[caption id="attachment_142278" align="alignnone" width="1140"] Cincy’s in Greensboro brings a little bit of Ohio to the table with its Cincinnati-style chili. Add a North Carolina kick with a dash of Texas
Bonnie Kays can explain.
First, she tells native Tar Heels, this is Cincinnati-style chili — “this isn’t chili mac.” Yes, Cincy’s signature chili dish consists of a plate of spaghetti covered in chili and then topped with cheese, but the similarity ends there. For one, the consistency is closer to a thick Bolognese than to the chunky bean-and-tomato-based chili that most folks outside of Ohio are accustomed to.
Then there’s the flavor: This isn’t the five-alarm stuff that Uncle Bob dares you to taste at the pregame tailgate party. Instead of heat, this Greek-inspired version packs a flavor profile that causes some customers to wonder aloud, “What am I tasting?” Answer: cinnamon and allspice.
As an Ohio native who grew up eating three-ways at Gold Star Chili, I can attest that the flavor is uncannily similar and equally addicting. Oh, what’s a three-way, you ask? Kays can explain that, too: spaghetti, chili, and cheese. Add onions for a four-way, and so on.
Kays, who has run Cincy’s since 1997, has more explaining to do for Ohio transplants, like yours truly. For us, Cheese Coneys — smaller-than-usual hot dogs covered in Cincinnati chili and piled high with mounds of shredded Cheddar — are inhaled by the half dozen. At Cincy’s, they’re full-size hot dogs.
Cincy’s was born when Cincinnati’s own Linda Schwoeppe started making chili like she had back home in the Buckeye State — a secret recipe that the restaurant still uses today. “She really did start a beautiful thing,” Kays says. For me, it’s a beautiful taste of home. — Todd Dulaney
Decades before they opened their own restaurant in North Carolina, Gwynne and JP La Russa fell in love at a West Coast pizzeria. When Gwynne walked into Zachary’s Chicago Pizza in Oakland, California, looking for work, JP greeted her. Their feelings marinated with time.
JP started out as a dishwasher in 1983. The owners — former Chicagoans — eventually promoted him to general manager. But with three sons and a high cost of living, the couple decided to move to the Triangle area. A week after driving the family minivan to Holly Springs, the La Russas signed a deal to open ACME Pizza Co.
The restaurant serves hand-tossed pizza and other Italian food, but JP wanted deep-dish as his signature. “Chicago pizza is what I grew up with from the time I was 17,” he says. “Now I’m 55. I’ve been in it my whole life.”
Deep-dish derives its name from the high-sided pan it’s cooked in, with dough surrounding ingredients like crumbled bacon, fresh spinach, or sliced black olives, which trade flavors as they bake. A thick, tangy tomato sauce on top adds complexity to each bite.
“All the ingredients are inside,” JP says. “Picture an apple pie — that’s exactly what it’s like.” — Eric Ginsburg
ACME Pizza Co.
204 Village Walk Drive
Holly Springs, NC 27540
When Claire Clavin moved to Winston-Salem in 2007, she missed the sound of beef and chicken fajitas sizzling in a cast-iron pan, the salty sweetness of a margarita made with fresh lime juice, and the crunch of a corn chip loaded with warm queso. Originally from Houston, Texas, Calvin would eat at Mexican restaurants here, but it just wasn’t the same as the Tex-Mex cuisine she’d cut her teeth on.
Calvin funneled her cravings and passion for re-creating dishes — like the “green sauce” from Ninfa’s, an iconic Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston — into a meal delivery service that she started out of her home in 2010. She called it “Dinners on the Porch.” At first, the operation was a one-woman show, but it quickly gained traction thanks to Calvin’s chicken enchiladas covered with her version of Ninfa’s green sauce and her grandmother Mimi’s queso recipe. Before long, a neighbor started helping, and a few employees were hired. By 2013, she needed a bigger kitchen, so she bought a space at West End Mill Works. Her plan had been to continue the delivery service, but Calvin soon realized that she wanted a restaurant space, too.
At The Porch Kitchen & Cantina, customers can order Tex-Mex staples like beef tacos or fajitas served with fresh guacamole and jalapeños in a casual atmosphere. But most of the dishes — like the Texas Pete chicken flautas — are a blend of Calvin’s love for both the Lone Star and Tar Heel states. — Chloe Klingstedt
Daniel Cloos moved to North Carolina with a plan. “My dream and hope was to open a pizza place,” he says, “but we probably never would’ve made it.”
He didn’t know enough about pizza, so he opted for something more personal — a specialty that he and his wife missed from their native Michigan: the Coney Island hot dog. It paid off, as he’s been running Cloos’ Coney Island near North Carolina State University since 1988.
The classic dish’s name is somewhat misleading; Coney Island dogs originated in Detroit, popularized by Greek immigrants who added chili, mustard, and chopped onions. Inspired by a friend operating Lipuma’s Coney Island back home, Cloos wanted to hold fast to tradition. He flies the hot dogs — with natural casings that provide a satisfying pop! — and chili directly from Michigan.
Nostalgia features prominently inside the restaurant, where photos of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe hang above a black-and-white checkerboard floor. Cloos also serves items like Greek salads and gyros, but the award-winning dogs and fries are the real stars. That’s partly why Cloos’ has outlasted most of its strip-mall neighbors since opening.
“It’s just a testament to what we’re doing,” Cloos says. “If you use quality ingredients, people know that. We believe in being nice to people, and that matters.” — Eric Ginsburg
Cloos’ Coney Island
2233-102 Avent Ferry Road
Raleigh, NC 27606
Growing up in New Jersey, I subsisted on a healthy diet of bagels. Now a proud North Carolina resident, I’ve reaped the benefits of this state’s culinary delights (add chicken and waffles to my “healthy” diet), but I never thought I’d find a bagel here that was as good as the ones back home. Boy, was I wrong.
Two shops — Boone Bagelry and New Garden Bagels — make doughy delights that are as authentic as any I’ve ever tasted. “When we opened in 1988, people didn’t even know what bagels were,” says Donna Nicastro, who owns Boone Bagelry with her husband, Tony. Both grew up working in their families’ bagel shops in Florida, and they brought with them their expertise — and their authentic dough, from Brooklyn — when they moved here.
Likewise, New Garden Bagels in Greensboro has the look, feel, and taste of my neighborhood bagel shop in Jersey. Just one bite of the breakfast sandwich that owner and Long Island native Ed Boniberger recommended — Taylor Ham, egg, Cheddar, and herbed cream cheese on a rosemary olive oil bagel — and I was right back in the Garden State. — Katie Kane
There was a time when Seventh Street in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood was a mini French Quarter, with Bayou Kitchen at Caswell Street and Cajun Queen presiding from its historic house two blocks away at Lamar Avenue. In the early ’90s, the neighborhood even threw an annual Mardi Gras street party that drew up to 7,000 people.
That time has passed: Bayou Kitchen is gone, erased by new development along the busy corridor that’s taken other Seventh Street places where the good times once rolled, like Jackalope Jack’s. Newer, fancier restaurants like The Stanley and The Crunkleton get most of the attention these days.
Still, Cajun Queen hangs onto its Mardi Gras beads, along with all the touches you’d expect from a visit to the real French Quarter: A jazz band, featuring a rotating cast of a dozen musicians, performs on weekend nights and during Sunday brunch in the upstairs dining room. Cozy tables are tucked into the rooms of the sprawling 1918 home. Strands of beads dangle from the trees out front.
And then there’s the food, from Creole-style shrimp gumbo to barbecued shrimp swimming in a spicy, buttery sauce. The entrées still include a choice of sauce preparations, including étouffée (brown roux-based), Diane (milder, with more butter), and Creole (tomato-based). There are blackened dishes, too, including nightly fish specials.
Louisiana natives in the Charlotte area often come in to get their fix, says Cajun Queen co-owner and General Manager Tim Freer. “All I hear from them is, ‘It’s not as good as my mother’s, but thank God you’re here, because it’s as close as I can get.’”
Sid Gottfried, one of the original owners, opened the restaurant in 1985. At the time, Paul Prudhomme’s blackened redfish, which originated at his New Orleans restaurant K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, was sweeping the country. One of Gottfried’s partners, Pat Frieda, was from the Big Easy, and she inspired the Queen’s New Orleans theme. Frieda sold her share soon after the place opened, but the bar still offers a drink named for her — the Frieda ’Rita.
Gottfried was so set on making Cajun Queen true to New Orleans cuisine that, for the first few months, he brought in several cooks from Louisiana to teach his staff the basics, including how to make a good roux. He eventually sold his share of the restaurant to his son Robert and opened another New Orleans-style restaurant, Cajun Lady, in Greensboro.
Today, Cajun Queen is owned by Robert Gottfried, Freer, and Chef William Wessling, who has worked at the restaurant since it opened and replaced the original chef, Howard Winter, in 2007.
For regulars, a big part of Cajun Queen’s draw is the stately house, with its wood-trimmed rooms, big windows, and tall staircase. Some believe that a ghost, who was an early resident, frequents the bar. A second Cajun Queen opened briefly in Pineville, but it was never as popular because, according to Freer, it didn’t have the house. Walking up the front steps and into the foyer of Charlotte’s Cajun Queen just feels like you’re in for a special night.
Freer likes to say that Cajun Queen is a destination: Regulars will drive past other perfectly good restaurants just to get there — to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, or simply a nice night out.
“It’s the combination of the house, the food, and the music — that’s the magic,” Freer says. “If you take out one ingredient, it’s not the same.” — Kathleen Purvis
Once advertised as the “Taste Born in the Carolinas,” Pepsi has been refreshing North Carolinians since 1893. Caleb Bradham invented the beverage in his New Bern pharmacy, where he started selling “Brad’s Drink” — a concoction of carbonated water, lemon oil, vanilla, and other additives — as a health tonic for digestion. In 1898, he renamed it Pepsi-Cola. Within 40 years, Pepsi became a national brand. Today, it’s a staple of American pastimes, from NASCAR races to cookouts to baseball games.
Eighty-five years ago, Wilbur King started preparing and selling food out of his father’s country store using family recipes, traditional Southern cooking techniques, and a potbellied stove. Kings BBQ grew out of that small operation, and these days, it serves up signature hand-chopped eastern North Carolina barbecue that’s slow-smoked and infused with vinegar sauce. With the family restaurant at its heart, Kings is enjoyed by barbecue fans in all 50 states through the company’s nationwide shipping service, Oink Express. Boxes labeled with a bright pink flying pig deliver the flavors of eastern North Carolina across the country.
In 1937, Vernon Rudolph’s family bought a secret doughnut recipe from a French chef in New Orleans. Rudolph sold doughnuts with his family in Nashville, Atlanta, and Charleston, West Virginia, before moving to Winston-Salem. The family started selling their doughnuts out of the back of a 1936 Pontiac and soon had a booming business in their own building in Old Salem. The smell of fresh, hot doughnuts now reaches far beyond North Carolina state lines, with “Hot Now” signs drawing in customers around the globe.
Philip Lance, a Charlotte coffee salesman, purchased 500 pounds of peanuts in 1913 for a customer who then refused to pay for them. So Lance took the peanuts home, roasted them, and sold them himself. He soon began making peanut butter, and to show off the product, Lance’s wife and daughters spread it on crackers, creating the first peanut butter cracker on the market. Now, in almost any vending machine or grocery store around the country, you’ll find Lance crackers — but they’ll always be Nabs to us. — Rylee Parsons
When Brianna Abrams moved to Los Angeles, she quickly realized that it was a completely different city from her hometown of Winston- Salem. But Abrams found a little piece of home while shopping for fresh produce at the farmers market. She began using the fruits to bake pies in her spare time and has since made her hobby a fulltime career at Winston Pies. Serving people a slice of pie reminds her of the Southern practice of expressing love through food. “There’s a long tradition of caring for a friend by baking food, bringing it to them, and sitting to enjoy it together,” Abrams says. Now, even far from her hometown, she gets to enjoy that tradition every day. winstonpies.com
After Seth Rubin relocated to Denver, Colorado, he found that no one was baking fresh buttermilk biscuits like the ones he missed back home in Chapel Hill. So he opened his own bakery. “I just wanted to bring some North Carolina here with me,” Rubin says. He names his specialty biscuits after major North Carolina cities — like the Goldsboro country ham biscuit or the Raleigh roast beef biscuit — as a nod to his roots and the culture of Southern hospitality. riseandshinedenver.com — Rylee Parsons
New Yorkers craving a taste of North Carolina come from all across the five boroughs and beyond to Carolina Country Store in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood. The family-owned store specializes in beloved staples sourced directly from the Tar Heel State.
“The ham is from Warsaw. The souse is from Pender County,” says Tamica Johnson from behind the deli case. “Cracklins are from Pender. The biscuits are from Wilson.”
A hanging chalkboard lists per-pound prices for slab bacon, pickled eggs, country Cheddar, and red franks. Nostalgic offerings like boiled peanuts, Duke’s mayonnaise, and Mrs. Campbell’s Chow Chow from Golding Farms in Winston- Salem line the shelves. Folks with a hankering for grits can choose from Lakeside Yellow Grits, milled in Spindale, or Water Ground Style Moss Yellow Grits, from Kittrell. Luck’s, founded in Seagrove, supplies the black-eyed peas, fried apples, and chicken and dumplings.
Carolina Country Store’s best sellers are souse, sage sausage, liver pudding, and country ham. “Today has been a liver pudding kind of day,” Tamica says with a laugh as she serves a couple who made a special trip from Staten Island just for the treats they remember from their Carolina childhood.
What keeps folks coming back is the store’s family atmosphere. Tamica’s sister Shawna Johnson bought the store from their Aunt Patricia, whose father, Magnolia native George H. Lee, started the business as a produce stand in the ’70s. Today, Carolina Country Store offers Southern hospitality with a Brooklyn accent. “We’re the friendliest, nicest store,” Tamica says. “We’re doing North Carolina great justice.” Call (718) 498-8033. — Morgan Sykes