Take an Amtrak Getaway to…Durham

20150925-448Looking for an adventurous weekend getaway? One option many haven’t considered is right under our noses: taking Amtrak to Durham. My wife and I did this urban excursion back in the Fall and had a fantastic experience. Not only were we able to take an unfamiliar mode of transportation and avoid heavy traffic, but we were able to explore a culinary playground for what felt like the first time. Our one-night excursion included a night at the incredible 21c Hotel, drinks in the 21c’s bar, dinner at Mateo, and late-night drinks on the roof of The Durham Hotel.

So packing your rolling suitcase! Here’s how to do make it fun and easy:


Taking the train to Durham made the trip really feel like we were getting away from it all. Had we driven, it would have felt like just another trip to Durham. Amtrak is scheduled to leave Raleigh each day at 4:50pm and the fare is $9 per person.

Parking is less than ideal at the Raleigh train depot. Though it is free, the lot is very small, and overflow means parking on the street. The alternative is departing from Cary where the terminal is spotless, parking is outstanding. The train leaves at 5:03pm each day from Cary, and fare is $6.50 per person.

The problem with departing from Cary, though, is that you skip the great experience of leaving from downtown Raleigh. You definitely want to sit on the right side of the train, because the views as you depart downtown Raleigh, passing by the new train depot construction site, through NCSU, by the backs of Hillsborough street businesses, and by the NC State Fairgrounds, is superior to that on the left side of the train.

It should be noted that Amtrak runs late the majority of the time. Thankfully they have an outstanding phone app which accurately reports the train’s status. It is a must when traveling on Amtrak.

Usually this train doesn’t sell out, so you can buy a ticket at the depot upon arriving. Seating on the train is general admission, though, so it does help to be first in line at the designated steps when the train is loading. All seat rows have a standard pair of electrical outlets under the window, and the seating dimensions are similar to those in First Class on a large airplane. Baggage is loosely stored overhead, not checked.

if the train is running late, you can walk across the tracks to visit Videri Chocolate Factory or Boxcar Bar + Arcade. CAM is also an option on some days, as they are open until 6:30pm on Wed-Fri. If you are in Cary and the train is late, consider visiting the shops in the Ashworth Drugs block.


20150925-464Durham has three outstanding hotels: The Aloft, The Durham, and the incredible 21c Hotel. The latter two hotels are just two blocks from the Amtrak station, while the aloft is adjacent to the DPAC, essentially 4 blocks away. The scheduled arrival is 5:24pm, so you should have plenty of time to check in and prepare for dinner.

The Aloft– As with most Aloft hotels, the rooms are modern, certainly adequate, but not high end. This location just opened 6 months ago, and I’ve heard a good first hand report about the couple’s stay. Rooms are usually $160 per night.

The Durham Hotel – Set in an old office building that looks like it came out of 1960s Miami, The Durham delivers a high end experience in incredibly minimalist rooms. Nightly rates begin at $290.

20150925-454The 21C Museum Hotel – Named as one of the best new hotels in the nation in 2015, the 21c is set in the 1930s era Hill Building, Durham’s tallest. The public areas of the building have been converted to a restaurant, a bar, and several rooms of museum space. The front desk area is tucked away on the second floor, but that only ads to the intrigue of the place. The rooms are large, and terrazzo floors and rugs, modern furniture, and neat lighting. The bathrooms look like something from a Stanley Kubrick movie, glowing fuchsia backlighting around the edges of the mirror. Very sexy. Rooms at the 21C begin at $240. Note: the hotel has a construction site across the street, so request a room on the west side of the building if you can.

Make no mistake, these are three high fashion hotels. The 21C has a spa and workout room. The Aloft is the only one with a pool, but it is very small. The Durham has no similar amenities. This is the area where these three hotels are sorely lacking, honestly.


20150925-470There are some outstanding dining options within a four block walk of these hotels. We walked 2 blocks to Mateo, the creation of James Beard award-nominated chef Matt Kelly. The dinner was impressive, which comes as no surprise given the reputation of the restaurant. Last week Alton Brown gave high praise on Facebook, calling Mateo America’s best tapas restaurant. As of now, you can still have a decent choice of times on Open Table one week in advance.

20150925-467Over at The Durham, James Beard award-winning chef Andrea Reusing’s new lobby-filling The Restaurant has received high praise from the highest of area food snobs.

The 21c’s Counting House restaurant, Pizzeria Toro, Rue Cler, Piedmont, Dashi, Bull City Burger and Brewery, and Dos Perros are all excellent dining choices as well.


Our “pregame” events included cocktails at the excellent bar in the 21c. We were able to peruse the art gallery; a wonderful experience. After the meal at Mateo we made our way two blocks to The Durham’s rooftop bar. Views here are very good, and it gave us a chance to experience the neat, quirky aspects of this hotel project. The atmosphere at the top was certainly the most Glenwood South-like experience of the evening, however.

20150925-478Some other good bar options inside the Durham Loop are Alley Twenty Six, Bar Virgile, and Arcana Bar and Lounge.


Admittedly, our trip was a food-based one, however there are some great entertainment options in downtown Durham including a DPAC or Carolina Theater event, a Durham Bulls game, or even a public event at the American Tobacco complex. While these are great options, the Amtrak factor must not be forgotten. Many of these events begin before 8pm and given Amtrak’s history, it could put a squeeze on dinner plans or even jeopardize seeing a ticketed event. If you anticipate dinner and one of these events, prepare to compromise by abandoning the Amtrak option in the afternoon and just drive it.


One of the reasons this getaway is an adventure is that Durham is not the safest place on the planet. In fact Durham County is one of North Carolina’s three counties with a higher violent crime rate than any county in New Jersey. Its rate is 2.5X higher than Wake County’s.

I have had no problems, however my sister and her date did have a scary incident. On a warm night this winter, between the 21c and Mateo, they approached an oncoming group of about 20 young black males who, from across the street, yelled at them, mocking them as racists and making lewd suggestions. There were no other people around to help had the group decided to cross the street and be violent.

The streets are dark in downtown Durham, and sometimes are quiet. In 4 nights of going out inside the Durham Loop, I have never seen a police officer. While the crime rate inside the Loop is probably not nearly as high as the county’s rate, the people creating that rate are not far away. This needs to change, now. Downtown Durham is poised to be the next Big Thing in the nation, as long as people feel safe. The population on the street is changing this spring, however, as the general population walking around patronizing businesses on a given weekend night is steadily increasing during warm weather nights.

Return Trip

There are two options for your return trip on Amtrak; 9:42am and 2:42pm. The early train is good for those who need to get on back to Raleigh, but the afternoon train is the way to go. Regardless, check the Amtrak app upon waking and see how the trains are running. (we made the mistake of hurrying to the station only to learn that the early train was delayed 2 hours).


There are some great lunch spots in downtown Durham. The most popular is Dame’s Chicken & Waffles, reported to be “the real deal”. Another great option, however, is Parker & Otis, which is 2 blocks west of the Amtrak station. P&O is a great café and gift shop like none in Raleigh.

Some other excellent lunch options include Toast, Old Havana Sandwich Shop, Luna Rotisserie and Empanadas, Pizzeria Toro, Dashi, Bull City Burger and Brewery, and Dos Perros .

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Sometimes we all need a getaway. Unfortunately we find ourselves turning to the same old options, many of which involve multiple-night stays and a considerable amount of difficult driving. However random adventures can be just as exhilarating. Consider a great option that is right in our backyard; the Amtrak Getaway to Durham.



North Carolina Scores Big in Beard Semifinalist List

Salad at MateoWith Duke/UNC coming up, you know it’s also time for the biggie in food, the James Beard Award Semifinalist announcement (pdf). The biggie for the area is Raleigh’s Ashley Christensen who got one of the 20 nomination for “Best Chef: US”. Christensen’s “Death and Taxes” got one of the 25 national nominations for Best New Restaurant.

North Carolina recently been a regular in the nominations list for Best Chef: Southeast, but this year was incredibly strong with NC chefs getting 8 of the 20 nominations for a 6-state region that includes Charleston and Atlanta. (NC, SC, GA, WV, TN, KY)

Best Chef: Southeast

  • Nate Allen, Knife and Fork, Spruce Pine, NC
  • Billy Allin, Cakes & Ale, Decatur, GA
  • Jeremiah Bacon, The Macintosh, Charleston, SC
  • Brian Canipelli, Cucina 24, Asheville, NC
  • Kathy Cary, Lilly’s, Louisville, KY
  • Scott Crawford, Standard Foods, Raleigh, NC
  • Steven Devereaux Greene, Herons in the Umstead Hotel, Cary, NC
  • Kevin Gillespie, Gunshow, Atlanta
  • Damian Heath, Lot 12 Public House, Berkeley Springs, WV
  • Vivian Howard, Chef & the Farmer, Kinston, NC
  • Kevin Johnson, The Grocery, Charleston, SC
  • Matthew Kelly, Mateo, Durham, NC
  • Joe Kindred, Kindred, Davidson, NC
  • Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville, KY
  • Erik Niel, Easy Bistro, Chattanooga, TN
  • Steven Satterfield, Miller Union, Atlanta
  • Ryan Smith, Staplehouse, Atlanta
  • Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Memphis
  • Aaron Vandemark, Panciuto, Hillsborough, NC
  • Tandy Wilson, City House, Nashville

NC wasn’t empty-handed when it came to specialty awards, either. There were 20 Outstanding Baker nominations and Phoebe Lawless (Scratch Bakery, Durham) and Lionel Vatinet (La Farm, Cary) were nominated. Finally Cynthia Wong (Rhubarb, Asheville) picked up one of the Outstanding Pastry Chef nominations. No NC nominations came for Restaurant, Restaurateur, Service, Bar Program, Wine Program, Wine Sprits or Beer Professional, or Rising Star Chef.

The Talley

Here is how the Triangle area fared against other cities:

  • Triangle Area: 8
  • Atlanta: 12
  • Austin, TX: 5
  • Boston: 8
  • Charleston, SC: 4
  • Charlotte: 0
  • Chicago: 27
  • Dallas: 6
  • Denver: 5
  • Houston: 8
  • Los Angeles: 14
  • Madison: 4
  • Miami: 6
  • Nashville: 4
  • New Orleans: 14
  • New York: 16 (plus 20 in special category)
  • Philadelphia: 14
  • Phoenix: 3
  • Portland, OR: 15
  • Richmond: 1
  • San Antonio: 1
  • San Francisco: 26
  • Seattle: 17
  • Tampa: 2
  • Washington, DC: 16

The James Beard Foundation will pare down the list and announce their list of Finalists on Tue, March 15.


Oktoberfest Coming to Booth Amphitheatre This Weekend

oktoberfestOne of Cameron Village and North Hills’ great traditions from yesterday was Oktoberfest. Hark! the event lives on now at Cary’s Booth Amphitheatre. The event begins Saturday and will feature entertainment, a variety of German foods, biergarten, football-viewing tent with TVs, sanctioned beer-judging competition and more. The schedule for the two-day event is as follows:

Saturday, October 4

  • Noon – Gates open with Chuck Piercy as emcee; Kinder Platz Kid Zone open
  • 1 p.m. – Opening Ceremony, including keg tapping with Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht and other dignitaries
  • Live Music and dancing from the Little German Band throughout the day
  • 1:30 p.m. – Stein Hoist I Contest
  • 2 p.m. – Ladies’ Hammerschlagen (nail-driving competition) I Contest, followed by Men’s Hammerschlagen I Contest
  • 3 p.m. – Stein Hoist II Contest
  • 4 p.m. – Wiener Dog Races, Best Dressed Dog Contest
  • 5 p.m. – Best Dressed of the Day Contest (Ladies, Men and Children); Egg Race; Fräulein Beer Challenge Contest
  • 6 p.m. – Stein Hoist III Contest
  • 7 p.m. – Kinder Platz Kid Zone closes; Alpine Horn, Tuba Challenge or Yodeling Contest
  • 8 p.m. – Stein Hoist IV Contest
  • 9 p.m. – Fräulein Beer Challenge; Beer Obstacle Course
  • 10 p.m. – Festivities end for the day

Sunday, October 5

  • Noon – Gates Open with Chuck Piercy and Ernie McAllister as emcees; Kinder Platz Kid Zone Open; Egg Race and Chicken Dance Contests; Fräulein Beer Challenge
  • 1 p.m. – Live music and dancing throughout the day; Beer Obstacle Course; Ladies’ Hammerschlagen II Contest; Men’s Hammerschlagen II Contest
  • 2 p.m. – Stein Hoist V Contest
  • 3 p.m. – Beer Awards Announced; Best Dressed of the Day (Ladies, Men and Children)
  • 4 p.m. – Wiener Dog Races; Best Dressed Dog Contest
  • 5 p.m. – Stein Hoist VI Contest
  • 6 p.m. – Closing Remarks; Oktoberfest ends

Tickets for Saturday are $20 for 16 and up, $5 for ages 6 to 15, free for 5 and under.Sunday tickets are $15 for 16 and up, $5 for ages 6 to 15, free for 5 and under. Two-day tickets for 16 and up are also available for $30.  Beer Judge Tickets (including commemorative glass and unlimited beer sampling for the day) available for $45. Discounts available for seniors, as well as active and retired military. To purchase tickets, visit the Booth Amphitheatre Box Office, call 1-800-514-3849 or visit http://triangleoktoberfest.org/buy-tickets/


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.


Wicked Taco Bringing Fresh-Mex to Western Blvd

wickedTacoA new fresh-Mex concept restaurant is set to open on Western Boulevard this coming Spring. The restaurant, Wicked Taco, will open its first store in Blacksburg, VA in January. Raleigh’s will be Store #2.

The impressive menu includes tacos featuring rotisserie turkey mole, barbeque brisket, steak, pork carnitas, pulled chicken, citrus-marinated shrimp, fried pollock, and tostada-breaded shrimp. While the menu also features frequently found salads and sides, it features what will be the much-anticipated arrival of Breakfast Tacos to Raleigh.

The restaurant is going into the former KFC location across from Amedeo’s and next to Cook-Out. The owner said the building is in fantastic shape, so construction should begin soon. Plans include a couple of garage doors on the front opening the dining room to a patio. The price point will be similar to Chipotle, but the restaurant will be open for breakfast and late.


FirstWatch Coming to Glenwood Avenue

firstwatchcafeIn a few months the state’s first location for FirstWatch will open in the former Boston Market location on Glenwood Avenue. The 126-store chain features a fresh selection of breakfast and lunch options including omelets, “Power Bowls”, waffles, eggs, soups, sandwiches.

The “daytime café’s” branding is upscale, somewhat along the lines of Panera Bread and Corner Bakery, so don’t confuse this place with Waffle House. The restaurants’ hours are 7am – 2:30pm, so the help wanted pitch is “No night hours, ever!” The store space is currently gutted so it looks like a project that will likely open late in the Fall, perhaps.


Crawford Leaves Herons for New Hospitality Group

stdfoodsMore big news from Raleigh’s culinary scene…. Scott Crawford, the chef at Heron’s (in The Umstead) for the last 5 years, has left the restaurant and has joined with John Holmes of Hobby Properties to form the Nash Square Hospitality Group.

The group has two concepts underway, Standard Foods and The Nash Tavern. Standard Foods will be a grocery store/restaurant located in Person Street Plaza (map it) and will open in the Fall. The store will contain an 80-seat restaurant serving casual Southern cuisine (eg. chilled Strawberry Soup with yuzu and jalapeno, Fresh Bacon with Boiled Peanut Chowder, marble potatoes & leeks, Tomato Popsicles with spicy pickled okra, fried Rabbit with succotash, Pork Cheeks with pickled peppers & apricot mustard, puddings, pies and peach-ginger sorbet). The grocery end of the concept is slated to feature a whole animal butchery, brown butter, duck fat, demi-glace, stocks, and a fresh seafood selection.

Nash Tavern will be a full-service restaurant on Nash Square, and is slated to open in 2015. It will feature Modern American fare and will have private event space.


Ashley Christensen Wins Best Chef in Southeast

acA huge congratulations for Raleigh’s Ashley Christensen who tonight was named “Best Chef in the Southeast” at the James Beard Awards! Christensen first made a name for herself in this market with her food at Enoteca Vin, but then moved on to open the Raleigh Times Bar with Greg Hatem. After leaving the Times Bar, she opened her best-known restaurant, Poole’s Diner, which set the tone for her interpretation of classic comfort foods.

Keying on resonating trends at Poole’s, Christensen branched out to open Chuck’s, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Fox Liquor Bar, and Joule Coffee. The endlessly energetic Christensen will soon expand her territory with the opening of Death & Taxes and Aux Kitchen.

This marks the first Beard award winner for Raleigh and another for the Triangle region. Raleigh’s proud of Ashley for finally getting this prestigious award and helping to cement this area as one of the best culinary markets in the country!


Need Help Discovering Great Cookbooks?

If you have ever found yourself overwhelmed in the cooking section of a bookstore or at Amazon.com, you aren’t alone. There are hundreds and hundreds of cookbooks out there and it is difficult to discern the good from the bad.

One of the best ways to improve your cookbook collection is to look at what cookbooks the great chefs are using. One of the most exposed and interesting selections in the area is at Rise, the biscuit/donut shop in the Southpoint mall complex. It’s a fun look; rewarding to see some of your favorites, but also a great chance to add to your own list or your gift lists.

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City Barbeque Brings Delicious Range of Styles to Cary

2014-04-09 12.58.29While it isn’t the home of Eastern North Carolina barbecue, Raleigh is definitely in the territory. The chopped, vinegar-based pork style of barbecue is how we were raised around here and anything else is dog food, right? Well….

Other styles of American “barbecue” have come and gone, with mild to moderate success. Houston-based Luther’s brought a heavily smoky Texas brisket to Raleigh in the mid-80s, however the flavors were just too strong to shake for the rest of the day. Red, Hot, & Blue has only had moderate success, as has Dickeys. City Barbeque, a Columbus, OH based operation is the latest contender on the block, and it just might be good enough to make the impact others are seeking.

Instead of sticking to one style of preparation, City has decided to go with a sampling of styles from across America’s mid-section: Texas-styled brisket and sausage, Alabama-style pulled Chicken, St. Louis Ribs, and Carolinas-Styled pulled pork. With three sauces for the meats, I was able to turn any of these meats into a style I wanted.

2014-04-09 12.58.37The sausage was good, but not quite as good as what I had in my recent trip to Austin. However the brisket is actually more enjoyable. The ribs and pork were both delicious, as well. What made my meal stand out, however, was the feeling I had after eating it. Most of the time barbecue doesn’t agree with me. Either the food is overtly greasy and/or has an intense smoke flavor that I can’t shake for the rest of the day. Not so with City Barbeque. Not only did the food agree with me, but I didn’t even have a greasy sensation on my tongue that afternoon. That’s truly remarkable!

The huge list of sides at City Barbeque are as good as the meats. I was able to sample corn pudding, slaw, potato salad, french fries, Texas-style baked beans, and green beans. They ranged from good to some of the best I’ve ever had. The potato salad was excellent, however the french fries, with the perfect amount of kosher salt, are among the best I’ve ever had (including my meal last week at Flip Burger, Food & Wine’s pick for Best Fries in the U.S.).

The string beans are worth a discussion by themselves. They are cooked in homemade chicken stock along with “bacon” – not the fatty stuff from the grocery store but rather a thin, ham-like version. The result: the best stringed beans I’ve ever had. The texture is perfect, the salt level is perfect, and there is no resulting grease slick!

The restaurant is located in a replacement building in the parking lot of the Trader Joe’s shopping center in Cary. This is an ideal location, as their patrons are likely not going to be people whose palate for BBQ is limited to only Eastern NC style. That shouldn’t deter Raleigh people from making the 20 minute drive, however. It’s worth the drive, for sure. (and when you are done you can swing by the Meat House in the shopping center next door and take something home to cook another night).

City Barbeque will stage their grand opening tomorrow (4/12) with a “rib cutting” ceremony at Noon.

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Big Green Egg Event Coming to Wake Forest

2014-03-27 18.37.50Want to cook like these people in your own back yard? You can!

Komado cooking dates back over 3000 years ago in China. The egg-shaped ceramic cookers cook meats evenly without drying out the meat. Because of their design, temperatures in these cookers can be controlled quite well, allowing for low-and-slow cooking.

Tomorrow the Town and Country store in Wake Forest will be hosting a Big Green Egg demo. The event will feature free samples including pizza, stuffed mushrooms, cookies, shrimp poppers, and smoked pork butt. Expoerts will be on hand to answer questions about the different products available, and will offer a 10% discount on eggs.

The event runs from 10am-3pm.

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Finding That Great NCAA Tournament Pregame Meal

4de6440e4540c5448758a65102e802cdVisiting Raleigh for NCAA Tournament action on Sunday and looking for good food? You came to the right place. While some of Raleigh’s best options for tournament-centric eats are not open, there are still a ton of great locally-owned places.

The PNC Arena is in West Raleigh, however all of these places are within 15 minutes of the arena traffic plume. (more on that at the bottom. Depending on your route in, some places are better choices than others if timing is tight)


  • Armadillo Grill – Quickie SW food. I still love this place – DT
  • Mami Nora’s – Rotisserie chicken done with Peruvian flair – NR
  • Guasaca – Columbian arepa outlet is NC’s best – WR


  • Chuck’s – Gourmet burgers by Ashley Christensen, finalist for James Beard Awards’ 2014 Best Chef in the Southeast – DT
  • Torii Noodle Bar – Great little Japanese noodle/sushi place. One of the best bargains in Raleigh. (WR, at the Crabtree Mall entrance)
  • BurgerFi – small national chain with burgers that are a step above Five Guys – (off 40 near arena and NR)


  • Raleigh Times Bar – Gritty beer bar (family friendly, though) with fantastic food. Started the downtown renaissance, and always mentioned in any short blurb bits about Raleigh in magazines – DT 
  • Buku – Fantastic urban street food place, in a contemporary, NYC feeling atmosphere – DT
  • Busy Bee – Good beer hall place with sneaky-good food.
  • Sitti – Lebanese.
  • The Pit – NC BBQ place that is always written up in magazines, on DD&D
  • Humble Pie – (Brunch only on Sundays) Great tapas place – DT 
  • Poole’s Diner (opens at 5:30) – Ashley Christensen’s flagship – DT
  • Gonza Tacos – (opens at 5) Best Mexican restaurant in NC. – NR
  • Mez – Southwestern in RTP – Near 40/540


  • An – One of the best Asian restaurants in NC (off 40 near arena).
  • Heron’s – (Brunch only) One of the finest restaurants in one of the finest hotels in the country (off 40 near arena).  – (off 40 near arena)

DT = Downtown
NR = North Raleigh
WR = West Raleigh
("Off 40" – these locations are found on the way to the arena from Charlottesville).

Parking Recommendations

Parking for the main lots at the arena will have traffic spilling out to Edwards Mill Road and Wade Ave/I-40 East (between the airport and the arena) causing significant delays. My recommendation is to skirt these areas and see what you can do to get to the intersection of Hillsborough St. and Youth Center Drive in Raleigh. YCD ends at the NCSU football stadium entrance, where there is ample parking with better traffic flow than the main lots. In a sense, you are approaching the complex from the South instead of from the Northwest.   map it

PNC Arena Parking Fee: $20

Game Times: Tennessee-Mercer, 6:10 , Virginia/Memphis, ~8:40


The Definitive Guide to PNC Arena Dining

Headed to the PNC Arena for NCAA Tournament action this weekend? You’ll likely find yourself hungry. Thankfully the arena has good food to reward that hard work pulling your team through!

Best Options

  • Sausage Cart – The options of three Italian-style sausages with onions and peppers stands as an option rivaling any at the state fair. (Concourse, Sections 106, 121)
  • Chicken Wrap – (The Deck, Section 111)
  • House Chips – (The Deck, Section 111)
  • French Fries – Vinegar available at condiments stand. (Section 107 concession stand in West Priority Lounge).
  • Tacos – Dos Banditos (Concourse, Section 111)
  • Mucho Nachos – Dos Banditos (Concourse, Section 111)
    • Fresh Popcorn – (Concourse, Sections 119 & 130)
    • Ice Cream – Fresh waffle cones! (Concourse, Section 115)
    • Steak & Cheese Cart – Usually has a moderate/long/slow line (Concourse, Section 121)
    • Carvery Cart (turkey, roast beef) – (Concourse, Section 121)
    • Cheap Hamburger – (Concourse, Section 129) – fast-food burger that isn’t bad. Probably a better value than the hamburgers in The Deck. The fries from this stand are not good, however.
    • There are “healthy” options, such as wraps, at the concession stand near Section 126 (Front entrance)

    Options to avoid

    • Any pizza product – ugh!
    • Chicken tenders at The Deck
    • Chicken sandwiches from most concession stands
    • Nachos from any place but Dos Banditos
    • Barbecue – (especially noted for you people from Memphis). Greasy and fatty.
    • Hot Dogs – Better used as cornhole projectiles.
    • Popcorn where the popper isn’t clearly visible (can be stale)
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