I had read a lot about chicken livers lately, and while I'm a fan of paté, I felt unsure about liver on its own. So the fried chicken liver and waffles on special at Local 22 seemed like an ideal place to finally put that mystery to rest.
I'm still not sold on them, but I love how Local 22 made them. Like the other fried items on this menu, they were dipped in a hearty but not heavy batter, darkly cooked but not overly crisped, the inner morsel still quite moist.
The livers were perched on collards cooked with ham hocks, the greens among the best I've ever tasted, perfectly salty in their seasoning and highly acidic. This made for a righteous juxtaposition with the subtle sweetness of the cheddar-and-green-onion waffle that served as the base for this masterpiece, complete with molasses butter drizzle.
Local 22, a bar-slash-kitchen, or kitchen-slash-bar, depending on your priorities, is trying to join the other kids on the block: traditionally Southern but inventive, local but worldly, groovy but unpretentious.
Though it might seem like there's not enough "local" to warrant the title of this place, in the end, another (super) elevated eatery could be entering the Bull City's food scene.
Some highlights: Variations on mac and cheese ($7) change often, but the version made with smoked Gouda, cheddar and truffle oil is an ingenious recipe. This was Velveeta-grade creamy, without having to eat Velveeta.
The duck confit with Beluga lentils, grapefruit lardons and frisée ($18) topped with creamy bacon dressing sang, and again the interplay between the acidic touches of citrus with the rich fattiness of the duck and dressing was masterful. The portions erred on the generous side, which was nice.
The regular menu items looked solid enough, and their version of a Cuban, the "pressed pork" sandwich ($12) with country ham, house pickles and Swiss, looked so appetizing from afar that we had to check it out: not mind-blowing, but solid.
The flatbreads had potential, but the price points made me wary. I didn't want to spend $15 on the prosciutto with baby arugula, house-made mozzarella, farm tomatoes and pesto, when the specials, for a few more dollars, looked far more appetizing and far less like something I could make at home.
For dessert, the pecan pie ($6.50) my husband shamed me into ordering (nuts ruin dessert, I always say, especially a good brownie) proved to be the best I've ever tasted.
Though the staff was incredibly friendly and capable, there were the typical tribulations of recently opened restaurants. The kitchen was out of the tots and sweet potato waffle fries, which the waitress unfortunately divulged were purchased rather than made in-house.
Local 22 is trying to join the ranks of Durham's funky-seasonal food scene. Even if it isn't quite at the level of some other eateries striving for the same mojo, it could be.
This article appeared in print with the headline "A-minus for effort."