It's been pretty hard hoeing for anyone trying to do nice food in Durham north of I-85. The last I remember was Patrick's in the old Ole NC Bar-B-Que spot at North Duke Mall, which died an unnatural death at the hands of its landlord. The farthest north I currently think of as decent food in Durham is Watts Grocery, which isn't even north of Club Boulevard.
Enter Aaron Benjamin, who used to be chef at both Pop's and Rue Cler near downtown. Aaron spent a year or so studying his craft in Italy; I also remember seeing Aaron working at both Pizzeria Toro and the now-departed Rockwood Filling Station by Scott Howell. I heard a few months ago that Aaron was planning something, but very quickly thereafter Gocciolina opened, earlier this month. Hours are currently Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 to 10 pm for dinner. Gocciolina currently has beer and wine, with a liquor license still pending. Aaron told me there was a restaurant of some sort there before he opened, so that made it easier for him to get going, which is nice.
Durham has an interesting history with Italian restaurants. On the one hand, we've had Pop's for a long time now, and been very happy to have it. On the other, we don't have a lot else: Both of the chains Olive Garden and Romano's Macaroni Grill have bailed, leaving us to go all the way to Southpoint and Maggiano's Little Italy, and that's just for chain Italo-American. Old local places like have also fallen by the wayside. Suddenly now, we have Gocciolina in north Durham, with The Boot scheduled to open before fall in Rockwood, and The Rollout somewhere, but currently operating in pop-up mode out of Tom Ferguson's Rise at Southpoint. (N.b.: all these non-chain restaurants are linked in the sidebar.) It should be self-evident that Durham could use more good Italian food. And I guess location matters, which is what I'm scared about with Gocciolina. Are people going to drive up Guess Road past Carver Street to go to Aaron's place, or are they gonna order a delivery pizza and call it a night? It's not hard to get there. On the other hand, Honey's just gave up its long, tenured existence for a McDonald's and a BP convenience store (I'm not saying Honey's was fine dining, but it was often not bad diner food, and it was open 24/7), and it was just barely north of 85. So, Durham, what gives? We've been friends for a long time now. Are you locals gonna come out of those adjoining neighborhoods in droves? Are you folks farther away gonna get on 85 and drive less than a mile north up that nicely widened Guess Road to get there? If you need help getting there, it's just to the right of the Guess Road ABC store. ;)
I'd like to say it depends on the food. And it does, somewhat, but I'm not so stupid as to predict Aaron's success on just that. It seems like Aaron is making his pasta, which is a tribute to dedication if I've ever seen one (I love working with flour, but I hate rolling things out). I hear rumors of curing meats in the future. The word is getting out: I've seen news stories, and they have a Facebook page. Gocciolina's WWW site is bare bones, but gets you their phone number, and a picture of what looks like some pretty good spaghetti carbonara. The menu I saw looked tripartite: appetizers up top, most of which will come to table almost immediately; a second course of pasta in the middle, and I do mean a pasta course, somewhere between an appetizer and a main course in size; an entrée at the bottom, also a bit smaller both in size and price than what I imagine most Americans will be expecting. There are also a small number of Italianesque desserts, and homemadegrissini on the table.
I say give it a shot. They're still in shakedown mode, in my opinion, so things are gonna change. Contact info is below.
If you have any sense today, you'll stay out of just about any restaurant in Durham and Chapel Hill, and probably Wake County too. If you had the foresight to make reservations a year ago, well, congratulations.
"Life is short, but the days are long." Somehow, that seems to mean that we should get our mittens into every possible crevice, in case we miss anything while we're in a hurry, sticking our mittens in other crevices.
Ahem. Anyway, I have a presence on Google+ as Joseph D. Eater. You will find me there on occasion. You may find me there more than you find me here, or maybe not. I certainly prefer G+ to FB. It's certainly easy to drop items of interest there.
I think fall has come early this year. It smelled like it to me a few weeks ago, and it smelled like it again today. Not much in the way of tomatoes this year, but at least there was rain, and relief from the punishing heat.
But fall means Thanksgiving — and Thanksgiving is an entire 84 days away — but I've already started thinking about turkey. Thus prompted, I pulled out a grilling book to look up a turkey recipe, and found the following amusement:
WILD TURKEY I
If it hasn't already been broken, crack the government seal and lay the bottle over a moderate fire. When just warm, sit on the back porch and serve with cool branch water, sardines, and saltine crackers. Leave some in the bottom of the bottle for tomorrow and stay off the telephone.
Long-time readers of this blog will remember when I occasionally used to post a comic or three, often from Chris Onstad's Achewood. Chris's output has fallen off, unfortunately, but I still check by occasionally to see what's going on. Still no Achewood, but further searching revealed a couple things: Chris and his wife have apparently split up, which is enough to screw up anyone's creative juices. But Chris's have oozed out in another direction, as he's now the resident food critic for the Portland Mercury. This is good: those of you who keep up with the guy know of his increasing interest in food, and of course understand that he writes well and is funny. This all collides pleasingly in his reviews. Even though I'm probably not going to be going to Portland any time soon, I still enjoy the reviews, and see the humor and agile mind behind the words. Thanks, Chris. Good to hear from you. :)
I liked Bob, and liked talking to him when I went in Fowler's. He told me once there was never any telling what he might be doing in the store at any particular time — helping customers, writing up an ad, or "swabbing out the john."
There was a long time in Durham where there was not much in the way of resources for food geeks. The big exception was Fowler's. Bob was the one who successfully took a small family grocery store through the transition to a gourmet resource, with (at one time) the best wine selection between DC and Atlanta, and maybe beyond.
When I was a kid, I had a problem with being easily sucked into magazine polls: the type article where you answer 17 questions, then find out that you'll turn into a serial killer, have tooth cancer, Socialist tendencies, a liking for cheap frozen pizza or maybe just cheap beer....
That tropism crops back up occasionally, and I think this Deadspin ranking triggered it:
It's not a poll, per se — actually I don't know how they came up with it — but it caught my eye because regular Coors is ranked 3rd out of 36 "cheap American" beers. I've never had #1 or 2, or really a lot of them. But I've had a lot of cheap Coors in cans, especially when I could get 18 or 24 cans for, say, $12. Michael Jackson — no, not that dead one, this dead one — kind of agreed with me, giving the lowly beer two stars in one of his beer books, which was better than most any other widely available American "premium" lager I could find listed in there.
But almost everyone I know hates Coors, even when they prefer, say, PBR or Bud or whatever. I don't get that, but it's ok. De gustibus non est disputandum. If you like something, good. If you like it and it's cheap, or good for you, or easy to make, great. If all of the previous are true, you should find a way to live off whatever that substance is. ;)
Hope you all had a great 4th of July, and had plenty of cheap beer. :-D
... isn't an appliance at all. It's a woodworking bench:
I'd really gotten tired of trying to find the right sideboard/work table for the kitchen. So I gave up and bought the wrong one. http://www.harborfreight.com/60-inch-workbench-93454.html was about $160. It's mostly oak, 60"x20", and counter height, which fits well where it needs to go. The drawers are small — they're really meant for small tools — but they'll still be useful.
Now if I can figure out what, if anything, I want to do about the bench dog holes, I'll be set. I figure I can use the tail vise to crack walnuts. ;)
God bless Tom Ferguson. He knows Cary needs something, and he's going to try to give it to them good and hard help them out. Maybe some culture will be just what they needed [for my extensive out-of-town readership, the following might help explain the situation in North Carolina's Research Triangle: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Cary, and I'm not bitter. ;-) ].
But I did feel a little sad that our own beer and winemaking areas aren't given more notice (that's not going to be Asimov's focus for this article in the NYT, so no criticism to him). All legal wine and beer production in the country had to start from scratch after Prohibition was over in 1933, but the Great Depression and WWII kept the industry down until the 40s. When it did, it was largely the industrial producers—the ones who could serve an entire country—who took off. A lot of smaller rivals were left behind in the dirt. They stayed behind. Not too long ago, Weeping Radish had a brewery off the corner of Duke and Morgan Street. They didn't make it (which may have had more to do with their not-so good restaurant than anything). Wineries like Duplin Wines have been going since the 70s, but with their focus on inexpensive wines appealing to what they feel are local tastes, they're not likely to see much more than local recognition.
But it's better now. Durham itself has three breweries, and seems to have no problem supporting them all; North Carolina has over 60 breweries and brewpubs. Wineries are doing well too, with three American Viticultural Areas currently recognized by (and I can't believe I'm saying this this way) the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The AVAs are all west of us, near the Yadkin River valley, but wine and beer are made all over the state. So, just in case you can't find a North Carolina producer of beer or wine:
The beer map has a list of breweries on it. For lists of North Carolina wineries, you'll need to pull down a menu or two from near the top of the page. But for both beer and wine, find someone in the state, try them, and see if you like them. When you find a match, tell us about it, will you? :)