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 homemade grissini 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.
3314 Guess Road
Durham, NC 27705-2106
Phone: 919 973 4089
Of course if any of my current army of readers has already made it there, you're welcome to leave comments with tales of rapture, indifference, horror, or just plain yeses and nos. All are welcome.
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.
Pompieri Pizza is now open for business. They've been moved into the "Newly Open" section in the sidebar. Go check it out.
Interesting tidbit: they make their own tonic for bar drinks. :)
I read a little bit of it today and it's... um... saucy. :) The recipes looked fine, but I didn't look closely.
The link above is to Random House, but the book itself has its own WWW site:
"Fowler"? Really? :) Also, how come this has been out for 10 months and I'm just now finding out?
I was really sorry to read today in the N&O that Bob Fowler, the last family proprietor of Fowler's, died earlier this month:
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.
Bob, I still miss your store, and we'll miss you.
There seems to be an epidemic of celiac disease going on. I keep running into more and more people with the disease, and more and more products are proclaiming themselves gluten-free, as if gluten were some kind of plutonium. It's not: it's a complex of proteins found in wheat, and possibly in other foods based on wheat-like grains. But to some celiac sufferers, it might as well be plutonium, because that's how strongly they need to stay away from it. Others not as much: it might be worth it to them to eat an occasional slice of pizza or a doughnut. But the disease does seem to be on the rise.
It turns out to be complicated. There's a genetic marker, but most people with the genetic marker don't have the disease. The current, easier test is to look for certain related auto-antibodies. (Grabbing a villi sample out of someone's gut and seeing if the villi are impaired, along with other characteristic gut problems, will also tell you if there's a problem.) But there seems to be an environmental factor.
Lately, some people have been avoiding gluten due to a non-specific feeling that eating too much gluten might be a problem. This disregards the fact that folks have been eating wheat and related grains for thousands of years. But who knows: some folks have similar sounding problems with lactose and milk, except that's a totally separate type problem (some folks lose the ability to generate lactase, some don't, but it's also partially dependent on how much lactose you have to deal with).
Now, guess what? Someone says that withdrawing gluten, especially to children, might be exactly the wrong thing to do:
"Who Has the Guts for Gluten?" at the NYT (semi-paywall: sorry)
The upshot is that, well, it's complicated. :) But it may have to do with gut bacteria, breastfeeding, and not withdrawing gluten from kids' diets. The good stuff in the article is down toward the bottom, where they start talking about a veritable epidemic of celiac in Sweden in the 70s, and what probably caused it: a decrease in breastfeeding coupled with a decrease in gluten fed to infants immediately post-nursing. So less gluten caused more gluten intolerance.
The jury is still out, but getting rid of gluten willy-nilly doesn't seem like a good idea anymore. That's not much help for current sufferers, but more knowledge about disease is always a good thing.
Probably not Happy Thanksgiving fare, whether you eat their soon-to-be vanished products or not:
Innovation long in mix for Hostess Brands at the San Francisco Chronicle
Apparently folks are running out to clean stores out of Ho-Hos, Wonder Bread, and other Hostess products. Or perhaps the unfortunately-named Bimbo Bakeries will buy Hostess trademarks and other IP, and continue to make, um, stuff. :) Happens all the time, fortunately or unfortunately.
Since I'll likely be occupied tomorrow, let me take this time to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, and tell you that I seriously do miss you. I hope you don't have to work tomorrow, but whether you do or not, I hope you enjoy yourselves.
A new wine store downtown — how can that be a bad thing? :)
"New wine shop opening downtown" in the Herald-Sun
One of the partners in the downtown store is Nathan Vandergrift, who ran the bar at Rue Cler for a while some nights shortly after they opened, probably because his brother John made him do it. ;) Seriously, I really enjoyed being able to talk to Nathan during that period, and really appreciated his depth of knowledge about wine. I'm hoping this will be good. Downtown pretty much rocks now, doesn't it? :-D
The store should be open around the middle of October.
If you get a chance to go to Mateo bar de tapas anytime soon, I suggest you do so. The good thing about a tapas bar is that you can eat as little or as much as you want. But at Mateo, you'll probably want to eat a lot. :) Mateo only has a placeholder web site up at the moment, but the N&O has a post on Mouthful by Andrea Weigl with links to a couple of PDFs for the food and wine menus.
About those menus.... I can personally suggest the paté de hígado de pollo, the patatas bravas, and the costilla de cerdo all as being stand-out excellent, but there wasn't much on the menu that wasn't excellent. The croqueta special we had was a delight: hot little golf ball-sized croquettes filled with a delicious melty cheese mixture. The perro cerdito was fun on a stick: basically a small corn dog served with a light mustard sauce. I could go on, and I did, but I'll leave some things for you to discover. I was surprised to see no cod or olives, but there were boatloads of seafood in general, along with an olive tapenade. We missed out on the gâteau Basque, but we made up for it on the other desserts. Most of my examples above are warm dishes, but there are plenty of cool items to be scarfed.
I'd also like to say what a delight it is for someone around here to be giving sherry its due. The wine list contains at least 25 sherries: finos, amontillados, palo cortatos, olorosos, and sweet sherries. There are several straight-up Pedro Ximénezes, of which the two I had were raisiny and delicious.
I know Matt Kelly has been busting butt for months to make this place what he wants. It also looks like Michael Maller has worked hard to get a really good, creative, appropriate wine list, along with a nice full bar in general. It shows. Go eat there. It's good. :)
Some of these lobsters must look like Frank Gorshin did in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" on Star Trek:
Interest in the city's proposed additional regulation for food trucks has really skyrocketed, with some folks getting organized pretty quickly:
City Hall is the place to be tonight at 5:30 pm if you want more information about what's going on. If you do Teh Facebook:
If any of you had any doubt 10 years ago about why the "USDA Organic" national certification effort was such a big deal and how it was going to turn out, perhaps this NYT article — "Has 'Organic' Been Oversized?" — will, um, assist you in your cogitation.
Hope everyone had a grand 4th of July holiday.
Via our local Special Agent For Gluten-Intolerance Intolerance, code-named "Hor-Hay":
[Edit] ... aaaand the first commenter at the article is complaining that because of her gluten intolerance, she can't eat there, and it's not local food because folks don't grow a lot of wheat here, so please open someplace that doesn't use flour instead. I wrote the first sentence above before I saw her comment, but now I'm glad I wrote it.
In other words: please, get off it. No one makes salt around here, or grows black pepper (or a lot of other spices). The ocean is over two hours away by car. There damn sure isn't any commercial coffee, tea, citrus, a lot of other fruit, or really a large number of other foods grown locally. Had a banana lately? How about an almond or some vanilla? An out-of-season tomato, perhaps? We're actually lucky we live in a pretty agriculturally diverse state. But we don't make everything. Nor can we grow everything year-round. Nor can everyone afford to eat local products even for the stuff that is local (or even afford, say, organic, non-GMO, or non-irradiated spices). Take a waltz through Whole Foods, or better yet, Lowe's Foods, and throw out everything made or grown more than, say 100 miles away. Is there much left?
Tell me, do you buy jeans made of local cotton? I know of one US company making jeans from US cotton, and their jeans cost around 90 bucks a pop, and they're mail order — oops, not even being sold locally. Are you going to bitch because someone else opens a clothing store with more foreign polyester? Of course not. This state used to have a huge textile base that is pretty much shot to hell now. Don't you feel guilty? Somehow, I doubt it.
I'm sorry you're gluten-intolerant, just like I'm sorry a lot of other folks are dairy-intolerant, allergic to peanuts, seafood, or cigarette smoke, made sick to their stomach by the very idea of eating beef, or can't or won't drink alcohol for fear of losing their minds. I know how hard it is to avoid allergens: I used to cook occasionally for a friend who was actually allergic to casein, not just lactose-intolerant — try avoiding any dairy in anything. Kashrut symbols help, but it's still a pain in the ass. I've also baked for folks who are gluten-intolerant. Making everything without flour is arguably as bad.
I'd love to see more restaurants catering to individual needs. For example, Durham needs, and might could support, an actual vegetarian restaurant. And a lot of restaurateurs bust their asses to both serve local food and cater to individual needs (to name just one, Charlie Deal at Dos Perros springs to mind). But being a dog in a manger isn't ok just because the manger has wheat, salami, shrimp, peanuts, bananas, or black pepper in it. And while bitching because yet another restaurant is opening where they use flour you can't eat is probably just dumb and useless, tarring them all with a "not local enough" brush is simply elitist and self-serving. Even worse, your "OMG we're all going to die of celiac disease" whining does a dis-service to those with a serious auto-immune condition. Gliadin isn't poison, any more than casein or fava beans are. And, no, you're not raising consciousness about celiac disease. You just look like an idiot. The diseases are serious; it's at best hard to take you that way.
I think I know what you're really mad about: a restaurant opening that wouldn't even exist in your world. I can't wish away celiac disease any more than I can wish away racism, televisions in bars, or my own medical problems. I wish you didn't have celiac disease. I wish no one ever got sick from eating. I wish everyone could afford to eat out, and know how to cook well at home. But I would also like to go to Tom's new place if it opens. I'd like to eat a biscuit or doughnut there, and I'd like it to be good. Don't begrudge me or anyone else that, please. Gluten isn't poison to me, as far as I know, nor is it poison to (by your numbers) well over 99% of the population. Again, I'm sorry you can't eat wheat and its ilk. But I like it. I wish we all could eat it healthfully and well. You can't, and neither you, Tom Ferguson, nor I can fix it. We would if we could.
Some thief stole a smoker belonging to Fullsteam:
There's information on the Flickr post linked to above and on Fullsteam's FB page on how to contact them if you have any tips. Please help them out if you hear anything. I imagine it's headed to one of Durham's finer metal recycling locations; it'd sure be nice if they could get it back before something like that happens.
Maybe someone can Tweet me some back bacon too:
Not sure where I ran into this beauty at, but I think it was from our Canadian agent, code-named "Peach." Whoever it was has advanced the cause of civilization several thousand-fold. ;)
Asshole. Someome's trying to live off that.
Oops; fake. See comments. Thanks, Eric.
Wow, seems odd, but also seems like a really good idea. Also shows how bad times have gotten:
"Campus food banks help students through tough times" at USAToday
Come to think of it, there were probably a few months when I was in college when I could have used a food bank....
Rhys Botica's new bar, the Kotuku Surf Club (aka Surf Club), is now open. No food, just drinks right now. It's at 703 Rigsbee Avenue, which is the northwest corner at the intersection of West Corporation St. and Rigsbee. The building used to be some sort of temporary labor business, and is right across from Lloyd's/The Esquire Lounge, between Fullsteam and the old Liberty Warehouse. Go get your drink on. :)
On the one hand, the area in question is not well served by grocery stores or decent places to eat (or a lot of other things for that matter). On the other hand, a close friend's family describes the chain in question as the "Dented Can Store":
"City approves incentives for new Alston grocery" at the Herald-Sun
Given that the chain is getting $150,000.00 of Durham's money to open the store, on top of the chain's getting $1,000,000.00 to open a distribution center in Lexington — well, I hope it works out. Otherwise that $1,000,000.00 will not do much for the city or the state. ;-D