(Thank you Billie Holiday, who inspires and serenades me while I write this). Thank you candlelight and my blackberry & blueberry scented “cat fight” candle, made by A Scent of Scandal. Thank you puppy dog, who is lazily draped over the couch, next to me and who is snoring ever so sweetly. This is beginning to sound a little like Goodnight Moon…
There are Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes on the baking horizon, in lieu of Saint Patty’s Day (I’ll get to you, my pretties, tomorrow), and I tonight I made a rather involved, not quite worth the time, but delicious Shepherd’s Pie! I altered this recipe, doubling the wine, cutting back a touch on the garlic, using 2 leeks instead of 4, 4 carrots instead of 5, parsnips instead of turnips and chuck roast instead of lamb shoulder, and I added peas. Enough about all that though. I’ve been meaning to tell you about my enchanting dining experience at this little place.
It’s been a few weeks since I dined at Poole’s, but don’t worry, I took notes. The food was too unforgettable anyway.
Not even the cold, nor the spitting rain could keep folks away from Poole’s Downtown Diner. My parents and I ducked into this pie shop turned luncheonette, turned trendy downtown restaurant, on a gloomy Wednesday evening. It was a bustling, vibrant scene, especially for a weekday in the perk of the dreadful January weather. It’s located on 426 South McDowell Street, in Raleigh.
Poole’s is a harmonious mix of retro and modern. It’s a long, shotgun small space, reminiscent of most trendy little restaurant gems in big cities, but it delivers big. Everything is black, cherry red, and charcoal grey and impressively, the original lunch counter has been maintained and updated, with a half-moon shaped, chrome counter bar and vinyl red bar stools. Retro mint green formica topped tables and red booths are adorned with little candles, giving off a warm red glow. Some track lighting gives the atmosphere a nice hip vibe, but not “club” hip, it’s classy. There is a beautiful old-fashioned, paneled, embossed tin ceiling, that reminds you of the building’s history.
Don’t be misled by the name, for Poole’s is not your typical diner fare, unless you know of any diner that serves colossal 10 ounce burgers cooked in duck fat. And you won’t be given any menus either – they’re recorded on large chalk boards on either wall of the restaurant and also above the bar.
Poole’s offers some creative cocktails too. One in particular piqued my interest – a drink titled “she’s the fastest,” which was a refreshing concoction of grapefruit juice, gin, tonic, and elderflower liqueur. I loved it so much, I had to recreate it the other night (minus the elderflower liqueur, which I have yet to track down).
After ordering some drinks, we hungrily gazed at the menu on the wall, ready to see what Chef Ashley Christensen had to wow us with. Butternut squash soup with local honey and toasted pistachio, brown butter scallops with sea island red peas and roasted tomato, roasted chicken with rosemary and mashed yukons…I was sold just after seeing the butternut squash soup, although I will have to try it next time – there were too many other dishes competing for my palate.
We started off with some pomme frites with malt aioli. I was intrigued but I was also skeptical, since I’ve never much cared for malted vinegar with my fries. I tend to think it smells like dirty feet. But I love pomme frites and I love aioli, so I decided to be adventurous and give the malt a chance. I’m so glad I did, because it was truly heavenly. The frites were salty, crispy,thin and exactly the way pomme frites should be. The malt gave the aioli a nice tang and it just paired surprisingly well with the fries. I was shocked, malt on my fries, and it smells nothing like dirty feet! I’ve got to try this at home!
I contemplated ordering the roasted chicken, but it was the burgandy braised short ribs with caramelized onions and ricotta gnocchi that won my heart. I’ve been on a big slow roasted meat kick lately. The meat was so tender, so flavorful with those lovely caramelized onions. The ricotta gnocchi was slightly sweet and subtle, but a nice accompaniment to the short ribs. We also shared the macaroni au gratin (because quite frankly, who can really say no to a macaroni gratin, with gruyere, parmesan, cheddar and heavy cream?) It came to us in a generous ramekin, complete with a beautiful golden crust of cheese. It was certainly a highlight of the meal, just like macaroni and cheese for adults.
We were filled to the brim, but couldn’t resist some dessert. The earl grey panna cotta with huckleberry honey sounded uniquely beautiful but being a true devotee to chocolate, I chose the molten center chocolate cake with dulce de leche and sweet cream. Dessert can be described in 3 words: Oh. My. God. It was an incredible trifecta of flavors, with the rich, melty chocolate, the thick and gooey, sweet and salty dulce de leche, and the sweet whipped cream. It was a dream.
Rarely am I ever as full as I was after that meal and at the same time, still content. Pool’s may not serve meringue pies and tuna melts anymore, but that is fine with me, because it’s no longer the fifties and as long as gourmet burgers, pomme frites with malted aioli and the macaroni au gratin are on the menu, people will come and I will be one of them.
Ahh it was so delicous and I can’t wait to return.