Tag Archives: north carolina

Restaurant Review: Straightaway Cafe

When you think of the state of North Carolina, there are generally a few cities and areas that come to mind. There is of course the Research Triangle, an industrial and tech hotspot ringed by Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Smack in the center of the state is the Piedmont Triad, consisting of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point. And of course the Charlotte area and surrounding suburbs.

But aside from all the man-made areas, NC also offers two of our most loved natural features: ocean, and mountains.

The coast, with over 300 miles of barrier islands and beautiful beaches, offers tons of vacation options and watersports galore. From the charming Knott’s Island to Ocean Isle Beach just minutes north of Myrtle, there is plenty of beach to explore and enjoy. Of the mountainous side of the state, where the state line tracks the Appalachian Mountains, the most well-known area is Asheville.

The crown of the NC cities along the Blue Ridge mountain range, Asheville and its surrounding towns have an unmistakable mountain town charm. Life has a slower pace, in a place where they believe “Life isn’t just about the climb. There’s also the view.”

The view from the Straightaway Cafe

Highways soon give way to steep, craggy, and winding roads, which eventually turn into gravel and dirt. Only the most adventurous or well-vehicularly-equipped travelers should attempt the back roads in weather or after dark. But the climb is worth the view. Thick lush trees surround you on each side, with more shades of green than you can count in a Crayola box.

On the way to Asheville, there is a small town called Black Mountain right on Highway 9. We happened to be on Highway 9, actively on the lookout for dinner. It was late and getting dark, and we were at a cabin not too far away. However, in these remote mountainous areas, food options are rather limited. When you can drive for over 20 miles and see no sign of civilization beyond some fences and an occasional driveway, you know you’re pretty remote.

So imagine our surprise and delight when we saw the sign for the Straightaway Cafe!

Straightaway Cafe Black Mountain NC

We did not know that had we continued on Route 9 for a few more miles we would have hit downtown, but we weren’t looking for chains like Taco Bell, Denny’s, or Subway. We wanted somewhere local and cute and dive-y. And that is exactly what we got!

For this review, let me remind you of the BE Review rules.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

After turning in at the sign, the first impression is admittedly not a great one. We both looked at the dilapidated, boarded up structures and were like “lord I hope that’s not where we eat!”. I don’t know why they wouldn’t demo these buildings after buying the land and putting up the nicer newer restaurant, but rest assured, this is not where the food is prepared!

Parking is ample, and all along a dirt & gravel road/lot. We got there around sunset, and there was a good-sized crowd.

The weather in May is quite mild, so the outdoor seating was prime real estate. Luckily we had several things going for us: there weren’t many people there, local or not, because it was a Sunday. We got there right around 7pm, the kitchen closes at 9pm. And there wasn’t live music until after dark, when several more tables full of people began showing up.

I totally loved this glass, and also really enjoyed drinking a beer from my old home state (Colorado’s Coors) out of a mug offering such a lovely tribute to my new home state.

cheers to a great lunch at the Straightaway Cafe

Cheers!

Now, about the food…

Slammin Salmon Sandwich $12

I was a little leery about trying seafood in a mountain town, figuring it must certainly be frozen, but for some reason I was craving salmon. And a salmon sandwich for $12 was something I couldn’t pass up. Boy, am I glad I didn’t!

They were very generous with the fish, there had to have been at least 6 ounces of salmon on the bun! And it was cooked perfectly for me, just slightly charred on the outside with a sticky sweet sauce. It was flaky and tender and awesome. I didn’t love the tartar sauce, but then I don’t like most creamy dressing like sauces. The tomato and lettuce and onion added a nice touch though.

Fried Buffalo Chicken Wrap $10

Hubs got the Buffalo Chicken Wrap, as boys will do. At least they included some spinach in there, to make you feel like you ate some vegetables! The chicken definitely tasted like frozen store-bought chicken tenders, but man, can we talk about how awesome this buffalo sauce was?! It was awesome. I don’t know if it came from a bottle or not, and I don’t care, it was good.

Speaking of good, the fries were also pretty fantastic. They were the thick cut kind, where they are nice and soft and chewy on the inside. We both inhaled them, and then were sad when they were all gone. They were just slightly not salty enough for me, which means most normal humans would enjoy them or find them slightly too salty 🙂

Right after our food was delivered, a local guitarist hopped on stage for a set. The lights came on, the amp was turned up, and we all sat back to enjoy dinner and a show. He played some covers of classic rock and country songs, as well as a few originals. The music overall was not too loud to drown out normal conversation, and added to the laid back atmosphere.

Unfortunately we didn’t realize there was a whole giant field behind the stage as well! I took a walk after the first set, to use the bathroom and check out the inside of the place. There is a large field just behind the stage, where there were people sitting at picnic benches, tossing frisbees, kids on swings, and what seemed to be a volleyball court!

The inside was darkened for ‘mood lighting’ I assume, and there are two large rooms with an adjoining door and a bar in each one. The bartenders were chatting, as the inside was considerably emptier, and they all smiled and waved. They pointed out the restroom door before I could even ask where it was. The walls were covered in typical bar memorabilia of license plates, neon signs, jerseys, etc. Everything appeared clean and well maintained.

Straightaway Cafe Rocks
From the rock garden with each staff’s name painted on one, it is clear that they all think “Straightaway Cafe Rocks”!

The waitress was adorable, and clearly a local girl paying her way through school or some such. She was very friendly and sweet, and gave us recommendations of things we could do in the area. Hiking seem to be a very popular attraction! Go figure.

We also started up a conversation with a few tables around us. One was a table of 3 older women who were all living in the area, one of them originally from Asheville. They all wore tie-dye clothing and seemed like a blast to hang out with. Another young couple near us was doing a cross-country road trip, and this was their 13th state in 2 months! They were planning to go to some organic farm in Utah to work for a few weeks next. It was quite the story.

 

Overall, I’d give the Straightaway Cafe:

  • Taste: 8 – not a very extensive or creative menu, but all the food tasted quite fresh and was way better than going to bed hungry!
  • Atmosphere: 9 – the view alone was worthwhile, and I’d be happy to sit there all day and night. The music was a bonus.
  • Value: 7 – obviously, you need to already be in the area, otherwise this is a bit of a road trip for diner food. Most items were typically priced of restaurant fare, $8-13, and was more reasonable than comparable places we later dined at in Asheville proper.

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

Restaurant Review: The Saucy Crab

 

The Budget Epicurean has a new home base, y’all! We have up and moved across the country from the lovely shores of New Haven Connecticut, to the woodsy Research Triangle mecca of middle North Carolina.

Why would you do this crazy, exhausting thing you ask?

Oh so many reasons… cost of living is way lower, taxes are incredibly cheaper, the people are super nice, the traffic is less terrible, the weather is a vast improvement, the Research Triangle is nearby with oodles of tech and scientific career opportunities…   need I go on?

So yeah, we did this crazy, expensive, exhausting thing and drove 12 hours the weekend before Thanksgiving to a new house with no furniture, heat, or hot water, and promptly hosted 9 people for the holiday. Because we are crazy people and have a reputation to protect as such!

While North Carolina does have a long stretch of seafront property, one does not normally think of the interior of the state as having good seafood. At least, when I think delicious seafood, I don’t think of Duke University… So when we were out and about exploring our new home, and saw a place called “The Saucy Crab” we just had to stop in and check it out.

saucy crab map

Nestled just off of 501 next to the Rooms to Go and across from the South Square shopping center, it sits on a hill looking over the highway almost exactly halfway between Durham and Chapel Hill. Google Maps refers to it as a “quirky hangout with shellfish & beer” and that is indeed what we found.

The Saucy Crab outside

With a tan stone exterior and a dimly lit, beach themed interior, it seems to have the quirky hangout part nailed.  Since we just came from the New England area of the East Coast, it was fun to see their beach theme, complete with upside down beer buckets as lamps over the beachy picnic tables.

The Saucy Crab inside

There was a large canoe hanging from the ceiling, beer bottle lanterns and chandeliers, and more beach decor scattered throughout. There were oars, and life preservers, and wooden crabs all over the place.  The crab is obviously their chosen mascot, and they have repeated the motif throughout.

Drawings on the walls

The tables are covered with butcher paper, and there are buckets of crayons on each table to encourage creativity.  We of course took advantage of these as we waited. And if your drawing is good enough or the wait staff takes a liking to it, you might end up on the wall! There are tacked up pictures all over, mostly of various renditions of the crab but also many other talented drawings.

I wonder if mine was good enough to make it on the wall? Guess we will have to go back and find out!

Budget Epicurean crab drawing

We got lucky, and early on a Saturday we had the place to ourselves. The waiter promptly took us over to a booth towards the back, and we knew what we wanted pretty quickly.

I ordered the sturgeon basket lunch special, and my hubby got the “surf and turf” as he put it; a burger with shrimp on top, also known as the “Saucy Burger”. Their lunch specials a great, under $10 for your fried main dish of choice and it comes with slaw, hush puppies, and potato wedges (which is really what their “fries” are, just FYI.)

spicy popcorn

And guys… they bring you spicy popcorn while you wait! Instead of chips and salsa or bread sticks, this place brings you a lovely bamboo bowl of endless spicy popcorn! Beware, it does have a bit of a kick. But it is addictive for sure, and healthier than most other pre-dinner snacky options. Plus it gives your hands something to do if you aren’t feeling your creative side and don’t want to color. 🙂

The fried sturgeon lunch basket

The food came out hot and fresh in about ten minutes, super fast. Of course, like I said we were literally the only people in the place. But it was clear that it had all just been cooked to order, not pulled out of a freezer and flash fried again. The slaw was slightly sweet and just the right amount of crunch, though the cup was super itty bitty. I would have like more of it, it was so good.

The hush puppies don’t look like much, but they were delicious! The corn bread was also a little sweet, and fried perfectly. The honey butter was amazing with them too. And the breading on the sturgeon and potatoes was light and crispy, fried just right. Of course, this is not the place to go if you’re trying to eat light and healthy! But once in a while, boy what a treat! And that sweet tea, mmmmm mmmm God Bless the South!

the Saucy burger

Hubby’s burger was slightly too cooked for my liking, but he said it was awesome. The burger meat plus big juicy shrimp was a strange combination for my brain to handle, but it was tasty. He even left the lettuce on, bless his heart! And the shrimp were cooked to perfection. A big melty slice of cheddar on top brought it all together.

Their special sauce was super tasty too, it was like a thousand island dressing, but with tartar sauce added; thick and creamy and tangy. It was great for dipping the fries in honestly! He didn’t use the mustard at all, though I have a suspicion it was just knockoff regular jarred mustard so I don’t mind.

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More shots of the interior decorations, and below is a larger room in the back which seems like it can be rented out for bigger parties. They also had a stage area set up with huge speakers, so it seems like maybe they do live music sometimes? While we were there a mix of country songs was playing, which I loved but hubby wasn’t too pleased. So hopefully you enjoy country music with your seafood! I thought it was a nice blend of ocean and southern feel.

20161203_115533

The bathroom was red and black and yellow, which was a little arresting when you first walked in. One sink had the faucet missing too. But it was large and clean, and there was plenty of toilet paper and paper towels, which is the truly important part.

 

Overall, I’d rate The Saucy Crab:

  • Taste: 7
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Value: 8

 

The food was good, but I’m not a huge fan of fried things. The menu is a little limited too, but that’s to be expected from a place that specializes. I’d like to go again and try their crab, since that seems to be their pride and joy.  The atmosphere is very chill and fun, this would be a great place for a big family, a group of friends, or just a place to hang out and relax.

It felt very comfortable, I’d definitely bring a big group of people here for a fun night out. And the seafood is fairly priced, with great lunch specials. I think we nailed it by being there right around opening time on a Saturday. I’m not sure how crowded it gets in the evenings, but at least it is large enough to accommodate a pretty decent crowd.

 

Have you ever been to the Saucy Crab?  What did you think?