There are a lot of great places on the N&O's list of best Triangle restaurants, which was published yesterday:
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.
Durham is fun. :)
1807 West Markham Avenue
Durham, NC 27705
Phone: 919 237 2358
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. :)
"... Now it's time to turn my attention to developing Rise #2. If you or someone you know is a developer in the Cary area..."
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. ;-) ].
Pretty much everyone and their mom has posted this article by Eric Asimov, featuring Michael Maller's smiling face behind the bar at Mateo (behind the NYT semi-paywall again). It's not so much about NC wine, which isn't even mentioned. It's about our food and wine culture here in Durham and the Triangle, one that has taken off like a rocket in the past 30 years. I love it.
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? :)
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. :)
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:
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.
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
Anyone want to, um, spill the bacon here?
Enquiring Joes want to know. :-D
It's refreshing to see more charcuterie going on in the area, and see the quality and breadth of the products available improve.
I've almost always known of someone in the area making sausage: I can remember when Mark Ivey and others were making housemade sausages at the departed Fowler's. But there's definitely a renaissance now. I started seeing housemade sausages in local restaurants. At the beginning, a few of them were a bit dry and needed some work. Julia told me [well, I read it in one of her books ;) ] that when due to some "misplaced scruple" she put too little fat in her sausage mix, she always wound up with a poor sausage. The sausages around Durham are getting better: I had a really good pair of frankfurters for lunch several days ago at Guglhupf, and really like the house-made hot dog at BCBB.
In terms of breadth, BCBB also makes their own bacon, and makes lardo as an occasional add-on. Phoebe Lawless at Scratch puts her lardo on pizzas and other products occasionally. And of course we have Farmhand Foods with their sausages of local provenance, dispensing them through other retail outlets and through their own food truck, or perhaps I should say food trailer. :)
I'm sure I'm missing other folks and meats here, but make no mistake, I want to eat them all. :) And the market hasn't seemed to saturate yet, so I'm happy to see another business trying to get off the ground. So if anyone else knows anything about these folks, do pass it on.
Matthew Kelly, chef/owner at Vin Rouge, is going to be joining the large number of Durham restaurateurs who've opened places downtown. His Spanish restaurant, Mateo, will be going in the building formerly occupied by the Book Exchange [sniffle]. I was sad to see the Book Ex close, but I'm glad to see the building come to good use.
Matt had been relatively quiet about the planned restaurant, so I'd kept my mouth shut. But I might as well say something, as there's an article in the N&O:
Ahhhh. Kids, foie gras, missing pizzerias: I'm on a roll. What next? Fava beans and chianti? How about more roll, and more liver:
What happened to this stuff? (Click image to get product information.) It seemed to disappear off the shelves of all the supermarkets at the same time. The last place I saw it was King's Red & White. I should check to see if they have it in now. But it's gone everywhere else. It's gone enough that replacement products are showing up: I found this stuff at a Kroger yesterday.
NB: The bacon seems to have disappeared out of the ingredients for the Oscar Meyer stuff. I remember its having bacon on the ingredient list, but maybe I'm wrong.
When did the Randy's Pizza at Northgate close? Wrong, bad, mistake, they're open and fine, thankfully. And thanks for the help, folks.
Gary Kueber at Endangered Durham is going to be doing a sort of treasure hunt of historic restaurants. He'll be posting clues on his Facebook and Twitter sites, as well as on the ED post above. I won't be able to attend the dénouement/tour due to prior ditch digging commitments, but I think I'd really enjoy it. Gary is also giving away small prizes as part of the treasure hunt.
By the way, this activity is in part to publicize Open Durham, Gary's new project to re-work ED while adding a bunch of neat stuff.
Looks cool. Y'all have fun.