Donuts and more!

monut

image courtesy of flickr

For a long time, finding good donuts in the Triangle was always something I puzzled over – up until quite recently there just weren’t many options.  But now we can have a legitimate debate: whose donuts are the best? I’m going to leave that up to you to decide!  Here are a few places where you can score some donuts and/or other delicious eats:

Rise (Durham, Southpoint area):
I’d had their donuts before, as well as a day old biscuit, but I’d never been to the storefront.  It’s extremely small  inside, with very limited seating, but there are some tables out front.  Be sure to grab a numbered ticket when you enter; the ordering queue gets a little jumbled as 1/2 the people don’t realize they are supposed to do this (I was guilty the first time through the line).  There are biscuits with any number of toppings, and then there are the specialty ones featuring all sorts of gourmet arrangements.  I went with a simple fried chicken biscuit ($3).  The biscuit itself was super, the fried chicken – a little thin (too must crust/meat).  But do try the ham biscuit – you get a nice fat hunk of roasted ham (not a traditional country ham like you might expect).  The biscuits are big, but not quite big enough for an entire lunch for me.  Thankfully, they have donuts too!  Though I love sweets, I think the donuts here are second fiddle to the biscuits.  Jelly-filled and chocolate glazed with sprinkles were average; the coconut cake, better.  Many of the donuts are gourmet-creative-exotic, but I will say that some plain glazed mini ones we got recently were feathery light and just perfect. 

Monuts (Durham, downtown):
Like others in Durham, Monuts has graduated to a genuine store front, in their case beginning as a simple stand at the farmer’s market.  The store is super cute, and they also serve home made bagels.  And, somewhat perplexingly, wine and beer.  But get a donut – you won’t regret it.  I’ve tried a chocolate chai (cake) that was really good, an earl grey cake (great flavor, mediocre texture) and an apple cinnamon cake (crumbly and sugary in the best way).  I need to get back and try some yeast donuts. 

I’ve also tried donuts from Sandra’s Bakery in Sanford and these were quite good, but I wouldn’t go way out of the way for them.  I’ve had an excellent buttermilk donut from the Cup 22 coffee shop in Saxapahaw, though donuts at the general store next door have been less than thrilling.  I’ve yet to try Daylight Donuts, but people seem to really like them (they are a nation wide chain).  And, speaking of chains, last but not least, there’s good ol’ Krispy Kreme, whose “hot now” glazed donuts are pretty hard to beat.

The Eddy Pub (Saxapahaw, NC)

photo courtesy of flickr

Having made the trek twice out to the wonderfully quirky and delicious Saxapahaw General Store (see reviews here and here), I’ve been excited to try their newer, more formalized restaurant, the Eddy Pub.  Both continue to generate plenty of buzz – see the recent NYTimes article about the town here.  But whereas the former lacks any ambience (being literally within a gas station), the latter offers a more refined gastropub dining experience.

To begin with, the space is lovely.  A sign just inside the massive door encourages you to “seat yourself, make a friend”.  Saxapahaw is a small community, and you definitely feel as though you’re part of it at the Eddy.  Seating is a hodgepodge of thrift store furniture and regular wood tables and chairs; a small bookshelf adds to the casual coffeeshop-like feel.  It’s as much a gathering place for a beer with friends as it is a typical dining room.  Indeed, a sizeable portion of the space is occupied by the bar.  In the evening, the place is cozy with very dim lighting, but I imagine that during the day the large windows and inviting deck (pictured above, perched high overlooking the river) make the restaurant feel rather expansive.  Either way, it packs an awful lot of charm, and it’s a very pleasant spot to eat a meal.

The menu is generally similar to that down at the general store, with a heavy focus on local meat and produce.  It changes frequently, but some dishes, like a burger, or fish & chips, appear to be mainstays.  Many entrees feature “mashers” (mashed potatoes) alongside a protein and vegetable side.  My wife selected the burger ($12) with farmhouse cheddar, Dijon, and mango chutney.  The burger comes with potato salad or fries, and when asked which she preferred, the server simply said “it depends who is making [the potato salad]”, offering no further elaboration.  Fries it was.  I went with the stuffed chicken breast ($18), which featured “house made white wine rosemary sausage & mushroom stuffing”, a squash gratin, and, of course, mashers).

As with our experiences at the general store, the food took a good while to emerge from the kitchen.  The burger patty was deeply charred and crusty, although the inside turned out to be remarkably closer to medium.  But the main downfall of the burger was the overwhelming amount of horseradish (an element unfortunately not mentioned in the menu description).  Even for fans of char-grilled burgers or horseradish, it was a bit much.  My wife didn’t enjoy it, though she thought the cheese was excellent.  The fries were pretty standard.  My chicken dish was equally disappointing.  The meat was cooked fairly well, but the tucked-under-the-skin stuffing was barely present, adding little to the dish.  The squash gratin was crippled by under-seasoning and what tasted like canned bread crumbs.  The best part of my meal was the creamy, garlicky mashed potatoes.  Overall, it was a bland and uninspiring dinner.  Interestingly, my plate also featured a large unidentified chunk (crouton??) of charred material.  Both portions were massive.

While we love the town, the general store, and the setting and vibe of the Eddy Pub, on our next visit we’ll be dining down at the gas station.

Saxapahaw General Store (Revisited)

Saturday evening we drove back out to Saxapahaw.  It was a perfect day for a lovely drive in the country.  The gas station/general store/restaurant was bustling when we arrived around 6pm.  They had a great menu scrawled on the chalkboard – coconut braised pork shoulder with fried bananas, braised local short ribs with mashed potatoes, local beef & pork meatloaf, walnut-crusted trout, and so on.  It’s true farm-to-table eating, as everything is sourced locally and sustainably, and just about everything is made in-house in the tiny kitchen behind the counter.  After surveying the menu, we walked up the sidewalk to the new sit-down restaurant and bar adjacent to the gas station.  It’s called The Eddy.  A massive wooden door leads you into a beautiful sun-lit space.  It’s small but cozy and very inviting – all rustic wood tables and chairs, complete with a bar and nice patio.  I perused the menu, which offered similarly delicious-sounding items and prices (roughly $12-18), with a few additions like pork carnitas.  The looks of the fresh bread on the tables and the promise of full table service were tempting, but it was crowded, and we walked back down to the gas station and placed our orders down there.  I went with a rock shrimp “pad thai” and my wife chose a duxelle stuffed chicken dish with mashed potatoes and green beans (both $12).  As we experienced on our previous visit (see post here), it can take a long time to get your food.  My wife’s arrived as a giant chicken leg with a delectable mushroom mixture tucked up under the golden skin, all resting on a bed of the potatoes and some brown gravy.  Mine was a much simpler bowl of noodles, but it was loaded with shrimp and topped with sesame seeds and peanuts.  It was spicy and filling, and the noodles were nicely cooked, but the dish probably could have benefited from more cilantro.  The chicken dish was also very good but wasn’t served hot enough.  That was kind of surprising considering how long we had to wait for the food.  As I observed on our first visit, everything was flawlessly seasoned.  In the end, it was richly satisfying food and a superb value considering the quality of the ingredients and the execution.  We ate it all up and vowed to return again.

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