As I mentioned in my last post, Durham, North Carolina has become somewhat of a “Foodie Town”.  Perhaps youth-driven, vis-à-vis the college town influence of nearby Duke University,  or by virtue of the fact that Durham is enjoying the growth and prosperity of the so-called “Research Triangle”, this quaint southern town is not lacking in good places to eat.   The “Research Triangle”, a term coined to identify both the academia populations in the area (Duke, UNC Chapel Hill & NCSU) and the high-tech industry which is prolific in the Tri-City areas of Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill.  This triangle has an educated, worldly and monied population that appreciates and can afford fine dining. So, over the course of the past 4 years, I have consumed many fine meals while visiting my now Duke-graduate son.  Today, I thought I’d share one of those eating establishments with you.  It is called MATEO | BAR de TAPAS.

Tapas at Mateo | Durham, NC | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

If you know me, you are aware of my Spanish heritage: my dad was born and raised in Spain.  Since he was with us on our recent trip to Durham to see his grandson graduate, it was decided that this Spanish Tapas Bar would be a perfect place to have dinner one night.  It would be my second visit, having gone there previously.

Mateo Bar de Tapas | Durham, NC | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Mateo Bar de Tapas is housed in an old Book Exchange building in the heart of downtown Durham. It features a menu that blends the flavors of Spain with ingredients and dishes of the South: Spanish with a Southern flair. Appropriately, and since the thermometer was already pushing 80 degrees in early May, we started our Tapas at Mateo culinary adventure with Sangria.  I love Sangria and prepare it often all summer long as a refreshing warm-weather thirst quencher.  At Mateo they offer both a red and a white wine Sangria. We opted for the red version, which they term CHEERWINE SANGRIA.  My daughter-in-law, a died in the wool Southerner, informed me that Cheerwine is a cherry-flavored soft drink produced in North Carolina.  So, as an ode to the south, and a departure from the authentic, Mateo adds Cheerwine to their Sangria in lieu of the typical soda water. With the addition of seasonal fruit and basil, it was quite delicious.

Sangria at Mateo Bar de Tapas, Durham, NC | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Others in our party opted to try Cava, the sparkling wine of Spain.  The wine list at Mateo is extensive and features a wide array of Spanish wines from various regions of Spain.  They offer a huge selection of Sherry as well, and claim to have one of the most extensive Sherry offerings in the United States.

Tapas at Mateo | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Photo Via

The word “Tapas” is believed to have been derived from the Spanish verb “tapar” which means “to cover”.  In Spain, the original tapas were nothing more than slices of bread, perhaps with the addition of a slice of Chorizo (Spanish Sausage) or Jamón Serrano (cured pork similar to Prosciutto) that was placed on top of glasses of Sherry served in Spanish Bars.  This was done for two reasons: to discourage flying insects that were attracted to the typically sweet Sherry wine, but also to encourage patrons to purchase more drinks after having consumed salty snacks.  Eventually, bar owners began creating a variety of specialty snacks, which in some Tapas establishments became as important and popular as the Sherry being served.

Tapas at Mateo | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Photo Via

People eat dinner very late in Spain, in fact, most restaurants don’t even open until 9:00pm.  So Spaniards often eat tapas after work and before their late dinner.  There are entire neighborhoods in many Spanish towns that are devoted to Tapas Bars.  People bar hop, walking between Tapas establishments that are often known for a particular tapas specialty.  It would not be uncommon for a Spaniard to visit 4 different Tapas Bars in one evening, having a drink and a tapas or two and then moving on to the next bar.  In northern Spain where my father is from, they sometimes call Tapas “Pinchos”.  Pinchos refers to the toothpick used to keep several items together. This Pincho at Mateo features Chorizo, Manchego Cheese and pickled vegetables.

Pinchos at Mateo Bar de Tapas | Durham, NC | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Spaniards use a lot of garbanzo beans.  I grew up eating them frequently and love them.  I have noticed of late that “Fried Garbanzo Beans” are making an appearance, but frankly, I have never seen them on a menu in Spain.  In any case, they are delicious and are offered on the menu at Mateo, listed as GARBANZOS: crispy chickpeas with moorish spices.

GARBANZOS: crispy chickpeas with moorish spices | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Mateo offers typical bar-style seating from which to enjoy their small plates.

Photo Credit http://mateotapas.com/
Photo Credit http://mateotapas.com

Tapas at Mateo | Durham, NC | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Or one can enjoy dinner at tables placed against an upholstered wall of banquette seating, which is where our family was seated.  Everyone had a fun time in the lively, casual atmosphere, including our oldest and youngest sons……

Tapas at Mateo | Durham, NC | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

as well as our little Granddaughter, with her developing Spanish pallette.  She thoroughly approved of the cuisine.

Tapas at Mateo | Durham, NC | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

A procession of small plates was shared by all, including this REMOLACHA ASADA:  roasted beets, peas, local goat cheese, oranges and hazelnuts.

Mateo Bar de Tapas | Durham, NC | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Everyone loved the HUEVO DIABLO: deviled egg encased in chorizo sausage: delicious.

HUEVO DIABLO | Mateo Bar de Tapas | Durham, NC | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

One of my favorite things to eat in the world is Croquetas, which are made from mashed potatoes rolled in bread crumbs and fried.  They are frequently on menus in Spain.  Here at Mateo they make their CROQUETAS with locally sourced piquillo cheese.  They were also quite delicious.

CROQUETA with piquillo cheese | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Another one of my favorite foods is Bacalao, or salted cod fish.  Mateo makes their BACALAO with pickled ramp, tomato confit, lemon and pine nuts and serve it with slices of crusty bread.

BACALAO salt cod, pickled ramp, tomato confit, lemon, pine nut | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

We ate another very typical Spanish dish, PATATAS BRAVAS: fried potatoes with two sauces, one an alioli, the other a spicy tomato sauce.  They were then dusted with a smoked Spanish paprika.

PATATAS BRAVAS | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

We also ate GAMBAS, the word for prawns in Spanish.  These prawns were prepared in olive oil with garlic, chili, lemon juice and parsley.

GAMBAS | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

CALAMARES FRITOS are a very typical dish served in Tapas Bars.  At Mateo they encrust them in a semolina batter and serve them with a piquillo tartar sauce.

CALAMARES FRITOS | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

I ordered this dish they call FIDEUÁ de CAMARONES.  Fideos are short angel hair pasta and, in this case, they served them with rock shrimp, chorizo, salsa verde and an alioli saffron sauce.

FIDEUÁ de CAMARONES | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

The menu at Mateo is quite extensive and this is just a small taste of their offerings.  For dessert, we shared FLAN which was delicious and authentic.

Flan & Churros con Chocolate | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

To be honest, the CHURROS & CHOCOLATE were, shall we say, a departure from what you would find in Spain.  Their motto at Mateo, Spanish Heart / Southern Soul definitely came into play here, as these churros and chocolate bear little resemblance to those served in Spain.  If one wants truly delicious and authentic Churros con Chocolate they must go to Madrid and have them at Chocolate San Ginés.

Chocolateria San Gines | Madrid, Spain | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

Only then can one appreciate the wonderfulness of truly authentic Churros con Chocolate.  If you’d like to learn more about eating Churros in Madrid, here is a link to my previous post entitled Chocolateria San Ginés – Churros & Chocolate in Madrid, Spain.

Chocolateria San Gines | Madrid, Spain | www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

So, there you have it, Tapas at Mateo and a little lesson in Spanish cuisine.

PS – The folks at Mateo Bar de Tapas don’t know me, I just like sharing places I enjoy. 

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