Sunday, February 27, 2011

LUNCH AT CIRCA 81, MOREHEAD CITY

Circa 81, 4650 Arendell Street, Morehead City, 252-648-8300, is a small tapas restaurant.  Inside is done nicely, with booths on one side of the left wall surrounded by tables.

 A very nice bar is on the other side of a partition.  We sat in a booth.  Service was friendly and fairly quick, but the restaurant was not overly busy.

The menu is divided into "small plates," including soups, salads and tapas; "medium plates,"which are sandwiches served with a choice of side; and "large plates," which are mostly dinner fare.  The inside atmosphere borders on formal dining, but the menu items are somewhat mixed.

Guy ordered the special (soup and half sandwich for $7.99).  He chose clam chowder for his soup and the Circa 81 Club with roast beef.
He said the soup was good and the sandwich was okay, but he removed the bacon because it was tough and inedible.

I ordered from the small plate menu:  crab cake made with jumbo lumb crab, served with Wasabi aioli and grilled pineapple relish for $7.99.
The crab cake, which was fried, had good flavor, very little filler and a very creamy interior, so I suspect it was deep fried.  I was disappointed that the crab meat was flattened, so I'm guessing it may have been done in a machine.  If the menu had not stated "jumbo lump crab meat," I would not have known.  The pineapple relish was nice, as was the Wasabi aioli.  I enjoyed eating this lunch.  For my small tummy, it was a perfect amount.  I try to avoid breads and usually pick them off a sandwich, so I was happy to not have to deal with that.

Our bill, including one bottle of beer, came to $20.45 plus tip.  I would return to Circa 81, but Guy did not like it.  He felt it was stuffy and geared to snobs and he didn't like the menu items.  Interestingly, there were similar comments from other customers on Trip Advisor.  My advice to readers is to give it a try.  You can see their menu items by clicking on the link at the beginning of this post.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SLOW-COOKER BRAISED LAMB SHANKS


I love our New Bern Farmer's Market.  Okay, I admit that it's small with not many vendors, and it's only open on Saturdays.  But for the size of our city, I'm just happy that we have quality local farm products available.  And, amazingly, we have not one, but two, sustainable farms that sell grass-fed animal products:  Rainbow Meadow Farms and Nooherooka, both in Snow Hill.

I bought 2 lovely lamb shanks from Snow Hill Farms during my last visit to the Farmer's Market.  Their products come frozen and shrink wrapped, ready to be put back into the freezer or thawed and cooked.  Having never cooked lamb shanks, I was in need of a good recipe, one that would use a crock pot.   Your slow cooker is your friend when you cook grass-fed meats, because they contain less fat and tend to be not as tender as corn- or grain-fed meats.  The trade off here is that grass-fed meats are more healthful and actually contain Omega 3's.  The meats we buy from grocery stores contain inflammatory Omega 6's that contribute to many degenerative diseases.

I decided to use a recipe from Williams-Sonoma.  Their recipes are always good, and I liked the list of ingredients.  My changes were minimal:  I added parsnips and mushrooms.  My hubby, not impressed with grass-fed meat, was not interested, so I froze the leftovers in small containers for my future meals.  The recipe below make a wonderful gravy that you can use over mashed potatoes, rice or noodles.  But I opted to puree some butternut squash that was cooked with sauteed onions, garlic, celery, curry powder, salt and pepper.  I placed some of the mushrooms from the slow cooker on the squash puree.  This was a most delightful meal, one that I'm going to be enjoying several times.  The meat was fall-apart tender and succulent, and squash puree and mushrooms were a perfect accompaniment.  And, P. S, if you don't want to buy grass-fed lamb shanks, you can use lamb shanks from the grocery store to make this.  Or beef or veal shanks for that matter.

Slow-Cooker Braised Lamb Shanks (adapted from Williams Sonoma)
Bear Rating:  9 out of 10
Click for PRINTABLE PAGE


INGREDIENTS:  1/2 medium onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
6 oz.whole mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup chicken broth or stock
1/2 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 small bay leaf
2 lamb shanks, about 1 lb. each
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup drinking quality dry red wine

Combine onion, celery, carrot, parsnip, mushrooms, garlic, broth, tomatoes, paste, thyme and bay leaf in crock pot.  Stir to mix.  Season lamb with salt and pepper.  In a heavy pan large enough to fit the shanks, heat the oil until nearly smoking.  Add shanks and brown on all sides, about 7-8 minutes total.  Transfer to crock pot.  Remove saute pan from heat, pour in wine and return to medium-high heat.  Bring to simmer, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from pan bottom.  Pour this liquid and any scraped up bits into the crock pot, cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours, then on low for about 2 additional hours, or till meat is very tender.  Transfer shanks (which should be falling apart by now) to serving dish.  Remove bay leaf from pot and puree liquids using an immersion blender or a regular blender.  Pour some sauce over shanks and pass the rest alongside.  Yield:  3-4 servings
Accompaniments:  Mashed potatoes, buttered parsley noodles, rice, pureed butternut squash.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

BREAKFAST AT CAROLINA BAGEL CO. AND DELI

Bagels Plus, across from the Post Office on Glenburnie Road, used to be the place to go in New Bern.  Great food, fast service, fresh bagels and delicious baked goods drew in the crowds day after day until their unexpected closing due to the owner's death.  The crowd shifted to Carolina Bagel, just down the road a bit, where a repeat performance was going on.

Specials are posted on a board that greets you upon entering.

Freshly baked muffins and other pastries peek out from a glass case to entice you.

And then, of course, there are those bagels.  So many different kinds of bagels, all delicious.

The shop is small, but they've made good use of the limited space by using small, but adequate, tables.

And, just like Bagels Plus used to, Carolina Bagel draws them in, day after day.  The working crowd, the retired crowd -- they all come here to get the reasonably priced eats.

We decided to try breakfast.  Though I wanted to sink my teeth into a luscious  muffin, I was a good pre-diabetic and ordered 1 egg with whole-wheat toast, plus a cup of decaf.

Guy ordered the Carolina Breakfast with over-easy eggs, home fries, ham, white toast and tomato juice.

Our table wobbled annoyingly, and my coffee spilled.  Luckily, the server brings refills so that you never have to worry about running out of joe.  It's just straight coffee, no gourmet blends, but it's hot and it's good.  Not too weak, not too strong, just the way I like it.  How delighted I was to see an egg arrive with no grease!

Guy said his eggs were cooked perfectly, the ham was good and not too thin, but he didn't like his potatoes.
They were overcooked, not hot and just not tasty.

Interestingly, Carolina Bagel uses ceramic cups for their coffee and regular plates, but plastic forks and knives.  It wasn't a bad breakfast, but there were some issues:  a wobbly table, home fries that were inedible and plastic forks and knives.

For folks in a hurry, this could be a good choice.  Definitely for those who eat high-carb foods, this is a good choice.  But for folks like us, who are looking for a specific breakfast, this is not a good choice.   Guy has to have his spuds, and we want to eat on regular plates with regular forks and knives.  But there's no denying that the price is right:  $10.51 for two breakfasts is not bad.  And, regardless of what we think, people will keep right on coming to Carolina Bagel to get more of what they're serving up.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

BREAKFAST AT KITCHEN ON THE TRENT

The Kitchen on Trent is not new.  When it first opened several years ago, the place was swamped with customers who loved the cafe theme.  It was so popular that the owner expanded when the adjacent commercial unit was available.

This is a no-frills small cafe-style restaurant with great prices.  Carb lovers will delight in the freshly-baked muffins, cookies, scones and other pastries.  Teas and gourmet coffees are available at a self-serve station, and you can order breakfast, lunch or dinner during  the appropriate hours, Monday through Friday.  Saturday hours are 8am - 2pm for breakfast and lunch only.

It's been a long time since I visited KOT, so hubby and I decided to have breakfast there.  We placed our order at the counter, and I asked for 1 egg over easy with bacon and whole wheat toast.  (I wanted soft-boiled or poached, but that's not an option at KOT.)  The counter person informed me that they were out of whole wheat toast but they had light wheat.  I asked for a glass of water with my breakfast and was told it would be brought to me.  Hubby asked for 2 eggs over easy, ham and potatoes, but was told there were no potatoes.

We went to the self-serve bar to get our coffees.  I got the hazelnut cinnamon, and hubby got a house blend.  The coffee was steaming hot, but only available in paper cups.  The cups were large, but KOT calls them small and charges $1.63 per cup, a fair price for gourmet blends.  These blends are not like Starbucks coffee, more like McDonald's, which I particularly like -- not too strong, not too weak, just right for me.  We loved the coffee, but not the paper cups.

We sat at one of the small tables to wait for our meal.

Our breakfast came to the table in a reasonable amount of time.  Thankfully, several napkins were on the table, so I could sop up the grease from my plate.  We were surprised that a beautiful fruit cup came with the breakfast.  What a bargain for $3.71.  Unfortunately, my water never arrived.

Hubby was already not happy because he wanted his spuds, and he was even more discontented with the thinly sliced ham.  He wanted a real slice of ham.  I mean, really, what do you expect for $3.71 anyway?  There's a lot of food here.  Maybe it's not perfect, but where can you go in New Bern to get a full breakfast like this for $3.71?

Our entire bill came to $11.50.  Now, truthfully, we're not going back.  It's because we're hopeless food snobs.  I want my eggs poached or soft boiled, I don't like sopping up grease from my plate, and I hate coffee in paper cups.  Guy wants a thick slice of ham and he wants his potatoes. We'll pay more to get what we want.  But for others who may not be as snobby and don't want to pay the prices at the Hilton (my top breakfast-place pick) or at IHOP, Kitchen on Trent is a good choice.  You can also order omelets, French toast, oatmeal or sweet potato pancakes.

There's not a lot of atmosphere here -- it's a spread out diner without a sit-down counter.  There's no view, and the food is not gourmet.  Still, for the right people, this could be a top pick for breakfast.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

DINNER AT MORGAN'S TAVERN AND GRILL, NEW BERN

Morgan's Tavern and Grill, 235 Craven Street, New Bern, probably has the most appealing ambiance of any New Bern restaurant.  Located in a beautifully renovated building, Morgan's attracts and keeps diners as much for its atmosphere as for its food.  High ceilings, exposed beams, charming small dining rooms and an exceptionally nice bar are some of the features that diners appreciate.  Morgan's is not the first to inhabit this space, but they are the most successful.  We've been there multiple times, and from the looks of their always-crowded dining rooms, they don't seem to be aware of any recession.

Casual dining and traditional, not trendy, foods are Morgan's claim to fame.  Their prices are very reasonable, and the food is above average.  Service is friendly and quick, and the acoustics are good because dining areas are sectioned off.  Best yet, because Morgan's has a steady clientele, you can expect to be served a fresh salad, not one that's been sitting in the fridge for a day or two.

Hubby and I have been to Morgan's several times, and have enjoyed our dinner each time.  Our most recent dinner was on a night when we were both tired, not terribly hungry, and not in the mood for anything big.  Hubby ordered a Coor's Lite ($2.50), a cup of French onion soup ($3.99) and an appetizer portion of Drunken Mussels ($7.99). I ordered the Applewood bacon cheeseburger and chose the garden salad for my side, all for $6.99.  Total bill came to $23.13 plus tip.

Here is an example of the quaint dining rooms:

You can see all menu items and view Morgan's photo gallery by clicking on the link at the beginning of this post.

You'll be served complimentary honey-kissed warm croissants with your soup or salad, or while you are waiting for your meal.

Guy loved his French onion soup.

I very much enjoyed my fresh salad.  Salad dressing of your choice is served on the side so you can use as much or little as you want.

Guy said his mussels were perfect.

My cheeseburger was done exactly the way I wanted and was delicious.  The roll was fresh, warm, a little crispy on the outside and very tender on the inside.

I was surprised that they would cook it medium rare, but they did.

We didn't have room for dessert, but they sure look good.
On our prior visit, Guy ordered a steak, and I ordered the Hawaiian BBQ chicken.  Both were delicious, and the bill for two complete dinners, with one Coor's Lite, came to $34.46 plus tip.

Morgan's is one of the best deals in New Bern.  Good food, good prices, great atmosphere.  I think they'll be here a long time.  If we're lucky that is.