Chefs can be innovators. Chefs can revitalize neighborhoods. Chefs can contribute to the community. Chefs can be gutsy, especially when they open a restaurant in smaller community.
Much like Vivian Howard, and her Chef and the Farmer showplace in Kinston, Kyle Wilkerson took a chance and opened Heirloom, A Poppa Paul Kitchen (a nod to his great-grandfather) in an old department store in downtown Roxboro.
And like Chef Howard’s place, the trip to Roxboro is worth a drive, thanks to his food made of North Carolina-driven ingredients, seasonally changing menus and his way of cooking Southern that’s whimsical, classic and modern.
I want to focus on Kyle’s blue cheese dressing. I love this stuff. He shared the recipe with me last year to use on a grilled romaine salad I did for “Carolina Cooks,” as part of a perfect grilled steak dinner for Father’s Day.
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The next day I grilled some chicken wings, buffaloed them and used the dressing for a dip. The combination was surreal. Instead of a big blob of dressing covering the flavor of the chicken, my bite was balanced between the acidic earthy sourness of the blue cheese and the heat of the wings.
This is the ultimate wing experience. But it is a salad dressing too. Kyle and his partner, Candace, have tweaked it a bit, her adding more vinegar, but the result is the same: a great dressing. Over a wedge of iceberg lettuce with some diced tomatoes and crumbled bacon, as Kyle serves it at Heirloom, it’s the perfect first course.
Most any hearty lettuce will work with this dressing. It does more duty as a dip for raw veggies. It certainty helps a winter tomato salad, can be stirred into mashed potatoes, and a little bit in a cauliflower mash is just plain awesome.
The ingredients are important. Duke’s Mayonnaise and Maple View Buttermilk have definite flavor profiles. You can use other brands, but it won’t be as bright as Kyle’s. Fresh lemon juice and chives are critical and cannot be substituted. Kyle uses a relatively mild blue cheese, but use one that you like.
Are you, or some one you feed a blue cheese hater? This dressing may surprise you. My daughter hates blue cheese and turns her nose up at the mere mention of the stuff. But give her a wedge salad with this stuff on it and she magically dismisses her hatred of blue cheese. It really is that good.
Ok, still not convinced? This can be a good base for a ranch dressing (forgive me, Kyle). See the adaptation below.
Eating, whether at home or in a restaurant, should be fun and sometimes an adventure. Get out of town and check out the new faces of the North Carolina food world. They are everywhere from Roxboro, Hillsborough, Rocky Mount, Kinston, the Triangle and beyond.
Fred Thompson is a Raleigh cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Serve with: Definitely with an iceberg lettuce wedge like Heirloom. Perfect over romaine or Nana Steak-style with Bibb lettuce. The gold standard is with chicken wings, the perfect balance between the dressing and the taste of the chicken. Believe me, you will find plenty of uses.
To drink: With wings – a beer or bourbon. For the salads, you can get away with a light red wine or Sauvignon Blanc.
Kyle’s Blue Cheese Dressing
2 cups crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup Maple View Dairy Buttermilk
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Texas Pete or to taste
1/2 cup Duke’s Mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup thinly sliced chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine the blue cheese and buttermilk in a large mixing bowl and let sit for an hour.
Add the remaining ingredients and stir until well combined. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. I like to do this a day ahead. Store refrigerated for up to a week.
To make ranch dressing: Eliminate the vinegar and use only a 1/2 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. Add a 1/4 cup of sour cream. Keep the chives and add 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley, and a couple of tablespoons of fresh tarragon, some dill, minced garlic to taste, salt and pepper. Now you have a ranch dressing that will add to your wing enjoyment or dress a salad.
Yields: 3 cups