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Traffic Circles Removed from Currituck Design

neighborhoodRoundabout The Raleigh City Council recently approved a traffic calming project slated for Currituck Drive in the North Hills subdivision. The project design, intended to engineer cars into keeping speeds in the 20s, includes curb extensions and medians. The intent is to convey a sense of traffic calming by including an element every 5th house along the street.

Original plans called for two neighborhood traffic circles (one oblong and one circular) as well as bumped out corners of an existing 4-way stop intersection. The approved design, however removes all of those options. The oblong circle has been replaced with a median on both sides of the intersection and the true circle will likely be replaced with a 4-way stop.

The project is expected to begin this summer in the summer of 2016.


125 Concerts to Rock Your Summer

2014-08-22 21.06.44 Summer always brings great concerts to the Triangle, and 2015 may be the best yet. From April to September there are 125 big acts coming to the area’s venues, with more announcements coming! From 1st-tier comedians to one of only 15 North American dates for the Rolling Stones, there is always something to do here this summer. See venue key at the bottom for info links.

Click the “Summer ‘15” tab (at the top) for the updated list .


Cameron Village Planning Parking Decks

Raleigh’s original shopping center, Cameron Village, has seen a renaissance over the past two decades. The renovation began with the removal of several outdated parking structures from the  struggling center. A full complex facelift was then completed, and the general public has responded enthusiastically. With not only the replacement of several surrounding outdated office and retail buildings, but also the addition of many new apartments, Cameron Village finds itself one of the most sought after addresses in Raleigh by young professionals.

While the changes have made Cameron Village wildly popular, the availability of parking at the center has become a deal-breaker for some. To meet the new demand for parking, Cameron Village management has released new renderings of parking structures that will be completed by this time next year.

The first phase, pictured below, will be a one-level deck over the surface parking on Daniels Street, extending from Noodles & Co to the end of the strip where Seagrove Pottery was. The open air parking level will connect to shopping areas with carefully placed staircases. Phase Two continues the parking experience across Daniels Street and will completely wrap the block which houses Outdoor Provision Co., Village Draft House, and the ABC Store.

“We are excited to offer super convenient parking for our customers,” said Wynne Lorth, a vice president of the center. “Not only will be adding quantity of parking, the new structures will convert existing surface parking into a premium experience that is always dry and cool; especially needed on those hot summer days.”

Existing Cameron Village parking with rendering of new premium parking.

CV_Now CV_Render


Let The Madness Begin!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year; tourney time. Time to fill out those brackets, because after all, this is one of the necessary forms for living in Raleigh. The best brackets are CBS’, because they show the times of the games. (pdf).

Another format for the games is chronological. While it is too early to post relevant lines, it is time to post the times and networks of the games. The region is denoted with the letter “E”, “W”, etc.

12:15 – Notre Dame(3) / Northeastern(14) (Pittsburgh, M, CBS)
12:40 – Iowa St.(3) / UAB(14) (Louisville, S, TruTV)
1:40 – Baylor(3) / Georgia St.(14) (Jacksonville, W, TBS)
2:10 – Arizona(2) / Texas Southern(15) (Portland, W, TNT)
2:45 – Butler(6) / Texas(11) (Pittsburgh, M, CBS)
3:10 – SMU(6) / UCLA(11) (Louisville, S, TruTV)
4:10 – Xavier(6) / BYU/Ole Miss(11) (Jacksonville, W, TBS)
4:40 – VCU(7) / Ohio St. (10) (Portland, W, TNT)
6:50 – Villanova(1) / Lafayette(16) (Pittsburgh,E, TBS)
7:10 – Cincinnati() / Purdue() (Louisville, M, CBS)
7:20 – UNC(4) / Harvard(13) (Jacksonville, W, TNT)
7:27 – Utah(5) / Stephen F. Austin(12) (Portland, S, TruTV)
9:20 – NCSU(8) / LSU(9) (Pittsburgh, E, TBS)
9:40 – Kentucky(1) / Hampton/Manhattan(16) (Louisville, M, CBS)
9:50 – Arkansas(5) / Wofford(12) (Jacksonville, W, TNT)
9:57 – Georgetown(4) / Eastern Washington(13) (Portland, S, TruTV)

12:15 – Kansas(2) / New Mexico St.(15) (Omaha, M, CBS)
12:40 – Michigan St.(7) / Georgia(10) (Charlotte, E, TruTV)
1:40 – Northern Iowa(5) / Wyoming(12) (Seattle, E, TBS)
2:10 – West Virginia(5) / Buffalo(12) (Columbus, M, TNT)
2:45 – Wichita St.(7) / Indiana(10) (Omaha, M, CBS)
3:10 – Virginia(2) / Belmont(15) (Charlotte, E, TruTV)
4:10 – Louisville(4) / UC Irvine(13) (Seattle, E, TBS)
4:40 – Maryland(4) / Valparaiso(13) (Columbus, M, TNT)
6:50 – Oregon(8) / Oklahoma St.(9) (Omaha, W, TBS)
7:10 – Duke(1) / N. Florida/Robert Morris(16) (Charlotte, S, CBS)
7:20 – Iowa(7) / Davidson(10) (Seattle, S, TNT)

7:27 – Oklahoma(3) / Albany(14) (Columbus, E, TruTV)
9:20 – Wisconsin(1) / Coastal Carolina(16) (Omaha, W, TBS)
9:40 – San Diego St.(8) / St. John’s(9) (Charlotte, S, CBS)
9:50 – Gonzaga(2) / North Dakota St.(15) (Seattle, S, TNT)
9:57 – Providence(6) / Boise St./Dayton winner(11) (Columbus, E, TruTV)

Of local note: Former NCSU guard Archie Miller coaches Dayton. Former NCSU assistant coaches Arizona. Former Duke guard and assistant Tommy Amaker coaches Harvard. Former Duke guard Bobby Hurley coaches Buffalo. Former Duke Assistant Mike Brey coaches Notre Dame. Former UNC assistant Jarod Haase coaches UAB. Raleigh native Dez Wells stars for Maryland.

Former Clemson coach Cliff Ellis coaches Coastal Carolina. Former Clemson coach Larry Shyatt coaches Wyoming.


Fury 325 Test Run POV Hits Internet

Carowinds’ Fury 325 will open this summer as the 5th tallest roller coaster in the world, and will be the most discussed coaster on the continent this year. On Wednesday the track saw its unmanned maiden voyage. A point-of-view camera was mounted and footage is now posted on YouTube.

The 325’ high coaster is 20’ taller than the Statue of Liberty, and will be the highest and fastest for Bolliger & Mabillard. The firm known for engineering the smoothest coasters ever built sees itself well into the 300 foot zone with this coaster. It’s a zone that Intamin has dominated over last decade and a half. Hopefully B&M can bring their brand of well-managed lateral Gs to this class of coasters.

Looks like some track tuning still remains as well as much landscaping. It appears the coaster has a fantastic fine del capo under the pedestrian plaza followed by a splashdown into a lake. This should be a dynamite addition to the NC side of Carowinds, and will attract visitors from around the world to this hidden gem of a park.


North Carolina Loses The Great Teacher

2015-02-08 12.59.14 On the evening of Saturday, February 7, UNC lost perhaps its most important family member of the school’s storied history. Coach Dean Smith had suffered from dementia for many years, and his life ended quietly. The irony that such a sharp mind that steered so many storied comebacks would not be able to mount one in his own life is a bitter pill to swallow. That we are not in control of our fates is just one of the lessons Smith taught us.

There are hundreds of great stories being passed around these days about great Smith moments. Mine came after reading his book Multiple Offense and Defense . It is a fantastic, concise X’s and O’s manual for running several of the offensive and defensive sets Smith used in the first half of his coaching career. There are also great lessons about team play, running structured practices, acknowledgment of the groundbreakers that came before us, and the beauty of math in the game we love. That final point led me to corral my own stats for the team, which eventually blossomed into my Tar Heel HOOPla website 20 years ago.

In the book Coach Smith explained his system for evaluating offensive and defensive efficiency, and stated that his team’s goals are to exceed 0.85 points per possession and to keep the opponent below 0.75 points per possession. The book was written before the advent of the 3-point shot, leaving me to wonder about how much that rule changed the stated goals. Woody Durham hosted a weekly call-in show with the coach and I was able to ask him my question on the air. He first stated,”Very good! You’ve done your homework,” then stated his updated goals of 0.95 and 0.85, respectively.

Apparently I’m not alone in being fascinated by the statistics basketball brings us, as evidenced by the popularity of Ken Pomeroy’s work. Pomeroy’s stats differ from Smith’s because Smith considered a possession to end when a field goal is attempted while Pomeroy considers it ending when the other team gets possession of the ball. Pomeroy reaches this figure by subtracting offensive rebounds from field goal attempts, making Total Possessions an irrelevant statistic. Smith’s method, on the other hand, leaves a Total Possessions differential which reflects the true rebounding, making his method much more useful.

When I was in Chapel Hill for college and dental school, I only had a couple of brushes with Dean Smith. One morning my dental class sat in a hallway waiting to take an exam. A hush fell on the group as Dean Smith walked down the hall by us after completing an appointment with one of our professors. It was as if we all wanted to be put into the game. We all got a chuckle at how we responded, but also were impressed that someone like Dean Smith thought that highly of our teacher.

I was lucky enough to get to sit behind the bench in ‘93 to watch the eventual National Champions play Duke on Senior Day. Committed recruits Jerry Stackhouse and Jeff McInnis sat in front of me while uncommitted Rasheed Wallace sat two seats toward midcourt. Wallace, of course, chose UNC over his hometown Temple, and Smith would later proclaim Wallace to be the best player Smith coached. The photo above is from the book Return to the Top , and shows me right behind Stackhouse and McInnis. Jim Valvano sat across the court doing his final full broadcast. Phil Ford, one of the greatest college basketball players of all-time, and Bill Guthridge, one of the best big-man coaches in the history of the game, were 10 feet in front of me. It was an incredible experience to be a spectator around these great masters of their craft. Of course from that angle one gets an appreciation of the vertical elements of basketball, but I was also able to appreciate the level of focus players from each team carried.

We essentially lost Coach Smith several years ago with the onset of dementia. Unlike other coaches, Smith retired and made few public appearances. In one of the many pieces of irony surrounding Smith, he was always proud of his ability to teach, yet could have taught us all so much about the game and life after retiring from coaching. Smith could be ruthless in team practices, slicing giants to pieces with his words. However those were  players (and families) into which he had emotionally invested. He would never have felt comfortable criticizing the play of players he didn’t know, so he never pursued the chance to teach us more.

Smith learned basketball from Phog Allen who learned basketball from the game’s inventor, James Naismith. While Smith may be gone and the building bearing his name may not stand for the remainder of our lives, Smith leaves an indelible mark on both the game and the culture of the State of North Carolina through not only his bountiful coaching tree, but also through the many of us whose lives were enriched by his work.


City Lays Markings for Currituck Obstacle Course

20150204_140922 The City of Raleigh is planning for major traffic changes on Currituck Drive. The residential street is slated for curb bumps, surprise medians, and the city’s first residential mini-roundabouts. The street will also gain a sidewalk on the north curb to match the existing one on the south curb. According to plans, the project’s goal is to slow traffic to around 30mph. This will be accomplished by placing an irregular feature every 5th house in order to establish a culture of “speed calming”, but will contain no vertical elements (speed bumps).

Projects such as those on Rainwater Drive and Mourning Dove Road were the first to integrate lateral interruptions to traffic in Raleigh, however the Currituck project will be the first to implement the mini-roundabout. Two such designs will be used at the street’s intersections with Macon Place and Tyrrell Road. The island at Tyrrell, a perpendicular cross intersection will be a pure circle and will not require any additional streetscape to support the feature.

The feature at Macon, however, is oval, biased against Currituck traffic. This crossing, pictured, occurs during a steep hill, and visibility is not very good (looking uphill). Likely this will be the surprise element that will cause the most accidents (on a street with very few accidents in its 50 year history).

The City Council will review the plan and welcome public comment in their December 3 meeting. If the plan is accepted construction will occur during the coming Summer, if Fall of 2014 leaves are picked up.


History Making Heels and Wolfpack Prepare for Battle

With both NCSU and UNC coming off of thrilling home wins over Top 10 opponents, tonight’s showdown looks to be another great chapter in the rivalry’s rich history. Last year’s epic overtime battle was a modern era classic, and while many of the players return for tonight’s game, the primary factors are completely different.

The NCSU team has only recently found its identity. We knew they had a talented backcourt, but the the inconsistent play in the first dozen games really hampered the team. They keys to NCSU tonight are two-fold:

  • While point guard Cat Barber continues to bring outstanding athleticism but sputtering smarts to the game, transfer Trevor Lacey has become an all-conference level performer. Nobody is talking about how Lacey can do everything that T.J. Warren could do, but the truth is, he isn’t far from consistently being that level of player.
  • BJ Anya is a great shotblocker who is foul-prone. If he can stay on the court, NCSU’s frontcourt can match up to UNC’s.

State’s play is straightforward, but UNC’s is not. The first part of this 2015 season has been a trying one for UNC fans. The team, sporting with 6 McDonald’s All-Americans, has struggled to show any kind of cohesiveness and consistency. However dissecting the Heels reveals some things about this team that the babbling, mantra-driven local sports radio media fails to see.

  • Against the 5th most-difficult schedule in the country thus far, UNC has held opponents to only 0.78 points per possession. That’s the best defensive of any UNC team in the 19 years I’ve tracked this statistic . That’s a period where the school has won 2 National Championships, been to 5 Final Fours, and put dozens of players into the NBA. The goal is to keep teams below 0.85, and this team is surpassing the stated goal by an impressive amount.
  • UNC is averaging 4.5 more possession than opponents, the largest
    margin in the tracking period, too. This means that this team is the best rebounding UNC team in the last two decades.
  • UNC is the #4 team in the nation in defending the 3-pointer (and that’s including the stats from the Notre Dame game).
  • UNC is averaging 0.90 points per possession on offense. That ranks
    #15 in the 19-year period. (goal is to be >0.95)
  • UNC is turning the ball over on 14.4% of its possessions. That’s a fairly average performance compared to other years.
  • UNC is shooting 31% from 3, good for a #271 national ranking (345 ranked). They are #302 in 3 pointers made in each game.

With UNC’s weakness being outside shooting, one would think UNC would play to its strengths, however they are attempting 24% of their shots from beyond the arc. Usually Roy’s teams can shoot the 3 well, and only take about 22% of their shots from behind the arc.

The keys for UNC moving forward are establishing Joel Berry as the primary PG, moving Marcus Paige to the SG, narrowing the rotation, and running the offense through Kennedy Meeks.

Much attention is on Marcus Paige, however the statistics show that UNC falls apart offensively when Kennedy Meeks leaves the game. For UNC to win tonight, they need an excellent game out of Meeks, and to shut down the Pack offensively.

In the last 20 years NC State is 1-14 after beating Duke or UNC. I expect NCSU to struggle shooting the ball tonight, and for UNC to win this chapter.  Revenge for tonight’s loser comes in 5 weeks, though, where NCSU may play their best Dean Dome game in quite some time. We’ll see…


25 Predictions for 2015

It’s that time of year. As a new one rolls around we look forward at the trends and events that will likely impact our lives in Raleigh. In no particular order, here is a glimpse into the crystal ball:

  1. 2014 was a banner year for electronic security breaches, and 2015 will continue the pattern. Banks and retailers, now facing higher than ever write-offs due to security breaches, will fully embrace cardless payments, and ApplePay will be huge. ApplePay is so secure and so easy, we will see iOS gain back some noticeable American marketshare from Android. A related technology we will see will be a payment by car; an ApplePay and Google Wallet extension in new cars allowing quick payment in drive-thru windows and turnpike tolling gates.
  2. As a result of new, secure payments and the end of predictable market corrections, we will see a solid year for brick and mortar retail.
  3. In food trends 2015 will be the Year of Cauliflower, and we will see it everywhere.
  4. Wake County will see sizable increases in property taxes and sales tax rates.
  5. Some Hibernian property will have a fire (they always do).
  6. After recently releasing their worst album, U2 will scale back their existing tour plans, and will not perform in North Carolina this time around.
  7. Raleigh will extend the route of its ever-popular Christmas parade.
  8. Raleigh will join in on the donut craze that has hit both Durham and Cary, with a donut shop opening in downtown or Hillsborough St.
  9. After much success with a seasonal store, A Southern Season will open a permanent store in Cameron Village.
  10. As with each year, we will say goodbye so some restaurants, but probably fewer old favorites than in 2014. Unless they are able to make changes to generate a serious amount of buzz, we are most likely to lose Zoe’s Kitchen, some Moe’s locations, Flying Biscuit (it will be a terrible year for Raving Brands), Crowley’s, Mia Francesca, Taj Mahal, and a few Subway locations.
  11. 2015 will be a huge year for straight-to-internet movies, and will be a difficult year for movie theater houses. Large movie complexes have less marginal overhead per screen-showing, so we will only see a slight reduction in their showtimes offered. However it will be very difficult for The Varsity in Chapel Hill to make it. Raleigh’s Ambassidor Cinemas, with 12 total screens over 4 locations, will likely scale back operations, too, especially at the Six Forks location.
  12. Publix will announce an alternate North Raleigh location.
  13. 2015 will see a surge of bluegrass-inspired local bands forming in Raleigh.
  14. 2015 will bring national exposure to Vivian Howard and her show “A Chef’s Life”.
  15. 2015 will be an off year, but nonetheless a strong one, for James Beard nominations in North Carolina.
  16. The Velvet Cloak property will be sold and plans to raze it and replace it with a mixed-use project will surface.
  17. Once again, Raleigh will continue its oppressive assault on drivers in neighborhoods by reducing speed limits on more wide, neighborhood streets to 25mph. They will also erect more of those contrived islands meant to annoy and slow drivers.
  18. UNC and NCSU will field bubble teams in football, once again, that will get absolutely no national attention.
  19. The entire KMart chain will close and RadioShack will close many stores in 2015. JCPenney will close many stores nationally, but the North Hill store will unfortunately remain open. (can you at least keep the lightbulbs replaced?)
  20. A new mall will be announced for the I-40/42/70/540 area between Clayton and Fuquay. It will focus on serving the Johnston County market.
  21. The Carolina Hurricanes will finish their worst season on record amid rumors of the franchise moving to Las Vegas.
  22. In downtown Raleigh we will see the closing of a Mexican restaurant and opening of a South American sit-down restaurant.
  23. In Men’s Basketball Duke will make the Final Four, UNC will lose in the Final Eight, and NCSU will not make the tournament.
  24. Due to legal pressures, hostile behavior by executives, a backlash against surge pricing, and taxi and lobbying powers, Uber will fail nationally (much like Aereo did).
  25. And in the world of dentistry: electric toothbrushes that log activity, much like a FitBit, will hit shelves and be quite popular, especially models designed for children and teens.

Raleigh’s 10 Biggest Stories of 2014

As we shut the door on 2014 we take a look back at the stories of 2014 that will have the biggest impact on Raleigh moving forward (in no particular order of importance):

Mitchell Silver leaves Raleigh for NYC

Mitchell Silver, Raleigh planning director for the past 9 years, accepted what he calls his final job when he got a call from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. Silver will serve out the next 4 or 8 years as New York’s Commissioner of Parks, an intends to retire to Raleigh afterward. In his 9 years Silver laid out two comprehensive planning planning strategies, but also executed some masterful microdesigns that have made downtown Raleigh a more unified, walkable, and livable place.

State and Federal Elections (aka “Moral Monday Backlash”)

The state’s NAACP director organized some well-attended, disruptive demonstrations at the state legislature. Not only did these actions affect no change with legislation, on November 4, voters across the state chose to continue the Republican super majority in the state houses.

Wake County Democrats Take Supermajority

Probably the most surprising and most impactful story of 2014 was the Democrats’ sweep of Wake County Commissioner seats, taking every seat on the board. There are 24 elected seats in Wake County and 21 are held by Democrats. While most didn’t expect a full sweep in a vacuum, the biggest surprise is that it occurred on a day where nationally Republicans had one of their best election days in recent memory.

Tupelo Honey Opens in Cameron Village

There has been a lot of fuss over Tupelo Honey in Asheville, and the restaurant’s most recent expansion was into Raleigh. Raleigh’s best new restaurant came at the end of the year, and it has been packed since Day One.

Thomas Crowder Dies

One of the key members of Raleigh’s Democrat-led City Council died after a somewhat short battle with testicular cancer. Crowder was a part of the Meeker-led bloc that spearheaded changes in Raleigh’s downtown and suburban development. His seat is filled by his surviving wife, Kay.

Fortify Project Begins

The three-year plan to dig up I-40 and I-440 from Poole Road to the Crossroads interchange got in full swing, leaving drivers waiting through delays and finding alternate routes through southeastern Wake County.

Wainstein Report Released/UNC Scandal Grows

2014 was the worst year in UNC’s 219 years of history. What started as a scandal about football improprieties grew in 2014 taking down UNC’s academic reputation with it. UNC Chancellor Carol Folt commissioned an investigation into academic wrongdoing in the AfAm department. The results showed, however, that non-athletes were in the majority of those receiving sham credit hours, and from multiple departments. The NCAA re-opened their investigation into the matter, however we still await its conclusion and response

Ashley Christensen Wins Beard Award

There have been many great years recently for Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen, but 2014 has to be her finest yet. In early May she was named the Best Chef in the Southeast by the James Beard Society. Christensen not only saw her existing restaurants strengthen their bases, but she also announced the planning of a new restaurant, Death & Taxes, and opened a commissary to run back-end food prep for her family of restaurants.

Triangle Flexes Culinary Muscle

While it was a banner year for Ashley Christensen, it was a fantastic year for the entire Triangle. Out of the 433 national nominees for James Beard awards, 9 were in the Triangle area, joined by 3 others from the rest of North Carolina, totaling 12 for the state. No restaurants from Charlotte, the Triad, or Wilmington were nominated. Only 6 nominees went to each Virginia and South Carolina, while 11 went to Georgia. Much ballyhooed Austin, Texas? They got just 3.

Snow Cripples Raleigh, Frightens Duke

On February 12 Raleigh got an icy 3 inches of snow, causing severe traffic problems. When one untalented driver on highway 70 revved the engine too high causing the engine to burst into flames, the ensuing mayhem on eastbound 70 in front of the Angus Barn became fodder for a national meme .

Duke was to travel to Chapel Hill to play in the Dean Dome that night, but Mike Kryzyzewski feared problems traveling on 15-501, and canceled the game. With everyone else in place to play the game, including ACC referees and TV crews, many speculated that K was trying to protect his team from embarrassing themselves on national TV. The game was postponed and UNC still won. Duke saved the embarrassment for March 21 with a first-round NCAA Tournament ousting at the hands of Mercer.


2014: The Rain Year

One of the most underreported stories of 2014 is the enormous amount of rain that fell on the city in the second half of the year. Without a tropical storm or hurricane to inflate annual totals, as we typically see, Raleigh still got 55.29” of rain. This is 11.95” above the normal 43.34” annual total.

I am not privy to historical rainfall totals for this area, but being 28% above the normal level is exceedingly rare, and likely greater than 2 standard deviations away from average. By comparison 1996, a famous year which brought two hurricanes to Raleigh and featured a September with 16.65” of rain alone, had a total of 59.14”, a total 36% above normal. 2014 however was a year which had normal rainfall for the first half, then about seven large dumps throughout the entire late summer and fall. It was an unusual pattern that will certainly have an effect on root and mold development through the coming winter and spring.


image courtesy WRAL.com weather section


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 o Tupelo (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.


2013 Predictions. A Look Back

23 months ago I posted some predictions for the upcoming 2013 year. For fun, let’s look back and see which ones turned out and which ones didn’t:

  • Publix will begin construction on their first Triangle store…in Cary in the Davis/54 area. TRUE (kind of) – The store opened at Davis Drive/High House a couple of weeks ago. Not 2013, but I got the location correct!
  • Publix will pick Creedmoor/Millbrook for their first Raleigh store location. The new owners of Falls Village will make a strong play for Publix, offering to raze half of their center to accommodate a large grocery store. WRONG – Publix is, however eyeing a North Raleigh site near Bedford for their first Raleigh store
  • Raleigh will begin discussions to tear down Memorial Auditorium – with the dominant bookings of the DPAC, Raleigh people are increasingly irked by having to go to Durham for so many good events. Leaders in Raleigh will talk about removing the center section of the performing arts complex and replacing it with a stacked, 3-tier facility to compete with the DPAC. – WRONG – Memorial Auditorium’s HVAC system was renovated this summer, but the house continues to struggle against the nationally-renowned DPAC. Give this one a few more years, though.
  • Violence will be an increasing problem in Glenwood South, and patrons will start seeking another focus for nightlife, most likely in…the Hillsborough Street area, which will be the next wave of downtown revitalization. WRONG – We having seen a big uptick in violence, thankfully. However we are seeing a big movement toward residential space on Hillsborough, and retail will follow.
  • Orvis will close in Triangle Town Center and seek space in a part of the Triangle where their patrons actually live. Perhaps Kidd’s Hill behind Crabtree? WRONG – The store is still a ghost town, though.
  • Development of both Kidd’s Kill properties will finally begin, but the Soleil Center/Westin land will remain an empty lot. CORRECT – A very disappointing apartment development is going in behind Crabtree, and the Soleil property remains a fenced off eyesore.
  • A new mall will be announced for the I-40/42/70/540 area between Clayton and Fuquay. It will focus on serving the Johnston County market. WRONG – Still waiting on this one.
  • Best Buy will close at least one Triangle location. My bet is the newest store, Brier Creek. CORRECT, KINASORTA – Best Buy is hanging in there, but they did close the store across from Triangle Town Center, and opened a small footprint store farther into Raleigh on Capital Blvd.
  • Between Liles, The Varsity, and Nowells, Raleigh will only support two, and one will close. – CORRECT – The Varsity closed
  • As brick & mortar retail continues to struggle, Crabtree will add another restaurant in its mall proper CORRECT – Tomato Pie opened in the mall’s lower level.
  • While Washington policy will grow much more liberal than we’ve seen in the previous 4 years (increasingly hostile fiscal policies toward the wealthy, increased spending on social programs, and a stark increase in liberal social policies and transit expenditures), North Carolina policy will become more conservative, but not by much. In the next four years issues like Gay Marriage, Legalization of Pot, and Gun Control will stay put in this state, unless there is federal mandate… MOSTLY CORRECT. The wealthiest 1% now pay 24% of the Federal Tax burden, and NC’s policy has stayed conservative. (See Gay Marriage in next comment)
  • …The Supreme Court will rule that Gay Marriage must be recognized by all states, and Federal Legislation implementing more stringent gun control will override North Carolina’s stance. WRONG METHOD – NC did, in fact, legalize Gay Marriage without a federal mandate, and the issue continues to be challenged in court by conservatives.
  • North Carolina will get an increased amount of funding for transit (regional “high” speed and local light rail), but the State of North Carolina will decrease expenditures in these areas, and no real progress will occur in the next four years, especially with light rail. WRONG-SORT OF – We didn’t see appreciable funding for transit in 2013, but in early 2014 a light rail project linking UNC and downtown Durham was approved by federal agencies.
  • Raleigh will continue its oppressive assault on drivers in neighborhoods by reducing the speed limit on Glen Eden to 25 mph. They will also erect more of those contrived islands meant to annoy and slow drivers. WRONG/CORRECT – Glen Eden remains untouched, but we have seen the introduction of speed bumps and arbitrary 4-way stops on streets like Northbrook Drive and Lake Boone Trail. Contrived islands, surprise curb extensions, and traffic circles are planned for Currituck Drive.
  • UNC and NCSU will field bubble teams in football, once again, that will get absolutely no national attention. CORRECT/INCORRECT – UNC went to the game in Charlotte and NCSU did not win a conference game in 2013. Neither, however, improved their national stature in football.
  • If the NHL season is cancelled, Backyard Bistro will close. N/A – The NHL season was not cancelled in 2013.
  • T-Mobile will be bought by one of the other carriers, most likely AT&T, reducing the number of carrier networks to three in the Triangle. WRONG – There are still 4 carriers, and T-Mobile has survived by reducing the 2-year lock-in contracts that became the norm.
  • Free Wifi will be everywhere by the end of the year. In the malls, the restaurants, and in grocery stores. Most importantly, I predict that free wifi for every fan in the building will be implemented in the PNC Arena. (yay!) WRONG – Slowly, but surely, we are getting there, though.
  • The number of restaurants with tablet menus will grow quickly. In fact, only cheap or snobby restaurants will be without a tablet presence by the end of 2013 . CORRECT/KINDA – iPad lists have been a big hit for extensive wine lists, and we have seen table-top kiosks appear in Chili’s, however digital menus are still in the minority.
  • Buca di Beppo will announce their first Raleigh/Cary location WRONG (sniff)
  • PDQ will announce two more locations. One in the Southpoint area and one in Cary. WRONG/CORRECT – PDQ did add two more locations, and one is in Cary. The other is in Wake Forest, not Durham.
  • One of downtown Raleigh’s Indian restaurants will close. Will it be Blue Mango or Mantra that survives? WRONG
  • BJ’s Brewhouse will announce their first North Carolina locations – on in Charlotte, one in Cary. WRONG
  • The next big culinary ethnicity, after Mexican starts to fade, will be South American. Restaurants like Machupicchu and Guasaca will have excellent years, but will see more competition, too, especially in the casual dining space. N/A – We really haven’t seen a replacement for Mexican yet. Still waiting on this one.
  • Guacamole variations will be the next trend within the Mexican food space CORRECT – Many Mexican restaurants offer varieties of Guacamole.
  • The IHOP on Hillsborough Street will close, but will be replaced in 2014 by a mixed use apartment building that will have street level retail, including a new IHOP. (This is a planned project. The prediction is that execution will begin this year) WRONG TIMING – Still waiting on this.
  • The Triangle will be selected as the site for filming a nationally prominent movie. WRONG
  • No significant changes to Raleigh’s skyline will be introduced in 2013. WRONG – Skyhouse apartments began construction in 2013, and other projects on that block were proposed.
  • A MakerBot-like 3D printing business will open in Raleigh, allowing people to create functional and artistic plastic items just-in-time. N/A – Maker projects are growing, but we having seen private 3D printing places yet.
  • Here’s the big one: 2013 will be the Year of Durham, and the crowning moment will be an announcement by Google that their second Google Fiber city will be…Durham. KIND OF CORRECT – Google put the entire Triangle on its short list for fiber, and AT&T announced fiber expansion in the Triangle, too.

So, overall, not too bad. There were some correct predictions, and for the most part, the incorrect ones were not way far off. Some just need more time as the sluggish economy still has lending markets feeling jittery.

In one month I will present predictions for 2015.

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