Al’s Burger Shack: The Best Burger I’ve Ever Eaten

Hello, Dear Readers! It’s been a long time, but we have reasons to reconnect and to celebrate. Having twins might have taken me out of the restaurant-visiting circuit for a bit, but this busy gluten-free mama is back in blogging action and ready to eat out.

As of November 3rd, 2017, this blog has received over 100,000 hits! I am honored and continually inspired to bring you delicious GF restaurant options in an easy-to-read format.

I am thrilled to finally present to you what I believe is the best burger I have ever eaten. Vegetarians, don’t think this post is not for you; read on for information on an incredible veggie burger option.

I’ve traveled the globe, but I recognize that the very best burger is right here at home – at Al’s Burger Shack in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

I’m not the only person who feels this way. Read more glowing reviews on their website’s “About” page. Al’s burgers were named one of the Best Burgers in the South in Garden & Gun magazine. According to WRAL.com, “Al’s has received “best burger and best fries” accolades in Indy Week and Chapel Hill Magazine and a #1 burger listing on Yelp.” Chapel Hill Magazine calls Al’s Burger Shack “an obsession”. I completely agree.

Where: Al’s Burger Shack, 516 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516 and a second location at 708 Market Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516 in Southern Village.

GF Menu: No. However, Kevin, at the Franklin St. location, explained that everything at Al’s is made-to-order.

Al’s carries delicious GF hamburger buns from Mountain Farm,  which are toasted on the grill prior to serving.

Additionally, the sweet potato and the crispy crinkle cut fries are prepared in their own vats, and are not fried with anything else containing gluten, reducing the risk of cross-contamination.

What I ate: On different visits, I have tried the Paco, the Sean, and the Aubrey burgers with GF buns + Fries.

How to order it: Select your burger from either the posted menu or the chalkboard daily special, place your order at the counter, and ask the server for the Gluten-free bun. As always, if you are ordering a burger that contains a sauce, be sure to check whether the sauce is gluten-free.

What it looks like:

Paco Burger

The Paco Burger is my perennial favorite. Guacamole, tomato slices, fresh jalapeño, jabanero jack cheese on a buttery, toasted GF bun. I ordered this one without the jalapenos. The cheese and guac still give it a nice kick.

The Aubrey BurgerThe Aubrey burger is from the Daily Special menu. Bacon, pimento cheese, avocado, roasted garlic aioli, lettuce, and red onion on a GF bun. Open wide!

SeanBurgerBestSean’s Bacon Cheeseburger is my Dad’s favorite. Bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and cheddar cheese on a terrific GF bun.

We often order the “half & half” Crispy Crinkle Cut and Sweet Potato Fries, because sometimes you can have it all. The Crinkle Cut fries come with sea salt and rosemary and the Sweet Potato fries come with sea salt and brown sugar, but as these are made to order, you can request them with or without seasoning.

Green Note: Owner Al Bowers is clever (UNC alum, ’88), and so his restaurant is thoughtfully designed, from the physical construction of the original building to the philosophy behind the food. From the “About” page on Al’s website:

Our mission is to provide local, fresh, sustainable food and drink with a hefty dose of southern hospitality. Our all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef is from North Carolina pasture-raised cattle. We serve craft beers brewed in North Carolina and produce from as many local farmers as possible. We make all of our specialty toppings and dressings in the Shack.

The Shack itself was built on the same local and sustainable principles. Almost 100% of the interior was recycled from the existing space, our picnic tables and bar tops are made from reclaimed wood and some of the bricks for the patio steps are over 200 years old.

Additionally, the cheese is from the nearby hormone-and-antibiotic free Holstein cows at Maple View Dairy, a short 15-minute drive from Al’s Burger Shack. Their milk shakes are also made with Maple View ice cream.

Okay, Vegetarian Friends, this is for you. Al’s Burger Shack offers the Kaarin, a vegetarian burger, which is a sweet potato, black bean & oat burger with guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and sliced red onion. A carnivorous friend of mine visits Al’s weekly and says that the Kaarin (vegetarian) is his favorite burger.

On my first visit to Al’s Burger Shack in the new Southern Village location, I heard a woman say to her friend, “I wish I had a second stomach so I could eat another one. They’re so tasty.”

I’ll see you there!
Al's Burger Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Posana Restaurant: Hyperlocal. Sustainable. Dedicated Gluten-Free Kitchen.

Where: Posana Restaurant. 1 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville, NC 28801

GF Menu: YES! No “GF” markings are necessary; the entire food menu is Gluten-Free.

From the bar, they also offer several bottled “Gluten-Reduced Beer” options. (For a good explanation on the distinction between labeling beers Gluten-Free vs. Gluten-Reduced, visit this page from Craft Brewing Business.)

What I ate: We enjoyed appetizers of fried green tomatoes and mussels, and shared entrees of seared scallops and NC trout.

How to order it: Posana Restaurant makes ordering GF dishes a breeze. The menu asks you to inform your server of any food allergies so they can clarify if and when the menu does not list all of the ingredients in a menu item.

Posana has gone the extra mile to dedicate their kitchen “Gluten-Free”. (If you don’t know, getting this kind of certification is an extremely rigorous process and requires a high level of commitment from the owners and staff.) From the “Gluten-Free” page on their website:

At Posana, we work very hard to provide our guests who must avoid gluten with the same exceptional dining experience as all our other guests.  We want you to be able to eat the exact same dishes as those around you, and at Posana, you can.  Awarded the Gluten-Free Food Service Accreditation – Posana Restaurant earned an Excellent rating for our commitment to Best Practices in safe gluten-free food service through the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America’s (GIG) accreditation program.  Posana features a dedicated gluten free kitchen.

What it looks like:

FriedGreenTomatoes Fried green tomatoes were battered and crispy-fried, and then topped with pimento cheese, smoked tomatoes, and thin slices of pickled okra for garnish. These refreshingly crisp tomatoes were a perfect salty treat to warm up the taste buds before a meal. I enjoyed the surprising tang of the pickled okra on top, which echoed the fresh green tomato underneath.

MusselsPEI mussels served in lemongrass curry with charred scallions and kimchi. This was a gorgeous combination of flavors. I was tempted to treat the curry like a soup and slurp it all up with a spoon. However, this is a nice restaurant and I needed to maintain some decorum…

ScallopsSea scallops were seared and set atop grilled asparagus, charred eggplant puree, smoked salsify and tomato jam.

NCTroutBBQ spiced trout from Sunburst Farms was gently placed atop cheese grits from Crooked Creek Mills. Shaved fennel and jalapeno-tomato butter rounded out the flavors and completed the dish.

Green Note: Prior to visiting Posana, I was not familiar with the term “hyperlocal“, but this is what they are: the co-owners of the restaurant have created urban gardens in order to grow additional ingredients they need nearby.

Here is their philosophy from the About Us page on their website:

We are fortunate to have strong relationships with local growers and producers that enable us to offer the freshest ingredients available in every season. In addition, we went hyper-local in 2015 by introducing to our own urban gardens in West Asheville to supplement some of what we are serving.  Moreover, we continue our support of the Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project (ASAP) and the wider WNC growing and food producing industry to emphasize the importance of operating in an ecologically-conscious manner.

Posana also makes a point of featuring their Local Partners on their menu and on their website, increasing visibility for these farms and local suppliers of fine ingredients.
Posana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Primal Food & Spirits: 100% Gluten-Free Kitchen

Where: Primal Food & Spirits,  202 West Highway 54, Suite 107, Durham, NC 27713. Primal is located in the Southpoint Crossing Shopping Center, on the corner of Highway 54 and Fayetteville Road, in Durham.

GF Menu: Yes! The entire menu is Gluten-Free, with the exception of a handful of drinks served only at the bar in designated glasses. On the evening I visited the restaurant, there were four GF beers on the menu, as well as local hard ciders.

What I ate: Wood-fired shrimp as a starter, grilled salmon and a side of curried cauliflower as the entree, and lemon pound cake and chocolate flourless torte for dessert.

How to order it: Select any food on the menu and order with confidence. The server explained that everything that goes into and comes out of the kitchen is 100% gluten-free.

Just think of it. Dishes and glassware are all dedicated gluten-free (with the exception of the aforementioned small set of glasses held only at the bar for the purpose of serving non-gluten-free beers).

Chef Tim Lyons, also chef/owner of the award-winning Blu Seafood & Bar in Durham, writes on the Kitchen page of the Primal website:

At Primal we take gluten sensitivities seriously, and representing the needs of the gluten-free community is very important to us. Simply put, it is part of our identity, and it is exactly what makes us different from everyone else. Our kitchen is 100% gluten-free, meaning there is no possibility of cross-contamination.

What it looks like:

primalshrimpThe wood-fired shrimp were seasoned with a maple bourbon bbq sauce, hot out of the wood-burning oven, and bursting with sweet and smoky flavors. The spicy cole slaw comprised of crisp cabbage, red onions, and green peppers complemented the sweet shrimp.

primalcauliflowerThe curried cauliflower was served in an oven-proof pottery bowl, which kept it warm as we ate.

primalsalmonTrust me when I tell you that this grilled salmon was gorgeous. If you’re wondering what was so generously heaped on top of the hot-off-the-wood-grill-salmon, it was lump crab meat! It was a scrumptious, decadent addition to the savory salmon and the fresh greens drizzled with an apple shallot relish.

primalalmondcake2We ordered two desserts to share.  An unusually moist lemony pound cake with its browned burnt-sugary edge rested on mascarpone and was topped with a rum-date compote, almonds, vanilla syrup, and a fresh mint leaf.

primalchoctorteThe second dessert was the chocolate flourless torte. Rich and smooth, each dark chocolatey bite contained the surprise flavor of caramel rising to the surface from the caramel crème anglaise underneath. It was garnished with a fresh strawberry, red grapes, whipped cream, and a mint leaf.

 Green Note: Chef Tim Lyons works with local farmers as much as possible, and promotes them on the Primal website. He explains his reasoning here:

Primal is about getting back to the basics and eating as our ancestors did, offering unprocessed, home grown foods, served unpretentiously. You can literally taste the delicious difference when you bite into a piece of pasture-raised meat that was cooked over a wood fire. It gives the meat that light, smoky natural flavor simply not found with alternative cooking methods. At Primal, we work tirelessly to ensure that everything coming out of our kitchen showcases the fresh ingredients we are using from our local farmer partners. Farm-to-Fire-to-Fork. That is our way. That is Primal.

Some of the Local Farmers listed on the website include:

Primal Food & Spirits Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Pig: Pork and Pickles

Where: The Pig Restaurant, 630 Weaver Dairy Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514

GF Menu: Yes! You can view their online menu here.

What I ate: GF BBQ Plate with cole slaw, pickles, and potato salad. Mom ordered a GF BBQ Sandwich, also pictured here.

How to order it: The menu is clearly marked with “GF” next to appropriate items. The daily specials are written on a chalkboard.  If it is not clear what items are GF, be sure to ask the staff for their GF recommendations when you place your order at the counter.

When looking at the menu, you might be surprised that the collards are not marked gluten-free. The day we visited, the cashier said the collards are not GF because a bit of beer-braised pork is added to the collards for flavor.

The “sprouts & shrooms” are also not marked GF. This is due to the fact that the brussels sprouts are flash-fried in the same fryer as the hush puppies. Good to know.

If they haven’t run out of it by the time you place your order, the GF sandwich bread comes from my absolute favorite GF baker, Dave Gardner, at Imagine That! Gluten Free Bakery.

ImagineThatGF2

Dave is based in Durham. I buy his GF bread (flax seed, cinnamon raisin, pumpernickel, among others) at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. He produces the best GF bread and pizza crusts I have tasted anywhere.

What it looks like:

ThePigBBQPlateThis NC hickory-smoked BBQ was warm, smoky, and spicy without being overwhelmed by vinegar. It had that fresh red pepper kick that builds pleasantly on your tongue and lips.

Created with finely chopped cabbage, impossibly tiny carrot shreds, and fresh celery seeds, this cole slaw was sophisticated, but not too sweet.

The potato salad consisted of small, red-skinned potatoes that were cooked just right, a very light mayonnaise sauce, and fresh paprika.

I am not a sweet pickle fan, but I could possibly be converted by these subtly sweet pickles from The Pig. I plan to return soon specifically to order their Pickle Plate (GF).

PigBBQSandwichLargeHere’s a photo of mom’s sandwich, which I also sampled. Hickory-smoked BBQ pork was piled high and topped with a layer of slaw on toasted GF bread from Imagine That! Gluten Free, of Durham.

Green Note: Chef and owner Sam Suchoff, who formerly worked at Lantern, Neals’ Deli, and the Barbecue Joint, carefully selects local antibiotic-and-hormone-free meats to serve in his restaurant.

ThePigSign

He prepares locally-sourced meats such as sausages, bologna, and bacon for customers to purchase by the pound and take home. He also sells his homemade “hog dogs” at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market.

ThePigFM2

BBQ and ham for sale at the Carrboro Farmers Market.

ThePigFM

Sam at his post at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. This was a rare moment of quiet. Though it was 10am, his table was already being flooded with eager customers purchasing ham, bbq, and “hog dogs” to either eat on the spot or take home.

The Pig’s home page emphasizes local products with the following line:

“Working with the NC Natural Hog Grower’s Association & their antibiotic & hormone-free , pasture-raised piggies to bring regional flavors & local ingredients to the party in your tummy.”

The Pig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saxapahaw General Store: GF Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Happy New Year! In the spirit of adventure, and trying new things, let’s drive west of Chapel Hill to visit Saxapahaw, NC.

Saxapahaw is a happenin’ little hamlet with music (The Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw’s Historic Cotton Mill), a seasonal farmer’s market, and locavore food that garners the attention of The New York Times, Gourmet Magazine, Garden & Gun Magazine.

Today’s venue, Saxapahaw General Store, was most recently praised in the January 2015 issue of Our State Magazine.

Where: Saxapahaw General Store, 735 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw, NC 27340

GF Menu: Yes! You can view the Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner with a multitude of delicious GF options on their website. You can order a GF omelet with a side of GF toast for breakfast. At lunch, there are GF pizzas, salads, and sandwich options with GF bread. The dinner menu changes daily, but one standard you can always rely on is the GF pan-seared fish with risotto and asparagus.

What I ate: GF pan-seared fish with veggies.

How to order it: The online menu is clearly marked with [GF] next to appropriate items. The daily menu is written on a chalkboard.  If it is not clear what items are GF, be sure to ask the staff for their GF recommendations at the counter where you place your order. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable foodies, so will help guide you in the right direction.

What it looks like:

SaxHalibut2North Carolina fish was placed atop sauteed local vegetables in this dish. This pan-seared fish had a soft interior and crispy exterior, and just the right amount of umami flavor. The supporting zucchini, yellow squash, onions, and tomatoes provided textural contrast, color, and the organic taste of local farms. SaxGFCookiesYou can purchase goods from the in-store market for dessert, or find GF baked goods like these individually-wrapped GF chocolate chip cookies at the counter.

Green Note: The Saxapahaw General Store is housed in a re-purposed gas station and convenience store (see pic by clicking here).

Chefs Jeff Barney and Cameron Ratcliffe operate their business with a conscious decision to celebrate what is local, promote sustainability, and make good food and products accessible to the community. This page describes their mission:

“They wanted to be stewards of local foods, good wine and beer, nutritious snacks, and eco-conscious dry goods, and they hoped to participate in a new kind of local economy that would strengthen fellow small businesses, promote conscious farming, and become part of a network of small communities finding a better way to live and to do business together.”

SaxGreenNote This sign posted above the trash can encouraged us to leave food scraps on our plate rather than throwing them in the trash. The staff will compost these scraps or help feed chickens at Cozi Farms.

A note on their Home page lets you know how the chefs support local farms:

“We are proud to source most of our meats, all of our eggs, and all the local produce we can find each season, from farms right here in the NC Piedmont. Click for a listing of our most current local farm goods. For a full listing of locally sourced items we offer for retail or through our kitchen, visit our Purveyors page.”

SaxLocalGoodiesThese store shelves are stocked with an bountiful array of NC products. Doesn’t it make you proud?

Saxapahaw General Store Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Acme Food & Beverage Co.: Gluten-Free Skillet Cornbread

Where: Acme Food & Beverage Co., 110 E Main Street, Carrboro, NC 27510

GF Menu: Yes. Though items are not currently marked on the menu posted on their website, they are clearly noted with gluten-free symbols on dine-in menu.

When I contacted Acme about their gluten-free options, the General Manager, Stephen Murtaugh, offered these important clarifying notes:

The icon on our menu is meant primarily for those pursuing a gluten free style diet. Anyone with allergies, or celiac disease, should make that clear to their server when they order to avoid the risk of cross contamination. Certain items, like French fries, come in contact with some flour when fried since we also fry dredged items in the same fryer.

If a guest gives us advance notice of their food allergies by calling ahead and noting on their reservation then we will usually call them ahead of time to discuss their dinner and make sure they get something absolutely delicious and 100% safe for them to consume.

What I ate: Salmon Entree with an appetizer of Gluten-Free Cornbread

How to order it: The Acme menu changes regularly since the Chef/Owner Kevin Callaghan creates daily offerings from seasonal and local ingredients. Look for the GF symbol next to the menu items. As the General Manager suggests, let your server know you are dining gluten-free for health reasons. Acme also offers you the courtesy option of calling ahead to discuss your gluten-free dining needs in advance of your visit.

What it looks like:

AcmeGFSalmon2

A pan-seared, spice rubbed salmon filet was the centerpiece of this dish. The chef cooked this fish perfectly, preserving the sweet tenderness of the meat inside while presenting a picante crispness on the outside. Garnished with a green sauce and fresh cilantro leaves, it was simultaneously light, yet satisfyingly savory. Black beans, gluten-free creamed corn grits, and a fresh tomato completed the dish.

AcmeGFCornbread

The GF cornbread arrived at the table piping hot in a shallow cast iron skillet, which kept the bread warm well into our meal. Acme uses a gluten-free cornmeal in their house cornbread recipe. GM Stephen Murtaugh also informed me that these skillets are used only for the gluten-free cornbread to avoid risk of cross-contamination.

AcmeGFCBCloseup

This cornbread was thick and fluffy, but not dense. It was flavorful, but not overly sweet. The texture was more like bread than cake. It had a lovely brown top and crispy edges.

The huge cloud of butter and the fresh-cracked pepper rounded out the presentation.

Finding an establishment that offers any kind of GF bread is a treat. I was over-the-moon to discover this freshly-made and down-home delicious cornbread at Acme.

Green Note: Acme supports the local community’s sustainable agriculture as well as helps sponsor cultural and educational programming in the area. The following is taken from their website under the “Local” tab:

Acme Food & Beverage Company is pleased to do business with such community-supported programs as The Carrboro Farmers’ Market and Core Sound Seafood.

We are proud sponsors of local events like Farm to Fork, Ackland Art Museum’s annual fundraising gala, and Terra Vita sustainable food celebration.
View an image gallery featuring Chef Kevin Callaghan at the 2011 Farm to Fork event.

It has also been our good pleasure to work with children in the Durham Public Schools through SEEDS, a non-profit community garden-based program.

Acme Food & Beverage Co Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lantern: A Light on the Hill

Where: Lantern, 423 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Lantern, located in Chapel Hill, NC, is one of Gourmet America’s Top 50 Restaurants. Chef-owner Andrea Reusing was the 2011 James Beard award winner for Best Chef in the Southeast, has given a TedX talk on collaborating with small farms, and has written a new cookbook called Cooking in the Moment: a Year of Seasonal Recipes.

GF Menu: No. However, the menu instructs, “Please let us know about any food allergies.”

What we ate: Local heirloom tomato salad and spicy carrot soup for appetizers, Flounder and Salmon for entrees, and Panna Cotta for dessert.

How to order it: Lantern is famous for fusing Asian flavors with North Carolina ingredients. The Lantern menu does an excellent job of listing ingredients, but since it is not marked specifically for food allergies, let your server know that you will be dining Gluten-Free, and ask for their recommendations.

Our server checked with the kitchen and marked our paper menu with all Gluten-Free options, acknowledging when and if soy sauce was used in a dish, to alleviate concerns we might have had about sauces. We had more than a dozen choices.

What it looks like:

LanternHeirloomTomThis appetizer was art on a plate. Local heirloom tomatoes were drizzled with fine olive oil, then topped with shiso leaf, shallots, sea salt, and freshly-ground black pepper.

LanternSoup3This summer carrot soup was served chilled, but it was warm with the exotic flavors of vadouvan curry.

LanternFlounder2The server asked whether I was comfortable with the whole fish being presented on the plate, and explained that some customers will request that the head be removed. Fresh and crispy NC flounder was served in the style of a Vietnamese fish dish.

LanternFlounder3Here’s the closeup of the fish. On top of the tender white meat and delicately fried fish skin were hot chiles, fresh turmeric, dill, fried shallots, the occasional cilantro leaf, and roasted peanuts. This is one of the best fish dishes I have ever eaten, and according to our server, it is their most popular.

LanternPickledCarrotsThe flounder came with a side of spicy heirloom carrot salad and a scoop of warm jasmine rice.

LanternSalmonThe steamed wild King salmon was served with house-pickled ginger, lemongrass, red onion, cucumber-mint salad, and a side of warm coconut jasmine rice.

LanternPannaCotta5

There were two gluten-free dessert options the night we visited. I was delighted with our choice of the cherry stone panna cotta. A cool and impossibly delicate panna cotta was garnished with Blue Ridge Mountain cherries and crunchy almond-sesame candy. Warning: you will not want to share this, so go ahead and get your own.

Green Note: Chef Andrea Reusing is a local luminary and a national leader in culinary sustainability.

From writing about “Egg Economics” in Gourmet magazine to organizing tours of a pollinator garden in Chatham Mills, NC, to hosting Farm-to-Table dinners to benefit Kitchen Patrol, her mission is clear. She aims to use locally-sourced ingredients from small organic farms and build community, all while educating others about sustainability. She also chairs the Triangle’s Slow Food convivium. These are just some of the reasons Chef Andrea was named one of “15 Green Chefs” on Grist’s international list.

Lantern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Catch: Has Me Hook, Line, and Sinker

Where: Catch, 6623 Market Street, Wilmington, NC 28405

When you dine at Catch, you are in for an exquisite culinary experience because Chef Keith Rhodes was named the 2011 Best Chef of the Southeast, he was a NC James Beard Semifinalist, and has been on Top Chef.

Gwyneth Paltrow visited Catch in July 2012 for a cooking lesson with Keith Rhodes. To read about her experience and see more photos, visit her curated site called “goop”. She also gave kudos to Catch’s “mixologist”, Richard Watson, who whipped up a Cucumber Tequila Cocktail for her.

GF Menu: No.

What we ate: Pan-Roasted NC Black Sea Bass Filet from the Daily Menu and Pan-Roasted Organic Salmon from the Regular Menu

How to order it:  We appreciated the descriptive list of ingredients on the menu at Catch. The menu also helpfully notes, “All food is prepared to order”.

Let your server know that you will be dining Gluten-Free. The servers at Catch are very accommodating and want to help you find something both safe and delicious.

We checked with our server to make sure that the salmon dish could be made with a Gluten-Free soy sauce for the glaze. She assured us that the chef could make this dish gluten-free after she confirmed with the kitchen.

What it looks like:

CatchSeaBass3

This scrumptious black sea bass was pan-roasted and draped over a bed of rice noodles, shitake mushrooms, and Shanghai Bok Choy. The gorgeous sauce was a coconut-blue crab fumet. The chef garnished it with a hearty dollop of lemon verbena pesto, fresh cilantro, and thai basil.

CatchSalmon2

(Our table was candlelit, so I couldn’t capture as much detail as I had hoped in this photo.) Tender inside, with a pan-roasted crispiness on the outside, this was salmon prepared at its best. Here, the rice noodles were combined with stir-fried organic vegetables and a soy sauce chili glaze. This dish was garnished with toasted sesame seeds and fresh cilantro.

 Green Note: Catch is doing everything right.

Chef Keith Rhodes and his wife, Angela, recognize the value of buying organic and local. Their website explains: “By striving to support North Carolina’s organic farmers, local fisheries and sustainable fishing practices, our customers help stimulate the local economy.” 

In addition to his second popular restaurant called Phun Seafood Bar, located on Princess Street in Wilmington, Keith Rhodes has launched the Catch Food Truck this year. Follow this fresh, local, organic food truck featuring California and Mexican Street Food here: http://www.catchthefoodtruck.com/. The food truck website boasts: “Catch food truck uses eco friendly packaging and NC soybean oil for frying. We also recycle the cooking oil to produce bio diesel.”

If you’d like to learn how to make sustainable seafood choices, the Monterey Bay Aquarium produces pocket-sized regional guides. These are incredibly handy to pull out of your wallet in a restaurant, market, or when traveling. I recently picked up both the Sushi Guide and the Southeast Consumer Guide. You can download any of the guides here for free.

Catch Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Margaret’s Cantina: Organic, Local Fare Since 1993

Where: Margaret’s Cantina, 1129 Weaver Dairy Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27514 (Located in the Timberlyne Shopping Center.)

GF Menu: Yes! “GF” is clearly marked on the menus.

What I ate: Sopa Seca Picosa (Spicy Mexican Lasagna) from the Dinner Menu + House Sangria

How to order it: Refer to the menu markings of “GF” for Gluten-Free when making your selection. Additionally, let the server know you are dining Gluten-Free.

The menus also indicate “V” for Vegetarian and “VV” for Vegan. As Margaret explains on the About Us page of the restaurant website: “Because my dishes are made in-house from wholesome ingredients, you can make pleasurable and healthy choices, no matter your preferences.” With food that is cooked-to-order, you CAN have it all!

What it looks like:

MargaretsCantina

Think you can’t have lasagna in a restaurant because you dine Gluten-Free? Think again! This spicy Mexican “lasagna” may be my new go-to comfort food. In this dish, corn tortilla chips are layered with cheese, your choice of chicken or black beans, and spicy salsa. The whole dish is then baked, and finally topped with additional salsa, lettuce, tomato, and sour cream. The result is packed with texture and flavor. The chips and black beans still maintain their freshness and integrity despite being smothered in melted cheese and salsa.

MargaretsCantina2

Here’s the close-up. This was a very generous helping. I took some of it home and enjoyed it right from the fridge the next day. You gotta love a dish that is fantastic both hot and cold! It’ll be good to revisit year-round. 

Green Note: Margaret is committed to using local, seasonal, and organic produce, whenever possible, and she has been doing so for twenty years. She explains on the website, where she lists some of her local suppliers:

Long before locavore entered the lexicon, I was buying organic produce from farmers like the legendary Bill Dow of Chatham County. Today I still work with Bill and other growers, among them Rose & Mark Lyon, Jan Mann & Tom Jackson, Bill & Joanna Lelekacs and Lisa & David Pope. I’ve been a member of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association for years and I also purchase produce from Eastern Carolina Organics, a farmers’ co-op. “The Egg Man,” Gerald Hall of Pleasant Garden, NC, brings me fresh brown eggs from his free-range chickens.

 I use organic brown rice and black beans and locally milled organic flour. North Carolina is represented year round on my “South meets Southwest” menu in the form of sweet potatoes, grits and greens. Seasonal produce includes asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, apples, tomatoes, tomatillos, chiles, salad greens and shiitake mushrooms… the list goes on!

And speaking of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, this weekend is the 19th Annual Piedmont Farm Tour! Saturday, April 26th and Sunday, April 27th, 2014 from 2-6pm both days, rain or shine. You can visit more than 30 local and organic farms in the Triangle area, meet the farmers, and tour the farms. Support your local food systems. Oh, yeah, and take some charming photographs of baby goats.

Margaret's Cantina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sage Vegetarian Cafe: Naturally Delectable

Where: Sage Vegetarian Cafe, 1129 Weaver Dairy Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514

GF Menu: YES!  I am pleased to update this post to tell you that the regular menu at Sage Vegetarian Cafe now contains a visual guide to safe dining. Separate symbols on the menu indicate a vegan item, an item with vegan options, and an item with gluten-free options available. 

What I ate (on 3 separate visits): Caribe, Bud-m-Joon, and Gormeh Sabzi

How to order it: Let the server know you will be dining Gluten-Free.

Sage Cafe’s menu is wonderfully detailed, as it lists the contents of each dish. Knowing what ingredients are in each item helps you make an informed decision when you order. Some ingredients may contain hidden wheat/gluten, so it is always best to ask. For example, when I asked about the Caribe, my server explained that she would need to let kitchen know to use the Gluten-Free Tamari soy sauce.

What it looks like:

SageCafe1

Caribe is a well-rounded combination of black beans and grilled spicy tofu garnished with pineapple on a bed of brown or white rice. This dish is served with fresh avocado slices and sweet plantains.

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Here is a close-up of the Tamari-seasoned tofu with fresh grilled pineapple.

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The Bud-m-Joon contains eggplant, split peas, saffron, tomatoes, sautéed onions, and fragrant spices, including cinnamon. This is served with basmati-saffron rice and a side of shirazi (a traditional Iranian salad of cucumbers, onions, garlic, olive oil, lemon or lime juice, and tomatoes).

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Gormeh Sabzi is a meal that is comforting, yet exotic. Described as a “classic Persian stew”, it contains potatoes, red kidney beans, tempeh, and dried lemon. I found this dish both warming and enjoyable. This stew is also served with a side of basmati-saffron rice and shirazi.

Green Note: On the Sage Cafe website, they explain their commitment to fresh, quality foods:

Sage is pleased to offer natural foods made using organic and local ingredients whenever available. Each dish is prepared from the highest quality ingredients, and entirely without the use of any meat, poultry, fish, or harmful additives.

They also offer Organic Shade Fair Trade Coffee and Organic Teas. Click HERE to see 7 reasons to choose Fair Trade coffee. 

Sage Vegetarian Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato