THE DURHAM PALATE
Get within 100 feet of G2B Gastro Pub off Shannon Road, and the air smells of a wood-burning fire.
Inside the hub of “elevated” pub food, Executive Chef Carrie Schleiffer and her 6-member culinary team darted around the kitchen, slicing chorizo, braising lamb shanks and peeling sweet potatoes. They already had 150 dinner reservations lined up for Saturday night, some due to Triangle Restaurant Week.
G2B is one of 24 Durham restaurants participating in latest iteration of the restaurant week, when foodie hotspots offer specialized menus that appeal to both new customers and the regulars.
Schleiffer, who comes from New York City and studied at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, normally arrives at 10 a.m. to start food prep, and she’s usually last to leave when the night’s over.
The kitchen team darted around to the throb of heavy metal music that afternoon - They usually have their station set to the Grateful Dead or Metallica to maintain a quick pace in the kitchen.
“There’s going to be a lot of us running around because we’re opening in two and a half hours,” Schleiffer said.
Their Triangle Restaurant Week menu includes roasted butternut squash soup and a prime steak tartare, which is concocted with capers, shallot, horseradish cream, egg vinaigrette, shaved parmesan and toasted brioche crisp. One of the offered main courses is a pork tenderloin with a bourbon dijon glaze, which comes with a sweet potato mash, toasted pecans and braised rainbow chard.
Joseph Gailes, the “grillmaster” of G2B, started at the restaurant about a month ago, and he said he always comes home smelling of hickory smoke.
Saturday, Gailes concentrated as he cut off the fat of beef hanger steaks and added it to a bowl full of strips of lamb. The mixture would then be ground together, the fat enhancing the flavor of their lamb burger, which is served topped with goat cheese.
He studied at the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham after switching careers - He used to be a regional vice president for a clothing company.
“You feel like you’ve been hit by a Mack truck,” he said of nights after serving a big crowd. “It’s still very rewarding.”
“It’s grueling, it’s physical,” Schleiffer added. “You really have to love it, and I feel very fortunate that I have a team that does.”
In Brightleaf Square, both Chamas Brazilian Steakhouse and Piazza Italia were participating in Triangle Restaurant Week. They are both owned by the same person, Raquel Siqueira, who has spent about a decade helping to build up the restaurant scene in Brightleaf. She grew up in central Brazil.
Inside the old brick and wood-paneled building, families sat at tables covered in white tablecloths. They had just finished lunch service Saturday, in which they served 350 people, an influx they partly attributed to restaurant week.
This is their third time participating in the week-long event. Gauchos, or cowboys traditional of southern Brazil, visit each table and offer continuous servings of beef, pork, lamb and chicken cuts.
Master Chef Marcelo Cremonese learned Brazilian steakhouse traditions when he lived in South America. He sometimes arrives at the restaurant at 4 a.m. to begin preparing the meat, which he seasons with salt. He lets the flavors speak for themselves.
His favorite cut is the top sirloin, also called picanha - He grabbed a giant skewer, showing off raw and bloody pieces shaped to perfection. The meat was encased in a layer of fat, capturing flavor and tenderness.
Siqueira said her staff can be seen running across the Brightleaf courtyard, back and forth to each restaurant. At Piazza on Saturday, less than a block away, her baker cut strips of dough with a long knife, forming little circles for bread. Strips of yellow dough were carefully fed through a pasta machine.
Siqueira said they pride themselves, at both Chamas and Piazza, in making everything from scratch, down to the sun-dried tomatoes.
When she moved to Durham 15 years ago, she said, when her husband continued his education at Duke, she said she ate her first meal at a Greek restaurant, Taverna Nikos, in Brightleaf, one of the only available local food options at the time. Now she owns 20,000 square feet of space in the square.
“What Durham has to offer today as far as restaurants go has been incredible,” she said. “... It was a ghost city when I got here.”