There was big news recently for Durham, North Carolina. “Southern Living” named it the Tastiest Town in the South.
I received the news with mixed feelings:
Woo hoo, Durham! I’m putting on my stretchy pants and preparing to make the rounds of great grub!
I am going to need weapons-grade Lycra to squeeze into my maid of honor dress at my friend’s upcoming wedding.
Once upon a time, the food scene in Durham meant going to Amos n’ Andy’s for a Pepsi and a hot dog. Anyone else remember that place on Chapel Hill Street? I think it closed in the ’80s.
But Durham’s food scene has changed a lot since then. Oh, you can still get a good hot dog — The Dog House is my favorite, with several locations around town — and Bullocks BBQ still serves up classic Carolina barbecue in the same location off Hillsborough Street.
But nowadays Durham cuisine is all about sustainability and farm-to-table, with “fresh,” “organic” and “artisan” key words on any menu.
“Southern Living” highlighted some of the newer hot spots downtown, one being Geer Street Garden. It’s a terrific corner pub with a large patio and a menu of microbrews, pasture-raised beef burgers, fish tacos, crispy fried chicken and other tasty fare. The magazine missed a few of my stalwart faves, including two in the same area they focused on.
First up is Toast in the heart of the Five Points neighborhood. It’s a genuine “paninoteca,” which I’m convinced must be Italian for “delightful little sandwich shop.” The grilled panini and cold tramezzini are stuffed with the freshest seasonal ingredients, both local and imported. Crostinis make terrific in-between meal nibblers or pair well with soups for a light meal.
At the corner of Chapel Hill Street and Rigsbee Avenue sits Rue Cler, a charming rustic French café and bakery with a menu that changes frequently to make the most of the chef/owner’s farmers market finds. Lunch is crepes and toasted sandwiches, plus a few entrees like coq au vin and steak frites, and dinner features a three-course prix fixe menu for $30. On a recent visit, I had duck confit gougeres with leek cream as one of those courses, and ooh la la, c’est si bon.
There are plenty of other good places to tell you about, but just like my feasting with a maid of honor dress in my near future, I’m going to have to pace myself. Next up, Ninth Street!