From Raleigh to Chapel Hill and all in-between, taste and see the goodness of North Carolina's coolest region
- Last Updated: 10:59 AM, June 5, 2012
- Posted: 5:38 PM, June 4, 2012
Heavily awarded farm-to-table eateries, finely crafted cocktails, locally made brews — where are we, Brooklyn? The cities of North Carolina's progressive Research Triangle region — Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh — just keep getting better and better. Here are some choice new spots — and some classic ones — not to miss.
Entering Durham, you can’t miss the giant logos for old-timey tobacco brands — Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, Bull Durham — emblazoned on the smokestacks and brick walls of former tobacco factories and warehouses all over town. (Most are now historic districts outfitted with shops, restaurants, apartments and offices.) Tobacco may be dead in Durham, but the culinary and cocktail scenes are thriving.
Downtown, gorgeous Beaux Arts, Art Deco and Neoclassical buildings now house a string of new, locally owned restaurants and bars. Like Whiskey, dimly lit and kitted out with wood paneling, leather furniture and stuffed animal heads, with a speakeasy vibe (347 W. Main St.; whiskeydurham.com). Whiskey bills itself as a “grown-up” private club. As such, it has club rules: no one under 23 is allowed, a small, one-time “membership fee” is required and smoking, both cigars and cigarettes, is permitted.
Get acclimated to the haze and sample one of about 350 whiskeys and bourbons on offer — many of them exceedingly esoteric (and pricey). The cocktail menu skews (refreshingly) old-school — Sazaracs, Old Fashioneds, Sidecars — and expert bartenders will whip up drinks off-menu, too (my Gin Fizz was divine).
On Durham’s culinary front, many a foodie is crying in his twice-baked grits soufflé over last month’s closure of Magnolia Grill, one of the pioneers of Southeastern farm-to-table restaurants.
But the locavore movement is alive and well at nearby Vin Rouge (2010 Hillsborough Rd; vinrougerestaurant.com), where chef Matt Kelly turns out solid French country cuisine using cheeses, eggs and produce from area farms along with regional clams and oysters; the rabbit pate, pork rillette and sausage are all made in-house. (Kelly soon will open a second restaurant with a tapas theme, Mateo, in downtown Durham, and also use mostly local purveyors.)
Other standouts on the city’s culinary circuit: Watts Grocery (order the spicy pimento cheese dip, a North Carolina specialty, with house-made potato chips); Guglhupf Bakery and Café’s delicate, German-style pastries; the Only Burger food truck, with award-winning burgers (and damn good fries); and the specialty food store Parker and Otis, serving Counter Culture coffee (yup, it’s roasted in Durham).