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NYT takes a big bite out of Durham food scene

Nyt_durham_feach Speaking of downtown and image -- the New York Times tonight published a nice profile on Durham and its local foodie scene, including a photo-essay spread that looks as good as the food it features.

Says the Gray Lady:

Of the rivalrous cities that make up the so-called Research Triangle — Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham — Durham 10 years ago was the unkempt sibling: scruffy and aging....

Now, a drive around town might yield the smell of clams from the coastal town of Snead’s Ferry, steaming in white wine, mustard and shallots at Piedmont restaurant; pungent spice and sweet fennel from the “lamby joe” sandwich at Six Plates; and seared mushrooms and fresh asparagus turned in a pan with spring garlic at Watts Grocery.

The vast brick buildings still roll through the city center, emblazoned with ads for Lucky Strike and Bull Durham cigarettes. They are being repurposed as art studios, biotechnology laboratories and radio stations.

More important for food lovers, hundreds of outlying acres of rich Piedmont soil have “transitioned” from tobacco, and now sprout peas, strawberries, fennel, artichokes and lettuce. Animals also thrive in the gentle climate, giving chefs access to local milk, cheese, eggs, pigs, chickens, quail, lambs and rabbits. 

Watts Grocery's Amy Tornquist, DaisyCakes' Tanya Catolos, and Six Plates Wine Bar's Matthew Beason are among the local restaurateurs featured in the story, which is one of the nicer features on Durham in the national press in some time, and certainly evocative of Bon Appetit's appellation of Durham and Chapel Hill as America's foodiest small town a year or two back.

Not to be missed: the photo essay, with pictures by Travis Dove that capture the Farmers Market and local restaurant scene. (They have the stark contrasts and early-morning lighting that I love about Indy Weekly and NYT freelancer Jeremy Lange's occasional pictures of his Bull City hometown and other subjects; check out Jeremy's web site to see what I mean.) 



This makes me so proud. Living in New York City, I can't explain to people how awesome my city is...The New York Times summed it up perfectly.


Durham Rocks! And the food is great too. I took two reps down from New York to Rue Cler last Thursday night and they loved it. They were very impressed with the food and said they had actually heard about our area having a very good food reputation.

Cindy Lewis

Okay, well, I guess this is something akin to beggars being choosers or, perhaps, biting the hand that feeds, but why wasn't Rue Cler and/or some other worthy Durham foodie places featured instead of Neal's Deli in Carrboro?

Matt Neal/Neal's Deli was just featured by the same author in last week's NYT ("Can The Jewish Deli Be Reformed?" 4/13, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/dining/14deli.html?ref=dining), and now grabs a good chunk of the Durham story.

I realize Bill Neal pretty well put the region on the culinary landscape, but does that debt extend to above and beyond coverage of his son's endeavors in Carrboro, in a story headlined Durham?


While I think it's odd to just have Neal's thrown in without Carrboro and CH being written about in the article..I do think it's overly negative to be angry that Neal's is represented. Carrboro is our neighbor and Neal's is a great little independent business. It's good to see people like that getting some credit.

Rob Gillespie

Neal's was written up in the weekend edition a week ago. I'm assuming that the same writer did both in one trip.

I'm with John. We're one MSA, and we can attract more visitors, new business, etc by being happy that we're 10 miles apart and can both attract folks from around the country.

Michael Faber

I disagree with Jonn and Rob. This always happens with Durham. Finally we get a headline article that wants to talk about the really great food that's going on in Durham, and half of the article is about a restaurant in Carrboro? Durham always gets lumped in with our Triangle neighbors, and when I saw the headline I was finally excited to see an article that focused on Durham proper! The author couldn't have gone to Magnolia or Nanas, or elevated one of the lesser known Durham foodie treats like Toast or Rue Cler? Lazy.

Kevin Davis

@Michael and all--

They actually did mention those places, at least.

There are still plenty of good places for a barbecue plate, excellent French bistros like Vin Rouge and Rue Cler, and some white-tablecloth dining rooms, both traditional and modern.

What Mr. Neal and others like him do want to cook are full-flavored versions of the food they learned at their parents’ elbows, and in influential local kitchens like Crook’s Corner, Nana’s and Magnolia Grill, where many of them polished their craft. The tender cornmeal butter cakes at Watts Grocery are like a combination of a French financier and Southern spoon bread; at Six Plates, the slick-sounding sautéed crawfish on red pepper polenta with tomato broth is a take on shrimp and grits, the Carolina coastal classic.

I find myself hard-pressed not to be thrilled with the attention Durham is getting.  Not a big deal to me if Carrboro shares in the glow.

Michael Bacon

Good lord, people, way to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro are in the Census Bureau's Durham Metropolitan Statistical Area. This is one of the benefits of that split that happened a little less than 10 years ago. "Durham" includes two of the best universities in the country (and two top-tier research hospitals), and a thriving post-industrial town as well as a college town and an old mill town. "Raleigh-Cary" is just a bunch of suburbs around a bland city with a pretty good engineering school.

Does anyone doubt that the Carrboro-Chapel Hill food scene and the Durham food scene are intricately, tightly linked? Does anyone really not know about the long genealogy that links Crook's Corner, Fearington House, Magnolia Grill, La Residance, Nana's, the Lantern, Pop's, Rue Cler, the Q Shack, and Six Plates? How many local restaurants are two-fers, having a location in Durham and one in Carrboro or Chapel Hill? (Off the top of my head, Elmo's, Tyler's, and Foster's, but I'm pretty sure there's more.)

Let's cut the squabbling and get back to the things we can all agree on. Raleigh sucks! (I kid, of course. mostly. :)


The story is now the #1 most emailed story on NYTimes.com!!!


I wonder if everyone in Durham sent that article to their out of state friends and family with a "See! I'm not crazy for living here!" note.

Erik Landfried

Guilty as charged.


Another NY Times story on Durham food; this time about about Coon Rock Farm and Enos restaurant.

Erik Landfried

Very cool. Can't wait for Eno to open!


errr... ENO restaurant

Michael Oehler

This is all great news. Now, we need our local elected officials to come together with the surrounding counties to craft a sensible development/landuse plan that preserves these farms/open space so that my grandkids will be able to experience some of this rural character and farm to table eating.

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