Hereghty (Raleigh, NC)

image courtesy of flickr

Even if you’ve never been to France, you probably know that a nice buttery, flaky croissant is one of life’s great pleasures.  Fortunately for those of us in the triangle, you don’t have to go nearly that far to enjoy one.  Tucked away in a bland shopping center at the corner of Oberlin and Glenwood in Raleigh is Hereghty Patisserie and Cafe.   I  consider it something of a hidden gem in Raleigh, and it’s a great place to pick up a light lunch, an excellent pastry, or a decadent dessert.

Inside it’s about what you’d expect – a handful of tables, richly appointed seating, and, of course, a set of long glass cases showcasing all of the tempting options.  On one side are the cakes, tarts, and other fancy desserts; the chocolate desserts, in particular, are well worth the trip.  A chocolate mousse cake and a chocolate tart are memorable for being rich and pretty much perfect.  In the other case are scones, cookies, and, of course, croissants, among other things.  You can get a chocolate, almond, or plain croissant, but it doesn’t matter – they’re all delicious.  As for the other items, a triple berry scone I tried recently was outstanding, if a bit too similar to a muffin.  For lunch, Hereghty offers sandwiches, salads, crepes, quiches, and soup.  A turkey croissant sandwich was just right (with nice ripe tomatoes), although the accompanying green salad was nothing special.  A cup of tomat0-basil soup was fine but a little creamier and a lot less basil-y than I would have liked, though it had a nice subtle spiciness to it.  A surprising letdown was a piece of biscotti that was oddly shaped – a thin flat plank – and lacked all crispiness.

To sum it up, you won’t be disappointed if you go to Hereghty for the desserts or croissants.  If you’ve been to France, it will remind of that lovely country, and if you haven’t been, it will give a taste of it.

Escazu Chocolates (Raleigh, NC)

Nestled in a quiet residential section of downtown Raleigh is the small storefront of one of the true gems of the Triangle culinary scene, Escazu chocolates.  Duck inside, and you are greeted with the rich aroma of chocolate, and, then, with the difficult but pleasant task of trying to choose from all the wonderful confections to be had.  There are all kinds of truffles, chocolate bars, coffees, and ice cream push-up pops (the spicy chocolate is awesome) to tempt you.  The individual truffles and bars are boldly flavored (think white chocolate/cardamom, dulce de leche, pumpkin seed/chili, or sea salt, for example) and beautifully crafted, and rotate frequently so you can always find something new to try.

Started in Beaufort, NC in 2003, the company focuses on all natural Latin-American ingredients and flavors (Escazu is a village in Costa Rica).  Their process is rare in that it goes all the way from “bean to bar” – meaning their chocolate is made from scratch, starting with roasting their own cacao beans.  Escazu also imports a line of coffees and makes a terrific Mexican hot chocolate.  Their original chocolate bar (the “Beaufort”) is dark chocolate with sea salt (yes, it’s terrific), and since then the offerings have steadily expanded.  In 2007, they opened a tiny Raleigh storefront on Glenwood South, and last year they moved over to the Mordecai area, next to Market Restaurant on N. Blount Street.  Escazu bars are sold at retailers nationwide, and are also available through their website.  But the experience of going to the store itself is well worth the trip, and you can even take a free tour there (but only on select dates, and you must book ahead).  I know I’ll be back soon!

Note: images courtesy of Mark Petko’s awesome food photography blog Spoonfed Raleigh

Scratch Bakery Revisited

When I first wrote about Scratch Bakery in Durham shortly after its opening, I mentioned the great food, but I didn’t love everything I tried (see previous post).  After going back this weekend, I have changed my mind.  The place is awesome, the food is fantastic, and we are lucky to have this place so close.  If I could, I would go there every day.  It was bustling this weekend – there wasn’t a seat to be found – and Phoebe and co. had seemingly unplugged all the stoppers: there was a dazzling array of goodies to choose from.  Buttermilk sausage biscuits, Spanish potato-onion quesadilla, walnut coffee cake muffins, ricotta-date-candied orange crostadas, ricotta-lemon-honey mousse tarts, and on and on.  These, of course, in addition to some of the usual favorites: doughnut muffins, chocolate sea-salt tarts, and a huge selection of cakes and pies.

Restraint when ordering was exceedingly difficult.  The sausage biscuit ($3) was excellent, and my wife’s  “SOS” (a giant piece of toasted rustic bread covered with creamy collards, bacon, and a poached egg, $7.50) was even better.  A hot chocolate was creamy, foamy, and exquisite.  I took home a couple of half-priced day-old goodies: a sweet-potato/bacon crostada (which was surprisingly bland) and a nice walnut coffee cake muffin.  And we couldn’t resist a chocolate sea-salt tart to go either.  One bite took me back to a small craft fair in Raleigh probably five years ago, when Scratch was selling out of coolers under a small tent.  I had the same treat then, and experienced the same reaction: near perfect, and I just want more!