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Eat, drink and be bullish: Downtown food scene expansion continues

Downtown Durham is continuing to add its menu of culinary offerings. The expansion is bringing full-fledged restaurants as well as other types of establishments. 

The latest addition to the downtown food scene arrived earlier this month at 405 E. Chapel Hill St. That’s the home of Reliable Cheese, a new fromagerie aimed at lovers of pressed milk curds. 

As owner Patrick Coleff, 34, was getting the store in order before its debut, he talked for a few minutes about his background. The Cleveland native originally had a day job in legal publishing and a night job as a line cook. “I loved what I was doing in the evening, hated with was doing in the day,” he said. 

Coleff decided to become a cheesemonger, which work he pursued for four years in New York City. He and his wife moved to Durham in 2009. 

The shop will stock a relatively small number of products — some 50 varieties of small-producer American and European cheeses, 20 different meats, 20 different wines (selected with assistance from the Wine Authorities) and 20 different beers, including at least one line of locally brewed beverages. 

Coleff, who will be hiring a part-time staffer, is making sandwiches at his shop. “I love deli sandwiches,” he said. “No one around here’s doing them.” 

And customers will be able to take advantage of his dairy expertise. Coleff is excited about exposing Durhamites to a number of new and exotic tastes. “I know a lot about cheese so they don’t have to,” he quipped. 

The shop will provide samples, sells cheese plates and will cut cheese to order. It has opened to at least one positive early notice from the Carpe Durham blog.  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next restaurant expected to open in the downtown orbit, the Italian eatery L’Uva, will debut at American Tobacco this month sometime after Independence Day. 

L’Uva — the name, Italian for grape, rhymes with “tuba” — is the second restaurant of Jim Anile, the chef and owner of Revolution. The new venture is something of a return to the type of cuisine Anile and L’Uva chef de cuisine Vito Parisi served when they worked together at Chapel Hill’s Il Palio. It’s a type of Italian cooking, Anile said, that is hard to find in the Triangle. 

Expect L’Uva to have a much more casual atmosphere than Revolution. 

“We’re just going to have fun with food again,” Anile said. “Everything is handmade and made every day. A very small menu — when we’re out, we’re out. No reservations.” 

The wine list will consist exclusively of small-production Italian wines, he noted. 

Anile has signed a long-term lease to take over the old Cafe Zen space across from Tyler’s. He expects to be able to seat 40 to 45 diners inside and 45 to 50 on the patio, which will be equipped with heating and fans to ward off extreme temperatures. 

“My idea is that this space has four-season patio dining, which is also something that really isn’t done around here,” Anile said. 

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Due a little later in the summer is a rather novel venture dubbed bikeCOFEE

The business’s name and concept are well-matched. Leon Grodski de Barrera and Areli Barrera de Grodski will be pedaling a customized industrial bicycle around town and brewing espresso shots. 

The husband-and-wife proprietors are both veterans of the coffee trade. Grodski de Barrera’s passionate appreciation for the drink came through in a recent interview. 

Pulling an espresso shot is simple enough for anyone to do, he noted. “The difference between that and pulling a perfect shot with freshly roasted coffee that’s blended a certain way, roasted a certain way, it’s coming out with a certain viscosity and color and beauty, it has a certain taste profile where it has weight and it says something to your tongue and it changes over time — that’s the kind of thing that we’re focused on,” Grodski de Barrera said. 

BikeCOFFEE will be not a delivery service but a small coffee shop on wheels. That means it comes complete with an espresso machine, water tanks, batteries and a propane tank. Bicycle and rider included, the setup will weigh around 450 pounds. 

The venture should be ready to roll by late July or early August. The couple will rotate fresh stocks of coffee from Gimme!, Intelligentsia and other esteemed sources. Nearly all of the offerings will be organic and fair trade, and the plan is to obtain local milk. 

A selection of iced coffees, lattes and teas will be available during warm-weather months. Once bikeCOFFEE is up and running, it should be spending much of its time downtown. Appearances at Duke, North Carolina Central, Ninth Street and big events are likely as well. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Further down the line, Durhamites can look forward to a cocktail bar that Shannon Healy, general manager of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, has been hoping to place at Rogers Alley. When we checked in, negotiations on a lease for space there were ongoing, both sides said. 

Healy’s goal is to give Durham foodies a watering hole as sophisticated as the city’s best restaurants. 

“The same kind of folks that are supporting Revolution, Four Square and all the other Durham spots don’t have the same kind of selection of something to do after that,” Healy said. 

The as-yet-unnamed restaurant will emphasize wine and cocktails and carry a small selection of craft beers. It won’t offer a true sit-down dining experience but will feature “an innovative approach to nibbles,” as the restaurateur put it. 

If the description calls to mind Six Plates, you’re on the right track. Healy has been consulting with Matthew Beason, a co-owner of that establishment. 

Healy likes that Rogers Alley is convenient to both DPAC and the Carolina Theatre. He also likes the energy of the downtown Durham food scene. 

“There’s a building enthusiasm there,” he said. “The area’s not quite the hustling, bustling area yet, but it’s clearly on the verge of it.” 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Another restaurant in the offing, according to Laura Oleniacz of The Herald-Sun, is Mateo, a tapas bar that Vin Rouge chef Matt Kelly is planning for the former Book Exchange property on West Chapel Hill Street, just inside the Downtown Loop. The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer also recently reported that Raleigh’s popular barbecue restaurant, the Pit, is planning to plant a second location here in Durham. 

Efforts to contact Kelly and Empire Eats, the Pit’s corporate parent, were not successful. 

And don’t forget that a gourmet pizzeria and a bakery are slated to open at 102 Morris St. once that structure is renovated. Another restaurant, the concept for which has yet to be publicly unveiled, is intended for 108 Morris next door, also following renovations; there, plans call for a rooftop bar to top off two floors of indoor dining. 

It’s possible, or even likely, that not all of these businesses will get off the ground. It’s likely, too, given the challenges inherent in the restaurant and bar business, that at least some of those that do get going won’t be able to establish themselves. But the bottom line for downtown diners and drinkers seems to be bright. Simply put, there should be plenty of palate-pleasing experiences in store for them. 

Comments

Nelson Muntz

"...and will cut cheese to order." Ha Ha!

kelly

@Nelson: very funny!

Aaron

Great to hear the revitalization continues and more restaurants are opening around Orange Street.

Diane Oxley

Durham just keeps getting better. Being downtown is now a real joy.

Mark Critzer

I realize there's no shortage of places to play pool, including Tyler's and Doyle's, but it would be great if someone actually opened a place inside the downtown loop, or Brightleaf square with at least four tables and a music stage. Perhaps a classier version of a Jillian's, for the over 21's. I believe there was a piano/pool bar in Brightleaf years ago, but they had some problems with the building.

By the way, has anyone visited the Roxy yet? I don't know if it is finished.

jonn

Well there's the Green Room and the Tavern not far away which both have many pool tables.

A while back West End Wine Bar had plans to open a billiards hall (which i'm guessing would be a swankier option) but havent heard much on that lately.

Mark Critzer

Yep, familiar with Green Room and Tavern. Thanks. I was just trying to narrow things down to a few blocks along Main Street, within a short walk of Brightleaf and/or Five Points. Semi-swank decor, but not suits & ties swank. The wine bar option would be perfect in between both places.

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