Little Hen (Holly Springs, NC)

Little Hen is a new restaurant in Holly Springs that looks very promising.  According to this post over at LunchBoySays, the chefs are bringing a true farm-to-table approach to the food, featuring local, sustainable meats and produce almost exclusively.  The menu will change frequently, and they plan to start a Sunday brunch service in the near future.  For now, it’s dinner only (Tuesday – Saturday).

I’m very excited to try it out!

 

Piedmont Farm Tour

This Saturday and Sunday is the 16th annual piedmont farm tour – billed as “America’s largest farm tour”.  It’s a great way to learn about the Triangle’s local and organic farm & food scene.  You’ll get to meet local farmers & tour their farms!

With 6 new farms and 40 farms in all, the 2011 Piedmont Farm Tour has something for everyone! We are pleased to add to the tour this year, beautiful Lindale Organic Dairy, a 5th generation farm, an exciting new permaculture-style farm up in Hillsborough  -  Ever Laughter Farm, and Cozi Farm, which is raising animals near downtown Saxapahaw!  And, Suki Roth will be opening up her Herb Haven!  These farms, plus lots of your favorites, will make a great tour!

Load up a car with your friends and family , choose the farms on the map you’d like to visit and get out in the countryside! The tour is self-guided and farms and sites are located throughout the Triangle in Alamance, Chatham, Durham, Orange, and Person counties.. Visit any farm in any order. And, don’t forget to take a cooler so that you can take home some of the farm fresh products for sale at many farms!

Advance tickets are $25/car.  On the days of the tour, tickets will be $30.  The farms will be open from 1pm – 5pm each day.  For more information, maps, and tickets, visit http://carolinafarmstewards.org/pft2011.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

Scratch Bakery (Durham, NC)

Phoebe Lawless is the baker behind Scratch, a Durham start-up that is garnering widespread attention (see recent mention and recipe in Bon Appetit magazine).  And deservedly so, as she creates some amazing pies, pastries, and treats.  Last week, Lawless opened her highly anticipated retail location on a quiet, leafy side street in downtown Durham.  It’s an immensely charming space, with a clean, modern feel.  The glass store-front, high ceilings, and exposed brick walls give an airy, casual ambience. The tables are heavily lacquered turquoise wood, the floor is a nice smooth tile, and the remaining walls are brightly colored without being overbearing.  A smattering of outdoor tables lends a nice European café feel and makes you want to linger.

Back inside, a glass-fronted counter showcases all manner of tempting creations, with little chalkboard signs describing the offerings and their prices.  A recent visit confounded with choices like local lamb & rice empanada, pesto & farmers cheese stromboli, zucchini crostata, some kind of bruschetta involving a giant wedge of cheese, and, of course, donut muffins – dense, cake-like muffins rolled in immense quantities of sugar.  But that was not all.  As we sat eating, more goodies arrived, notably slices of pizza, with topping like guanciale/garlic scape/asiago or new potato/broccoli/ricotta.  Further down the counter, a glass case featured more of the sweeter creations, such as a crumb cake, a blueberry pie, and some cheesecake squares, among others.  Still further down the counter, another glass case featured some vegetable side dishes and cold salad items, such that you could really put together a nice lunch.  Without exception, everything looked beautifully crafted and delicious.

Where Scratch really excels, I think, is with the execution of its crusts and crostatas.  But it’s not just the extraordinary crusts, it’s the fillings too.  The zucchini/sautéed onion/cheese crostata we tried was fabulous.  In the past, I’ve had a butternut squash/chorizo empanada and a dark chocolate/sea salt pie that were among the best pastries I’ve ever eaten.  By constrast, the pesto stromboli was definitely yummy, but I found the dough to be too soft and fluffy-pillow like, and I felt there was not enough of the filling.  A simple sticky bun was nicely nuanced but a touch dry.  And the lemon shaker pie I tried, while beautifully executed, was difficult to eat.  I felt it needed a bit more sugar to counter the dominating taste of the lemon slices.

In the end, Scratch is a terrific addition to the Triangle dining scene.  It’s the kind of place you’d expect to find in a much bigger city.  The bakery fosters a wonderful link to the area’s farmers by featuring local organic ingredients almost exclusively.  To be sure, the top-notch ingredients and excellent craftsmanship are reflected in the bakery’s prices – at $4 for slice of pizza, $5 for a small crostata or slice of pie, or $6 for a (fairly large) empanada, you can run up a big bill quickly.  But the quality of the food is well worth it.  When we were there the place was packed, and I hope it stays that way.

P.S. Scratch also sells at the Durham farmer’s market on Saturdays and, for the truly converted, (all it takes is one bite), through her pie-a-week subscription plan.  Check out their website (under construction) at:

http://www.piefantasy.com