Ashley Christensen has introduced a lot of good food to Raleigh over the years. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that her expansive empire has lent Raleigh a truly unique culinary identity, for me it has begun to dominate the city’s dining scene in the following way: her restaurants are often the first thing that come to mind when I’m asked “what’s good to eat in Raleigh?” Her latest venture to open, Joule, is not far from two of her other restaurants, Chuck’s and Beasley’s, and takes the place of the old Wilmoore Cafe on Wilmington St. Each one of these establishments has a distinct focus – burgers at Chuck’s, fried chicken at Beasley’s, and, at Joule, coffee. Fortunately for me (not a coffee drinker), there’s food to be had at Joule too, and from what I’ve tasted the quality is right on par with the excellent standards for which Ms. Christensen is known.
The Joule space is decidedly more cozy than the austere restaurants down the block. The warmth comes from the low lighting and the rich color palette (orange/deep turquoise), as well as from the long wooden communal table down the center of the space (an element it has in common with Beasley’s). There’s also great bar seating along the inside of the deep windows leading to the front door. This is a great spot for solo diners or laptop warriors. Finally, there is a very small patio that looks out over the alleyway to the bus station. In the evening, Joule is more hushed and dark than boisterous. This is not your average coffee shop – there’s a hostess and full table service, but I’m pretty sure you can get a to-go cup of coffee straight from the counter. There’s an extensive coffee menu (obviously), some breakfast items, an “all day” menu (lunch and dinner) and, to top it off, a great brunch service on the weekends (replacing that which used to be offered at Ashley’s other downtown institution, Poole’s Diner). The “all day” menu includes some salads and a soup or two, as well as about 8 sandwich options.
I went with a pork sandwich ($9.75) and my wife had the BLT ($8.75). We each added some excellent house-made “salt and pepper” potato chips for $2 apiece. My sandwich featured red curry braised pork shoulder, NC peanuts, house-made yogurt, and a spicy cucumber/red onion/cilantro garnish. Served on a house-made hoagie roll/baguette hybrid, it was terrific. But the BLT may have been even better. If featured some outstanding thick-cut tomatoes, malt aioli, and some great bacon. This was served on toasted sourdough (also house-made). My one complaint was that it was exceptionally messy, and the romaine’s crunch was drowned out by all the tomato juices and aioli. But, really, it was superb.
Ms. Christensen has another winner with Joule. I really look forward to trying the weekend brunch at Joule, and to whatever comes next from this talented chef/entrepreneur.