“I think we missed our turn.”
“Um…hold on. I think this is it. Does that say Franklin?”
Somewhere on the 2nd page of Trip Advisor’s 2015 Best Raleigh Restaurants list, dangling below even Chik-Fil-A (what the actual fuck…?) you’ll find a listing for J. Betskis. A mishmash of Polish, European and German food with a dark, old-world almost gothic feel.
“Just two of you today?” the hostess inquires.
“Yes, but I think we’ll sit at the bar,” looking for approval from my beau.
Take a seat at a not-so-empty (and never empty) L-shaped bar. Peruse the varied and impressive drink menu including smoked beers – a magical alcoholic beverage that invites your palate to wonder if there’s Essence of Bacon or a full-blown bonfire in the bottle.
“Do you like beets?” the bartender asks me.
What an odd damned question.
“I do,” I answered, a bit taken aback.
He pours a sampling of something he had just shaken up into a small tasting glass for me.
I don’t do liquor, normally. Not that I don’t enjoy it on occasion. It just turns me into Black Out Thera. Much too reminiscent of my senior year in college and too many vodka and pickle juice shooters. Wait, what?
I take a sip. I taste earthy, spicy, tart, boozey but not overpowering, a little sweetness. Altogether, a neck-snappingly unique drink the likes of which I’ve never had before then and never had since then.
“Holy shit, what was that?”
“A Beet Jammer. It’s our house-made beet-infused vodka, spiced ginger ale, some other stuff, a twist of lemon…you like it?”
Do I like it…pfft. Mother fucker, I’m about to drink four more of these.
“I do. I’ll take one!”
If it already took me this long to describe how I arrived at my drink choice, you already know how I felt about the food.
The charcuterie and cheeses are absolutely gorgeous. They are the perfect prelude to whatever you’re going to order for dinner, which, by the way, skip getting a table (unless it’s outside, evening waning to dusk and it’s a bit windy…the flames in the lamps make these knocking noises that are ethereal) and just go to the bar. It’ll probably and hopefully be Henry tending there. If it’s not, you’re still bound to get amazing service.
Also, aside from your appetizers and drinks, skip the menu. In fact, tell them I sent you (which will result in them looking at you like a dumbass because they don’t know me there) and hand the menus right back. Trust me.
Sitting at the bar, no menus…ask what the specials are. The specials always have been more eclectic and tasty than the menu items, hand over fist. That’s not to say what’s on the menu isn’t spectacular…because it really is.
The specials are going to feature some things you may not be comfortable with…in-season fruits and vegetables combined with words that have accents and funny dots over them. You may see the words “fennel” and “spaetzel” and most likely “pierogi”. Try them! You’d be surprised how many things sound gross to your brain but make your tongue do a little dance and make a little love.
Duck with lingon berries (the most aerodynamic of berries), pierogi stuffed with squash, pumpkin and brown butter with a sexy, gooey cheese, sauteed greens with truffles and leeks? All of it. In my mouth.
And oh, dear readers…don’t think you’ve read all this way for me to not bring you around to dessert. I’m not even a dessert person, really. *gasp* The horror, right? But I eat dessert at J. Betskis. Even if I have to unfasten the top button of my pants, albeit a bit ashamedly, I EAT THE GODDAMNED DESSERT. EVERY TIME. Why? WHY?!
(photo courtesy of J. Betskis – Raleigh, NC)
That, my dearies is the chocolate-hazelnut torte with sea salt, caramel and crispy bacon. MOTHER OF GOD. I’ll wait while you clean yourself up…
This thing is like, “holy shit, is that Charlie Hunnam…shirtless…wait, naked?! On a firetruck? Having just rescued a family of dogs and their puppies? Water…nope, sweat gleaming on his pectorals in the sunshine?!” (sorry guy readers…couldn’t conjure something for you…something something Ronda Rousey…?)
Yeah. Hazelnuts + chocolate + caramel (I don’t even fucking LIKE caramel) + sea salt + bacon… Just order it. Don’t order it by its name, by the way. ‘Round these parts, the term of endearment we use is “The Baconater.”
To round the whole experience out? The crowd that frequents Betskis is just as geeked about the place as I am. Chef/owner John will come out if you happen to close the place down (which…I mean, pssht…we’ve NEVER done) and BS with you until you really do have to go home. We shared an incredible dinner with a sweet couple over conversation and they PAID FOR OUR ENTIRE MEAL. I mean…who the hell does that?
In a Nutshell
- Don’t miss the turn.
- Don’t get a table – grab the bar, hope it’s Henry.
- Ditch the menus. Your bartender knows what he’s doing.
- Eat, drink, eat more and drink more.
- Order the damned Baconater.
- Thank me later…or now in advance.
- Don’t drink and drive, tip well, go back often.
J. Betskis in Raleigh, North Carolina. Worth traveling hundreds of miles to go.
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