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Watts Grocery: First reflections

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.



How would you rate it on the child-friendliness scale? Were there any children there when you were? Did they have high chairs? I have taken kids to eat at the Nasher sometimes, but this seems a little more formal from what I'm reading. Thanks for advice!


Thanks for the review. I've had Sage & Swift at several events and have even thought about getting married just so I could use them as a caterer.

Oh, and not to be nitpicky, but it's spelled "gAWrr-may", not "gurr-may".


I recommend lunch if you want to avoid the crowds. We went for lunch this week (Tuesday) and it was only moderatly full--though that may change quickly. :) Service was quite slow, especially for a week-day (work-day) lunch, but I suspect that will improve. Nonetheless, the food was really great. My only complaint is that the [delicious] delicate onion rings simply could not stand up (literally) to the thick, chunky chipotle bleu cheese dipping sauce. But what a great flavor combination. Wonder if the sauce could be pureed? I had the seared tuna BLT and it was fantastic. The basil mayo absolutely made the dish.

As for kids... there were a few at lunch, but they were babies. I didn't see any toddlers or older kids, nor did I see any highchairs. Just given the feel and decor of the place, I probably would not feel comfortable bringing my own 2-year-old to the restaurant.

Lenore Ramm

The rolls served with my meal weren't warm at all, but they were still excellent.

I can't wait to go back for more!


Kids: go for weekend brunch. It's full of families (at least was last weekend) and is excellent.

We're about to go check out their late night menu! Will report back on CookingEatingDurham (click on my name below)

Amy Tornquist

Bring your kids. The only suggestion I have for folks with kids is to give us a bit more time, esp. at dinner, to get our timing down well so kids don't have to wait. Or make sure your wait places your kids order early and lets us know the deal.

At the front of the restaurant, near the host stand, we have a kid-size door for kids to walk through (if they wish) and a toy box with some crayons, coloring pages, and a few books for reading (along with some games, etc). We do have 2 high chairs. I have a 3 yr old and a 6 yr old and making sure they felt comfortable was important.

thanks and hope to see you all at Watts soon. Amy


Late-night review now up!

Click on my name below to check it out.


Did she just say "bring your kids?" And they'll feel comfortable? Not second-class citizens? I haven't been yet and already I love this place! Off to see the schedule so we can find a nice non-rush time to go.


Long-time fans of Amy's work, we just dined at Watts Grocery for the first time this evening. We did not have a reservation but got a table at 5:30ish. Food was fresh and local if handsomely priced. Web research had suggested that it would be child friendly--stuffed animals, sippy cups and high chairs. Amy warmly greeted our toddler and he was given a stuffed animal. Our waiter did not offer crayons or coloring book, which would have been helpful. Overall, our waiter was neither particularly attentive or friendly. Our seven year-old did not order well. I admit I should have packed quieter toys and activities for the toddler but nonetheless was aghast when a customer told me that I needed "to keep him more quiet". "Bring your kids"? I got mixed signals--both "kids welcome" and "adults only" during the same dining experience.

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