Eastern Triangle Farm Tour

Photo by Molly Hayes

The 5th Annual Eastern Triangle Farm Tour is coming up on Sat. & Sun. Sept 18 & 19, from 1 to 5 PM.  This is a great way to learn about regional agriculture in general, and in particular about where some of the best local food comes from.

From the organizers: This year there are a record twenty-four sites on the tour, including eight new farms!  We will be showcasing ten farms with sustainable and humane livestock operations, getting the word out about healthy, local meat options.  Several are Animal Welfare Approved and all have beautiful animals!

On the urban scene, we are happy to welcome an urban mini-farm in Durham (Two Ton Farm sponsored by Bountiful Backyards) and the farm of the Inter Faith Food Shuttle in Raleigh.  These farms, along with the SEEDS Garden in Durham, highlight how to grow a lot on small acreage in the city and how youth can be engaged in the movement.

Another newcomer to the tour this year is Durham County’s newest goat dairy; located in Bahama, Prodigal Farm has 65 goats and a brand new milking parlor and cheesemaking building.  We will have mushrooms again (Spain Farm) and honeybees for the first time (Betsey’s Bee Farm.)  And, of course, the tour includes a strong collection of vegetable, flower and fruit producers, where foodies and growers can learn about organic and sustainable horticulture practices.

Buttons are $25 per carload in advance and $30 the day of the tour.  Single farms are $10 per carload. More information, including the tour brochure, an interactive Google map of all the farms and ticket information are available at the following website:

www.carolinafarmstewards.org/etft2010.shtml

Saxapahaw General Store

The aisles are lined with STP motor oil and Seventh Generation soaps.  The coolers are stocked with Gatorades and Goat Lady Dairy’s local organic cheeses.  The freezers are full of frozen Snickers ice-cream bars and Cane Creek Farm grass-fed meat.  The shelves offer Starburst candies and The Accidental Baker’s artisan crackers and granolas.  This is the Saxapahaw General Store, the gas-station gourmet food mart and restaurant that is generating lots of buzz in the Triangle food world and beyond.

Located in the tiny town of Saxapahaw, on the banks of the scenic Haw River, this might be the greatest gas station a hungry traveler could ever stumble upon.  Off of Highway 54 well south of Graham, NC, it’s about an hour drive from Raleigh, or less than 30 minutes from Chapel Hill.  But it’s a worthwhile foodie destination, and I’m looking forward to my next visit.

We went on a recent Saturday for lunch.  Scrawled on a chalkboard sign were the day’s specials – meatloaf sandwich, crabcake on croissant.  I opted for the brisket sandwich on ciabatta, with lemon-garlic aioli, swiss cheese, and caramelized onions ($8).  While we waited, I strolled around the sun-filled store and browsed the wide array of local, organic food offerings, nestled among the usual suspects of a gas station convenience store, without regard for incongruity.

The store has an extensive menu, ranging from delicious sounding breakfasts (“house-made biscuits with cane creek farm sausage and homemade gravy”) to southern brunch staples (shrimp and grits, which looked fantastic on a neighboring table) to homemade pizzas (on homemade dough, with homemade sauce) to a wide array of sandwiches, including local goat and local beef burgers.  From what I’ve read, the dinner specials are likely to feature whatever’s fresh and on hand, and generally comprise a menu that you’d be more likely to find in a high-end city restaurant such as Piedmont, Watt’s Grocery, or Poole’s Diner.

It took quite a while to get our food, but it was worth the wait.  The sandwich appeared to be served on grilled focaccia, not ciabatta (either way it appeared to be homemade), but that proved to be irrelevant.  It was exquisite, with tender, falling-apart beef and perfect proportions.  Duck fat fries ($3) on the side were not as expected – they were “home-style” fries – but they were undeniably delicious and perfectly seasoned with very coarsely ground pepper.

Also available at the front counter were a variety of homemade pastries, cookies, and other desserts.  The pastries looked great – everything from a blackberry turnover to lemon ginger scones to cranberry-white chocolate cookies.  A chocolate-pecan pie ($4/slice), on the other hand, looked a little sad, and, I confirmed later, tasted rather unremarkable.  I also sampled a chocolate chip cookie ($1.50) and the blackberry turnover ($4), both of which were respectable, if not brilliant.

Still, this place is a real gem.  Your meal can be taken inside, at a decidedly unglamorous booth, or outside on nice patio (as charming as can be, considering it’s situated 20 feet from some gas pumps).  Prices are generally on the higher side, but reflective of the top-notch ingredients employed, and worth every penny.

Rating: * * * *

Note: see their facebook page for more information

Eating in Boston

I arrived in Boston on Monday April 19th, the day of the city’s massive marathon, and by afternoon the downtown was teeming with lean runner types in ceremonial turquoise and yellow windbreakers.  I was hungry but had to be somewhere soon, so I found a nearby sandwich shop that Chowhounders favored called Chacarero.  Not knowing exactly what it was, I ordered the “original”, which, as I suspected, turned out to be their claim-to-fame sandwich.  It consisted of a thin cutlet of grilled chicken, muenster cheese, tomato slices, steamed green beans (“for that Chilean touch”), and an avocado/jalapeno guacamole-like spread.  Although I didn’t love the bread (which was dry) or the pre-grilled chicken slab, overall it was pretty yummy and I scarfed it all up.  Later, I walked up to the Italian North End for dessert.  On the way, it seemed as though every other person had a “Mike’s Pastry” box in their hands – taking their cannoli with them to – where?  I opted for the alternative, just down Hanover St, known as Modern Pastry.  It was a cramped, hot space that was slammed with patrons.  I ordered a ricotta chocolate-dipped cannoli, which was filled to order, and a “lobster tail”.  The cannoli was divine, but the lobster tail was even better.  First of all, it was about the size and shape of a loaf of ciabatta bread, so I saved it for the next night in my hotel mini fridge.  It consisted of a number of layers of phyllo dough stuffed with a ricotta/custard/whipped cream mixture.  The phyllo was a little crunchy, but the filling was so good that this was one of the best pastries/desserts I have ever had.

Breakfast the next morning was taken at the hotel’s $22 ($27 with tax and tip) buffet line, which was notable only for the fact that I was staying at the Omni Parker House, originator of “parker house” rolls (and, supposedly, of the boston cream pie).  I had a roll with breakfast; it was buttery and good.

For dinner that night, I headed for Pizzeria Regina, back in the Italian North End.  Regina is the most famous pizzeria in the city, and I had heard countless recommendations for their pies.  Walking the charming narrow streets was pleasant, and I arrived to find a line of about 25 people snaked along the sidewalk outside the door.  Undettered, I waiting briefly until a waiter came out asking for party counts so he could maximize table usage.  When I said “1”, he at first seemed surprised, then informed me I could bypass the line and take the one seat left at the bar.  “It’s purgatory”, he warned as I entered.  In fact, the seat was adjacent to the bar, at bar height but tucked into a tiny corner practically on top of an ancient radiator.  And although its location offered me a view of almost nothing except an old wooden wall, I took the seat gladly.  I ordered a 10” margarhita pie and burned my mouth badly when I anxiously chomped into the first bite.  The crust was crispy but not especially thin, the sauce was sweet, and there was a hefty amount of fresh basil and oil on top, plus a few stray sliced olives from somewhere.  It was quite good, but I wouldn’t say it was a great or particularly memorable pizza.  Regardless, I was glad I had tried it.

The next morning, I walked over to long wharf early (where my conference was being held) as I wanted to check out the boulangerie at Sel de la Terre, a fancy restaurant adjacent to the conference hotel.  What I found was a tiny counter with only a few croissant offerings.  I ordered a plain one and a honey-flavored greek yogurt and sat on the wharf in the bright morning sun and ate, surrounded by some ultra-pricey yachts, as well as a couple of homeless drifters still asleep under their blankets.  Looking right into the sun, I could see the planes landing at Logan airport just across the bay.

After the conference was over, I had just enough time to walk briskly down to Flour bakery, across the river in what appeared to be the formerly industrial, now arty section of town.  The bakery was really charming and I had a tough time making my selection.  It wasn’t lunch time yet, so I chose a homemade granola bar and an almond croissant to take back on the plane with me to my wife.

At the airport, I was expecting a lot of food choices, this being Boston – a major airport, right?  Unfortunately, my location in Terminal A left me with the choice of Legal Seafood Express, Lucky’s Grill, Wendy’s, Panda Express, and Dunkin Donuts.  I kind of wanted a burger, so I reluctantly chose the Lucky’s Grill.  It was definitely one of the worst burgers and fries I’ve had in quite a while – Wendy’s would actually have been much better, and for about 1/4 the cost (disclaimer:  my company was footing the bill).  Everything about it screamed “frozen”.  In the style of our times, it was absurdly massive.    Well, really, I knew what to expect – industrial food – but still I felt stupid for choosing it and kind of wrong for even eating it.    I did not want to finish it.  Later, before I boarded the plane, I ate the granola bar from Flour to cleanse my palate and to remind me of the simplicity, and exquisiteness, of real food.