Gentle Readers, sometimes atmosphere and service really and truly matter. Gregoria’s Kitchen in Durham, NC, is that special sort of place. Located in an old house near the very longest traffic light in the entire city, the space is lovely and relaxing, the service is warm and personable, and the food, well, read on.
Extra points for any restaurant located in an old house: Gregoria's Kitchen
Let’s just say that we ordered one of everything. Not quite, because the shellfish would kill me, but almost everything else. Why? Because it’s what one should do when one has the opportunity, and a dining companion as nuts as oneself. (Said dining companion is not a blog reader currently, there is a lesson here.)
Don't miss the seasoned butter. It is tasty!
Chicharrones: When bacon puts on its formal ware, it tastes like this. Pork belly with tamarind sauce.
Pork belly + mood lighting with a tamarind drizzle. Mmmmm.
Yuquita Frita: Fantastic rendering, the cilantro sauce is divine. If you’ve never tried yucca fries, this is a run, not walk, situation. I think they are far superior to French fries.
Yuquita Frita: Fun to say, more fun to eat.
Tostones: Good, but I’ve had homemade that were better.
Lechon Asado: My personal favorite. It’s like Southern gone a bit further South, essentially a pulled pork dish.
and a Shredded Beef dish (don’t see it currently listed on the menu!): The favorite of the Eldest Practical Cook Junior and my dining companion, this dish was complex and interesting.
Beans and Rice: Black beans and rice were the sides with both mains, and they were fabulous. The Jrs consumed all of it in a snap.
Black beans and rice from Gregoria's Kitchen in Durham.
(I should note, enough food was ordered that 4 boxes of leftovers came home, and were devoured by certain short foodies.)
I am not here to argue about the authenticity of the food (in my experience, Cuban food is only approved of by Cubans when served in Miami or in their grandmother’s house, irrespective of location), I will just say I really liked this meal. Each bite was interesting, and clearly prepared with care. The flavors were clean and sharp, the presentation was lovely, and the pork belly made me want to do a little dance. If you’re local to NC, check out Gregoria’s and let me know what you think!
Pretty Quick Black Bean Soup
Adapted from Elsie’s Cuban Black Bean Soup recipe, found in Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon. This book is fabulous, and I’m thoroughly enjoying working my way through it. I served this thick soup over rice with diced avocado and lime wedges on the side. Simplicity itself, it was a huge hit. Enjoy.
Black Beans and Rice: Simple and Satisfying for Dinner
2 cups black beans, rinsed thoroughly, picked over and soaked if you have time (I did not)
Enough water to cover the beans in the pot by at least 2 inches
2 bay leaves
1 fresh jalapeno (I only had a Serrano, which worked well), stemmed and seeded
splash of olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1. Put the rinsed and drained beans into a large heavy soup pot, fill with water till it’s 2 inches above the bean line. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a strong steady simmer because you forgot to do this in advance and it’s dinnertime soon. Drop in the bay leaves and the pepper. Cover tightly and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, 1 1/2 hours or so.
2. At the end of the cooking time, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until they become translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers (feel free to add more if you’ve got them), and saute for a couple of minutes more. Add the garlic and spices last, including some salt, and cook until you smell the garlic. Turn off the heat.
3. When the beans are tender, stir in the onion mixture. Salt to taste. If you want thicker soup, mash some of the beans up in the pot and stir. Simmer slowly, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes, or until your kids yell that they’re starving. Discard the bay leaves and the pepper.
4. Serve over or beside hot rice, with avocados and lime wedges. A dollop of sour cream is in order for the spice-a-phobes, though we found this flavorful and not spicy with one seeded pepper.
Are you a fan of Cuban food? Of beans and rice? How do you get your fix?
Send blog ideas, challenges, and compliments to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)
It’s time for Weekly Menus, live on Sunday. Not all of them will be chocolate bunny meals.