Fire in the Triad: Marisol Vs River Birch Lodge // Battle Midnight Moonshine #CompDiningNC

Read this blog for a nightly recap of Fire in the Triad posts to stay in the loop. You can also follow me on twitter @niksnacks and the hashtag #CompDiningNC for live updates during each battle (The next dinner begins May 30 at 7pm). Please also "like" Competition Dining on Facebook and on the web.
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Lucky Number Seven. The PENULTIMATE preliminary Fire in the Triad dinner took place Wednesday night, between two Fire in the Triad newbies, Chef Tim Thompson of Marisol in Greensboro and Chef Travis Myers of River Birch Lodge in Winston-Salem. The first sold out dinner of the season, this night was sold out well before the competition began three weeks ago. Both chefs have been watching Competition Dining since last summer and came ready to win the dining public over with their creativity and plating skills. These charming fellows won over the crowd with just more than their tasty food. The Empire Room in Downtown Greensboro was definitely the place to be!

Local celebrity guest judges were Lauren Melvin of WFMY 2, Rachel Hoeing of Triad Moms on Main and Patrick Sanecki of GTCC. Meet the real celebrities of the evening below. Click on their names for video introductions:

(left) Chef Tim Thompson of Marisol; (right) Chef Travis Myers of River Birch Lodge

Be sure to check out Fire in the Triad companion pieces in local alternative weekly paper, Yes!Weekly, on newsstands now! Week One Recap AND Week Two Recap

One note about the nightly featured ingredient: It's always Got To Be NC and all of the products on the mobile pantry truck are North Carolina products. It is indeed possible to eat seasonally and locally as witnessed by the whole of Competition Dining. Some products are more popular than others. Some are even taboo. Tonight's featured ingredient used to be taboo, but now it's on the shelf at your local ABC store! Junior Johnson's Midnight Moonshine.

Pork Belly, Blueberry Moonshine Vinaigrette, Baby Spinach, Honey Crisp Apples, Almond Butter
THIS. This pork belly was one of the best pieces of pork I've ever eaten. Alternating layers of skin, fat and meat, this part of the dish was perfect. The skin: salty, crispy, crackly. The meat: sweet, succulent. The fat: unctuous, melty. I wanted to take it on a date, treat it to a nice glass of wine and ask it all about its hopes and dreams for the future. I dreamt about this pork belly last night. No lie. Now, the vinaigrette must have soaked into the apples because I really didn't detect much alcohol or blueberry 'shine flavor. No almond butter for me, but after asking about it from other diners, no one was wowed by its addition to the plate.

Pork Sausage, Strawberry Tarragon Moonshine, Strawberry Moonshine Syrup, Ginger-Strawberry Moonshine Slaw
One of the more aromatic dishes of the night, the 'shine in each component was detectable and delectable. The pork sausage was well-made and the crisp crunch of that first juicy bite was excellent against the blend of ground meat redolent with the pungent tarragon. There was a subtle sweetness in the sausage, moonshine syrup and the slaw. Oh boy, that slaw! Full of sharp, spicy ginger it was mellowed by the strawberry moonshine and one of the best slaws I've ever had.

Duck, Mascarpone Risotto, Oyster Mushrooms, Moonshine Blueberry Gastrique
The second most aromatic dish of the night, the blueberry gastrique scent was very piquant. It was thinly streamed around the plate so it was difficult to pick up its nuances and its deliberate intention. The duck was a little too rare for me and it seemed a little gamey, but the mascarpone risotto was the star of this course. Unfortunately, it was cold when it reached my lips. Fortunately, it was thick, rich and creamy; I wished there was more of it. I was tempted to take forkfuls of others' plates.

Duck Breast, Blueberry Moonshine Gastrique, Sweet Potato Bacon Salad, Whole Grain Mustard & Honey Glaze
Dueling the third course's duck, this duck was softer, more medium than rare. The sweet potatoes were a little underdone and mealy, but there was bacon, so that made everyone happy. Introduced to more thinly streamed gastrique, I was disappointed in this showcase of moonshine too. The mixing of the honey and mustard glaze with the gastrique was delicious, but there was no distinct and upfront use of the 'shine, in my opinion.

Strawberry Shortcake, Crème Anglaise, Mini Cathead Biscuit, Strawberry Moonshine Confit, Strawberry Sorbet
I'm a sucker for anything with a biscuit. This biscuit was so tiny. It was a tease. A flotilla island in the center of an expertly executed crème anglaise, the biscuit was soft, tender and everything you love about a homemade biscuit. The strawberries were a little too tart and the sorbet had already started to melt when it hit the table, so the presentation was a little disappointing. Presented on a plate, it should have been in a bowl, to be able to scoop up that wonderful crème. 

Strawberry Moonshine Butter Cake with a Berry Moonshine Compote, Strawberry Moonshine Ice Cream, Blueberry Moonshine & Pepsi Mixer, Candied Peanuts

This course was so beautiful, I let it sit for a few minutes to take in its beauty. Sans peanuts for me, it was all anyone could talk about for more than a half hour. The disc of butter cake tasted like something I'd make myself. Tender, sweet, golden and buttery, the swirl of Pepsi soaked into the top of the cake and the berry compote had started to soak into the sides and the marriage of the two made for a great piece of cake. Upon the first taste of strawberry moonshine ice cream, I was in love. It accentuated and tasted every bit like strawberry moonshine should. A lot of love, time, care and attention was given to each component and I was happy to taste ever bit of it.

By the light of the moon, it was Chef Tim Thompson from Marisol who showed his skills with the white lightening of the Piedmont to win Battle Midnight Moonshine.

For a score breakdown and chef-by-chef photos and additional information and ticket sales for Fire in the Triad, please visit Competition Dining.

Chef Thompson joins the club ranks with Chef Gregory John of Greensboro Country Club as the battle for the best chef in Greensboro, the Triad and the world goes on. Thursday night is the last preliminary round of Fire in the Triad with Chef Christian Froelich of WS Prime in Winston-Salem versus Chef Creighton McNeil of Liberty Oak in Greensboro.

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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