Durham, N.C. — Matt Kelly, the frenetic, big-bearded, salty-tongued owner of Durham’s Mateo, is sick of butternut squash. “We love it, but we’re like, ‘Yo, let’s move on.’”
This culinary wanderlust is at least part of the reason that Matt’s Five Points tapas restaurant has been buried in buzz since even before it opened in 2012.
The menu changes frequently, save for a few signature dishes. Although the menu and ingredients are in constant flux, Matt doesn’t want to be a flash in the pan. The Culinary Institute of America grad also co-owns Vin Rouge and spent 10 years in the kitchen there. At both places, he says he’s after solid relationships both with his customers – he takes criticism to heart – and local food growers.
“We’d like to be open for another 25 years,” he says. “We don’t want trendy places. We want places that are really going to make an impact, a place people can know they can go and know what we’re about.”
Signature Dishes Matt’s after a Southern-fried Spanish vibe at Mateo. Here are two dishes that fully embody the ethos.
- Alemeja Pequeñas – manila clams with sherry, garlic, ham and boiled peanuts. It’s modeled after a similar dish served at a restaurant in Barcelona. That recipe calls for pine nuts, but Matt wanted to “redneck this up,” hence the peanuts.
- Huevo Diablo, a chorizo-wrapped deviled egg. Enough said.
Let the knowledgeable servers at Mateo guide you toward the kind of experience you want. A good rule of thumb is to order two or three dishes at a time, not everything all at once. That can be overwhelming, not to mention overload your table. Oh, and reservations on the weekends are a must. This place is jumping. “We’re incredibly humbled and blown away by the response of Durham to our idea,” Matt says.
Editor’s Note: Mateo’s Matt Kelly is one of 20 chefs who will be featured at the Grand Taste Experience on April 23 at the Durham Armory. It’s part of the Taste event series. Tickets are $95 and are available at Taste 2015's website. A portion of proceeds will go to the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern N.C.