Primal, owned by Tim Lyons of Blu Seafood, opened in Spring 2014. The restaurant’s cuisine is a step above the paleo diet– they serve dairy products, for example. However, everything is gluten-free.
The dining room is quite attractive, with wood paneled tables, intricate lighting fixtures, and greenery. The place was quite bustling on a Thursday evening. Sticking to the paleo theme, I thought about providing cave paintings instead of photos, but my fingers got too sore. So we’ll stick with the photos this time.
The kitchen cooks much of their food over hickory and oak logs, and the interior decoration matches this act.
This amazon rainforest turned hostess station is the first thing you’ll notice if you walk in through the correct door…
Unlike in my case, since I entered through the bar entrance. I was quite impressed by the bar, with its hanging filament bulbs and green tiling.
Our first starter: the Bacon-Wrapped Dates ($7.50). Thick, soft, applewood bacon curls itself around the palm fruit. Thankfully, the dates are seedless so the whole dish can be eaten without interruption. The savory and sweet package wades into a warm pool of sherry vinaigrette, balsamic’s more elegant cousin. This was excellent.
The Grilled Octopus ($9.50) is served chilled, with slices of the mollusk as spokes on a wheel around a hub of olives, shaved fennel, and lemon. My only request is that the grilled octopus be handed right off the grill, still warm and smoky. Octopus being one of my favorite foods, though, I was content.
This is the Primal Salad ($7). A pile of greens deserving of the restaurant’s namesake is joined by hand-shaved coconut, spiced almonds, and honey vinaigrette. The tropical fruit is piled on, creating a snow-capped Everest of greenery. I wish more salads came with coconut.
The Grilled Romaine ($8.50) is a spice-rubbed piece of lettuce with a greek-yogurt dressing and plenty of bacon. Wow. The romaine is smoky with a robust wood-fired flavor while still maintaining its crispness. Grab a sharp knife and fork to carve up this dish like a chunk of meat. Get ready to smile.
The NY Strip Steak ($21) is slathered in a sweet bacon-onion jam and herb butter. This piece of meat is cooked over a wood flame, branding it with those criss-cross grill marks. The steak is very tender with several stalks of grilled asparagus.
The Braised Beef Short Rib ($20) is tender and delicate, not even needing a knife to navigate its juicy interior. It sits atop a pillow of polenta with chunks of mirepoix and crab gremolata on top. The crab flavor, usually a highlight, was lost in this dish.
The Baked Sweet Potato (Loaded, $6) is fantastic. With sour cream, bacon, cheese, and chives, this dish defies our expectations of what the tuber can do. This collection of savory toppings brings the sweet potato, much healthier than its white counterpart, into the latter’s realm. The crispy skin on the outside suggests it is also prepared over a flame.
For dessert we had the Poached Pear ($7), served cold with a red-wine cinnamon glaze. The cinnamon is coarsely-ground and adds a lot of flavor to this dish. Vaguely reminiscent of an apple pie flavor, this dessert is beautifully plated. A slate of pecan brittle rests on the fruit. This required a great deal of force from a sharp knife to finally cleave it into bite-sized pieces.
The Coconut Ice Cream ($7.50) is a completely dairy-free dessert since it is made from the milk of the coconut. Don’t have a cow, however, it’s still very flavorful. A piece of grilled pineapple is draped over two generous scoops of the dessert. Some pistachio bits and honey join the mix. Since there is no actual cream, the texture is slightly icy- somewhere between an ice cream and italian ice.
We applaud Primal for several reasons. First, they offer a completely gluten-free menu, which is a rare welcome to anyone who cannot tolerate the protein. (Dos Perros comes close, but people who are gluten-intolerant still must avoid some items). Next, Primal offers healthy, almost-paleo, locally sourced food for a very reasonable price. The menu opened my mind to new ways of enjoying whole ingredients as well as lengthening my list of what can be prepared on the grill. Primal is now on our top ten list of Durham restaurants. We will certainly be coming back, and you should join.
202 West Highway 54, Suite 107, Durham, NC 27713