When restaurant dining rooms were declared off limits in March, owners pivoted to a variety of solutions, from delivery and takeout to bodega-style markets. Even so, many restaurateurs were forced to close their restaurants permanently.
In that environment, Jason Smith’s response to the pandemic was exceptionally daring: He reopened a restaurant that he had closed nearly a year before.
Well, sort of. What Smith actually did was to revive a selection of favorite dishes from 18 Seaboard, the flagship restaurant he closed last summer, and feature them under a special separate heading at Cantina 18. He dubbed this twin bill offering Curbside at Cameron Village.
The pandemic was just one of two major contributing factors to his decision. Ever since Smith closed 18 Seaboard, he heard from longtime loyal fans lamenting the restaurant’s loss. The decision to bring back its favorite dishes seemed especially fitting in this time of yearning for things we’ve lost.
For me, one of those things was 18 Seaboard’s heirloom tomato sampler. To this day, it remains one of the best — not to mention most generous — renditions of a seasonal offering that used to pop up on menus all over town this time of year. It had been nearly a decade since I last enjoyed the 18 Seaboard version, and I was delighted to find it listed recently.
That was all the inspiration I needed to place an online order for a nostalgic celebration of the 18 Seaboard offering — kicked off, of course, by the sampler, a feta-spangled assortment of brilliant reds and golds as carefully selected and perfectly ripe as ever. You can drizzle it with a little of the aged balsamic, or add a protein for a few extra bucks if you like, but I opted to enjoy these slices of summer sunshine in all their unadulterated glory.
Entrees live up to my memories, too.
Wood-fire grilled meatloaf still surprises with its smoke-tinged beefy flavor and texture closer to steak than the heavy slabs most of us associate with meatloaf. Served with sautéed spinach and goat cheese mashed potatoes, it’s the only meatloaf I can think of that I’m as happy to eat in summer as in winter.
Cracklin’ pork shank earns its name with a fist-sized knuckle of succulent meat encased in a satisfyingly crunchy crust. It’s served with poblano rice and refried beans now rather than the blue cheese grits I enjoyed nearly a decade ago.
The change is no doubt a nod to Cantina 18, whose Mexican menu I explored on another day. Given Smith’s track record, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Cantina 18’s offering doesn’t play second fiddle to the 18 Seaboard side of the menu. Highlights of my order included a first-rate chicken tortilla soup, adobo-glazed salmon and a rib-sticking beef short rib burrito.
In both instances, contact-free service was seamless.
I was also able to confirm that, once the heirloom tomato sampler is no longer available, you can find consolation in another 18 Seaboard classic: fried green tomatoes with homemade pimento cheese. But by all means, don’t miss the sampler if it’s still in the offing. These days, ephemeral pleasures take on extra meaning.
Curbside at Cameron Village and Cantina 18
433 Daniels St., Raleigh
Send me your experiences with restaurant delivery and curbside pickup at email@example.com. I’ll publish as many as I can (edited as needed for brevity and clarity) in this space.
Following North Carolina’s Safer at Home measures hasn’t prevented Sandy G. and her husband from exploring a world of flavors, from Thai to Italian to a gourmet birthday celebration.
“During this time, bringing in food is one of the highlights of our week. Recently, we felt like Thai food and saw that you had rated Thai 54 as the Best in Class. I was even able to find a review you made of the restaurant before COVID-19 when you and your wife went. So, we decided to pick up food there. Everything we had there was excellent.
“I had the Panang Seafood dish with the Red Chili sauce. It was delicious, and since my husband and I had visited Penang, Malaysia, many years ago, it was sentimental, too.”
“Last evening we ordered pizza from Vic’s on Lake Boone Trail and had Takeout Central deliver it. The pizza and delivery service were excellent. Thanks for your recommendation.
“On our anniversary and my birthday, we picked up food from Second Empire. The food was truly gourmet in every aspect. I had never had grilled quail as an appetizer. It was delicious. I had a seafood dish that was full of fresh seafood. The chocolate cake topped off a truly delicious dinner/evening.”
Thai 54: thai54nc.com
Vic’s Italian: vicsitalianrestaurant.com
Second Empire: second-empire.com
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