Hat’s Off to the Chefs

Seriously. I’d be lost (and uninspired) without them


By Billy Eye

I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called Mother and Child Reunion. It’s chicken and eggs. And I said, I gotta use that one. — Paul Simon

Although I’ve become adept at making a darn good Thanksgiving dinner, I am otherwise a lousy cook. I much prefer eating out to having Pepto-Bismol for dessert. That’s why I’m so excited about what’s happening on the 600 block of Battleground Avenue near Deep Roots Market.

I’m talking about MACHETE.

The brainchild of San Francisco-transplant Tal Blevins, MACHETE is not just another casual gourmet eatery. It’s an experience. Their philosophy? “Food should not only be delicious, it should also be creative, evoke memories and be a communal experience.” Start with fresh, farm-to-table ingredients. Add novel accents from the best cuisines on the planet: Asian inflections from miso, green Thai chili and ponzu sauce, European hues from foie gras and roasted olives; or good old, local favorites — country ham and chicken livers. But that’s just the food. “This is not a restaurant,” they insist. “This is our home; you are not our customer, you are our guest.” Easy to say; hard to do. Judging from my recent visits, however, Blevins — who grew up in Greensboro, went to UNCG, then moved to San Francisco (where he lived for 20 years) — actually pulls it off.

That’s because MACHETE was dreamed into existence in Blevins’ own home, where he hosted communal meals for friends and family. Word spread. Friends invited more friends, and once the gatherings outgrew his house, Blevins acquired the space formerly inhabited by Crafted: Art of the Street Food. Somehow, in some way, MACHETE has been able to preserve that dinner party feeling. And through the trial and error of feeding his friends, he’s been able to come up with a menu that features innovative combinations of international ingredients blended with fresh viands from just down the country road — cheeses from nearby dairies, freshly picked produce and savory, locally cured meats, like Lady Edison ham out of the Chapel Hill area.

Blevins is not discarding the farm-to-table moniker, “but that farm may be in Argentina.” His use of fruity aji amarillo chile peppers is a good example. Or sushi-quality hamachi (Japanese amberjack).

Diners are encouraged to order several different menu items to share amongst themselves. “It’s kind of like Thanksgiving every day,” Blevins says. “We want people to have a little bite of this, a little taste of that, and be able to try a bunch of different flavors.” My favorites? Wagyu tartare. And the Brussels sprouts — charbroiled, no less, with triple chocolate malt.

It’s a casual atmosphere with a large, open patio for dining al fresco and an impressive bar that serves “very modern but approachable” cocktails and aperitifs with some unexpected blends — gin, cucumber, lemon, jasmine and eucalyptus, for instance. “We want to have some ingredients where people will ask, ‘What the heck is that?’” Blevins says. “That they’ll drink it and go, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never tasted anything like that before!’”

MACHETE fans are looking forward to a time in the near future when the restaurant can start hosting large, communal dinners again. “Diners can mingle, make new friends, and talk about new flavors and experiences,” says Blevins. Where else can such fascinating conversations take place? San Francisco, perhaps, which was the inspiration for much of the vibe and food, along with Kevin Cottrell (executive chef), Lydia Greene (chef) and Andy Schools (beverage director): “They bring together that modern cuisine I miss from San Francisco,” Blevins says.

* * *

The Big P shuttered some wonderful restaurants and devastated countless others. Still, new eats continue to pop up. Like Old San Juan Bar & Grill, adjacent to the corner of Tate Street and Walker Avenue, which is serving traditional Puerto Rican fare. Located in the space previously occupied by Pedro’s Taco Shop, it’s the only Spanish eatery in town that I know of. I’ve sampled a few delicacies during what was a long, soft opening in May. I’ll reserve judgment until they’re fully open, but the El Cubano sandwich was marvelously flavorful.

If you live or work downtown, then perhaps you’ve discovered The Bodega — right across the street from the Carolina Theatre — where an amazing array of freshly prepared sandwiches are offered Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:30–4 p.m. Downtown finally has a proper sandwich shop again, and by that I mean a place where I can find a genuine roast beef sandwich. And with its lovely shaded patio and beers on tap, what more could you ask for?

For over 60 years, Bernie’s Bar-B-Que on Bessemer, a genuine, circa 1960 hole-in-the-wall diner, has been serving what I consider to be the best vinegar-based shredded pork, coleslaw and hush puppies in town. They also offer two daily specials, Carolina comfort foods like beef tips and gravy, meatloaf and chicken fried chicken. Plus, they serve banana pudding the way grandma made it.

You may also find me at Embur Fire Fusion (love their Pollo a la Brasa and pizzas), Cafe Europa’s Wine Wednesday (I’ll have the Steak au Poivre), New York Pizza on Tate (food’s better than ever and, occasionally, it’s the hippest bar in town), Sticks & Stones, El Camino Real, Fishbones, Sunday brunch at M’Coul’s Public House, Freeman’s Grub & Pub for brunch, Carniceria El Mercadito for its authentic tacos, Saigon Cuisine (once a week at least!), Nazareth Bread Company (if you haven’t been, you must), Bandito Burrito, Sushi Republic and Lucky 32.

Most of all, Eye will be enjoying breakfast and lunch at Chez Genèse again, always my first choice for either meal. It’s not just the delish dishes that draw me back — it’s the tranquil surroundings, a relaxing place to start the day or recharge whenever Eye need a break from pounding these keys. OH

Billy Eye is O.G — Original Greensboro.

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