Thursday, July 11, 2013

Raleigh / Durham / Chapel Hill

I know I usually write my travel posts as a day-by-day recollection, but I'm going to do it differently this time. A and I were in North Carolina for about five days, mainly so we could go to M and J's wedding in Durham. But since M is one of my oldest friends from Texas, this trip included lots of pre-wedding things (bachelorette party, bridal shower, baseball games, etc.) and we also stayed with another brilliant couple, N and J (who should be getting married next year, woohoo!) Point is, a lot happened, but it was a mix of eating / drinking / hanging out with friends / celebrating an awesome marriage, which I will just throw into this one post. Here goes.

The night of M's bachelorette party in Raleigh, we started with dinner at Gravy (135 S Wilmington St  Raleigh, NC 27601). For some reason I wasn't feeling like pasta (though a lot of people ordered pasta dishes and they looked delightful). So I went with a starter of poached egg and pancetta on polenta, which was so not something I would ever recommend eating BEFORE you start in on a main course, but did wonderfully for my purposes, along with a gorgeous side dish of broccoli which was flavored with anchovies (speaking of, the anchovy-broccoli combination is absolutely genius and I can't believe I ate broccoli for over 20 years without tasting it in harmony with anchovy).

The next day A and I wandered around Chapel Hill, where we picked up a Snowy-the-dog keyring at Chapel Hill Comics (316 W Franklin St  Chapel Hill, NC 27516), and also toured the Sarah P. Duke Gardens (420 Anderson St  Durham, NC 27708), commonly known as the Duke Botanical Gardens. They are stunning, and with full sunshine it was an ideal afternoon. But you're not reading this to hear about comic books and gardens are you? So instead let us gaze upon our lunch at Bullock's Bar-B-Cue (3330 Quebec Drive, Durham, NC 27705), where we attempted to order a normal amount of food for two people, to our waitress's distress. After explaining that we wanted to try the Brunswick stew (a local specialty), ribs and pulled pork, but wanted to order the smallest amount of food possible, she came up with some sort of combo platter arrangement for us to share. The coleslaw that accompanied it was actually amazing - really finely chopped cabbage, with barely any dressing (whoa have I just decided that I might like some forms of coleslaw?!) And I found the hushpuppies slightly addictive. But alas, this was nowhere near as good as Melvin's in Charleston. 

Onwards to Full Steam Brewery (726 Rigsbee Ave, Durham, NC 27701) where A was carded and found out that North Carolina state law doesn't accept foreign driver's licenses as proof of age. Thankfully no one thought I was under 21 so I was able to get drinks for us both. Outside of the brewery, the Chirba Chirba dumpling truck was offering plates of soup dumplings and gyoza - they were a nice snack but not anything I'd make a special trip for.  And finally, a Durham Bulls minor league baseball game to properly Americanize A and introduce him to the national pastime of drinking beer, eating hotdogs, and very occasionally watching some sport.

The next morning was my birthday, and we had the best birthday breakfast ever. No, really. If someone could wake me up for every birthday with a chicken cheddar biscuit I would die a happy woman. Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen (1305 E. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill NC 27514) is a little drive-through biscuit place in Chapel Hill. That glorious biscuit above was eaten while standing outside on the edge of a parking lot, looking at a ditch. And it is still one of my favorite memories.

In the afternoon there was a lovely bridal shower tea at the Washington Duke Inn, and then N, J, A and I headed off to Lantern (423 W Franklin St  Chapel Hill, NC 27516) for a dinner to celebrate my birthday and N & J's engagement. This was my favorite "fancy" meal of the trip - I find it hard to describe the food other than saying it's Asian with Southern influences. For example - a beautiful appetizer of crispy five-spice pork belly, pickled radishes, and chicharron was a balance of salty, fatty, crisp and sweet. The salt and pepper shrimp with fired jalapenos, coriander and sea salt were as good as my favorite salt and pepper shrimp from Tien Jin in Austin. And my Japanese pot on fire main (braised Red Poll brisket, oxtail dumplings in broth with rare sirloin, local vegetables and potatoes, fresh wasabi, sea salt) was something I wanted to last forever. Great cocktails were ordered, fun was had, and we teetered out into the night with big smiles.


We all know how dangerous it is to attend a wedding without eating beforehand (the bubbly is just going to go straight to your head!) So we all piled into Hog Heaven (2419 Guess Road, Durham, NC) for a pre-wedding lunch. A was still seeking barbecue (specifically pork ribs) - but in a giant misunderstanding he ordered the pork at Hog Heaven, which was pulled pork (I don't think they even do ribs). I went straight for the fried chicken, which was the right decision. Man I would kill for another plate of that crispy crackly goodness. Sides were merely ok, collard greens were too salty and fries were fine though not the kind that you just can't stop eating. But you know, this capped off a week of some terrific eating - and I can't wait to get back to North Carolina.

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