Bull Street Gourmet & Market (Durham, NC)

Hope Valley Square was once was a no-mans land shopping center south of Durham but is now home to some great tenants: Only Burger, Pop’s Backdoor South, Tonali, and Bull Street Gourmet & Market to name a few. The latter is the most recent to open, and is an offshoot of the venture’s original location in Charleston, SC.  It features a small but well-stocked grocery section and a casual eatery.  In the grocery you can find all manner of local and hyper-local staples (peanut butters, jams, relishes, cheeses, plus a few meats and some tempting ice cream sandwiches), as well as, somewhat incongruously, a decent selection of mass market candies. Otherwise, you can get breakfast here, or a pastry, or even a quick pre-made dinner-to-go, but the main culinary focus seems to be soups, salads, and sandwiches. These feature gourmet ingredients in classic pairings, and are priced accordingly.  The atmosphere is completely casual; just place your order at the counter and take a seat at one of the mix-and-match tables, or at one of the stools that run along the counter.

I chose a club sandwich (ham, smoked turkey, bacon, cucumber, lettuce, $8.99) and my wife opted for the “Chappy” salad (romaine/green apple/shaved red onion/walnuts/feta, $7.99). Our orders were brought out promptly by the very friendly staff.  Although the sandwich didn’t come with any sides, it was definitely big enough to be a full meal.  It was served in a small basket, and cut in half, but it was nearly impossible to eat thanks to some insubstantial focaccia and a massive amount of dressing. On the menu description, this was a dijon mayonnaise, but in the sandwich I got it was a horseradish mayo – pretty disappointing for a person who doesn’t love horseradish. The bread itself was very good (tomato-parmesan focaccia from Guglhupf) but, being very soft and thinly cut, it simply could not hold the sandwich together.  I almost resorted to a fork and knife, which probably would have been a wiser choice than amassing a pile of about 20 napkins.  I thought the ham was outstanding, the bacon and white cheddar unremarkable.  Overall, it was a decent sandwich, but I would probably order something different next time.  My wife’s salad was excellent, and very refreshing with a light lemon poppy seed dressing, but it probably could have used some more walnuts, and I felt like it should have been a dollar or two cheaper.  It came with a sweet roll that tasted just fine but seemed doughy and undercooked.

I’ve said this many times before, but I wish there were more places like this throughout the Triangle, and in Raleigh in particular.  But for now, Hope Valley Square is shaping up as a pretty decent foodie destination, so you can bet I’ll be back for more.

Toast (Durham, NC)

image courtesy of Mark Petko @ SpoonfedRaleigh

It seems I’m always promoting Durham in these pages, and this post will be no exception.  Toast is to Durham as Neal’s Deli is to Carrboro – a great little sandwich counter.  Raleigh’s lack of such an establishment remains a mystery, and reason enough to search the wider Triangle, as above, for a better sandwich experience.

Toast is an Italian style café serving panini, salads, and soups.  The restaurant occupies a narrow space in the city’s downtown, with small tables inside plus a few more spilling out onto the sidewalk in front.  It’s coffee-shop casual, and, if necessary, you can be in and out very quickly, but it’s charming enough to make it a nice spot to linger and chat.  Just order at the counter and help yourself to a drink.

The menu features plenty of classic Italian flavors.  It also does not appear to have changed much, if any, in the few years since the restaurant opened.  I selected the rapini/sweet Italian sausage/roasted garlic/asiago fresca panino ($6.50) and a cup of the daily soup – spicy lentil with peppers ($2).  My wife chose three crostini + salad ($8.75).  For this price you get two of each of the crostini, which are cut from a baguette into thin slices, toasted, and piled with the toppings.  Her choices were warm goat cheese/local honey/cracked black pepper, pesto/mozzarella/roasted tomato, and garlicky mushrooms/thyme/gorgonzola.  Our food came out promptly.  To sum it up: it was a little disappointing.  Perhaps my expectations were too high; we’d had great food here before.  This time, though, my sandwich was not terribly flavorful.  I couldn’t make out the roasted garlic, the sausage was too mild, and, if such a thing can be said, there was too much cheese.  The bread was nicely crisp and buttery though, and the soup was rich, hearty, and satisfying.  My wife’s crostini had sort of the opposite problem: the flavors were too strong, and there was too much salt.  The clear winner for her was the creamy goat cheese one.  She did report her salad to be deliciously bright, herby, and fresh.

So while we weren’t wowed by Toast this time around, we’ll be back for more.  And here’s hoping for a sandwich spot like this in Raleigh.  For it’s places like these that help make Durham a vibrant community, and that’s why I’ll continue to visit – and celebrate – the Bull City.

SEEDS Pie Social

This Sunday from 1pm – 5pm is the 4th annual SEEDS pie social.  This is a great event to benefit the Durham-based urban gardening organization.  For $10 you get four slices of pie from some of the best restaurants in the area.  There are about 30 of them participating this year, including Acme, Guglhupf, and Foster’s Market.  There will be sweet ones, of course, but also pizza pies, and you’ll be able to vote for your favorite slice.  Also part of the event is a skill share auction, where you can bid on learning unique skills from community members.

It’s rain or shine, and you’re encouraged to bring your own plate and fork.  I missed the event last year, but I’m hoping to be able to make it on Sunday, because, really, who doesn’t love eating for a good cause?

Daisy Cakes (Durham, NC)

If you love eating, as I do, you’ve got to love Durham!  There’s so much good food to be had in the Bull City, from Mexican to burgers to fine dining, and, more recently, to excellent baked goods.  First there was Scratch, which opened last year, and operated without peer in the Triangle until the recent opening of  Daisy Cakes, just a few short blocks away!  While not entirely new to the scene – Daisy Cakes operated out of a sleek airstream trailer over the past few years – their new cafe has allowed the business to really blossom.

Situated on Foster St. near the farmer’s market, the place was slam packed on a recent Saturday morning.  The interior of the restaurant is quite narrow, with very limited seating.  Lines form quickly, and finding a table is tricky, although there are a few scattered just outside the front door.  The space features whitewashed brick walls and is equally as charming as Scratch: where the latter  is subtly sleek, Daisy Cakes is undeniably cute.

Like at Scratch, it’s really hard to decide what to order at Daisy Cakes.  They have a bountiful array of pastry and sweet choices, sure, but also a tempting menu of savory sandwiches and light entrees.  The menu is ambitious, but perhaps not quite as creative as Scratch’s.  I went with the carnitas hash ($8.95) plus a strawberry “pop’t art” ($1.95).  My wife chose the day’s omelette (roasted tomato, spinach, cheese, $7.50, served with toast and fruit) and a housemade chai tea ($3.25).

My carnitas hash was a substantial dish, served with two unexpected slices of toast.  It was a bit underseasoned, and I would have liked some more onion in with the potatoes, but it came with two nice fried eggs on top and was plenty tasty overall.  The “pop’t art” was outstanding: a circular slightly sweet crust filled with just the right amount of bright strawberry jam.  My wife’s omelette was also good, if not great.  But the chai tea she ordered was incredible – served in a very funky mug with a sprinkling of cocoa powder on top, it was spicy, creamy, and just perfect.  I also got to try some of their well-regarded almond cream brioche.  It was served as a massive thick slice with a little fruit on the side.  It was very good, moist and decadent, but I probably wouldn’t order it myself.

If you’re heading to Durham and can’t decide between Scratch or Daisy Cakes, you could just flip a coin.  For me, until I try more of the Daisy Cakes menu, including their renowned cupcakes, I’d give the slight edge to Scratch.  But at either place, you’re sure to get lovingly crafted food in a super charming setting.  As for me, I’m eager to go back for more of both.  As much as we love Durham, it’s sure to be sooner rather than later!

Neal’s Deli (Carrboro, NC)

images courtesy of This Paper Ship

Neal’s Deli in Carrboro is the perfect little lunch counter, and one of the best places for a sandwich in the Triangle.  While particularly well regarded for their classic deli sandwiches that incorporate their house made pastrami and corned beef, Neal’s also offers a range of other lunch and breakfast options, including biscuits that I’ve heard are delicious.

It’s a tiny place, better suited for take-out than a sit-down meal, although there are a handful of tables and bar stools at the window.  A small deli case showcases seasonal side dishes, like a roasted beet salad, but the main attraction here is the sandwiches.

I went with the smoked turkey ($7.50) and my wife chose the reuben ($8.50).  My sandwich featured some wonderfully citrusy crushed avocado and nice crispy bacon.  It was a winning combination despite some unremarkable, unsmoky sliced turkey meat.  The reuben was the better choice.  It was hot, juicy, and sweet, and piled high with excellent corned beef.

Neal’s offers simple sandwiches done right.  You wouldn’t think that would be such a hard thing to find, would you?  Durham, of course, has Toast, with its great panini, but Raleigh could really use a great little sandwich shop like these.  One can always hope.

Big Spoon Roasters

As a long-time peanut butter lover, I am excited to share with you another of Durham’s culinary gems: Big Spoon Roasters.  The company, started by Mark Overbay, produces handcrafted nut butters from scratch, using locally sourced nuts and wildflower honey. 

With the exception of the peanut butter (which has a little organic coconut oil – sounds awesome), there are no other additional ingredients – just nuts, salt, and honey.  Simple, yes, but utterly delicious.  The company currently produces four nut butters: peanut, peanut/almond, peanut/cashew, and peanut/pecan, as well as energy bars and cookies featuring these.  You can order the nut butters online or find them in select area stores (see their website for details).

I’ve only tried the peanut/almond butter (it’s great), but I look forward to trying the others.  Here’s wishing the young company much success!

 

Geer St. Garden (Durham, NC)

Geer St. Garden is the kind of place you want to love.  Located in a former gas station in a happening part of Durham, it has plenty of appeal.  It aims for that classic neighborhood joint, and definitely achieves the part in terms of ambience with a small but very charming interior to go along with sprawling outdoor picnic table seating. [In colder weather, plastic sheeting and heaters keep the outdoor section warm and cozy].  The restaurant cultivates a relaxed, easy feel, and it’s a great place to hang out with friends.

The menu is classic American fare, with a few Southern (fried chicken, collards, sweet potato stew) and Latin American dishes (tamales, fish tacos) as well.  Like any good self-respecting Durham restaurant, Geer St. Garden touts the use of local, sustainable ingredients.  I opted for the “pasture-raised” burger ($10) with cheese (additional $1).  My burger arrived next to an enormous mountain of fries.  It featured some nice fresh tomato and crisp lettuce, but the whole thing was just too plain.  The patty was under-seasoned and surprisingly thin.  The fries were similarly very average.  It was a very unexciting meal.  I was pretty hungry, so we chose to have dessert too – a brownie with ice cream and salty peanut caramel sauce.  It was a good concept, but the execution was really disappointing.  The brownie was exceedingly dry and lifeless – one of the worst brownies I’ve ever had.  There wasn’t enough of the sauce, and it wasn’t really salty either, even though the dish was loaded with peanuts.  The one bright spot in the dessert was the  creamy, silky ice cream.

In the end, I would go back to Geer St. Garden to enjoy the nice patio for a casual meal with friends, but I’d try something different and hope for better results.

Review: L’Uva Enoteca (Durham, NC)

Over a Thanksgiving weekend filled with food, we managed to fit in a great meal at yet another of Durham’s culinary bright spots, the newly opened L’Uva Enoteca.  Located at the charming American Tobacco Campus, L’Uva is chef Jim Anile’s second restaurant in the Bull City, after the well-received Revolution

The inside of the restaurant is small and narrow, almost cramped, with décor that is unforgivingly modern and sleek.  One wall of the space is lined with semi-opaque glass that looks onto an adjacent lobby.  If the interior dining lacks a bit of warmth, the few tables that spill over into the lobby surely enjoy even less.  On the plus side, there is a nice courtyard patio that ties the restaurant into the rest of the campus, saving it from office building oblivion.  It’s meant to be an expensive looking place, and it clearly achieves an upscale feel, but it’s not a romantic dining room. 

As a party of six, we were seated at probably the largest table in the room, a chunky wooden table whose quasi-rustic nature tempered the modernity of the experience.  In the right setting, it would have been quite a charming seating arrangement, but, within the narrow confines of the space, the table was angled into a corner such that the wait staff was almost constantly passing (squeezing) through right behind us on their way to and from the kitchen.

The menu is Italian in a modern way, and changes often, in very much the same vein as Durham’s Piedmont.  One thing I found very appealing about L’Uva’s menu was the option, for many of the pasta dishes, to order a small or large portion.  In the age of enormous servings, this is a great way to both eat a more appropriate amount and save a bit of money.  I opted for a rigatini with sausage, rapini, and roasted pearl onions ($10 small, $15 large).  Naturally when ordering I completely forgot the portion option, and ended up with the large.  My wife ordered the evening’s special: beef tenderloin/spinach-goat cheese raviolo/ porcini mushroom sauce ($22), and another in our party ordered the very tempting roast chicken/white polenta/orange marsala sauce ($15).

The bread brought to our table was a first rate crusty ciabatta, served with an unremarkable olive oil/pesto dipping sauce.  Entrees followed quickly, and were uniformly well received.  My pasta dish featured some beautifully delicious crumbled sausage, and was perfectly seasoned.  It had a subtle complexity and just of hint of spiciness.  I probably could have consumed the entirety of my “large” portion; I imagine the small portions might leave a hungry patron wanting.  My wife’s entrée was perhaps even better, with expertly cooked beef over a winning medley of artichoke and pancetta, with just enough sauce.  The chicken dish was a bit less successful: although the meat was juicy and tender, the white polenta was unexciting in terms of both texture and flavor, and there didn’t seem to be enough sauce to tie it all together.  A couple of side dishes ($3 each) were also ordered: some buttery asparagus and some outstanding roasted brussel sprouts. 

It being a celebratory dinner, a round of desserts was also ordered.  A chocolate crostata ($6) was like a fudgy brownie, and better than average, although my wife didn’t care for the thin pastry wrapping.  Better was an almond-apple tart ($7), featuring some sugared almonds, ultra thin apple slices, and a heavy hit of almond extract.  I thought the pastry in this case was a bit soggy/insubstantial, but the overall flavor was certainly delicious.  The downside to both of these desserts were the extremely unripe strawberry garnishes.  Best of all was some excellent coffee gelato ($6).

To sum it up, L’Uva is another feather in Durham’s cap.  If it doesn’t quite fall into the uppermost echelon of Durham’s finest, it’s because the competition is very stiff.  But it was an excellent meal, and L’Uva should most certainly be considered among the top upscale Italian eateries in the entire Triangle. 

 

Rock & Shop Market (+ Food Trucks!) – Dec. 17

Coming up on Saturday December 17th is the Rock & Shop Market, an awesome event that will feature about 100 designers selling handmade goods, a bevy of food trucks, a fashion show, and two bands!  The festivities will occur at three adjacent venues in Durham: Motorco Music Hall, FullSteam Brewery, and the Trotter Building.  Admission to the shopping and music experience is $5.  There’s no admission fee for access to the food trucks, and the following trucks are tentatively slated to appear to feed the masses:

The event goes from 12 noon – 6 pm. For more information, please visit http://www.rockandshopmarket.com

I look forward to seeing you there!

 

Food Truck Rodeo (Durham, NC)

There will be a giant food truck rodeo in Durham’s Central Park this Sunday (Oct. 30) from 4-8 pm.  27 food trucks plan to be there, including:

bikeCOFFEE, Blue Ribbon Delights, Blue Sky Dining, Bulkogi Korean BBQ, Cafe Prost, Chick-N-Que, ChirbaChirba Dumpling, Crossroads Kettle Corn, Daisy Cakes, Deez Hot Diggety Dogs, Dons Classic Ices, Farmhand Foods, Honey of a “Handcake,” Joe’s Diner, Klausie’s Pizza, Kona Chameleon, Kone Ice, Lo Yo On The Go, Loco Pops, Only Burger, Parlez Vous Crepe, Pie Pushers, Sweet N Savory, the Parlour, Triangle Raw Foodists, Valentino, Will and Pops. 

Click here for more information.

For my complete list of Triangle area food trucks, click here.