movie, and as per usual, I thought the book was better. But maybe I didn't enjoy the build-up to the climax of the movie because I already knew what was going to happen. Regardless, I thought it was a pretty good, not great, interpretation, but if you haven't read the book, you're sure to enjoy the film. If you saw or read "Gone Girl", this story is in the same vein.

The book is divided into parts with 3 narrators: Rachel, Anna and Megan. All of these women are flawed, if not slightly maniacal. The timeline in the book is easy to follow, but I felt like it was a little difficult to keep up with in the movie. While Rachel (read: Emily Blunt) gets the majority of the screen time, the book gives us more time to get to know Anna and Megan. Their stories overlap significantly, seemingly incestual, and the flashbacks keep you guessing "who did what and who and when?" A friend I saw this with muttered out loud a few times "I'm so confused."

Blunt plays a pretty convincing alcoholic (Rachel) who rides a train everyday into Manhattan. Rachel has developed a somewhat ridiculous obsession with a woman (Megan) she sees from the train, who lives in the house next to Rachel's former house she shared with her ex-husband, Tom. He still lives there, with the woman he had an affair with, Anna, and their new baby. Megan is Tom and Anna's former nanny. Still with me? I told you it's a bit incestual.

Rachel drunk dials Tom and Anna and shows up at their house frequently, but doesn't remember doing this half the time, because she is totally wasted. We feel sorry for Rachel and her sad life, but it's easy to empathize with Tom after we see flashbacks of Rachel's violent behavior and drunken stupors.

One evening, after too many martinis and a nalgene bottle full of vodka, Rachel embarks on a blurry journey into Tom and Anna's neighborhood, and comes in contact with who is seemingly Megan, but we really can't tell as we're seeing this through Rachel's fuzzy and distorted point of view. It's actually unclear whether or not this occurrence took place, or if Rachel is imagining things in her blackout state. The next day, Megan is reported missing, and both the audience and Rachel begin questioning everything that happened that night.

The lead up to the climax is a bit too long, and the climax itself is a touch too short. Justin Theroux doesn't get enough screen time as Tom, same with Allison Janney as the detective. It would also have been nice to have a plethora of suspects, like the book presents. It's worth a watch, though, especially if you're into bone-chilling movies during the Halloween season!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Triad Local First: Community Table

If you're unfamiliar with the nonprofit Triad Local First in Greensboro, I'm here to tell you that the group is doing some very exciting stuff. The organization is a network of locally owned and independent businesses in the Triad, committed to building a strong, local economy and a vibrant community (which I think is important to all of us these days.) Each year, TLF's Community Table fundraiser dinner brings together people who want to advance the organization's mission, all the while having some pretty spectacular locally-sourced food. This year's Community Table was at Hidden Lane Farm in Summerfield, which could not have been a more beautiful location for this event.
With two of my favorite food bloggers! Kristi Maier (triadfoodies) and Nikki Miller-Ka (Nik Snacks)
It was incredibly inspiring to see so many people come together for a good cause, and one they are passionate about. I got chills hearing Executive Chef Travis Myers and 2015's Executive Chef Tim Thompson speak about the impact this organization has on the community, and it's a great reminder that we should continue to bridge the gaps between Winston-GSO-High Point, to make the Triad thrive. The caliber of chefs that showed up for this was top-notch: Chefs Richard Miller (Graze), John Bobby (A Noble Grille), Jared Keiper (The Tavern in Old Salem), James Patterson (Sedgefield Country Club), Janis Karathanas (Providence Restaurant), the aforementioned Tim Thompson (Greensboro Country Club) and Travis Myers (Willow's Bistro), among many others. Needless to say, the food was sensational.
Plates are ready!
When I arrived, I was greeted with Grilled Oysters with Tomato Foam, and spotted a huge dish of Paella cooking away. It's not everyday you find legit paella in this hemisphere! It was studded with mussels, shrimp, chicken and sausage, with a savory saffron sauce. I loaded up on it. TOPO Organic Spirits was in the mix, offering up 3 cocktails featuring their whiskey, vodka and my favorite: gin. The Spicy Cucumber Lemonade had a bright and spicy earthiness - I had 2! Beer lovers got to sample Pig Pounder Brewery, while winos tasted some selections from Zeto. They also provided the wine for the evening - a slightly sweet Vouvray and a tasty red Zin.
Drinks courtesy of TOPO Distillery
Grilled Oysters
With a belly full of gin and paella, I didn't know how to begin pacing myself for the start of 9 courses. But try I must, because I had been watching a giant kettle of Brunswick Stew cook over a fire since I arrived. This wasn't your average Brunswick Stew, either. It had rabbit, pork, butter beans, corn and OKRA! It was slighly sweet, and a perfect consistency.
Cooking the stew!
Brunswick Stew
The pacing of the evening was perfect. Not long after the stew, a colorful dish of Panzanella appeared, family-style. Heirloom Tomatoes, Pea Shoots, Olives, Peppers and Charred Bread were nestled together in a tangy vinaigrette. This is the epitome of a summer dish. Heck, it's a great dish anytime of the year.
For the record, there is no wrong way to eat lamb. But when it is pit-cooked, it is especially delicious. The rosemary mop (sauce) and hoppin' John that accompanied it made for a really beautiful balance of flavors. I was worried the rosemary would overpower the natural flavor of the lamb, but it brought out earthy, almost floral notes in the meat. To highlight some of our local vegetables, we had an Heirloom Tomato and Flat Bean Salad, served family-style. Ripe tomatoes, haricot verts and wax beans were drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with scallion ash, with tangy wedges of Goat Lady Dairy Goat Cheese. The cheese could have easily been the star of the show, but the freshness of the vegetables and difference in textures made for a really delightful dish.

Heritage Farms Lexington-Style Pit Cooked Hog paid homage to the amazing, vinegary pulled pork we all love here in the South. Notes of wood and smoke remind you that the chefs had been putting some TLC into this one all day. Old Mill of Guilford's creamy yellow grits were a perfect accompaniment and absorbed the flavors of the pork. Shredded kale rounded out the plate, and I found them comparable to collards. The slight bitterness helped break up the richness of the dish. This is Southern bliss on a plate.

Course #8 of 9 was naturally one of the most decadent. Three hour braised Short Ribs had a savory umami flavor that was impossible to resist. Just when I thought I couldn't eat another bite, this tender meat literally crumbled under my fork. The mashed potatoes were not just a side either; they were a perfect vessel for the jus and leather britches (dried green beans). I didn't think I was going to make it through another meat course, but I did. And I'm so glad I didn't look back.
Braised Short Ribs
I have grown to love a good dessert wine, so when a Muscat (much like a Moscato) was offered alongside the Orange Creamsicle Mousse Cake, I was tickled. The wine on its own is incredibly sweet; with the dessert, oddly enough, it cut through the sweetness of the dish. The star of the dessert was the brown butter vanilla shortbread cookie adorning the top of the mini mason jar. Citrus was a perfect way to end this meal, and a charred citrus confit helped cap off this amazing Southern - soul food - pig pickin' dinner.
Orange Creamsicle Mousse Cake
Tickets to Community Table sell out each year, so you'll want to have this on your radar for 2017. The location and chef are TBD right now, but you know Triad Local First and the chefs in the Triad will continue to raise the bar for this outstanding event. I was so proud to be part of it. And I'm still full.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series - Battle of the Champions

It's championship time, y'all. The Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series is heating up with the Battle of Champions in Raleigh, November 11-20! This event will feature the best of the best, and you know these tickets will fly the moment they go on sale.

I love this event - all foodies would - and if you haven't been to a battle in your region, this is your last chance of the year to go! You'll serve as a judge at this 6 course meal, where two ingredients have to be featured in each dish. You don't know the ingredients until you're seated at the table and trust me, this year's ingredient combos have been pretty spectacular.

Tickets go on sale this Monday, October 3 at 7pm - and don't wait to purchase them! This is the hottest battle of them all. Get more information on where to get your tickets here and check out the official press release below!

Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series Announces Chef Bracket and Ticket Sales
for Battle of Champions in Raleigh Nov. 11 to 20

Raleigh, North Carolina – Sept. 29, 2016 – The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series, a single-elimination tournament highlighting the best of the Carolina’s food, agriculture and culinary talent, is gearing up for its Battle of Champions series in which six top North Carolina chef teams will battle it out to take home the coveted annual championship title. Foodies from around North Carolina and beyond are invited to attend the five live dinner events Nov. 11 to 20 in Raleigh, savoring the full-service, six-course meals and serving as judges. Tickets to these interactive battles go on sale Monday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at and are guaranteed to sell out quickly.

The six chef teams competing in the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series Battle of Champions each won their local series to earn a place in the championship. The bracket includes:
·       Friday, Nov. 11 Dinner
o   Team Egg Heads from Durham: Scott Schabot, Keith Calise and Tad Balio, Another Broken Egg Café chefs.

o   Team Sedgefield Culinary Crushers from Greensboro: James R. Patterson III, Sedgefield Country Clubexecutive chef; Isaac Spencer, Sedgefield Country Club chef; and Tim Alston Sedgefield Country Club lead cook.

·       Saturday, Nov. 12 Dinner
o   Team Ceviche’s from Wilmington: Sam Cahoon, executive chef of Ceviche’s in Wrightsville Beach; and Edson Juarez and Eric Smith, sous chefs at Ceviche’s.

o   Team Vidalia Boom from Winston-Salem: Sam Ratchford, co-owner and executive chef at Vidalia Restaurantin Boone; Julius Kalman, Vidalia Restaurant co-owner; and Jason Walsh, Vidalia Restaurant chef.

·       Sunday, Nov. 13 Dinner
o   Team Radical Range Riders from Charlotte: Adam Reed, owner and chef at Sante' of Matthews in Matthews; Terra Ciotta, culinary instructor and chef at Artisan Restaurant in Charlotte; and Jess Cochran, culinary instructor at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte.

o   Team Mirepoix from Raleigh: Franz Propst, executive chef at Peak City Grill & Bar in Apex; Ryan Summers, chef at Chef's Palette Restaurant and Bar in Cary; and Tom Halik, chef and proprietor at Main Street Grille Café & Bakery in Wake Forest.

·       Friday, Nov. 18 Dinner
o   Nov. 11 winning team versus Nov. 12 winning team

·       Sunday, Nov. 20 Grand Finale Dinner
o   Nov. 13 winning team versus Nov. 18 winning team

Each of the Battle of Champions dinner events, just as at all dinners throughout the year-long series, includes two chef teams battling it out preparing three courses centered on a featured North Carolina ingredient that is revealed only an hour before they start cooking that day. Unlike any other cooking competition, attendees vote on each dish using their smart devices, and ultimately help determine who moves on to the next round and who goes home. New to the competition this year, the creation of All-Star Dream Teams allows chefs from different restaurants to partner together for the three-person teams, upping the potential caliber and creating a more fun and competitive atmosphere for all.

“This year’s Battle of Champions is certain to bring dynamic competition and delicious food throughout the five dinner events,” said Jimmy Crippen, Competition Dining Series founder and host. “The level of culinary talent and exceptional creativity in each of our 2016 local series blew us away and we can’t wait to see what these skilled chef teams serve up in the annual championship. Foodies won’t want to miss this ultimate culinary showdown!”

As they move on to the Battle of Champions, the six chef teams will all compete for bragging rights and a grand prize of $4,000 in cash and prizes. Each winning team member will also take home a handcrafted chef knife by Ironman Forge and a 40-quart Grizzly cooler,compliments of Joyce Farms. All Battle of Champions events are held at NC State’s Dorothy & Roy Park Alumni Center located at 2450 Alumni Dr. in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Tickets for the Nov. 11, 12, 13 and 18 battles are $119 each, and tickets for the grand finale battle, Nov. 20, are $139 each. Learn more and buy tickets starting Monday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at

About The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series
The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series is sponsored by the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, Certified Angus Beef®, Freshness from North Carolina Waters, Joyce Farms, Goodnight Brothers, Pepsi Bottling Ventures, ALSCO, Swisher Hygiene and local and regional partners throughout the state. The goal of the series is to celebrate North Carolina products and agriculture, and to showcase the culinary ingenuity and talent across the state. For more information, or get in on the conversation at and @CompDiningNC on Twitteror Instagram.