Restaurant Spotlight: Poole’s Downtown Diner

Jason Tomaszewski has an intimate relationship with mac and cheese.

In the five years he’s spent working in the kitchen of Poole’s Downtown Diner, Ashley Christensen’s flagship restaurant on McDowell Street in Raleigh, he’s sure made a lot of it. Now the sous chef at Poole’s, he’s probably logged hundreds of hours elbow deep in the stuff.

How much time do you spend in front of your computer? How much time to do you spend with your spouse? Tomaszewski probably spends more time with mac and cheese.

Interior

As we sit at the bar on a recent Monday night at the restaurant, shortly after closing time, Tomaszewski is describing the very physical task of preparing the dish. He gestures in broad sweeping motions, stirring an invisible vat of pasta, incorporating the invisible cheese. I have to smile as he becomes more and more animated. He’s talking about cooking noodles, but what I’m really hearing and seeing is how much he loves his job.

And you know what? He should. It’s a pretty cool gig after all, especially when you consider that Tomaszewski started out working for Ashley Christensen not as a chef, but as a dishwasher. That was at the now-closed Enoteca Vin, where Christensen was executive chef until 2008 when she left to start a new restaurant—Poole’s.

Enoteca Vin was the place where Tomaszewski realized he had an aptitude in the kitchen, where he worked his way up from dishwasher to line cook, soon gaining the respect of Christensen.

Poole’s was the place where he found his footing as a chef in his own right.

He’s now been at Poole’s for five years, and while yes, yes, it’s true he makes a lot of mac and cheese, he also makes a lot of other phenomenal dishes, many of which use Raleigh City Farm produce. Squash! Lettuces! Oyster mushrooms and carrots! These are just of a few RCF ingredients which you might spot (and taste!) in a dish—classic or novel—at Poole’s.

In the course of our conversation, it became apparent that Tomaszewski loves vegetables, the fresher the better. In the same conversation, though, it also became apparent that he loves meat. Like, really loves meat. And butter. And brioche. Actually, he is not very particular when it comes to the types of food he likes, as long as they’re well-prepared. This is the kind of guy I want cooking my dinner.

Before I let him go, I asked Tomaszewski if he might leave me with a recipe for Brown Butter Pistachio Vinaigrette, so that our readers could satisfy their cravings for a Poole’s kind of meal even when they couldn’t make it to Poole’s.

Tomaszewski’s recipe would feed 50 (2 pounds of butter!!!) so I have adapted it for a more reasonable number of servings.

Enjoy!

Interview

Below you’ll find my adaptation of Tomaszewski’s recipe. I’ve made a few slight changes. His recipe calls for Banyul’s wine vinegar, but at $26 a pop, I subbed cheaper sherry vinegar and found it to work well. I also added honey because I add honey or something else sweet to all vinaigrettes. But that’s my personal preference. I’m not a purist. I won’t apologize.

However you make it, there’s no way you won’t love this. Thanks a million to Jason Tomaszewski and Poole’s for generously sharing it!

 

Recipe

Ingredients: 

1 stick of butter

¼ cup pistachios, finely chopped by hand (or pulsed in a mini food processor)

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

¼ cup canola oil

Minced shallot, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon honey (optional)

Brown the butter:  Place stick of butter in a light-colored skillet over medium heat. I say light-colored so you can tell when the color starts to change. (Do as I say, not as I do.) Swirl pan from time to time so that the butter heats evenly. The butter should begin to foam, and the foam will turn from white to yellow. You’ll begin to see little brown specks at the bottom of the skillet: these are the milk solids cooking before the rest of the liquid does (it’s okay!) Finally, the butter will begin to smell nutty and turn a golden brown. Remove it from the heat.

Pour brown butter into a heat-proof bowl to cool a bit.

In a mason jar or bowl, combine butter with all remaining ingredients. Shake or stir.

Use. On. Everything!