I was particularly pleased to see Aaron Benjamin in a photo of the front of his new restaurant, Gocciolina. Aaron won best restaurant in the Triangle as a newcomer of sorts: it's not the first place he's worked, but the first restaurant he's opened. Congratulations are due, I think.
The N&O's article continues with listings of gold and silver medal winners, a list of "best in class" winners by cuisine, and a final list of best new restaurants (where Aaron also landed).
I think it's clear that the Triangle has a lot of good food to offer. I haven't even eaten at half or more of the places on this list (particularly the Raleigh restaurants). I imagine most of us have a lot of exploring to do, and then a lot of arguing over the results to enjoy. :) At least it's a pleasant, first-world-problem type of argument. So go read, go eat, and have fun. And congratulations to the scores of other restaurants listed. You have a lot of competition, and you came out ahead.
I'll be straight-up with you: one of my worst predictions ever was about Dain's Place. I went in there not long after they opened, and told a friend I'd give them about 6 months before they closed. I figured they wouldn't make it through the summer. But years later, they're doing well. And I'm glad for it, because I enjoy going there. I was wrong, big-time. So what. I'm wrong a lot. :)
Now about a block away, Dain of Dain's Place has opened Heavenly Buffaloes, a takeout (and delivery) wing place that sells... well... (oh come on, guess!)... wings, waffle fries, and beer. Ok, so he's got a few other small things like sodas, brownies, and celery, but the three core items are... well, you can look back about as easily as I can type it. It's that simple. He's a block away from Dain's Place, and less than a block off East Campus. Open 6 days a week (currently closed Tuesdays), with some nights being open until 3 am.
I think it's going to work. :)
Seriously, one thing Durham could stand is more late night food, so there's one reason this might work. Another: Dain has a proven winner already with his focused approach at Dain's. No real seating might be a problem, but on the other hand, who enjoys going to the Cosmic Cantina and sitting down? Nevertheless, the Cosmic has done well too with a focused, close-to-Duke model, and I love them, even though their dining area has about as much charm as a barn. So why not no dining area at all? One possible negative indication: several other businesses have failed in the same spot in front of Books Do Furnish A Room on West Markham. But I think it's going to work, and I haven't even been there yet. :) We'll see. Early indications are that it's good food. If you have an opinion, let us know.
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 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 [edit: website upgraded now], 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.