Forty-three Years and Counting
Story and Photos By Paul Savery
The owner/founder of Irregardless Cafe, chef Arthur Gordon, has been working 16 hours a day for the past 43 years and does not appear to be slowing down, and even maintains an impish sense of humor. When complimented on the Basque beret he was wearing, he takes it off to show the Yarmulke underneath. During our conversation Gordon reveals how much he is guided by his Jewish faith, feeling “we are vehicles to be blessed but also to bless others.” Gordon adds, he considers the most important piece of advice for anyone, including an aspiring chef, is to always remain humble.
After graduation from UNC in 1972, and being accepted by The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), he opted to work in a professional kitchen for a year before attending. Then another decision delayed culinary school again, as “I decided to open a restaurant for a year or two, to gain the experience, go to the CIA, and then open a real restaurant. I haven’t made it to the CIA, but after 43 years I possess all the experience I will ever need.” Although he grew up in Durham and went to college in Chapel Hill, he decided to head down the road and open his new restaurant at 901 W. Morgan Street in downtown Raleigh in 1975.
Gordon has built up an impressively loyal customer following over the years, and the café continues to stay relevant and current with its menu and offerings. Although Irregardless started out as a vegetarian restaurant, he recalls, “About every seven years we added another protein – first fish and other seafood, then poultry, and then beef.
We now think of ourselves as a “plant based” menu; the vegetarian/vegan patron has choices beyond leaving the meat out of the pasta, but rather dishes that were designed to be a full meal without compromise. The protein patron has many choices as well. So we like to think that we are the one place where the “lion and the lamb” can eat together, without worry that we might eat each other.”
Over the years, the most popular item on the Irregardless menu continues to be the Lemon Tahini salad dressing, while the most popular dish is the Morgan Street Chicken. The perennial favorite is a pounded chicken breast, marinated in lemon tahini dressing and coated with crushed cashews and panko crumbs, and then grilled. The longest-running dish is the Paella, served with baked chicken wings, sautéed shrimp, mussels and bay scallops. Gordon is also very enthusiastic about his Salt & Vinegar Fries and elaborates: fresh-cut potatoes are marinated in sauerkraut juice and brine for a “vinegar and salt” flavor, and then double fried. His other directive is to not underestimate the importance of a an excellent dessert to finish the meal, such as his Chocolate Hazelnut Layer Cake.
For the last couple of years Gordon has been developing The Glenwood, an event venue for special occasions with a ceremonial garden and a full-scale kitchen, serving food catered by Irregardless, located at 3300 Woman’s Club Drive. Back in 2012 he also opened the ‘Well Fed Community Garden’ on an acre and a half on Athens Drive, with a manager living on site. The garden produces seasonal vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers, growing organic produce for the Irregardless Cafe and Catering, and donates 20% of its bounty to volunteers and neighbors. He plans on installing a wood-fired oven so he can serve pizza on site.
At home, Gordon doesn’t use cookbooks. The dish he most likes to cook at home is pizza with homemade dough, and he only finds time about once a week to cook. As Gordon is an observant Jew, his “Sunday Suppers” are on the Sabbath (Friday night) when he invites guests over “for a festive meal.”
The recipe he has selected is a Frittata, which he asserts works well for brunch or supper, and suggests “this recipe incorporates any ingredients in the refrigerator not consumed earlier in the week. Nothing is wasted [at the restaurant], so this recipe allows anyone to use anything that has not been served yet. Personally I love carbohydrates, so any of the following would work well – rice, pasta, potatoes, beans, even grains such as cracked wheat. Add vegetables that are already prepped, i.e. onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes, chopped parsley or any fresh herbs. Always add cheese if available – Swiss, cheddar, feta, Brie, etc. And if you have any proteins, they are also welcomed – smoked salmon, bacon, diced chicken, etc.
1. Take an 8-10 inch cast iron skillet and start by sautéing onions; carefully add garlic (optional), making sure to not let the garlic burn.
2. Add tomatoes and any previously cooked vegetables, and slowly warm.
3. Add carbs, herbs, cheeses and proteins and warm together.
4. Place cooked ingredients from pan in separate bowl. Whisk eggs separately in another bowl, then add warm mixture back to eggs.
5. Wipe the cast iron pan clean, place back on the stove top and preheat. When cast iron is hot, pour egg filling/mixture back in pan and let the bottom and edge set. Sprinkle a little paprika on top and put the skillet in a preheated 300 degree oven.
6. Bake frittata slowly at 225º-250º F for at least 30 minutes or until the filling is firm.
7. Take out of oven and let rest 5 minutes. Use a spatula to make sure it has released from the sides and bottom.
8. Optional: Flip contents onto a large lid, melt jelly, marmalade or honey into warm cast iron then flip frittata back into pan and let caramelize before service.
9. Flip onto a platter to serve.
*Serves 6-10 people depending on size of cast iron.
Gordon likes to improvise while cooking and frequently uses ingredients at hand for this dish, so the list of ingredients and the amount are not listed.
Carbohydrate (like pasta, potatoes, rice or other grains)
Proteins (smoked salmon, bacon or diced chicken)
Cheese (Swiss, cheddar, feta or Brie)
Eggs (one and a half eggs per person)
Vegetables (onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach)
Herbs (chopped parsley or any other fresh herbs)
Jelly, marmalade or honey (optional)