Mateo tapas


Five Maudies – Highly Recommended

Cardinal Gin

Cardinal Gin

My brother-in-law and his wife, Anastasia, introduced me to this unbelievably wonderful restaurant in downtown Durham, North Carolina. I was passing through on my way to Washington, DC.

Mateo is a fairly new restaurant and it was packed on a Sunday evening. Reservations are a must any night of the week. It didn’t take long for this place to become a Durham hot spot.

Strictly tapas, at least for dinner, they also serve lunch. They are combining the finest in Spanish tradition with as much local food as possible and a serious nod to Southern cuisine. It is a fusion made in heaven. Everything we had was simply divine. Honestly, I couldn’t find fault with anything.

I am not a big specialty cocktail guy, but the past couple of restaurants I’ve been to with bars have made me realize that, in many cases, a specialty cocktail is like another food course. They are fun to try and introduce new and lovely taste combinations, just like a good food course does. Being a gin and tonic lover, I had one with Cardinal American Dry Gin, an artisanal variety distilled in North Carolina by Southern Artisan Spirits. The drink also had saffron infused Jack Rudy tonic, club soda, and a hint of orange. Jack Rudy is a small batch tonic made in Charleston, South Carolina. All I can say is, WOW, I want Cardinal Gin and Jack Rudy tonic at home.

Now, on to the meal. The food, along the great company of Hugh and Anastasia and a nice bottle of Spanish wine, made this a meal to remember. Each plate was large enough to give each of



us a generous portion. Listing what we tried makes for a nice sample of what Mateo has to offer. Our server, Cady, was excellent, her suggestions for what dishes to try were all spot on. We had:

Pan con Tomate – fresh bread topped with incredibly fresh minced tomato and thin slices of machengo cheese. I couldn’t believe how fresh the tomato was for January. This is such a simple dish, yet so tasty.

Coles de Bruselas – one of my top two dishes, this was a sinfully good combination of Brussels sprouts, Chapel Hill (NC) Creamery farmer’s cheese, migas (traditional Spanish stale bread dish), Bartlett pear slices, pecan vinaigrette, and pickled cranberry. Who thinks this stuff up? What a perfect example of Southern United States and Spanish fusion.

Jamon – a sampling of four Spanish cured ham slices with crostini. We choose Chorizo from Spain, Spanish Serrano aged 18-months, Lomo (from the loin) from Iowa, and Iberico (made from black Iberian pig) from Spain. The chorizo was spicy and the best I’ve ever had. The other three were excellent.

Gambas – North Carolina shrimp, olive oil, garlic, chili, lemon and parsley. Perfectly cooked shrimp combined with some of my favorite tastes.

Queso Frito y Huevo – My hands-down favorite and one of the richest morsels I’ve ever had, this is crispy manchengo cheese, duck egg, and black truffle aïoli. Unbelievable. The best part of a grilled cheese sandwich is always the crispy cheese that leaked out from between the bread and ended up in the pan. Imagine large slices of this. The duck egg and aïoli were so rich and decadent, you couldn’t eat much more than was served.

Specials board

Specials board

Rabbit liver pate – this was a special and Anastasia’s favorite, it came with a chutney made of greens, egg, and cranberry and pickled onions. If you like an assertive flavor, you will love this pate.

Mateo also has an excellent wine list of Spanish wines and a huge selection of sherries.

Mateo, like Frog Hollow Tavern, demonstrates how far progressive local food mentalities coupled with creative and expert chefs, have come, especially in the smaller markets. One doesn’t support these restaurants just because they support local and organic food production, but because the food is incredibly good. That is a win-win for everyone. Well, maybe not for agribusiness and franchises.


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