There is a new restaurant on Martin Street in downtown Raleigh called Parkside. A few years ago, it was Brewmasters. A few years before that, it was Cherry Bomb Grill. Before all of that, for around 30 years, it was Joe’s Place. During the Joe’s incarnation, the neon sign that simply said “Restaurant” caught my attention as a Raleigh youngster. In the 70s the art deco-ish neon light stood out among the downtown Raleigh brick buildings — maybe even more than it does now.
The first time I actually went inside was a few years ago when it was called Brewmaster’s. I grabbed lunch there on a weekday during the mid afternoon. The food was ok. The service was ok. But, what really struck me was the interior, which was dated, dark, and dull, perhaps foreshadowing that the end was near.
I have now visited Parkside two times. On my first visit I had the Brie burger — caramelized onion, roasted red peppers, brie, arugula, tomato, and onion with a side of tots ($10).
The burger was cooked medium well with just a hint of char, just as I had ordered. The burger was well-balanced. All of the toppings were present in the overall flavor, but they were in service to the meat. The burger is as good as any Raleigh restaurant has to offer.
On my more recent Sunday visit I was craving something brunchy. I ordered the chicken waffle sandwich ($10) and a side of cheese grits ($3) with a coffee ($3) courtesy of Larry’s Beans. The coffee was flavorful but not as bold as Starbucks dark roasts.
The sandwich was stacked too high to eat without a knife and fork. Everything about the chicken was good. The meat tasted fresh. The breading was as good as it gets. It was crunchy enough to add texture without being difficult to eat, and had no hit of cooking oil.
The waffle was good but not great. It was cooked the right amount, and the texture was good, but it was a little bland.
The menu describes what I ordered as “fried chicken, rosemary-onion waffle, [and] harrisa maple aioli.” I did not taste rosemary, onion or harrisa. I did not taste or see anything that I would describe as an aioli. A small metal pitcher contained what tasted like straight-up maple syrup. Some greens came with the sandwich. They were fresh, but the taste did not match the sandwich. (Maple syrup on arugula?)
The cheese grits were also excellent, a great creamy texture with a deep rich cheddar flavor.
The chicken and waffle combination invites an obvious comparison with another iconic downtown Raleigh restaurant, helmed by a James Beard awarded-winning chef. I said in my 2011 review: “When you’re downtown and in the mood for chicken, the choice begins and ends with Beasley’s.” That is no longer the case.
I do have one other nagging complaint about Parkside, and I alluded to it in my comment about wanting something for brunch on my Sunday visit. The issue is this: Parkside has the Toyota Corolla of menus, good but not inspired, and not a lot of options. No menu item could be called a Parkside exclusive. The main course options are salads, flatbreads, burgers and sandwiches. There were no specials, and the lunch and dinner menus appear to be identical.
Overall, though, my Parkside experiences were positive. The service was friendly and sufficiently prompt and attentive. The décor has improved from the Brewmaster’s days. The seating area is brighter and seems more open.
Parkside was busy during both of my visits. The word must be out: the place on Martin Street with the iconic “Restaurant” sign is doing a good job of serving up traditional favorites.
301 W. Martin Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
Sunday – Tuesday 11 am – 10 pm
Wednesday – Saturday 11 am – 11 pm