RALEIGH-DURHAM: BREAKFAST AND LUNCH AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN.
(PREVIOUS POST, ‘ONE DELIGHTFUL AFTERNOON IN CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA’)
I arrive in Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s just a short flight (on a smaller-than-I-like plane) from NYC and the fabulous and modern airport surprises me. Almost makes up for the small plane.
Raleigh is part of ‘The Research Triangle’ – Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. The ‘research’ refers to technological research. My planned research in the triangle is to be biscuits and grits, and the famous North Carolina barbeque. I am visiting with my sister Esther to hang out with my friend Stefanie. Stef lives in an almost semi-rural community about 15 minutes outside of town, complete with two deer-proof fences (only one of which works, but that’s another whole story). The surrounding woods and the trees (yes I can see both) shout out that it is indeed the end of autumn.
There’s no time to drop luggage off, it’s straight to Stef’s favourite café/gift shop/gourmet food store – Parker and Otis in Durham.
It is a delightful huge store crammed with all the things I love. Gorgeous jars of local jams and salsas. Rows of my favourite chocolate bars from Vosges. Cookbooks. Cooking gadgets. I order a coffee at the counter (“a piccolo what?”) and resist (with all my might) ordering the cheddar biscuit. I have an inkling that I am going to be well fed today.
We sit on the verandah out the back, and I watch with delight as delicious-looking sandwiches pass by, not on plates but on small individual trays lined with baking paper. This is my sort of place.
From Parker & Otis, we head to cookbook author extraordinaire Nancie McDermott’s for an afternoon of culinary delight. What an awesome day it is for us, and we all collapse into bed at the end of it. You can read all about it in my earlier post.
Next morning it’s up early for a spectacular breakfast in Raleigh at Jubala Village Coffee – a favourite local breakfast hangout.We drive to a small swish open air mall. Their ‘house made homeland creamery buttermilk’ (sounds wholesome!) biscuit is the stuff dreams are made of.
They are best known for their biscuit stuffed with crisp maple bacon and melted pimento cheese, but one to try is the local ‘big spoon roasters nut butter’. If that doesn’t appeal, what about ‘Liege’ Belgian waffles with nutella? Or steel cut oatmeal with banana and candied walnuts?
I’m not a serious waffle fan, and great porridge is great porridge but THIS is a biscuit worth coming back for. I try to coerce chef Ben (brother of coffee-mad owner Andrew) to give me his biscuit recipe but managed only to ascertain that he uses butter instead of lard.
After that breakfast we NEED to walk. We drive through the lovely local neighbourhoods and feel like we are perhaps in Stepford or Wisteria Lane. Everything is so manicured and…well…perfect. We head to the Neuse River trail, a beautiful walking track in the woods.
We burn the calories of about half a biscuit on our walk, and head back to the ranch to change. We want to take our local girl Stef to a place she has never been, so we visit the Duke Homestead, a historic property which tells the story of the Duke family. We take the self-guided tour (i.e quick) option. We all learn a little about Washington Duke, born in 1820, who started the American Tobacco Company after his return from the Civil War. The family was responsible for creating the smoking tobacco industry in North Carolina, and Washington’s son James Buchanan donated the ‘Duke Endowment’ in 1924 which enabled Trinity College to become Duke University. And I now happily know what a tobacco leaf looks like. As we say in my family, a quick tour is a good tour.
Before we know it, it’s lunchtime. Barbeque time. The traditional North Carolina BBQ usually starts with a whole hog (or in Allen’s case, a shoulder) cooked in a pit over hot coals for hours and hours all the while being basted with a special BBQ sauce. It needs to be fired by hickory wood and not gas or electricity. I’m told that some of the ‘Q’ joints are no longer taking the wood option. The people are disappointed!
The interesting thing is the sauce used for basting and to eat with your Q. I imagined all sauces would be the sauce we are used to in Australia – just like the type you would get on the lamb ribs at Kelly’s Bar and Grill – sticky and sweet, tangy and thick, finger licking good.
This is not the case! The sauce depends on which part of the country you are in. If you are in the east of the state (Raleigh and surrounds) the sauce will be a watery version that may be made of apple-cider vinegar and dried red pepper, seasoned only with salt and pepper. Not a tomato in sight! If you are in the west, you’ll be eating the more traditional tomato based and sweeter sauce.
After much research and survey-taking-among-friends, and as we were in the area, we decide on the original Allen & Sons in Chapel Hill, not the one in Pittsboro.
The place is a cool, little shack of a restaurant in the middle of nowhere special. I am excited to see what all the fuss is about. We are quite late for lunch so the restaurant is quite empty. The tables are laid with green gingham cloths and bottles of hot sauce and Allen’s own BBQ sauce. A stack of iconic BBQ cookbooks is in the corner. Our waitress is friendly and super efficient, and we just know we will be out of here in 15 minutes if we eat quickly.
The menu from the barbeque is simple. ‘BBQ’, BBQ chicken and Chicken fingers.
We order the ‘X-large Bar-B-Que’ plate for the three of us, which promises ‘B-B-Q, Slaw and Hushpuppies’ for $11.95. Going all out today. Hushpuppies? Based on my research I am expecting a savoury donut the size of a donut hole. They are a deep fried traditional accompaniment to BBQ and are usually made from cornmeal, onion and buttermilk.
The plate arrives laden with 1/2 a pound (250g ish) shredded meat, 7 puppies and a mound of creamy slaw. I realize at this moment that there’s an assumption here that ‘B-B-Q’ means hog meat but I find it curious that there is neither explanation nor options. I had hoped to get some BBQ chicken as well, but I guess not.
The girls think the meat is mostly moist and delicious. The odd bit is a little dry and chewy, but that’s not a bad thing. The slaw is nice. It’s drenched in a mayo and vinegar dressing and is chopped just like KFC’s coleslaw, which I have not eaten for about 30 years. It takes me right back. The hushpuppies are interesting. I wonder if this batch has not been fried fresh for us, or whether they are never crisp and hot like a fresh fried morsel should be? They remind me of fried gefilte fish (patties of minced fish) without the fish part. Next trip I think we’ll need a tour of hushpuppies around the State, in search of the ultimate version. I am sure it exists, just not here.
We order iced tea with our Q but it is really sugar water with a hint of tea flavour. Once we water it down it is quite drinkable. Drinking iced tea is such a romantic ‘Southern’ notion for me, perhaps a notion created by movies.
We choose a peach cobbler for dessert. I love the sound of a ‘cobbler’, it is just so Southern! We eat it all although I am sure we can find much better ones than this. The peaches (they assure us they are fresh, but taste decidedly canned and we do debate at length whether they might be slipstone peaches which do tend to taste like canned peaches…) are soft and sweet swimming in a pool of juice in the bottom of the dish and the pastry topping is golden and biscuity. I can’t imagine ever serving a pastry dessert with so much juice, but I think that is the way they do it here.
We are all well and truly stuffed. I think our visit to Allen & Sons is worth the trip. It’s the sort of place you’ve just got to try if you are in the area. We hop back in the car, ready for our busy afternoon ahead and dinner tonight.
DETAILS OF PLACES VISITED:
Parker and Otis: 112 S Duke St Durham
Jubala Village Coffee: Lafayette Village, 8450 Honeycutt Rd, Raleigh
Duke Homestead 2828 Duke Homestead Road, Durham
Allen and Sons 6203 Millhouse Road Chapel Hill
NEXT POST: ‘ON THE WAY TO DINNER…’