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Dec
01

Tupelo Honey Sets New Casual Standard

Tupelo (7)The long-awaited opening of Tupelo Honey Café is finally here. The much hyped, Asheville-based restaurant opens its 8th store in the new residential building at 425 Oberlin Road (across from where Balentine’s was).

Fans of the restaurant’s other locations will be familiar with the menu, a Southern take on breakfast, casual dinner entrees, and excellent side veggies, all scratch-made. Dinner entrees are mainly priced in the teens, however a couple of nicer entrees exist in the twenties.

We had a chance to sample some items at the original Asheville location as well as the new Raleigh location, and the experience is well-conveyed, with much more elbow room in Raleigh. One of the can’t-miss items for breakfast is the Sweet Potato Pancake. Sweet potatoes are the one food that make me gag, which is why I was so surprised to have my socks knocked off by this cinnamon, peach butter, and spiced pecan-enriched creation. The pancake is about the size of a personal pizza, and is one of the best breakfast foods I’ve ever had.

Tupelo Honey has a nice selection of sandwiches, yes, but creative twists separate this restaurant from others. The BLT with a fried egg was excellent, however the bread is what really made the sandwich. Also worth seeking are the BBQ Egg Rolls, a delicious fusion of Far East and Deep South.

Tupelo (5)It is rare to see a restaurant that excels at breakfast do the same for dinner, and Tupelo doesn’t disappoint. We tried the fried chicken, which easily glides in as Raleigh’s best. Also excellent was the Pork Chop with Braised Figs. While the meat was slightly overcooked (probably taken to 175 degrees by training cooks), the fig/red wine sauce was truly delicious. This preparation of figs danced a delicate line of bitter and sweet in each bite.

Tupelo (4)Finally we tried the Shrimp and Grits, which was only a mild success. The goat cheese grits in this dish are smooth and creamy without knocking the palate over with fat (an Achilles heel in so many restaurants). The “spicy roasted red pepper sauce” over delivered on spice, being hotter than anything in Chipotle’s salsa lineup. That coupled with the over abundance of red peppers might have some diners disappointed. We felt the dish needed just another layer of flavor, whether from a touch of parsley, spinach, or even scallions. (For an $8 premium, the dish can be made to Cheesecake Factory-levels of huge with more shrimp, and the addition of onions, mushrooms, spinach, and bacon – definitely rounding out the dish for flavor but pushing it into the “dish for two” realm.)

Tupelo (6)Side dishes at Tupelo Honey are across the board outstanding. We couldn’t get enough of the fried okra, actually surpassing the pan-fried, cormeal-encrusted masterpiece my Brevard grandmother once made. Another eye-opener is the Cheesy Smashed Cauliflower, a fascinating mashup of minced cauliflower, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and garlic (pictured to the left of the BLT sandwich). Not to be missed, as well, are the shoestring fries, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and “BBQ Spice”. The spice is subtle, leaving the parmesan to do the heavy lifting here.Tupelo (3)

The restaurant features two drinks worth trying. The Rosemary-Peach Lemonade is excellent, yet a bit heavy on the rosemary, while the Blueberry Punch is an outstanding, sparkling blend of blueberries, pineapple, apple flavors. These drinks are $3.50 and unfortunately do not come with free refills.

Each meal comes with a complementary course of homemade biscuits. Tupelo puts a welcome twist with accompanying, delicious blueberry jam and honey.

Tupelo (2)Finally for dessert we ordered the excellent Pecan Pie, topped with a light application of perfectly blended caramel sauce. Banana Pudding is the other dessert, rounding out an excellent Southern experience.

The 6,500 square foot restaurant is thoughtfully decorated with works from four Raleigh artists (Matt McConnell, Linda Dallas, Brandon Cordrey, and Jeremy Maronpot), each depicting a part of the area’s flavor using rough, classic, rural materials. The only somewhat modern piece is the magnificent honeycomb light fixture with blown glass “honey drips”, found at the restaurant’s entrance. There are 180 seats, including a large sidewalk dining area that features a comfortable nook with a fire pit and upholstered seating. The bar, located oddly oTupelo (8)n the far end of the dining room, features 22 Stone Brewing brands.

The restaurant’s design is long on capacity and short on lounging space. The restaurant is going to be slammed, and I don’t know where people will wait for tables (We waited 50 minutes for lunch in Asheville, and I anticipate dinner service wait times of at least 1.5 hours for many weeks to come).

Another problem we encountered is the booth seating dimensions. The cushions are probably 3” deeper than common designs, firmly pressing into the back of my knees. Booth seats are so high that my feet barely touched the floor. I am 5’9”, and those shorter than I had dangling feet and sleepy legs by the meal’s end. Luckily the problem is not in the booth’s frame design, but rather the cushion itself.

Tupelo (9)The price point is a smidge high for casual dining. With no alcohol, the dinner bill after tax and tip usually ends up being $25-$30 per person. That said, the portions are very large, so many leave with a doggie bag. (I, on the other hand, chose to make myself miserable by eating everything in sight).

Tupelo Honey’s design brings a real challenge to Raleigh. It is a true urban design in a suburban area of the city. Parking is extremely limited, so the restaurant reportedly will have valet parking. There are few spaces available in surrounding neighborhood streets, and virtually every surrounding business tows for non-customers (USPS, McDonalds). Many will park in Harris Teeter’s lot, and this will present problems for that store’s already limited parking offering. A mediocre restaurant would not make it in this location.

Tupelo (10)The parking issue won’t put a dent in the restaurant’s bottom line, but what it will represent is a huge demarcation between the two cultures in Raleigh. Old Raleigh people want to drive up to a restaurant’s front door, and don’t accept valet services. Hayes Barton Café is a real challenge to this crowd, for example. However the younger, newcomer set will freely accept these challenges as the norm, and won’t allow access to be a factor in determining the success in the new Oberlin corridor. As a Raleigh lifer, I didn’t recognize a soul at the restaurant’s soft opening. We noted that we didn’t “feel like we’re in Raleigh”, and that’s not likely to change.

Tupelo Honey is a fresh welcome as it doesn’t remind me of any other restaurant. It doesn’t have a Pulp Fiction feel to it, doesn’t imitate other modern restaurants with cold, hard decorating and we’re-so-cool electronica music, and doesn’t feel pretentious. Tupelo Honey feels real, and delivers on quality, perfectly representing a new standard for the New Economy, an era that champions casual excellence.

Note: Tupelo Honey will operate with only dinner hours for the first two weeks.

Jun
03

4-Story Mixed Use Planned For Hillsborough St.

hillsboro_2811Another piece of the residential component for Stanhope Village will be reviewed by the Appearance Commission on Thursday. According to the Preliminary Site Plan (pdf), developers plan to replace the former Red Barn/Swenson’s/SakuraXpress building at 2811 Hillsborough Street and replace it with a 4-story mixed use project.

The building would contain 30 apartments on three floors sitting atop a street-level retail floor, a development style in accordance to the Stanhope Village area plan. Plans also call for 21 vehicle spaces.

The Raleigh Appearance Commission will be discussing this project (more renderings will likely be shown) on Thursday, June 5, at 4:30 pm in the City Council Chambers. The meeting will also be televised and streamed by RTN.

Oct
15

Apartment Complex Coming to Glenwood/Oberlin

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 11.10.44 AM Good news, Raleigh. Your worst building, the Kip-Dell Homes office at Glenwood and Oberlin is finally coming down, soon! This week the Raleigh Appearance Commission will consider another addition to Raleigh’s booming apartment market.

The 2600 project will contain roughly 150 apartments in a six-story complex that will replace both the Kip-Dell office and the neighboring U-shaped, brick apartment building. That site and height will be ample for some excellent views overlooking the Carolina Country Club golf course from the north-facing upper floor units. The complex is being developed by Gordon Grubb, and the architect is J Davis (as if you can’t tell from that rendering).

The decision to develop the property with apartments was apparently an easy one for Grubb, as I recently learned that the 290-apartment complex replacing Balentine’s received over 6,400 applications. While apartment projects around St. Mary’s, Hillsborough Street, and Oberlin are rocketing upward, we can probably expect more and bigger project announcements in the coming year (especially around Crabtree).

It will be interesting to see if the plans for the 2600 project will cause as much angst in the community as we’ve seen historically with that property. Around 1983 Guest Quarters announced plans to develop the site with a suite hotel of an approximately similar size to the planned 2600. Neighbors and Carolina Country Club members posted yard signs and used all available political clout to eventually cause Guest Quarters to cancel the project.

This is 2013, however, and the political climate in Raleigh and in the club are different. A different generation is in charge at the club, and the top ranking members have strong real estate backgrounds. Grabbing the popcorn…

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Feb
27

OC Bar & Grill Coming to Oberlin

theOCA new bar and restaurant is finally coming to the vacant restaurant space in the Oberlin Court project. The OC Bar & Grill will open within a month, and its menu (pdf) shows a wide selection of burgers, sandwiches, grill items, and pastas all generally in the $8-$15 range. If the food is good…this will be a huge hit in a part of Raleigh craving more family-friendly menus.

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Jun
19

WhichWich Coming to Cameron Village

TBJ is reporting that WhichWich will be coming to Cameron Village this summer. They will be in the space formerly occupied by Quizno’s, next to the ABC Store. They also are reporting that Uncle Fatty’s recently closed, and will be replaced by a sushi/burger concept called Sushi Gami.

Sep
13

WCPSS Student Assignment Meeting Tonight at BHS

wcpssTonight begins a series of important meetings by the Wake County Public School Board. The meeting is at Broughton High School from 6:30pm to 8pm (presumably in the auditorium, which is in the building’s corner closest to the intersection of St. Mary’s and Peace Streets). Most likely the hot topic will be the assignment of students from the JY Joyner Elementary School (map it) district. The zone which currently predominantly feeds into Daniels Middle School and Broughton High School, is slated to inclusively feed East Millbrook Middle School (map it) and Millbrook High School (map it).

The controversial proposed school reassignment plan (.pdf) is intended to keep students closer to home and minimize long-distance student commutes. The plan looks logical for nearly every school in the system, however it certainly breaks down for Joyner. Under the proposed plan Daniels would be fed by Root, Stough, York, and Jeffrey’s Grove. Martin would be fed by Lacy and Olds. I don’t have access to the number of seats in those eight schools, but it seems strange that Daniels would be fed by four schools and Martin would be fed by only two. Perhaps Martin is smaller than Daniels, but from what I have heard they are roughly equivalent in size.

If the plan aims to keep students in the same part of the county as their residents, then sending people in the Five Points area to the shadows of Triangle Town Center, just inside of I-540, seems completely counterproductive. If the plan moves forward, the property values of houses along Anderson Drive will plummet while houses along Ridge Road in Raleigh will skyrocket. This is why there ought to be a very strong showing at this meeting tonight. There is much on the line for people who live in the Northeast quadrant inside of I-440.

There will also be meetings at Sanderson (Wed, 9/14), East Wake (Thu, 9/15), and Millbrook (Mon, 9/19). For more information see the WCPSS website.

Aug
04

Jack Astor’s, Foster’s/Nelson’s/Felson’s/Noster’s Close

Restaurant closings are hitting the mid-priced restaurants at these times. Jack Astor’s was simply an easy meal in Cary. Foster’s on the other hand, was an important ITB social spot over the last couple of decades. The brick arches inside were reminiscent of the old Darryl’s on Hillsborough St. Wood from barns out in Wake County was used to fabricate the large doors inside. There were Clarence Foster’s locations in Atlanta, Charlotte, and Wrightsville Beach, but the Raleigh store was bought by the local owners when the chain went down. Later on Ralph Nelson converted the space into an upscale oyster bar and restaurant. The space underwent a massively expensive, and poorly designed renovation. Nelson’s didn’t make it and the space was converted back to Foster’s. Foster’s…man….Faaaahhster’s.

It is hard to imagine that the Fosters space will be kept in its same configuration. Whatever is next is likely to be quite different, and an end to many memories. Along with the Brewery (which has already been torn down), the ITB crowd lost a a pair of fun spots this week.

Dec
02

Today’s Groupon Deal: Cantina 18

Cantina-18 Cantina 18, in the heart of Cameron Village, is today’s Groupon deal. They offer $7 for $15 of food at the southwestern restaurant.

Jun
21

Raleigh Accepting Appearance Award Nominations

The City of Raleigh is accepting nominations for the 2010 Sir Walter Raleigh Awards for Community Appearance. The annual awards recognize outstanding new development, building rehabilitation efforts, and natural resource conservation within the Capital City. The awards program was established in 1983 to commemorate exemplary achievement in enhancing the city’s appearance. More than 200 projects, sites, and individuals have been honored.

Awards are offered in 11 different award categories, including new residential, commercial, or institutional construction, plus historic preservation, sustainable design, and tree and landscape conservation. The award for “Maintained Outstanding Appearance” honors appearance contributions by projects 5 years old or older. The “Individual” award is presented to a citizen who has consistently worked to preserve or improve city appearance.

The deadline for entries for the 2010 Sir Walter Raleigh Awards is Friday, July 9. Nominations for the can be made online at or by completing a printed form available at City government offices. In addition to project information, six or more digital photos of each nominated project or individual, submitted on CD or flash drive, are also required.

An independent jury will meet in July to review the nominations. Award winners will be selected based on specific criteria, including exhibition of a new standard of excellence, awareness of land stewardship, innovation, conservation of natural and/ or historic resources, and exceeding applicable ordinances. The Raleigh City Council will confirm the jury’s selections in August. Awards will be presented in October.

Jun
05

Fosters Celebrates 15 Years With Block Party

indecision Fifteen years ago Clarence Fosters opened and was a key player in the rebirth of Cameron Village. This was an important event in getting people’s attention focused back on older parts of Raleigh. Some of the ownership has changed, but still today, Fosters stands proud at the base of the Taj MaTeeter.

Beginning at 5pm today they will have two outdoor bands to celebrate this occasion, Indecision and Soul Posse. Admission is free until 8pm, and appetizers are just $5.

Oct
27

Community Gro For Sale

commgro The Community Grocery store at Oberlin and Van Dyke has been for sale for a while, and went up on Craigslist earlier this week. The little store has had two owners in the last 61 years, and this one is ready to retire. As a favorite hog dog and chicken salad spot for many, the future is up in the air for the little place. One potential buyer this year was ready to go, but couldn’t secure funding, so back to the drawing board. One of these days, you’ll get to go fishing, Gro-man!

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Oct
01

TeaGschwendner Now Open in Cameron Village

teagschwenderThe worldwide tea sensation, TeaGschwendner has landed their fourth U.S. store in Raleigh’s Cameron Village.

TeaGschwendner began as a small tea shop in Trier, Germany, and features a selection of more than 250 varieties of tea, including black, green, oolong, white, rooibush, herbal and fruit.  Seasonal specials will be e-mailed or listed on the store’s Facebook site. They will also offer “Introduction to Tea” classes in 2009 which include teaching mixed with tea tasting. More classes will come early next year.

The store is located next to Globtrotter, facing the Village Draft House.

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Oct
01

Bloomsbury Brings Back Tasting Menu

BB_chk

Raleigh’s best restaurant, Bloomsbury Bistro, has reintroduced its popular three-course tasting menu (.pdf) for two. The menu is available from Monday thru Saturday nights and includes items such as Sautéed boneless Carolina mountain trout wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma over a big bowl of roasted acorn squash bisque with wild rice risotto, haricots-verts & jumbo lump blue crab as well as the delicious Chicken Normandie (Roasted breast of all natural chicken over blue cheese gnocchi & haricots-verts with green apples & smoked bacon in creamy cider-rosemary sauce.)

The price is $50 per couple which includes an appetizer, an entree, and a desert. (Tax, tip, and drinks not included).

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