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. ;-) ].
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. :)
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.
Asshole. Someome's trying to live off that.
Oops; fake. See comments. Thanks, Eric.
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:
While I personally feel fast food chains can all go choke on their "HCrappy Meal" toys, generally I think if someone wants to give something away for free, or charge for it, fine. Hell, let every kid get a free spent depleted uranium penetrator, as far as I care. They're only "mildly radioactive." The real question here is "Why would someone buy their kid one of these meals in the first place?"
I was raised by parents who tried to introduce me to a variety of foods. In that spirit, they might have fed me a Happy Meal on occasion — I don't ever remember getting one, though — but what I was generally expected to eat was what they were eating. At home, that meant what they were cooking (but I was sometimes allowed to skip a particular item: e.g., if they were making fried fish, slaw, cornbread, and potatoes, I'd be allowed to eat my fill of the cornbread, slaw, and potatoes, and skip the fish). If we went out, which wasn't a lot, I (after a certain age) ordered off the menu; I never remember seeing any sort of child's menu. If I committed some horrid sin, like ordering a tuna fish sandwich and a cup of hot chocolate for my birthday at a nice seafood restaurant (yes, this really happened), they might check, but I was allowed to hang myself under those circumstances.
So, why buy your kid this stuff? To distract them with the toy? Perhaps one could bring a toy or a book. Perhaps they're hoping not to be bothered by their kid while they're killing their Big Mac. I guess we'll see whether parents value being able to ignore their kid at a dime per kid or not. Personally, I imagine it'll fly: I can see mothers all over the Bay Area giving their kids dimes to put in some Ronald McDonald House "donation" box, the same way my mom used to give me dimes to stick in those March of Dimes collection boxes.
For my beloved City of San Francisco: Since you've already dived further into the regulatory waters of dictating meal content (as has the State of California with another ill-considered foie gras ban), why not regulate menus? Forbid the presentation of children's menus altogether. Or tax the presentation of a "child's menu," or that child meal itself. Remember, it's for the children. That phrase will get about anything passed.
When none of that works, chuck the whole mess into the water off Alcatraz. I hear about anything will drown off there.
Edit: "Wild Bears Shit in Woods," or it might as well say that. Who did The Atlantic et. al. think was paying for those burgers and buying those Happy Meals? And yes, most fast food places have a "dollar menu," but the same places are constantly testing the waters of newer, more upscale products they can still throw through a drive-through window quickly.
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.
Joe E. says check it out.
Was that a review? Wow. :)
So we're happy to learn they've started a series of free Tuesday tastings. They start at 5 pm until they close at 6:30. The wines so far have been different from the wines on the Saturday tastings, so you can double-dip if you like and, um, not be harmed. :) I certainly wasn't harmed when I stopped in one night after some, um, canal work, and actually managed to buy something delicious. So enjoy that.
Happy China Sushi and Bar, formerly known as "Red Zen," formerly known as "Kimono," formerly known as "Pao Lim," is open. I've read that the owners after this last transition are different, but I don't really know. Nor have I tried it. I imagine they'll have a hard row to hoe going against Thai Cafe in University Green (which I think is OK, not great, but most of my friends love [but this isn't the Chinese restaturant post ;-} ] ).
Right, Raleigh -- you don't want to be "like Durham," which is why you're changing your laws to be more like Durham's:
“I don’t think the city of Raleigh is going to fall apart if we don’t have food trucks,” Odom sniffed. “I’m not looking forward to being like Durham.”
I love the way people treat us as a city, don't you? I also love that the Durham Herald-Sun is covering this. Thank you. :)
A year or so ago, I said I wanted to increase my coverage of Chapel Hill. That's unfortunately fallen to the ground with the new ditch digging job. While I get to Chapel Hill on occasion, I don't post enough about Durham to satisfy myself. I have to work, eat, and buy food, but I still love this blog, even if posting is currently thin. I'm trying not to turn into my own bitch for it, but I miss you folks, and I miss posting here. Thank you, Gentle Readers, for your continuing readership and support. You are, as always, awesome.
Having gotten that out of my system: I did get a chance to go to 501 Diner in Chapel Hill several days ago. Some of you may remember 501 filling a hole in Durham's restaurant scene several years ago. I thought they were a great little place in a great location, and did a much better job of being a mid-list restaurant than, say, Elmo's (another diner-esque place that's co-located in Durham and Orange County).
This isn't an extensive review, but: I was greeted by friendly staff, seated quickly, got good-sized portions, and was really pleased at the quality of food I got for the money. I thought the specials looked particularly good. The inside is not large, but it's cozy, clean, kitschy-cute, and not at all crowded for dinner on a weekday night. It's far enough west in Chapel Hill to be extremely easy to get to from Durham, and definitely not walking distance from UNC-CH :) [Full disclosure: I have friends who work at this restaurant. The Agents of EAJ! are Everywhere. ;)]
I've bemoaned the waning of the mid-list restaurant before. On the bottom end, we have fast food places, which are always as cheap as possible. On the top end, prices can continue to go up, and probably should, given the crazy increases in food prices we've seen over the past several years. There's a real squeeze on, it seems, and the mid-list restaurants are going to be hit the hardest. So it's good to see places like 501 Diner working hard to bring affordable, decent dining to our area. Thanks, folks.
I'm sorry I'm also late with this incredibly important announcement: Apparently, McDonald's in Hong Kong does weddings. I'm not married, so what do I know — maybe a McWedding would be better than an Elvis-themed wedding in Las Vegas. It does look cheaper then the average wedding ceremony. And with the money you save, you could go to McDonald's in Sweden and play Pong for food.
Scratch now has a bi-weekly pizza night from 5 to 8 pm. It seems to be on alternating Wednesdays, including tonight, but you might want to check with them to make sure you have the right night. It's delicious. :)
I actually dislike the term fine dining, but for lack of a better term.... Or to expand it a bit, who's open where I'd like to eat? ;) More reasonably, I guess not everyone is out grilling burgers with family. That includes me: I'm digging ditches today. But where might I eat tonight? Enquiring Joes want to know. ;)
For those of you in the service or with family members who've served (and perhaps died), thank you for your service and your support of your serving family members. For those of you with your meals and freedom already secured for this holiday, Happy Memorial Day, and enjoy your time off.