One of the reasons I haven't reviewed home-town restaurants is I'm a creature of habit. I always go to the same few places. Since I'm a nice guy, I get to know the people at those places well. So it's hard to review my favorite haunts, and I never go anyplace new.
Well, almost never. Tonight, a friend suggested we try Patrick's Seasonal Cuisine. It's in North Durham: 4201 Roxboro Road, two blocks from the intersection of Duke and Roxboro. Durhamites may shudder when they figure out the location: it's one of those cursed buildings. I can't remember all the restaurants that have been through there. The earliest place I remember was Ole NC BBQ after they moved out of North Duke Mall (a.k.a. The Mall That Time Forgot [Thanks, Rob!]). Ole NC died after they moved (they later reincarnated back in the mall), and a succession of failing restaurants followed. Patrick's is the current tenant.
Patrick's was described to me as "Southern fusion." I think neo-Southern might be a better description, as fusion cooking makes me think of Asian influences and the U.S. West coast, but whatever. Patrick's definitely has Southern roots. The interior made me think of places I've visited in New Orleans, but the building hasn't been extensively remodeled. It's pleasant inside, with a welcoming foyer and bar. The large space is split up into more intimate rooms.
The menu brought out the restaurant's Southern roots, with items like a fried green tomato appetizer, fried chicken on mashed potatoes and gravy, and "My Favorite Dish (a.k.a. shrimp and grits)". Thank god they had sweetened iced tea: I don't think I could have stood a restaurant claiming Southern roots if they didn't have sweetened iced tea. Patrick's has a good wine selection, with many wines available by the glass. We had the pulled pork spring rolls (ok, maybe this is fusion cooking) with a peach dipping sauce. When I hear "pulled pork" around these parts, I expect something at least a little spicy. The rolls were adequate, but they needed some heat. I think the dipping sauce would have worked better against a spicier roll. But not bad, overall.
Second course: I had a Caesar salad. If the salad had been dressed more evenly and the croutons better, this would have been excellent. But the croutons were soft, anonymous, and slightly burned. The dressing was slight on the top of the salad, with too much at the bottom. I liked it at first, but tired of it and didn't finish it. My friend was happy with his potato soup with bacon and gorgonzola.
My friend had a jones for steak, so he ordered filet. The steak sub-menu lists an amusingly large number of ways to get potatoes with your steak: 10 or 12 variations, including mashed or french-fried sweet potatoes. The mashed potato mixture with horseradish was a good foil for the steak. The steak itself was juicy and tasty, and cooked as ordered -- a pleasant surprise. ;) The anonymous vegetable medley was unremarkable. Patrick's calls itself "seasonal cuisine," which I assume means some dishes, especially vegetables, will rotate according to local availability. I hope future vegetable sides can measure up.
My entree was the shrimp and grits. This was an ambitious Mexican-infused attempt: the traditional bacon was replaced with chorizo, the accompanying sauce was a "chipotle demi-glace," and there were small tomato chunks (tomato? WTF?). It worked pretty well, but not perfectly. I would leave out the tomato and crumble the sausage amongst the rest of the dish. But the sausage was flavorful and moist, the shrimp were properly cooked (not overdone), the grits were much better than run-of-the-mill, the mushrooms were substantial and tasty, and the chipotle sauce set things off well. I was happy overall.
Patrick's menu lists a number of desserts, including several sorbets. My friend was happy with his lemon sorbet. However, my strawberry shortcake didn't quite work. It was a standard assemblage of split biscuit, strawberries and whipped cream inside and around, topped with a bit of powdered sugar -- a classic, likeable dish. In this case, the berries weren't quite up to snuff: they were more white than red. The biscuit tasted fine at the start, but a chemical taste (leavening?) built up on the tongue -- not good. The whipped cream was the best part: although it tasted slightly different from what I'm used to, it still tasted good. The serving size was pretty large -- actually, that was the case with everything we ordered. The menu actually doesn't list strawberry shortcake per se; they indicate a seasonal shortcake, with the fruit changing according to availability. With a better biscuit and ripe fruit in season, I'd eat this all day. But I didn't finish this either.
Service was pleasant and attentive, with no gaffes or errors. We had a question about a sauce: it turned out to be the wrong thing due to a kitchen mistake, but it was only uncovered because the waitperson pursued the issue with more diligence than most waitstaff. She also offered to comp the errant sauce.
Entrees here run 9 to 15 dollars, except for some of the steaks. There are a selection of pastas and salads for lighter dinner portions, and there's also a lunch menu. Overall I was happy with the experience; I'll probably go back and make very different menu choices. I hope these folks can shake the location's curse.