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by Dustin K. Britt
July 22, 2018
Necessity is not the only mother of invention; sometimes a unique vision is enough to stimulate development. In 1985, long before before “going green,” “farm to table,” and “sustainably sourced” were part of the foodie vernacular, Irregardless Café introduced exclusively plant-based dining to the Raleigh area.
Founder, owner and chef Arthur Gordon has always been several steps ahead of the market. Irregardless was the first restaurant in the Tobacco state to go smoke-free, 25 years before lawmakers would ban smoking sections statewide.
Developing Arthur’s vision of community-focused and earth-conscious food meant collaborating with the Interfaith Food Shuttle, developing a catering division, installation of solar-powered kitchen heating, remodeling to match local trends, introducing an after-hours Jazz Supper Club, and establishing a 1.5 acre organic community garden nearby. Since 2012, the Well Fed Community Garden has supplied food to the restaurant, to garden volunteers, and to low income earners in the triangle area.
So what’s next?
In the first of what hopes to be a biannual event, Irregardless has teamed up with triangle-based theatre company Seed Art Share, managed by artist and educator Renee Church Wimberley, to create a dinner theatre series about food and health.
Well Fed, Well Said is a meal and a play--both in four acts--where the barrier between dinner time and showtime is blurred if not obliterated entirely. A four-course vegan meal catered by Irregardless and more than an hour’s worth of engaging live theatre is more than worth the $50 ticket.
Irregardless is the exclusive catering company for The Glenwood (formerly the Raleigh Women’s Club), whose open and varied interior and exterior locations make site-specific storytelling an apt choice for a theatrical venture.
Seed Art Share is quickly becoming well-known for its site-specific, immersive, and educational performances for triangle families. Wimberley calls these “moving plays,” the audience relocating between scenes and settings, tracing the steps of characters historical, fictional, and sometimes in between.
Held on July 14--Bastille Day--Well Fed, Well Said weakly grasps at a French theme with the menu, but it doesn’t hold up to close inspection. Nor does it need to. The supper and the three plays--co-directed by Carnessa Ottelin and Brian Yandle--are engaging enough on their own, no gilding needed.
At the evening’s start, jazz duo Melted Butter (Joe Wimberley and Tom Whelan) keep things smooth as servers make the rounds with hors d’oeuvres. Each of us has a more-bitter-than-sweet Italian cocktail, a Negroni, firmly in hand and sit in white folding chairs (this all feels like a wedding reception).
We are treated to Ian Finley’s short play, The Perfect Negroni in the intimate outdoor amphitheatre behind The Glenwood. This tragicomic out-of-love story was originally stirred up for last season’s On Ice, Seed Art Share’s original bar-hopping quartet of one acts performed along Hillsborough Street. Incomparable duo Julie Oliver and Dan Oliver return to play a bickering couple just minutes away from divorce when a handsome waiter (Byron Jennings) delivers a mostly unwelcome distraction: a negroni. The Olivers’ performances are more truthful than last season’s rendition and they are noticeably more comfortable and confident with the material.
As we make our way inside The Glenwood for the evening’s second act, we are each handed a cold salade niçoise served in a small jar. We are herded into a large foyer, where we enjoy the fresh greens, crisp marinated haricots verts, ripe cherry tomatoes, and acidic kalamata olives, sitting proudly atop a small pool of light, tangy dressing. Without a beverage or drinking fountain in sight, the tart, hardy salad is at once exquisite and hazardous.
Actor Byron Jennings reappears, no longer a waiter but making final preparations for a dinner date of his own. Beans & Greens is a palatable scene in which a suave Jennings cooks a vegan bean dish for his girlfriend (a bubbly Jess Barbour), who arrives anticipating a well-cooked steak. Barbour and Jennings have terrific chemistry--and that makes the scene worth savoring--but Finley’s text sounds more like he was given a school assignment: “write a 10-minute scene that shows that vegan food can be as good as meat.”
Entering The Glenwood’s ballroom for act three, we find a buffet, a cash bar, a sea of round tables with white linens and chairs, and a projection screen with French trivia (remember, it’s Bastille Day).
Irregardless has presented a gluten free, vegan menu as only they can: with enough variety and texture to make the stanchest carnivore grab their fork and say Amen. The mushroom bourguignon is the most inventive, certainly designed to appease those yearning for a heavy beef dish. This thick French stew combines a variety of mushroom species with a strong pour of red wine and hardy mix pois vegetables to create a robust umami flavor with a decidedly meaty texture.
Legume lovers are treated to a slow-cooked Provence bean cassoulet with soft cannellini beans, roasted (perhaps overly so) tofu, aromatic vegetables and fragrant herbs from the Well Fed Community Garden. Those looking for something more acidic will happily discover the ratatouille: brimming with eggplant, tomato, and peppers, all from the Well Fed garden. The saffron rice pilaf strikes as bland at first--set against the ratatouille and cassoulet--but its subtlety proves valuable when the ratatouille overwhelms the palate or a change of texture is needed. Steaming haricots verts and a chunky, sweet onion jam join the plate before we pour a glass of sweet ice tea and make our way to the tables.
Unassigned seating provides a rare opportunity to sit with old friends and make new ones while dissecting the meal and trying our best to Google the answers to the punishing French trivia questions (compiled by evil genius Will Van Deventer). We enjoy coffee and flourless vegan chocolate cake as Seed Art Share announces the winner of the raffle: tickets to Seed’s upcoming production of The Miracle Worker, another “moving play,” this time at Raleigh’s Fletcher Park, in and around the historic Borden Building.
Dinner cleared away, the evening grinds to a halt as Joe and Terry Graedon, hosts of WUNC’s the People’s Pharmacy, treat us to a barely-prepared, 45 minute powerpoint presentation on the physiological benefits of a plant-based diet. I cannot tell if I am attending a middle school biology class or a motivational speakers’ convention. Some attendees doubtlessly came just to see Joe and Terry, and I am sure they are enjoying the presentation very much. However, if the goal is to build fresh excitement and passion for healthy eating and engage with the arts and with our food, this is not the forum for vivid descriptions of pseudo-scientific “leaky gut syndrome.”
By now we have earned another new play by Ian Finley, based on tonight’s dessert: The Great Eggless, Flourless, Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Cake catches a glimpse of a mother preparing a birthday cake for her vegan daughter. Julie Oliver and Jess Barbour engage with the rhythmic mother/daughter banter nicely, while Dan Oliver’s grumpy, anti-vegan dad injects some added conflict. This play manages to connect with the evening’s menu without feeling like a gimmick.
If a new Well Fed, Well Said appears this autumn, I recommend that foodies mark their calendars, especially those looking to shake-up their dining routine. Theatregoers will find enjoyment only if they too are foodies. Otherwise, the costs may outweigh the benefits as this is amusing, bite-sized theatre for those who don’t typically attend it.
This well-attended and almost flawlessly-executed experience is like nothing else happening in this area. If you’re looking to “play with your food,” Irregardless Café, The Glenwood, and Seed Art Share have cooked up something scrumptious just for you.
by Travis Lassiter
February 16, 2018
When Eric Montagne stepped into Standard Foods, he came with a vision and passion. As a veteran of Boiler Room and Chef & Farmer in Kinston, Eric had already developed quite a reputation as a star chef, but was ready to take it to the next level. Hailing from Miami, Eric was raised with a farm to table mentality. Hunting, fishing, and cooking with his family was a way of life. At an early age, he possessed a deep understanding of fresh, quality ingredients and transforming these into works of art that bring people together. Eric used these talents to work his way up from dishwasher to sous chef, and eventually head chef at the Corner Restaurant and Martini Bar in Denver. This continued once he moved to North Carolina in 2014, and he began to delve deeper into the idea of sustainable artisan creations. He continues to dazzle patrons with inventive morsels taken from the world around him while staying true to his mission.
Standard Foods is committed to providing the best possible ingredients, while maintaining the smallest carbon footprint possible. They focus on local ingredients from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia by locating small family owned tier 3 farmers and helping them to distribute their products. With a focus on organic and non-GMO ingredients that spans from their meats to their cheeses, vegetables, and even peanut butter. These ideals help not only Standard Foods, but touches everyone they work with.
Eric's ideals encompass every aspect of your experience, and of course this includes the bar. They focus on small distributors, direct imports, and family owned businesses with 25-100 cases of production for wines. This allows for a unique selection with exceptional expressions of flavor profiles with a story behind them. Tuesdays they offer a mystery wine night with a flat price on a selection of wines picked by their in house sommelier based on your food selections. Did I mention that their beverage director is John Parra, who formerly worked with Foundation and Fox's Liquor Bar? This guy definitely knows how to fill a glass!
Standard Foods also offers 6 taps of local beers, which include Bond Brothers, Brewery Bhavana, and Full Steam with additional selections from Trophy, Foothills, and other craft NC beers.
As for mixed drinks, don't expect your typical bourbon and coke or olives on your martinis. You can get it dirty, but they opt for house made pickle brine and have no qualms about providing a unique experience
Standard Foods is constantly expanding their offerings both in house, and into the community. Out back is an expert run garden, which utilizes creative planting techniques such as mixing yarro with tomatoes to deter beetles and other pests to keep their ingredients pesticide free. These crops are used by the restaurant, and are sold to other local restaurants, and will be coming this summer to the Downtown Raleigh Farmer's Market. During construction, 2 tons of wood was reclaimed to build tool sheds and compost bins so nothing goes to waste.
An outdoor space is used for events which include oyster roasts, brisket cookouts, and private events. The space is available for weddings, private parties, and other shenanigans, and may be catered by Standard Foods or you can bring your own food and drink. Equipped with power for a DJ and lights, grilling area, and bonfire pit for up to 120 people, this makes for a great evening.
Then, there is the grocery side. Filled with local products including pasta, cheeses, butter, cleaning products, dog treats,and kombucha from North Carolina producers. In house selections include delectable ice cream sanwiches, take-and-bake monkey bread, and various other treats. Their in house butcher provides local chicken, beef, pork, fish, lard, rabbit, pheasant, quail, lamb, goat, whole animal, charcuteries, fermented sausages, and house made cold cuts, lard, and hot dogs. Upcoming plans include daily rotisserie chickens to pickup on your way home.
Do yourself a favor and make a reservation for dinner, stop in for lunch, or just pick up your own ingredients for dinner. You will not be disappointed!
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