Eatery serves up locally inspired cuisine

Halina's Cafe & Catering owner, Dirk Rusthoven, shows off his entertainment and cooking skills.

DENVER – Halina’s Cafe & Catering, located off of N.C. 73, is a fresh, new restaurant, focused on serving quality cuisine, made from local, organic ingredients. The restaurant’s owner, Dirk Rusthoven, opened Halina’s doors on March 3 but is no stranger to the restaurant business.

Rusthoven was introduced to the kitchen at military school when he was 12 years old and was the youngest Certified Executive Chef (CEC) in the country, through the American Culinary Federation (ACF), at age 29, he said. He won Chef of the Year for Charlotte as well as runner-up for nationwide Chef of the Year competition. With a long career in the food industry, predominantly serving the Southeast, Rusthoven knows food and has gotten to know North Carolina very well, he said.

Rusthoven has lived in Denver for 14 years, which is the longest he’s ever been in the same place. Denver was ready and is the perfect location to bring in natural, steroid/hormone-free, organic, local food, he said.

“I have more farmers here, within 20 miles from where we’re sitting, that can’t wait to sell me their produce. I’m buying as much of it as I can already,” he said.

With the exception of imported cheeses, nearly everything served at Halina’s is made from locally grown ingredients.

“Local food tastes better. Steroid-free, naturally raised food tastes better. It’s a fact,” he said, later adding, “It supports the local economy, period.”

When people know where their food comes from, they know what to expect, Rusthoven said. A tomato from a produce guy two miles down the road, for example, arrives perfectly ripened and much fresher, he said, adding that while un-naturally ripened foods may appear tasty, the quality and flavor is often unpredictable.

Inspired by eating local and organic, Rusthoven said that he is willing to pay more and charge less than competitors for organic foods because he wants the industry to grow. He wants people to try and embrace the farm-to-table style of eating.

While he loves cooking, Rusthoven spends most of his time on the floor, introducing himself to each customer that walks in, watching the number of customers grow week by week.

If customers peek into the kitchen, they’ll likely find James McGraw by the grill or sautee station, cooking with fire. McGraw has been a chef in the Charlotte area for 13 years and loves putting on a show, he said.

“I think that’s what it’s all about, putting on a show, along with putting out amazing food,” McGraw said.

Each chef at Halina’s is serve-safe certified and his or her ACF dues are covered, so that each chef can become a CEC. Rusthoven said he eventually wants his employees to run their own Halina’s locations.

The N.C. 73 location currently holds 75 customers, but Rusthoven recently purchased the space next door to add an additional 150 seats. Halina’s will be able to host private banquets and parties without interfering with the normal dining room capacity, he said.

The restaurant will also soon provide alcohol. Hoping to obtain a liquor license this week, Rusthoven plans to l carry 200 wine selections as well as 35 local beers, Rusthoven said.

He also opened a location in Rose Hill in an old plantation home and plans for it to become a full-scale event space and wedding venue, complete with Halina’s catering services.

The restaurant currently serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and menu and bakery items range from as little as $2, up to $35 for dinner portions. Menu items include anything from paninis, pecan pancakes to Carolina Roasted Pork Loin. The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday and is open for Sunday brunch.

Halina’s is located 7260 N.C. 73. For more information  and full menu visit the website www.halinascafe.com.

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