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Posts Tagged ‘Durham’

As we walked the short distance from the car to the entrance of Bullock’s, a local eatery institution, we were welcomed by the mouth-watering aroma of barbecue wafting from the kitchen fans. The first sight upon entering is the wall of autographed pictures of celebrities and of Mr. Bullock hanging out with celebrities. Apparently Mr. Bullock still works around the restaurant.

Hot hush puppies are served like other restaurants serve bread baskets – the little fried bits of cornbread can be enjoyed as-is or with the butter spread or honey butter spread on the table. I don’t care for hush puppies, but the others at my table got a second basket.

I ordered sweet tea, chopped barbecue (West North Carolina-style…or is it Northwestern Carolinian-style?), dark sugary candied yams, tender green butter beans, crispy fried okra, all of which could easily have been shared between two people. Among the menu’s “daily vegetables” were macaroni and cheese, cottage cheese, French Fries, and deviled eggs (our dishes each came with a choice of three vegetables).

The question came up at the table as to whether Blue Mist or Bullocks made better barbecue. I preferred Blue Mist’s succulent chopped bits to Bullock’s spicier, chewier, pulled-pork style. I’m told there’s some contention as to the standard of barbeque – some people prefer it that way. Both restaurants make their barbecue in the Western version of North Carolina’s barbecue; the Eastern part of the state makes it drier. The pricing is similar, although Bullocks has a greater selection of sides and provides more amenities. In fact, one might be more drawn to Bullocks’ sides than its barbecue, although the barbecue is good, too.

3330 Quebec Drive, Durham, NC 27705, USA

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This is a fairly new Cuban bistro in the suburbs. First thing’s first: skill is needed for maneuvering the oddly organized parking lot in the back of the restaurant.

Ok, now onto the food. The appetizers were more interesting than the entrees, and I’d actually recommend sharing several appetizers as a main course. For starters, the five of us shared tender lightly-breaded fried calamari, stuffed sweet plantains with Cuban-style ground beef, crispy cubes of house-cured pork belly and tamarind dipping sauce, and fried cassava root with cilantro sauce. For the main course, I ordered the shrimp over rice with arugula. I liked that the lightly-dressed arugula was placed on top of the shrimp so they stayed crisp, and that the shrimp tails were crunchy enough to each whole, but there wasn’t anything remarkable or memorable about the dish. For dessert, I shared a small, creamy vanilla flan. Coffee can be served sweet if requested.

Service was ok.  The server had us help her pass each other our dishes and drinks, and hand her our dishes when clearing the table.

2818 Chapel Hill Road, Durham, NC, 27707, USA

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While we looked through the Alexander Calder exhibit afterwards, we specifically went to the Nasher Museum to have lunch at the delightful café. No admission fee is required if one is only eating in the café, though reservations are recommended at peak times and there is a charge for parking. We were given an option of butter or oil with our bread. I enjoyed a glass of sweet tea which was constantly refilled and a delicious yellow curry chicken salad wrap, which included lettuce, grapes, celery, and toasted almonds. The side was described as quinoa salad, but it was really Israeli couscous; it was still good. Friendly, helpful service; airy ambiance as the café is in one corner of the spacious museum lobby area. The outdoor seating looked pleasant, as well.

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, 2001 Campus Dr., Durham, NC 27705, USA

See my December 2009 review here: https://rachelrecommends.wordpress.com/2009/12/27/nasher-museum-cafe-b/

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Q-Shack; B+

I simply could not leave North Carolina without tasting some genuine regional barbecue. Les Quebecois have their smoked meat; the Carolinas have their bbq. While many places were closed over the holidays, the Q-Shack fixed up a surprisingly good smoked pork butt plate. The pulled pork was smokey and woody, and had just the right amount of tangy barbecue sauce keeping it all together. The stewed collard greens were a little boring, but my fried okra was hot, dry, and crispy. A tall bottle of cold birch beer washed it all down.

One wall is decorated with several lines of caps – donate a hat, get a free sandwich – and cartoons or sports flicker gently on the tv. It’s the sort of place you want to go wearing faded jeans and a t-shirt. Throw on a plaid flannel shirt if it’s cold and/or a jean jacket; in warmer weather, enjoy your bbq in the small outdoor enclosure with ceiling fans. Speak up when you order at the counter and watch your meal assembled as you approach the register.

2510 University Dr., Durham, NC, USA

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The culinary offerings are very well done at this small, upscale suburban restaurant in Durham, NC and in the interest of full-disclosure, my in-laws are regulars and quite friendly with the executive chef and staff. However, this past December, I was inexcusably slighted by an inattentive server in the bar/lounge area, which overshadowed what could have been a very nice dinner.

Throughout the evening, I watched servers presciently attend to my in-laws at various intervals without being asked – they just knew what was to come next. It was like being at some old-world millionaire’s mansion with knowing butlers flittering about the hosts in a well-choreographed dance – which didn’t include me. In fact, being accustomed to our hosts’ routine probably worked against me, as there were assumptions made by the staff which wouldn’t have been made at any other table.

First, everyone’s drink order was taken except for mine; the barman walked away as if there were only three people at the table and not four. I laughed awkwardly and shrugged since I probably wouldn’t have ordered anything anyway, but was left wondering whether I was slighted as the only ethnic minority at the table in the South. I don’t normally jump to such racist conclusions, but the mind does tend to wander when unexpectedly embarrassed, whether subconsciously or intentionally, by an otherwise friendly and attentive server.

We ordered food, and after enjoying my delicious appetizer, I decided that I needed something sweet and acidic to cut into the fat and salt. Throughout our meal, our server was clearly more focused on a table by the door than us (which seemed odd to me, since the executive chef himself was taking special care of my in-laws, even sending over an extra dish when one of the plates was taking longer than the others), and it wasn’t until everyone else was finished with their entrees that we managed to drag him back to us again.

I was practically done with my risotto and thus no longer needed the palate cleanser I was craving after appetizers, but since we had finally gotten him, I felt compelled to order something. But what? Mortified at being suddenly the focus of attention and feeling unreasonably singled out because I had to articulate my order without being preempted, I hurriedly fumbled through tasting four glasses of wine before finally ending up with a sweet dessert wine that I didn’t really want. Everyone politely waited for me to finish my dinner so we could move onto dessert and coffee.

While I recall the house specialty risotto as being uncommonly good, with a wonderful savory crunch, the rest of the meal was a blur thanks to the overwhelming feeling of being a third-class hanger-on accompanying VIP guests. It is unfortunate that a single (or double) breach in manners could ruin an otherwise pleasant evening at a restaurant, but that is how it is. Diners expect a certain level of care while in an upscale restaurant and a perpetuation of the dining fantasy. In this case, my high expectations were sadly disappointed.

 2514 University Dr., Durham, NC, USA

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We came back to the museum specifically to eat lunch, after viewing the exhibits before Christmas. No admission fee is required if one is only eating in the café, though reservations are recommended at peak times. Saturday brunch was happily spent sipping Mighty Leaf tea and biting into creamy eggs Benedict lined with spinach and spicy sopressata, accompanied with delicious savory home fries. There was a mysterious brown spot inside of my water glass, but I was in the mood to ignore its existence as long as it didn’t start to dissolve or float. Friendly, helpful service; airy ambience as the cafe is in one corner of the spacious museum lobby area.

 Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, 2001 Campus Dr., Durham, NC 27705, USA

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While my husband prefers Guglhupf to Fosters, I remain more reserved – most importantly because their hot chocolate tastes faintly of mold (the kind of harsh, tangy mold that’s in blue cheese) and is too watery. Plus, they are closed on Mondays.

This German beehive of the intelligentsia is situated in what could very well be a post-industrial bunker, all poured concrete and iron railings, with a chic staircase and orange paper lanterns dangling from the ceiling grates. Diners bottleneck about the small front counter, which is uncomfortably cramped and too close to the door, pressuring one to decide what they want before they really want it. Then one sits and waits for their food to be brought to them. The drink serving system is confused – does one wait for the beverages or are they brought to the table? and can change from day to day, causing much frustration from those desperate for their first sip of coffee.

While the menu is more diverse and sophisticated than Fosters, with consistently good soups and a popular German potato salad side, the sandwiches are very similar and use a disappointingly large roll of deli meat in each. On the plus side, tables are well spaced out, and it’s common to see professional tête-à-têtes or lone diners barricaded behind laptops and/or Kindles.

2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham, NC 27707, USA

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