Durham, N.C. — Meet us at 6:30 p.m. at this Durham location, bring your own beverages and bring your appetite. While that's not Snap Pea’s June Underground pop-up details verbatim, they certainly read this way.
The pop-up concept has that underground feel to it. It feels like a speakeasy, where the location doesn’t look like a restaurant. To add to the mystery, the invitation included a cryptic-looking reCAPTCHA image (you know, the funky letters and numbers you have to type in to some websites to prove you are in fact a human being before buying something) of the building's address.
The mystery continued when I arrived to the appearance of an abandoned building. Outside two garage doors are slightly open and voices could be heard on the other side. When I walked in the building, the voices became familiar and understood. The other guests were waiting in a large room. The building's rooms were dark, like blank artistic canvas or a theatre’s backstage. While a little more was still to be revealed, there was still a feeling of an underground mystery.
Soon we were ushered to a long table with settings for dinner. As everyone seated introduced himself or herself, the next question asked wa “do you know what’s for dinner?”
Rectangular menus were soon placed on the table revealing six sets of ingredients and 12 numbers surrounding them sequentially.
Chef Jacob Boehm soon revealed the menu's theme - a palindrome. This meant the main ingredients in the first course would be the same as the last, the same in the second as the eleventh, and so on.
The menu and shared key ingredients:
- Courses 1 and 12: Chickpea, Almond, Egg
- Course 2 and 11: Parsley Salad, Blackberry, Goat Cheese, Crispies
- Course 3 and 10: Corn
- Course 4 and 9: Okra, Tomatoes, and Crème Fraîche
- Course 5 and 8: Chanterelle, Radish, Cashew
- Course 6 and 7: KFB
In addition to an imaginative menu design, Boehm has a wide culinary range. This was clear in the first course - an amuse bouche featuring a macaron made with chickpeas , which really helped give it a Greek/Mediterranean flavor.
Each course that followed was just as stellar, though there were a few to note.
- The fourth course, which had different tomato varieties on crème fraîche topped with crispy okra. The mixture of textures, acidity and fresh tomato seemed to come together so well. The okra’s preparation took away the sliminess okra has, instead giving it a crunch and saltiness similar to a plantain chip.
- Course 5 and 8 were notable for the high-priced chanterelle used in the recipe. It gave its courses an earthy and fruity taste.
- The first of the KFB, which stood for Korean Fried Broccoli in course 6, had a sweet chili taste with crispy texture, cool coconut cream sauce drizzled, and a leafy celery stalk.
- The corn panna cotta in course 10, the first dessert course, was interesting with the other corn items.
In addition to the great food, there was the added bonus of watching plating take place nearby. For someone who enjoys watching chefs at work, it was truly an added bonus.
Also, I noticed everything seemed vegetarian and gluten-free. For someone who is an omnivore, it was refreshing to have something taste great without meat.
Another thing that set this dinner apart from other pop-ups, you can bring your own beverage. The invite even has suggested wine pairings for the meal.
Snap Pea Underground dinners happen monthly and are always different - from the location to the menu.
The location is revealed a day or two before, which gives you time to plan your route. Before signing up, you can mention dietary constraints and food allergies.
The takeaway I have with pop-ups is both the chef and the guest walk away challenged. The chef pushes their comfort zone, while I push my palate’s comfort zone.
The Wandering Sheppard aka Arthur Sheppard covers food truck news in the Triangle on his blog WanderingSheppard.com.