I am so glad to give Fiction Kitchen a place in Come-Eat-With-Me. One of the hallmarks of a great city is its multitude of culinary diversity. Downtown Raleigh is still working on this, and Fiction Kitchen certainly gave it a boost when it opened its doors in 2013 as Raleigh’s first 100% vegetarian restaurant. It’s a funky little spot in the warehouse district with a lime green storefront. It’s hard to miss and even if you’re not a vegetarian, you wouldn’t want to miss it. Caroline Morrison and Siobhan Southern used Kickstarter to crowdfund their goal of $36,000 to buy restaurant equipment and bring their vision to life after doing local pop-ups and cooking for the famous late Cooke Street Carnival in years passed.
I fell in love with a drink on their menu very early on called Dirty Beetz. It’s homemade beet infused vodka with citrus. It is a strong competitor to J. Betski’s Beet Jammer. It’s hard to say which one is better–they’re both so damn good. I usually always begin a meal at FK with a Dirty Beetz and this one was no different. Their fabulous bartender, Sarah, even remembered that it’s my favorite drink as I used to be quite a regular. While we waited for our table, she asked if I was ready for a Dirty Beetz. Such great service. I ❤ great service. It’s what separates a meal from a dining experience. Thanks, Sarah. They have lots of creative craft cocktails that are seasonally inspired, so be sure to check those out.
Their name is clever as it describes many of the dishes. They’re fictional meat. FK does a really stellar job with this. Their unbelievably flavorful chopped barbecue coats your mouth with what feels like fat just like real barbecue, their tinga tacos have a texture that makes it hard to differentiate from real shredded chicken, and probably the most convincing fictional dish on the menu is the fried chicken and waffles. I remember bringing one of my girlfriends, Sheila, to FK years ago. Sheila is definitely not a vegetarian, and she is delightfully Southern. She ordered the chicken and waffles, and looked at me after taking a few bites and stated, “you’re trying to tell me that this isn’t chicken?” So, bravo on the execution, FK. They are focused on locally sourced ingredients, and while there are some things that stay on the menu year round, they switch it up to feature seasonal dishes.
On this particular night, I actually decided to pop in because I saw a photo of the “scallop” appetizer on Instagram and realized how long it had been since I had eaten at FK. So, scallops are one of my all time favorite foods. A perfectly seared scallop would be on the menu of my last meal if I had to choose. I love scallops so much, I have to admit I was a little reluctant to try this appetizer knowing it wasn’t a real scallop, but I was so intrigued at how well they did making it look like an actual scallop I had to try it. Just look at it! If you didn’t know you would totally think it was a scallop. It was a trumpet mushroom served with seaweed and rutabaga puree, and it was absolutely delicious. The rutabaga was creamy and really made this dish taste like comfort food. We also had the kale cakes, which was served with a minty herb dressing, and pickled beets with what may have been labneh. These were super yummy and also total comfort food. Now that I think about it, this place is very different from many vegetarian restaurants because it has so many comfort food style dishes on the menu. Considering how the owners are both Southern, I am sure that was the point. One of my favorite dishes that I didn’t have on this visit is their curry bowl. Their homemade yellow curry is so good I think I could eat it drizzled on ice cream. 🙂
I knew exactly what I wanted on this trip before I even got there. The tinga tacos. This dish has undergone some evolution over the years, and I am so glad they are back to using fresh cabbage on them rather than steamed. You guys know from my taco rants how passionately I feel about taco ingredients. Give me fresh shredded cabbage or give me death. Doused in Cholula.
Fiction Kitchen always has a new special Farmers Plate and a locavore salad that changes nightly. These locavore salads in the summer are the jam. They also feature a cheesy grit bowl during Sunday Brunch that is pretty amazing. You have to get the root vegetable hash on the side when you go for brunch. This is a perfect place to bring a vegetarian or vegan, or anyone who loves fresh, local food. Chef Caroline’s creativity constantly impresses me, and everything I have ever had here is absolutely delicious. Thank you, Fiction Kitchen, for being a pioneer in our little city and thank you for bringing this beautiful restaurant to downtown Raleigh.