Gastronomics: The year in food

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Agni Indian Kitchen & Bar

by Eric Ginsburg

There really is no competition: The leading food-related pieces we ran this year were two bits of news we broke about restaurant expansions in downtown Greensboro. You heard it here first this year: 1618 is opening a third location and Crafted is expanding to a new restaurant with a different theme.

The most popular, straight-up food review though? An article about Agni Indian Kitchen & Bar, a new restaurant near the airport that was already packed when we first showed up, apparently sent people into the hinterlands in droves. Ethnosh, a Greensboro-based organization celebrating local restaurants with international cuisine, later held a smash-hit event there.

Our second most popular restaurant review this year was actually our very first, printed on Feb. 26 as Triad City Beat initially hit the streets, about Mission Pizza Napoletana in Winston-Salem. And it isn’t just because the owner Peyton Smith is a great guy — the food is superb.

And third but not least, a review of the new Kirkwood Kitchen & Bar off Lawndale Avenue in Greensboro garnered significant traction, and I heard from several people that they checked it out afterwards and were impressed.

Yet as the year ends, several other food experiences from 2014 are at the forefront of my mind. Three big events stand out in particular — eating with the Next Supper underground dining collective in Greensboro, the Mac & Cheese Fest at the Old Winston Social Club and a Winston-Salem Dishcrawl, which I’d rank in that order.

Bandito Burrito's tacos
Bandito Burrito’s tacos

It wouldn’t be right to ignore the taco-truck battle in Greensboro’s Center City Park, where Bandito Burrito bested El Azteca with Asian-style tacos with chile soy pork, bean sprouts, jalapeño and Thai peanut sauce, or the Right Wing Brew Fest at Guilford County Republican Party headquarters. And then there’s Brian’s excursion to Fire in the Triad, which led to a follow-up trip to champion Marisol.

This year held plenty of surprises, like showing up at 1618 Wine Lounge to try the cocktails for our Barstool column and leaving thinking about the house jam on the cheese plate. And I arrived at Slices, a pizza place by UNCG, with low expectations despite a friend’s recommendation, only to be thoroughly impressed by the Italian sausage sub on homemade bread.

Some of the standouts were new restaurants, places good enough that it wasn’t just the initial excitement of a new venue that helped them firmly implant themselves in my mind. Joints like Jaribu, which is based in Winston-Salem but opened a second location where they sell mostly vegetarian and vegan Jamaican food in Greensboro, or the calming arrival of Vida Pour Tea on Greensboro’s State Street made a splash this year, too.

But overall, the most memorable restaurants may be the stalwarts, the institutions that I didn’t personally know before by virtue of growing up 750 miles away. Before this year, I had never tried the unique homemade pasta at Pane e Vino, the delectable shumai at Mizu Japanese or the simple joy of chicken tikka masala at Golden India — three restaurants not far from Wake Forest University.

I was unfamiliar with, though I had heard tell of, the flaky magic of the Biscuit Factory in High Point, cheap sandwiches at Washington Perk not far from UNC School of the Arts or the unmatched pita and crave-worthy shawarma at Mooney’s Mediterranean Café in downtown Winston-Salem.

The moral of the story? Even when it’s your job to try new places, there is still an endless bounty of fantastic, widely varied new food options out there in the Triad. And if all of that could be crammed into less than a year of holding down the beat, I can only imagine what I’ll discover 2015.