Made it over to Watts Grocery with the wife last night to grab a bite for dinner. Now, I must bracket these comments by emphasizing that I ain't no gurr-may expert, but to adapt what Potter Stewart once said on a much less appetizing subject, I know what I like when I taste it.
And Watts Grocery was pretty tasty at that.
First warning: Make reservations. We showed up at 6:00 pm sharp without the benefit of any such advance warning to the establishment. There is open seating at four elevated bar-style tables as well as at the bar itself, but dining room seating was already entirely booked up for the night it seemed. By the time we were getting dessert at 7:00 pm, the waiting area was full (I assume with folks waiting for one of our first-come, first-served tables to open up) and a small crowd had gathered outside.
All of which says something about the eagerness among Durhamites familiar with Amy Tornquist's work at Sage & Swift, the Nasher, Duke's Faculty Commons and the like. And the food didn't disappoint. We both got the hand-cut ribeye steak with buttermilk-infused new potatoes and asparagus; the steak was topped with a pimento cheese butter topping, which was delicious. The theme of the restaurant is described by Tornquist as her "favorite local foods" meshed into "an updated, distinctive take on North Carolina cuisine," and dinner certainly fit that pattern.
I actually found the bread-and-butter to be one of the more intriguing parts of the meal. Flaky, warm and tasty, the first thought I had upon taking a bite was a memory back to my own childhood, which my grandmother would cook dinner and heat up some dinner rolls in a pan, straight from that grocery store. Somehow Watts Grocery's bread came across to me as a fine-dining version of those simple dinner rolls -- delicious in its own right, yet evocative of a memory that's a staple in Southern households.
Dessert for us was the chocolate pudding layer cake for my wife, and -- of all things -- the root beer float for me, which came highly recommended by the server. Both were excellent; mine, which mixes cinnamon ice cream and root beer with pecan bars on the side, was another great spin on an old favorite.
It's not ordinary for a restaurant to get service, timing and quality right from day one, but Watts Grocery has done it, as others have pointed out. Definitely worth stopping in and trying it. Just be sure to grab a reservation first.