"Don't be mad when you fall in love with me." Antonia Caldera, chef at the Levin Jewish Community Center tells me this as she wraps tinfoil over a small cup of cheesecake and puts it in my hands. Truth be told, I already felt endeared to her when I was given a small bag of buttery, highly addictive rugelach samples she made, filled with brown sugar and cinnamon.
Cheesecake and rugelach are just two of the items she's been churning out in preparation for the Center's 2014 Jewish Food Festival. Although Caldera has been the JCC's chef since late April, cooking kosher delicacies like challah bread and cinnamon babka, she is not Jewish. "I've actually been very embraced by everybody," says Caldera, who also owns and operates the Sweet Sins Bakery in Durham.
Advisory board member Phillip Seib has been impressed by her skills. "I've been buying babka here for two, three years," Seib says to Caldera. "The first week you started cooking, I was like, 'Is the other chef still here?' There was really no transition or change."
Rentals and events manager James Hepler presides over the festival menu, which includes bialys, babka, lox and chocolate egg creams. "Basically, from dish to dish, I would research its origins," says Hepler, best known to Triangle music fans as the drummer for I Was Totally Destroying It. The menu, which also consists of meals cooked by volunteers, is broken down by geography. "We tried to do kind of Eastern-European, sort of Mediterranean, North African, Middle East and, then, New York—what I call 'the Neil Simon menu,'" Hepler says.
Last year, the Center did a small-scale festival as a test run, attracting 800 people. "Basically, we were looking for a community-wide event that would engage beyond the JCC community, the broader Durham-Chapel Hill community," says advisory committee co-chair Bryna Rapp, who's hoping the fest will bring in people from Raleigh this year. "We saw that a lot of Southern, Jewish community centers had food festivals, and it was a big draw. And it was a way for them to raise money for their scholarship funds."
Proceeds for the festival will go to need-based scholarships for JCC memberships and the Center's Camp Shelanu. Considering the rookie mistakes they made last year, the organizers have changed pricing and food options. "Last year, our brisket—the little brisket sandwich—was $12, and we didn't make any money on it," says Rapp. (This year, the brisket sandwich will be $5.) "That's what it cost for that kosher meat. And, so, because the goal of the food festival, beyond bringing people together, is to raise money for scholarships, we needed to offer both kosher and non-kosher options. And we wanted people to be able to try the pastrami and try something that's $5, or at an affordable price." —Craig D. Lindsey
NEW APP PROVIDES RESTAURANT GRADES
As much Urban Spoon as it is Upton Sinclair, NC Food Inspector, a new web-based app, gives users the dish on the sanitation of every restaurant in Durham County.
NC Food Inspector (ncfoodinspector.com) provides the health scores for more than 700 restaurants in the county, allowing its users to decide whether that greasy spoon they were thinking about trying is, in fact, too greasy.
The app, designed in Durham, lets users search restaurants by name or by location using a semi-interactive map. In addition to listing all of the health scores a restaurant has received, it allows users to see the inspector's notes.
"Maybe a restaurant got points off for something that normally comes about, or maybe it's something more interesting like they found a roach," said Colin Copeland, lead developer of the app. "Now you can see which it was."
Working tech jobs by day and sorting through public data by night, Copeland and a team of seven other people spent seven months developing the app. While optimized for mobile devices, NC Food Inspector is not a mobile app.
Andy Krzmarzick, one of the app's developers, said NC Food Inspector was inspired by Durham's title: "Tastiest Town of the South."
"We wanted to go beyond our title," Krzmarzick said. "NC Food Inspector is about holding local businesses accountable and providing greater transparency."
NC Food Inspector is the first app to be released by Code for Durham, a nonprofit organization of volunteer civic hackers working to make public data more accessible. Copeland and Krzmarzick both serve as co-captains for the coding brigade, and though they already have plans for several new apps, they will continue to add to NC Food Inspector.
The name is admittedly "aspirational" as it currently only serves one of North Carolina's 100 counties, Krzmarzick said, but this won't be the case for long. Copeland has already started adding data from Wake County and said he expects to complete that project within the next month.
Copeland said he also plans to add and improve certain features of the app. —Sam DeGrave
CLOSINGS: REVENUERS SHUTTER LOS COMALES; FIRE DAMAGES 118 GOT SOUL
Both locations of Los Comales, a popular Durham taqueria, are now closed after the business failed to pay more than $180,000 in taxes, penalties and interest.
Los Comales De Durham LLC has five liens against it, the oldest of which dates back to 2008. Three of the liens were issued by the North Carolina Department of Revenue and total $180,183.05. The other two liens come from the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina and total $2,042.35.
The revenue department closed the restaurants at 2103 Roxboro St. and 3511 Witherspoon Blvd. on May 28. Over the next week, state officials will finish taking inventory of the business' assets in preparation for auction, according to Trevor Johnson, public information officer for the Department of Revenue.
The auction date will likely be set in the next week or two. Los Comales has until the auction to settle its liens before the NCDOR sells all of its assets.
Los Comales Owner Braulio Angel Rubio did not return phone messages by press time. —Sam DeGrave
First came the firefighters, and next arrived the ServPro trucks. Like it never happened? Apparently not: A sign on the door of 118 Got Soul says the eatery is closed until further notice. Over the past several months, there have been several fires at the downtown restaurant. —Sam DeGrave and Lisa Sorg
NEW AND NEW TO US
Have an upcoming bash and need some home brew? A nano-brewery, Bear Creek Brews (919-200-3930, bearcreekbrews.com) just south of Pittsboro in rural Chatham County, specializes in small-batch ales and wheat beers. You can also track them down at Sanford Second Sundays, a monthly arts, food and crafts fair held downtown. The next event is Sunday, June 8, beginning at noon.
In other beer news, on the heels of Growlr Grlz in Durham, Brand, a new growler filling station, is coming to a former BP station at 1710 Center St. in Apex.
Elmo's is opening Cafe Symmetry in the former Panzanella space in Carrboro.
This Saturday, June 7, before you head to the INDY's Best of the Triangle party in Durham Central Park, scoot over to Moore Square in downtown Raleigh for the seafood festival, N.C. Fresh Catch (ncfreshcatch.com). It runs from 1–7 p.m.
Last night, Raleigh City Council and the Raleigh Historic Development Commission discussed designating The Mecca Restaurant, 13 E. Martin St. (mecca-restaurant.com) as a historic landmark. The building was constructed in the 1800s. Nick and Helen Doumbalis opened the eatery in 1935; their grandson, Paul, and his mother, Floye, have run it since 1990. Check the INDY's news blog at indyweek.com for updates.
Set a reminder for Wednesday, June 18, at 7 p.m., when DishCrawl hosts Raleigh's Restaurant Crash Course. Participants will tour three restaurants—a secret to ticket holders until 48 hours before the event. Vegetarian? Let DishCrawl know so the chefs can accommodate you. Tickets are $45 and available at dishcrawl.com/raleigh. Follow them @DishcrawlRDU. —Lisa Sorg
Making the grade
Most recent inspection scores for select durham eateries
Mateo bar de tapas: 95
Bull City Burger and Brewery: 98
Geer Street Garden: 93
Cocoa Cinnamon: 96.5
Beyu Caffe: 93.5
Taberna Tapas Diner: 95.5
Daisy Cakes: 96