Fire in the Triangle, Night 4: Midtown Grille v. Ashten’s

Last night’s Fire in the Triangle was such delicious fun! When Noah and I got to 1705 Prime, there was already a large crowd of guests relaxing in the bar area, waiting anxiously for the competition to begin.

crowd 6/18/12

The dining room was beautifully set up and ready for the diners to take their seats.

The anticipation was killing me! I couldn’t wait to find out what the night’s secret ingredient would be. As the tables filled, we got a a chance to meet and chat with our table mates for the evening: one of the night’s official judges, Kristen Baughmann from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, who also blogs over at Visit Raleigh, Dathan Kazsuk from the Triangle Business Journal, and Maddie, a delightful young actress from Raleigh. (The other official judge for the evening was Fred Thompson from Edible Piedmont.) Together, we wondered what the secret ingredient might be. Some sort of vegetable? NC cheese? Dathan knew, but he wasn’t telling. Finally, the moment we were all waiting for- and the secret ingredient is…

Eggs! Duck, quail, and regular old chicken eggs were the ingredient of the evening. We were all interested to see how the chefs would make such a “normal” ingredient special.

Photo by Judy Royal

The first course of the evening was a Truffled Quail Egg with Tarragon, Mangalitsa Bacon & Mushroom Tart from Chef Matthew Hannon of Ashten’s. In the words of table mate Dathan, the “egg was so cute I didn’t want to eat it.” The presentation was lovely, and the components worked well together, but it was one of the less-flavorful dishes of the evening in my opinion. The tart base was borderline bland. However, in an informal poll of the surrounding tables at the end of the evening, this was the overall favorite dish. Goes to show you what I know!

Photo by Judy Royal

The next course was Smoked Duck Sausage, Asparagus, Crawfish, Duck Egg Hollandaise & Crispy Potatoes by Chef Scott James of Midtown Grille. This course was Noah’s favorite of the evening, as you’ll read in his recap. As soon as it was set down in front of him, he got a big whiff of the smoked duck sausage and tore into it. His eye widened as he exclaimed (with his mouth half-full, to my chagrin), “Man, this is good!” He has barely shut up about it since then. It also got lots of praise from our table and the surrounding diners. This dish was my favorite of the evening as well. The aroma was incredible, and enticed me to eat far faster than I should have. The hollandaise was a nice way to present the egg.

Photo by Judy Royal

The third course was the Rosemary Smoked Chicken Breast with Cornbread Tasso Pudding, Crispy Collards & Deconstructed Choron Sauce from Chef Hannon. The dish smelled wonderful and was plated beautifully. The crispy collard shards were a lovely touch. The chicken and accompanying sauce with this dish was good and perfectly executed, but were a bit on the boring side. Additionally, it was hard to tell where the egg was in this course. (It was in the Choron sauce, which none of us at our table were previously familiar with before dinner. It was an educational experience!) However, the cornbread Tasso pudding was just out of this world! By itself, it was my favorite food of the evening. I would drive quite a distance to eat a few of those delightful little pudding bites. Well done, Chef!

Photo by Judy Royal

By this point in the evening, my belly was getting perilously full! But when “Bacon and Eggs” is served, this Southern girl will eat. Chef James’ take on bacon and eggs was inventive: Bacon & Eggs with Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin, Pommes Dauphinoise, Red Wine Poached Egg & Chow Chow. The Chow Chow was absolutely delicious with the poached egg- I never would have considered this combination before, and now I’m plotting to add Chow Chow to our breakfast condiment line up, right beside the Sriracha and the Cackalacky sauce. The red wine poached egg was a first for everyone at our table, and we were all surprised by how unusual it looked and how tasty it was. The pork loin, bacon, and potatoes made for a heavy course, though- it would be great for a brunch entree, but was a little much for the fourth course of the evening.

Photo by Judy Royal

When the dessert courses rolled around, we all clutched our stomachs and moaned that we couldn’t possibly make room- but of course, we somehow managed! This course was Peach Cheesecake on Orange Grit Cookie with Brandied Apple Caramel, Pecan Praline Ice Cream & Hawaiian Sea Salt Florentine, by Chef Hannon. My, oh my- this dish was rich! Eggs are perfect dessert fare, and they were in every bit of this course. The pecan praline ice cream was divine (I’m dismayed and also relieved that I don’t have a gallon of this at home waiting for me.) All the elements individually were very tasty, but I felt the dessert was a bit overwhelming when combined- lots of prominent flavors all fighting it out in my mouth.

Photo by Judy Royal

The final course was also one mentioned frequently in my informal poll. Dark Chocolate Torta with Tamarind Gelato, Ginger Sabayon, White Chocolate & Lime by Chef James had a lovely aroma, and the cake was still a bit warm when we got it. The tamarind gelato was on the soft side (we heard tell of some issues with the freezer), but that didn’t affect the flavor- delicious!

Both chefs did a fantastic job, and the voting reflected that- it was a very close race (check out the official voting breakdown here), but Chef James from Midtown Grille was victorious! I feel like we won, too- we had a great meal with some lovely folks and added two new restaurants to our “Must Try” list. Thanks to Chef James, Chef Hannon, and their teams for their hard work and dedication (one of Chef James’ assistants cut his hand early in the day, left and got six stitches, and then came back to finish helping! What a professional!)

Many thanks to Jimmy Crippen and the Competition Dining NC team for having us, and for Johanna for letting us tell you all about it.

Noah’s take:

Yesterday, I went to a Competition Dining NC event!

My favorite course was the duck sausage. I also liked the asparagus and Hollandaise sauce that came with the duck sausage. I wonder if they serve duck sausage at their restaurant (Midtown Grille)?

I did not really like the desserts that much. For the last course, we had chocolate cake with tamarind ice cream. I did not like the tamarind ice cream, but I liked the cake itself.

Jimmy Crippen, the host of the competition dining series, hooked me up with a ‘date’ for the night. She was very nice.

My mom, nutellaisevil, and I also met a radio host named Kitty. Kitty asked me some questions last night and then we talked to her this morning, too.

The people I sat with were very kind and good company. One was a employee of the Department of Agriculture and  the other was a photographer.

Thank you Jimmy Crippen for having us at Competition Dining. It was a blast!


Gabrielle Kaasa is a partner in Succotashed. At Succotashed, our personal chefs offer in-home culinary education and event catering. Our mission is to create inspired, seasonal cuisine with simple, real, and delicious foods. Read our blog for delicious recipes, insightful articles, and helpful cooking tips. When she’s not in the kitchen, Gabrielle enjoys writing, photography, and adventuring with her partner, Bill, and son, Noah.

Noah Kaasa is a kid who loves good food and loves to talk about it. He is a rising fourth grader and lives in Durham, NC with his family.

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