Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Loosen Your Belts, Visitors

The primary reason we wanted to get married in Durham is that we live here - being the control freaks we are, we couldn't imagine planning a distant wedding (even though it might have benefited our mental health). The second reason is that we could stretch our money much, much farther here than we could in New York or Connecticut.

The third reason - almost as important as the first two - is that Durham is a food mecca, one of the real centers of the farm-to-table movement. Not only have we striven to make our wedding embody those principles (most of the food will have traveled only a few miles, and much of it only a few yards), but we really want to encourage our out-of-town guests to experience some of the culinary treasures that Durham and Chapel Hill have to offer.

But you don't have to take our word for it! Bon Appetit is calling Durham-Chapel Hill "America's Foodiest Small Town!"

We included a big guide to our favorite Durham food-and-drink spots with the invitation, so that guests could plan their dining itinerary in advance. (How many times have you arrived in an unfamiliar town for a wedding only to end up eating in the hotel or at the diner across the street?)

I have reproduced our guide below (with links!) and added some more suggestions that couldn't fit in the print version. It's going to be a busy weekend, so plan and call ahead!

Piedmont is our favorite restaurant. Local, fresh, seasonal food inspired by French and Italian country cuisine. Superb wine and cocktail list. Also great for brunch. Reservations required 919-683-1213.

Brightleaf Square. This tobacco warehouse was one of the first turned into a shopping and dining destination. On Friday evenings there is live music in the picturesque courtyard, and locals are really raving about newly opened Piazza Italia, especially the gelato. However, do not fail to cross the street to The Federal for the best fries and French-Mexican-pub-grub in Durham and a terrific selection of local brews. Or, go around the corner to Pop’s (919-956-7677) on Peabody Street, a trattoria and pizzeria focused on local ingredients and housed in an old laundry.

Rue Cler is a new and very popular French restaurant and bakery just steps away from the Marriott, great for lunch, dinner or just an espresso. Reservations suggested 919-682-8844.

American Tobacco Campus. Across from the Durham Bulls park, the ATC has several restaurants with comfortable outdoor seating. We like Tyler’s Taproom with its extensive beer list, good pub food and always-crowded poolroom.

Pizza Palace is our local pizza joint in an old barn with a huge picture of Elvis in the window and some of the best New York pizza outside the boroughs. No, seriously.

Front Street. There are several restaurants right across the street from the Courtyard including cheap Chinese and Mexican, should you have a craving. For something very nice, we recommend Papa’s Grille, an upscale Greek-influenced restaurant for dinner or drinks in its elegant bar (Reservations suggested 919-383-8502). The Front Street CafĂ© serves excellent salads and panini at lunch time and delicious cinnamon rolls in the morning.

Ninth Street. Choices abound in this pedestrian-friendly old-fashioned shopping neighborhood. For breakfast try Elmo’s Diner for eggs and country ham or the Mad Hatter’s Bakeshop for croissants and pastries. For lunch or dinner we recommend Vin Rouge (Reservations required 919-416-0406), a classic French bistro, Blu Seafood & Bar (919-286-9777), or Dain’s Place for some of the best burgers in town. The newest addition to the neighborhood is Ox & Rabbit, a soda shop straight out of the 1950s.

Ninth Street is also home to probably Durham's most famous restaurant, the Magnolia Grill, the temple - if not the birthplace - of New Southern Cuisine. This place has been listed on countless "Best Of" lists since the 1980s, and the restaurant and its owners are multiple James Beard Award nominees and winners.

Watts Grocery. The restaurant owned by the chef catering our wedding, also featuring new interpretations of Southern classics and Southern twists on bistro favorites. Great for brunch or dinner. Stop by late night for some hushpuppies or red velvet cake at the bar (Reservations suggested 919-416-5040). And when you’re finished, head next door to the Green Room, the dive bar from “Bull Durham.”

In the Forest Hills neighborhood just south of downtown (nothing is far in our little city), is the small culinary empire of Scott Howell. The flagship restaurant is Nana's, where Howell's years of apprenticeship under David Bouley are really evident. Next door, Howell has recently opened an excellent and interesting wood-fired pizzeria called Rockwood Filling Station. On the same block, Howell runs an unimpressive Texas-style barbecue shop, for unknown reasons.

For a mix of local seafood and flown-in fish prepared in local styles, a funky Durham spot is Bennett Point Grill. A bit out of the way, but well worth it for the good, inexpensive food and relaxed vibe. Nearby is Bennett Place, historic farmhouse and site of the largest surrender of the Civil War. Bennett Point and Bennett Place juxtapose important, interesting elements of Carolina culture. Make it a daytrip!

Chapel Hill also has enough destination dining to fill an entire blog of its own. Sticking near to the Franklin Street corridor (the main axis through town), you'll encounter A Southern Season, the Angkor Wat of food shops, and its cafe The Weathervane; the Lantern, dedicated to local ingredients but adding an uncommon Asian flare and speakeasy-like lounge in the back; and Crook's Corner, a true Southern classic as evidenced by the constant crowds.

Some of you will not be satisfied with tasting only the barbecue we serve you at the reception, and we hope some will take this trip to North Carolina as a porcine pilgrimage. There are countless mediocre barbecue joints claiming to be authentic, but only two we really recommend. Allen & Son serves archetypal eastern barbecue done perfectly along with delicious Brunswick Stew in Chapel Hill. Dillard's serves an amazing kind of barbecue that is unique to Durham and found nowhere else - absolutely memorable, but closed on Sunday.

Once you have eaten your way through all these suggestions, you will be ready to move down here and live by us. That's when we'll start talking about the best Indian, Thai, Japanese and Mexican food in the area!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you are a very fine host, truly . . .