Thursday, April 12, 2018

ZC Hawaiian BBQ

Located at 2224 Golden Gate Dr. in Greensboro’s Golden Gate Shopping Center, ZC Hawaiian BBQ serves Hawaiian and pan-Asian cuisine for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Bulk orders, takeout carrying, and health-conscious options are available.

Sometimes, being the only game in town is both a blessing and a curse. The lack of competition grants a measure of protection, but the expectations to “get it right” are that much higher. So it goes with ZC, Greenboro’s sole Hawaiian eatery. Those who have had Hawaiian elsewhere will likely be underwhelmed, but ZC still serves a need for the area adequately if not impressively.

The Z in ZC stands for owner Benny Zeng, a Chinese restaurant veteran who opened the eatery with his family about two years ago. The staff here are friendly, and though the restaurant is more colorful than most, it still exudes a casual, Chinese takeout vibe.

The menu, on the other hand, goes far beyond typical. Saimin (Hawaiian ramen), musubi (a cooked sushi variant), rice-and-vegetable bowls with various toppings, and combination platters join about two dozen versions of the Hawaiian lunch plate. Sandwiches and sides round out the impressive list of offerings.

For a takeout order, I went with a BBQ Mix (chicken, beef, and short ribs), a Seafood Combo (fried fish, fried shrimp, and chicken katsu), and a few manapua (pork steamed buns). The food was prepared on-time and still warm by the time I made it home. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the meal itself proved to be a decidedly mixed experience. The meats were seasoned well, but they were overcooked. The chicken katsu in particular was quite chewy and dry. There were also very few accompanying vegetables. On the other hand, the sides of macaroni salad were a welcome addition, and the sauces provided complemented the dishes nicely.

While ZC’s quality is less-than-stellar, it is a great bargain. Lunch plates can be had for as little as $6, and my combination platters were both under $10 apiece. You get plenty of food for your money, too: the two platters easily yielded four meals.

Though I would be hesitant to repeat my order, given the sheer number of dishes available, I will likely give ZC another try in the future. Despite its flaws, it is cheap, abundant, and far more interesting than the average Asian takeout joint.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Pedro's Taco Shop

Located at 948 Walker Ave. in the College Hill neighborhood of Greensboro, Pedro’s Taco Shop serves tacos and other Mexican fare for lunch and dinner seven days a week. There is a full bar, margaritas are $1.99 on Thursdays, and gringo-style tacos are 99 cents on Tuesdays.

The corner of Walker and Tate has been home to a succession of bad Mexican restaurants over the years, but there was hope that Pedro’s would be an improvement over its predecessors. Reviews were positive, and the menu offers more than the same predictable Tex-Mex offerings. While the food is a step in the right direction, Pedro’s still has a ways to go in other areas.

First, the good: the brightly colored décor gives Pedro’s a beach casual ambiance, and the food selection is commendable. While you can find the standard burritos and fajitas and whatnot here, Pedro’s also offers enticing apps (elote dip, carne asada fries), build your own salad bowls for the health-conscious, and authentic-style tacos with a variety of fillings.

For our first visit, my wife and I split the elote dip and went with three tacos apiece. The dip – a dressed-up queso with corn – was addictively good, and the accompanying chips were fresh. The tacos were not among the best in town, but they were more enjoyable than not. The carne asada was well-seasoned, the shrimp came with a delicious sauce, and the chorizo was appropriately spicy. While the pastor had the right flavor profile, the meat was disappointingly dry. Accompanying rice and beans were strictly run-of-the-mill.

Given the number of UNCG students this place must attract, it is not surprising that prices are fairly low. Our dip and chips ran about $5 while any three tacos with rice and beans came out to $9. You will get your money’s worth eating here.

Service, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. My wife and I visited shortly after 7 p.m. on a Sunday, and the restaurant was mostly empty. Our server was accommodating at first, but toward the end of the meal, a handful of patrons congregated at the bar, she went on bartending duty, and we were promptly forgotten. Cue awkward waiting and another server who seemed peeved when we asked him about our check. Staff could also be overheard arguing loudly with one another in Spanish.

Were I still living on Tate Street, I would be more inclined to overlook these issues. Indeed, for College Hill residents – and especially the carless among them – the prospect of mostly tasty cheap eats can be enough to offset possible staff mismanagement. But for those who aren’t limited to the neighborhood, El Mercadito and El Azteca are both better options for your taco fix.


Positano Italian Family Restaurant & Pizzeria

Located at 2605 Lawndale Dr. in Greensboro (with a second location in Asheboro), Positano serves Italian cuisine for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. There is a full bar and a wine list featuring Italian whites and reds.

Greensboro has quite a few restaurants that are frustrating not because they are terrible but because they have the potential to be so much better. Some look great on paper, but their exciting concepts are offset by mismanagement or inconsistent execution. Some have impeccable service but only mediocre food. In the case of Positano, the food is tasty and the ambiance is appealing, but the other aspects of the dining experience leave room for improvement.

Housed toward the end of a shopping plaza, Positano is fairly spacious. The brick and wood décor add touches of old-world class, and the restaurant is well-lit. This is a comfortable place to settle in for a meal.

The menu features much of what you would expect, which is to say pasta dishes (baked or create your own), pizza, veal, seafood, soups, salads, and apps. Positano also offers half or whole rotisserie chickens, but that is about the biggest departure from convention that you will find.

Of course, there is no shame in sticking to the tried and true if you can do it well, and for the most part, Positano’s kitchen is on top of its game. My wife and I shared a fried zucchini starter followed by lasagna and seafood alla positano, respectively. The zucchini was cut like shoestring fries, and the batter did not cling very well, but the taste left no complaint. Positano’s lasagna adds salami, ham, and eggs to the standard beef/mozzarella/ricotta/tomato sauce composition. The sauce is a bit on the sweet side, but the dense dish is satisfying. The seafood alla positano was billed as shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari, and scallops in a pink sauce over your choice of noodle (I went with linguini), and it came as advertised. The sauce was savory without overwhelming the palate, and the ratio of seafood to pasta left no complaint.

Unfortunately, not everything here is up to the standards of the food. Our server was not rude, but he definitely seemed to just be going through the motions. Wait times for food were moderate, and that was with the restaurant far from capacity. Perhaps the biggest gripe here is the relative lack of value. On its face, Positano’s pricing is reasonable: $10 for our app, $14 for the lasagna, and $20 for the seafood dish. However, the lasagna ran on the small side, and neither entree came with salads (a $3 addition, if you are so inclined).

Even with these annoyances, Positano is a solid mid-tier Italian option. If you want to be blown away, save up for Osteria. If you don’t mind overpaying for competently executed renditions of classics, you could do worse than here.


Positano Italian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Smoke Pit

Located at 117 E. Innes St. in Salisbury (with additional locations in Concord and Monroe), The Smoke Pit serves barbeque for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. There are daily food specials, and a full bar and catering are available.

North Carolinians can be very particular about their barbeque, so I expect some pearl-clutching from Lexington partisans when I say, without hyperbole, that The Smoke Pit is the best I’ve eaten in the state. From selection to flavor to execution, everything about my meal here was spot-on. Good service and generous portion sizes round out the equation.

Though a bit noisy, The Smoke Pit has plenty of seating, which spares you from having to eat elbow-to-elbow at a counter or wait eons for a table to free up (NC BBQ traditions both). One look at the menu, and you’ll be in for an agonizing decision as it all sounds good. Meats include wings, ribs, Cajun turkey, brisket, sausage, pork, or burnt ends. They can be enjoyed on plates with a bread and two sides, put into combos, or, in the case of pork and brisket, served atop baked potatoes. Apps, sandwiches, salads, burgers, and Tex-Mex style tacos are also available. Vegetarians, unfortunately, will have very little to choose from.

After some help from Chase, our server (an affable chap with good knowledge of the menu), my wife and I were able to settle on splitting a combo with pulled pork, burnt ends, fried okra, sweet potato tots, corn bread, and a hash brown casserole of the day. The food came out more quickly than expected, and it did not disappoint. The meats were tender and flavorful, the tots paired well with an accompanying apple butter, and the casserole was deliciously cheesy. There was not a single item that I would have qualms about reordering.

The Smoke Pit’s prices are moderate. Our combo came in a little under $30. There was plenty of food to go around, however. We wanted leftovers, and we were not disappointed.

If you are beholden to old-school Lexington or Eastern-style joints, The Smoke Pit will seem like a modern heresy. But for those who have no such allegiances, this is some damn good BBQ.


Car-Themed Crime Capers: Baby Driver and Logan Lucky

There was a time when a car-themed action movie was not an invitation to low expectations. The original Vanishing Point trafficked in a search for meaning and existential themes as much as it did in chase sequences while the original Gone in 60 Seconds, though low-budget and amateurish, showed a remarkable amount of ambition for a small, independent project. Even the first Smokey and the Bandit, cheesy relic that it may be, had plenty of off-kilter charm. These artifacts contrast heavily with today’s self-plagiarizing and self-parodying franchise fare (think Fast and the Furious/Transporter) where cool cars serve as signifiers of anti-heroism and little else.

Fortunately, a pair of 2017 films have made some inroads into reversing this trend. In Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, the titular protagonist’s prowess behind the wheel is as much a burden as a blessing. The nature of his work also ensures that for every bright red Subaru Impreza he pilots, he also cruises around in far less conspicuous rides. Meanwhile, in Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, the nominal hero isn’t a hotshot driver. His sister, who operates a borrowed Ford Shelby GT, comes closer to fitting the bill, but her leadfooted proclivities are identified as a potential liability rather than an asset. Both movies work to subvert car flick expectations in interesting ways and are quite entertaining in their own right.

Baby Driver’s Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young man stricken with tinnitus from the car wreck that killed his parents. He constantly listens to music on his iPod to drown out the ringing in his ears, often while he serves as a getaway driver for heists organized by Doc (Kevin Spacey), to whom he owes a debt. A chance meeting with a waitress, Debora (Lily James), gives Baby a shot at an honest life, but Doc has other ideas.

Aside from his collaborations with Simon Pegg, Wright is perhaps best known for directing Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and Baby Driver calls that film to mind in its use of music and over-the-top sensibility. Almost all of Baby Driver is synched to Baby’s playlists, and the selection is impressively varied. Everything from Simon & Garfunkel to Queen to Danger Mouse makes an appearance, and the timing is impeccable. The action is well-choreographed albeit often ludicrous, and the same can be said for some of the performances. Jamie Foxx walks a thin line between hilarious and terrifying as the violently unstable robber Bats, and while Spacey might be a despicable human being, he remains a fine actor, adding layers of complexity to the overbearing boss-type that he has played many times before.

That said, James’s role is underwritten and Elgort is all too often overshadowed by the star power that surrounds him. This is also a style-over-substance movie, and while its style is original, fluid, and highly engaging, one wishes there was more than just genre clichés at its heart.

Speaking of familiarity, Logan Lucky can’t help but call to mind Soderbergh’s previous work as it plays like a cross between his Ocean trilogy and Talladega Nights. Newly laid off from his construction job at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) conspires with his one-handed war veteran brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) to rob the Speedway during a big race. To succeed, the siblings will need to break veteran safecracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of jail, but things become complicated when Bang insists on the participation of his idiot brothers.

Though it lacks Baby Driver’s verve, Logan Lucky is hardly an unstylish film. Soderbergh deploys his usual array of quick cuts, montages, and editing tricks. Both David Holmes’s score and a soundtrack featuring the likes of Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline fit the film’s setting and on-screen action.

While Logan Lucky’s script (courtesy of the mysterious “Rebecca Blunt,” a possible pseudonym for the director and/or his wife Jules Anser) has its share of funny lines, the movie also derives quite a bit of humor from its casting. From Tatum playing against type as something of a loser to a bleach blond Craig as a redneck savant to Driver (an actual Marine veteran best known for playing the arch nemesis kin to a one-handed warrior) to NASCAR ace Carl Edwards as a state trooper, there are plenty of unexpected, amusing, and inspired choices.

And yet for something that was supposed to momentous – Soderbergh’s return after a well-publicized 2013 retirement – Logan Lucky can’t help but feel like a minor work, an enjoyable movie though not an impactful one. Moreover, the absence may be enough to make the director’s old tricks seem new again, but one hoping for something new may feel a bit let down.

With ninth and tenth installments in the works, we’re in no danger of running out of Fast and Furious films any time soon, and their brand of boisterous brainlessness will continue to cast a large shadow. However, as Wright and Soderbergh have shown us, we needn’t take “car movie” as a synonym for skippable.

Baby Driver: 8/10

Logan Lucky: 7.75/10

Monday, March 19, 2018

Simply Thai and Sushi Bar

Located at 122 E. Main St. in Jamestown, Simply Thai serves Thai cuisine and sushi for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and dinner only on Sundays. Lunch specials are $8.95 (more for shrimp or steak) and rotate daily.  

An affiliate of the same-named restaurant in Elon, Simply Thai is neither the best of Thais nor the worst of Thais though it does fulfill a need for the immediate area.

Inside, Simply Thai’s décor is minimalist. There’s a nice mural along the back wall, but you will otherwise find yourself staring at lots of brick. Though not the most capacious restaurant, there was plenty of available seating at the time of my midday Tuesday visit.

At first glance, the menu here seems to hew largely to the tried and true. Pad Thai, curries, basil dishes, and wraps are all present and accounted for. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find some pleasant surprises. There are Lao dishes (sausage), Japanese dishes (udon), Vietnamese dishes (pho, which can be had with duck!!), and more. The lunch special menu is more restrictive – four dishes are offered on any given day – but between the regular menu and the sushi menu, there are plenty of options.

For my first visit, I went with a panang curry with steak off the lunch menu. The dish was preceded by a veggie spring roll and came out quickly. Simply Thai does not seem to offer levels of spiciness (at least not by default though they may do so upon request), which in my experience, defaults to bland. Thankfully, this proved not to be the case. The peanut sauce had a bit of a kick, and neither steak nor veggies were overcooked.

That said, the portion size seemed small for the $10.95 charged, and in depth of flavor, Simply Thai’s rendition lagged behind Greensboro’s best. Emily did provide excellent service, however.

Given that Jamestown proper could always benefit from more dining options, Simply Thai is a welcome addition for those who live and work in the area. Its menu and attentive staff make it an attractive option. However, for those who have access to other Thai nearby, Simply Thai is simply OK.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Nikki's Fresh Gourmet and Sushi

Located at 16 S. Front St. in downtown Wilmington, Nikki’s Fresh Gourmet and Sushi serves primarily sushi and Japanese fare for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Food, drink, and dessert specials change regularly.

After wandering from one packed downtown eatery to another on a Saturday night, my wife and I stumbled across Nikki’s more out of desperation than deliberate intent. As accidental finds go, we could have done far worse.

First, a caveat: it was very busy at the time of our visit. As such, the restaurant was somewhat loud, and the servers, though not rude, definitely seemed a bit harried. Whether or not this is par for the course is something only a local/repeat offender would know.

Moving on, Nikki’s menu defies expectations. Sushi is the specialty here, and the offerings strike the right balance between traditional rolls and more eclectic house specialties. You’ll also find the requisite bento boxes and teriyaki dishes. However, Nikki’s offers poke bowls (Hawaiian), burgers and cheesesteaks (American), tacos and quesadillas (Tex-Mex), and gyros and falafel hummus wraps (Mediterranean) as well. Curious as this is, it makes for a multitude of options.

My wife and I went with a tofu teriyaki bento box and a rainbow poke bowl, respectively. The food came out more quickly than we would have expected given the volume, and while quality ranged from acceptable to outstanding, nothing was a real misfire. The poke bowl (salmon, tuna, white tuna, seaweed salad, cucumber, avocado, and dressing over rice) was bright, fresh, and bursting with flavor. For $13.95, I wished there was more of it, but what I got tasted great. The bento box, on the other hand, provided plenty of food for $11.95: teriyaki tofu, miso, a side salad with ginger dressing, gyoza, four pieces of California roll, and edamame. Few of the items were stellar, but the tofu was flavorful and the miso was comforting.

If Nikki’s sushi rolls are as good as the hype suggests and if the restaurant isn’t always packed, I could see rating it higher. As-is, the varied menu and competent execution make it a solid option.

Nikki's Fresh Gourmet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato