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May 11, 2006 02:39 PM

best authentic Southern buffets/restaurants in Durham, Chapel Hill area (seeking collard greens, okra, fried chicken, casserole, butter beans, etc.)?

  • m

I'm moving to the Triangle area come June, and I'm wondering where the best places are to find really down-home authentic southern food. A while back, I lived in South Georgia, and every small town had at least a few family-run buffets stocked full of the fried and baked chicken, casseroles, turnip and collard greens, black eyed peas, butter beans, lima beans, squash, sweet potato, banana pudding sort of food.

Where can one find that up in the Triangle, especially Durham and Chapel Hill (Cary and Raleigh recs. too if anything springs to mind)? Either buffet style or order-off-the-menu.

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  1. In Durham the popular joint for Southern food is Bullock's. Their bbq is bad but most everything else is quite good. Be prepared to wait in line and they don't take credit cards. You order off the menu but they have family style option where they bring you food to share and then charge per person.

    Another place in Durham is Ole NC Barbeque, which is a buffet. The food is mediocre at best so I would avoid.

    In Chapel Hill, Mama Dip's Kitchen has been made famous by the Food Network. The food can be quite good but the prices are quite high and the portions are quite small in comparison. If you go into that place thinking you'll get what you did at those south GA places you went to (and I know since I grew up in Tallahassee) you will be sorely disappointed.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Sant

      I was never more disappointed in a Southern restaurant than Mama Dip's. I would avoid it like the plague. I come from a family of good southern cooks and what I had there was not even close.

      1. re: Candy

        I endorse all of the above comments. As Nab says, it's very odd that the local Southern cooking is so truly bad. Bullocks is kind of fun, and it's plenty cheap, but, objectively assessed, it's not really very good. My wife and I once made a bet: she said Kentucky Fried makes better fried chicken, I said Bullocks. After back-to-back testing, I had to concede my point. The only Southern eatery that's at all worthwhile is Allen and Sons, and even that leaves something to be desired. The cue is good but everything else -- from sodden hushpuppies to limp fries -- is pretty ordinary.

        I once mentioned the culinary horror of the K&W Buffet, and, if memory serves, I was accused of being racist and Northern elitist. Whatever.

        The best Southern chow I've had in NC was at the Red Rocker Inn in Black Rock out in the mountains somewhere. This was the kind of Southern food I had always heard about and dreamed about. Large portions of simple food richly prepared and mountains of feather-light biscuits, all served family style. A great, great meal.

        The best Triangle eats are ethnic in my opinion. Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Indian. Go figure.

        David A.

        1. re: David A.

          The Red Rocker Inn is in Black Mountain. Here's a link. It's worth a road trip to have the brunch.


          1. re: David A.

            I've only been once but the Fried Chicken at Shrimp Boats on Chapel Hill Blvd. in Durham was quite good. The sides were ok.


          2. re: Candy

            I would second Current Cafeteria and Shrimp Boats. Current is especially good for breakfast. Honey's is another option.

            1. re: Candy

              mama dips used to be INCREDIBLE. Then they moved to the new location, got a lot of publicity from the liked of food network, prices doubled (or tripled for some dishes), and the quality went WAAAAYYYY down. For great NC soul food in chapel hill, the place to go is Bon's Home Cookin' near Granville Towers. Truly divine. If the strawberry shortcake is available that day, order it, i promise you will love it. Also the 1/2 pound hot dog is surprisingly wonderful and I cant say enough good things about the chicken and sides. Bon's is owned by Mama Dip's daughter; she knows exactly what she is doing, is in the kitchen herself almost every single service, and doesnt charge you for a name or reputation.

            2. re: Sant

              I lived in Tallahassee for a while too. Do Market Diner or O'Neals in Thomasville ring a bell? Man, I loved those places.

              1. re: Mike H.

                Further question for Sant, since you seem familiar with the type of southern food I grew up with...

                What about the restaurant at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh? I hear they serve up a popular southern lunch with vegetables straight from the market. If you're familiar with it, is it in the same vein as Market Diner in Thomasville?

                1. re: Mike H.

                  My then girlfriend and now wife and I used to head up to Thomasville on many a weekend to go eat at Market Diner. I have not found any place here that is as good and certainly not as cheap, although Bullock's is pretty good.

                  The only place I have eaten at the Raleigh Farmers market is the seafood place. If you like fried seafood it's not bad but it's nothing special. But I've only gone there a few times and haven't been by there in at least a couple of years. I prefer to hit the local farmers markets in Durham and Carrboro since they have only local growers selling goods there.

                  By the way, welcome to the Triangle. We love it here and I think you will too.

            3. Chapel Will & I were talking about this phenomenon when we hit Jujube a week or so ago. I always thought it was very strange that all the Southern-style/country-cooking was so bad at the restaurants, and Will almost instinctively didn't even associate that food with the food that he knows & loves as "Southern cookin". Canned products, made into a slop, is not how they made it in the country. They grew their veggies. I guess it's akin to Chinese food, in that the majority of restaurants serve up crap. The caveat with the buffets is that the quantity ends up trumping quality. If a place focused on just a couple of dishes each night, and did them well, that would be better IMO. May not address supply/demand issues.

              Having said all that, I used to like Bon's BBQ in Carborro which has now relocated to the University Plaza in Chapel Hill on Franklin. I haven't been to the new one though.

              Will said he ate at this place in Carborro called Country Crossroads or something, but I can't remember his conclusion.

              The places Sant mentioned are allegedly good, and I can only confirm Bullocks.

              1. In Durham (Roxboro Rd and Murray) there is Current's Cafeteria. It's been a few years since I was there but I recall enjoying the food. I don't believe it was a buffet but the menu certainly covered all that good old home cooking. I need to revisit the place to see if the food is still up to snuff.

                There are quite a few "soul food" diners in central and northeast central Durham but I can't remember names or location off the top of my head. I've had good meals in a few of them, bad meals in others.

                1. i'm no conoisseur on soul food, but i hated the rubbery, greasy chicken and styrofoam-textured bbq at current cafeteria. it was cheap, but a chinese couple owned it when i was there. i don't know if they still do, but... golden spoon restaurant is right down roxboro from there. it's near the walmart, in the end of the foodlion parking lot. i've seen it forever, but swore i'd never eat there... now i swear i will not judge a restaurant by the picture of eggs, bacon, and grits painted on the window. it was like $6.50 for sweet tea, some delicious fried chicken, two veggie sides and biscuits. how can a place that looks so terrible be so damn delicious????? try it and write about it!!!!!!!

                  1. Mama Dip's is a tourist trap with very expensive, very mediocre food.

                    Bullock's BBQ bad? You surely must be joking! There's good reason why you'll likely stand in line at Bullock's!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: chimchim

                      On my list of top 5 BBQ restos, Bullocks is #12 or 13, which is not to say it it's bad, just mediocre.

                      Hell, I took a few clients there for lunch a couple of weeks ago, and everyone ordered the chicken potpie!