Embracing the South, One Restaurant at a Time, Part 1: Raleigh

I am North Carolina born and raised (right in the Raleigh/Cary area).  I’ve never really considered myself southern, however.  My voice is free of any southern drawl and the word “ya’ll” has been void of my vocabulary, as I am more partial to “guys” or “you guys.”   I’ve never cared for grits (unless they are cheese grits – preferably Bill Neal’s, famous Shrimp & Grits), sweet tea is too sweet for my tastes (I opt for 1/2 & 1/2), and I’ve always felt like more of a city mouse.

Lately though, I’ve found myself slowly giving into my southern heritage, growing more of an appreciation for it and letting it envelop me because after all, it is where I’m from.  I’ve discovered I do in fact enjoy sausage egg and cheese biscuits, I love listening to Paula Deen talk, and I’ve even found myself dropping some of my “g’s” (NO reference to that monster, Sarah Palin).  I’ve started saying “how are you all doin’ ” quite frequently when I greet customers at the bakery.   I’ve become seriously intrigued with Edna Lewis and am anxious to read her book, and I’ve become more proud of where I come from, especially since it is finally gaining some much deserved praise in the foodie world.

With that said, you can imagine my surprise and pride when I discovered this article the other morning, smack dab on the wonderful New York Times, and this one as well, that Jay found from awhile back, in my favorite Bon Appetit Magazine, highlighting the Triangle as quite the trendy destination for good eats.  It’s nice to know the Triangle is getting this kind of recognition, because I truly am a fan of so many of its restaurants and believe several of them are just as worthy if not more so, of some of the best restaurants in major cities, like NYC, LA, San Francisco, and so on.

So.  In lieu of my southern culinary pride and its recent national acclaim, I’ve decided to finally do something I’ve been meaning to do for awhile.  (And because I love a good list).  Without further ado, here is a list I’ve compiled, of my favorite restaurants/spots in the Triangle:

Raleigh

  • Hayes Barton Cafe and Desserty This small but charming establishment in Raleigh’s “Five Points” District  is a fun tribute to the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, with old black & white Hollywood star headshots and other Hollywood and World War II memorabilia adorning the walls.  A small TV near the ceiling shows old black & white classics, while the likes of Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday grace the speakers.  The menu is a delightful pun on movie and movie star names, like “Dial M for Meatloaf,” and “Annie Get Your Goat Salad.”  Not to mention, they have an impressive array of mile-high cakes and pies, tempting and luring patrons to the dessert case, like sirens.  It’s almost always packed with the neighborhood locals, who can’t seem to get enough of this retro, diner-like atmosphere and amazing food.  The owners, Frank and his wife Margo, are genuine and nice, and you can almost always find Margo in the kitchen and Frank at the hostess stand, making the rounds of the restaurants, chatting with diners (most of whom are faithful regulars), and making sure their bellies are content.


  • Five Star is the best Chinese I’ve had so far.  This trendy spot is tucked away on Hargett Street, in an old brick warehouse building and looks like a place you would find in Brooklyn.  It’s popular but you hardly ever have to wait for a table, and their green bean appetizer is ad addictive as french fries.  The food is non-greasy, authentic and you won’t find fatty, over-battered, over-sweetened pieces of meat in your entree, like most Americanized, cheap, cloned Chinese restaurants (which I consider to be the McDonald’s of Chinese food).  My favorite dishes (besides the green beans, which are a must, are the “General Tso’s Chicken,” and the “Sweet and Sour Pork.”  Don’t expect them to be like anything you’ve ever had before.
  • Lilly’s Pizza also lies in Raleigh’s “Five Points” District, right behind Hayes Barton, and is my absolute favorite pizza joint.  I honestly don’t think I’ve had better pizza anywhere else, so far at least.  Lilly’s has won several awards and gets the majority of their food supply from local farms.  It is a laid back, hippie/punk/college crowd attraction, where the employees can rock out to whatever music their heart’s desire, while they make you your pizza or calzone.  The restaurant is decorated eclectically, with art displays on the walls that change monthly, and wildly painted bathrooms with entertaining graffiti to accompany them.  The salads come with homemade “croutons,” which are actually made from pizza dough, and they are made with fresh mixed greens, parmesan cheese, veggies and the best lemon tahini and balsamic vinaigrette dressings I’ve had.  The menu is huge, and includes an impressive variety of topping choices, for the creative folk who want to personalize their pizza.  My favorite pizza at Lilly’s is the Buddha, which has an olive oil, garlic base, parmesan, white cheddar and feta cheeses, zucchini, spinach, fresh roma tomatoes and kalamatta olives – (which I choose to leave off).  The best thing about Lilly’s is their dough, which is organic, stone-milled whole-wheat flour with a touch of clover honey and is made locally,  in Carrboro.  Their meats are hormone, antibiotic, color agent, and preservative free and they use all of the freshest ingredients.  To me, it’s a must if you’re in Raleigh and in the mood for some pizza.  I could rave some more, trust me, but I think you should just go there and see for yourself.
  • NoFo at the Pig is another Five Points favorite and can be found right next to Lilly’s.  It’s odd name comes from the fact that the building the restaurant is housed in, used to be an old Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store.  There is also a location in Wilmington, North Carolina, but I prefer this one, and not only frequent the restaurant for its delicious southern, comfort food (and Bill Neal’s famous shrimp and grits, if I can’t make it over to Crook’s Corner), but also for its unique gift shop upstairs.  You can find garlic, onion, lime, and tomato savers, wines, gourmet jams and other foods, purchase artisan chocolates, candies, coffees and teas, buy novelty children’s toys and books, and can even find handmade greeting cards, beautifully crafted chandeliers, jewelry and other nick-nacks.  NoFo gets it’s gift shop supply from all over, and sells a lot of imports as well as an enticing supply from local artists.  Now for the food.  NoFo’s menu changes pretty frequently but they do have some staples on the menu.  You can find southern coastal dishes mostly, but they have just about anything, including the best “sticky toffee pudding” ever.  I dare you to say “no” to that one, when dessert time rolls around.

  • Poole’s Downtown Diner, is another Raleigh favorite of mine and is a  retro diner that serves gourmet comfort fare, mostly of the French Provincial persuasion.  See my post, where I recently reviewed it, and then go there immediately (on an empty stomach), to partake in one of the best meals you will ever eat.  Make sure you try the “she’s the fastest” cocktail, which has gin, grapefruit juice, and St. Germain’s Elderflower Liqueur in it, and whatever you do, make sure you get some frites.  Chef Ashley Christensen is a  culinary goddess, and she was even mentioned right here, in Bon Appetit.

*more Raleigh spots to come, I have banana pudding to make and then work to do!*  Be back shortly…sometime this weekend…

5/3/10

Well I’m about a week late with the rest of the Raleigh spots, so I apologize!  Here is one more…

  • The Cupcake Shoppe is probably the best place for a cupcake in the triangle (although I’ve yet to try Daisycakes, in Durham).  There, you’ll find precious rows of cupcakes, perfectly situated in the window case, adorned with a heaping, neat swirl of sugary pastel colored icings.  Flavors with clever names, like “Big Red ” (red velvet), “Pretty in Pink” (strawberry), and “Mint Condition” (chocolate with mint buttercream) are all pretty delicious and there is always a “flavor of the day.”  My favorite happens to be “You Mocha Me Crazy,” which is a dark chocolate cake with espresso buttercream (with chocolate chip pieces in it).  It’s not the greatest cupcake I’ve ever had, but it can certainly turn a bad day around with a single bite.  Check it out.

look at those little pretties…

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1 Comment

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One response to “Embracing the South, One Restaurant at a Time, Part 1: Raleigh

  1. Hey! Found your blog through Cecelia and I love it! I live in Durham and Six Plates is my regular haunt, I’m there probably 3-4 times a week. The NYT article was amazing, the night after it came out the place was PACKED, I actually ended up helping them clear some tables, haha. I’m so happy to see Triangle food taking center stage nationally. Thanks for your Raleigh recommendations, I don’t get out there as much as I’d like, but Poole’s has been on my to-do list for months.

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