When I think of “Carolina on My Mind” these days, I think of the creamy shrimp and grits at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, handcrafted chocolates from Escazu Artisan Chocolates in Raleigh, and Spanish deviled eggs from Mateo Bar de Tapas in Durham. The culinary scene in the area known as Research Triangle in North Carolina has exploded and I recently set out to taste as much as I could in a three-day visit. Here are my picks:
For authentic French pastries cooked in a European oven, make a visit to La Farm Bakery in nearby Cary. Try a dish by Executive Chef Scott Crawford, who has been gathering well-deserved accolades serving new American cuisine at Heron’s at The Umstead Hotel near Raleigh. People line up for the casual fare at Poole’s Downtown Diner in Raleigh where James Beard award winner Ashley Christensen draws crowds with French-inspired Southern food, including the decadent bubbly mac and cheese. And speaking of cheese — I was on the pimiento cheese trail, finding my favorite at Carolina Crossroads in The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, where Chef James Clark made big changes when he took over the kitchen last year.
Beer lovers will want to hoist a pint or two of Southern-style beer at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham. For classic cocktails served in a library-like setting worlds away from the nearby college bars, check out The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill. With 300 distilled spirits available, you may want to consult one of the bow-tie clad bartenders for recommendations.
If time is short, sign up for one of the year-round walking tours offered by Taste Carolina Gourmet Tours in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh for a fun way to experience between five and seven restaurants while learning about the latest on the culinary scene in each town, which are all within a short drive of each other.
For more on North Carolina, go to www.visitnc.com