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Good Showing from Piedmont in Durham

My wife and I checked out Piedmont in downtown Durham this evening. They just opened on Thursday and my wife has already been twice. All four of her lunch companions gave it good reviews and I have to say that it was definitely one of the best meals that I have had since moving here in August.

We started out with a salad of local greens, nothing special, but nice to have some local, fresh winter produce.

My wife had a roasted chicken breast with sweet potato gratin and braised cippolini. It was great. Everything was well balanced, chicken was cooked perfectly. It is a rare thing to find a kitchen that takes the time to cook a piece of chicken well and extract the true potential. It is still not on par with a good piece of veal or lamb, but most resturants see chicken as a throw away dish and it speaks well to the care the chef puts in overall to take the time to make chicken into something worth eating.

I had a braised pork shank with red wine rissoto. Again, the pork was cooked exactly as it should be. Fall off the bone moist, and finished in the pan for a nice crackle. A little less seasoning than I like, but I can't argue with the skill of the preparation. The risotto was also on point. I tend to make risotto myself and shy away from it in resturants given the time that it takes to get it right and how few cooks take that time. This was the best resturant risotto that I have had in recent memory. Great flavor. There were enough shallots to stand up to the red wine, and the rice had the right amount of bite.

For dessert we had a vanilla panna cotta with grapefruit and honey. Again, great. It was the perfect consistency, and the honey accented the fresh grapefruit nicely. Panna cotta is another of those dishes that is easy to make, but almost never gets done right. This was right.

So, overall good time. I guess the chef and his wife, who own the place are from Federal if that means anything to anyone. I have not made it over there yet. If they can keep the quality up to this standard going forward, I am looking forward to regular visits. I guess they already had some opening week snafus, apparently they ran out of food and had to bag being open for brunch on Sunday because they didn't expect to be as busy as they were right out of the gate.
Looks like the wine list may take a but to get up to speed, but we had a nice glass.

Anyway, definitly worth a visit. It's about on par with Rue Clear pricewise.

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  1. Where is this place located? The missus and I would like to check it out tonight but I can't find a phone number, address, etc. anywhere on line.

      1. re: paperplate

        Thanks so much for posting the website. I googled the place yesterday and couldn't find anything. Just a quick glance and I've already seen a number of things I'd love to try.

      2. wow--nice looking menu. brown butter waffles for brunch? can't wait to try!

        1. We returned to Piedmont again this afternoon for brunch and I was again impressed. It looks like they are firing on all cylinders. I would be intersted to hear what anyone else thinks. It is filling a niche in Durham that I haven't seen any attempts at so far. Mid-range bistro fare with locally sourced products and a daily menu.

          1. We went to Piedmont for dinner last Saturday. Beautiful restaurant-- it makes me so happy to see what the folks at Piedmont and Rue Cler have done with spaces that sat empty for so long in downtown Durham.

            For apps I have the sweet potato and bacon soup and my wife had a half down oysters. I was expecting the soup to be creamy but it was a vegetable broth sylte soup but it was tasty nonetheless. Not sure how much credit should be given to Piedmont for raw oysters but the malt vinegar based sace that came with it was a good call.

            For entrees I had braise short rib wih saffron risotto with some kind of broth/sauce. The short rib was very good but not melt-in-your-mouth tender like I've had at Magnolia Grill. The risotto was a little more al dente than I prefer and the borht/sauce was a bad idea as it turned the risotto from cramy to mushy-- but it tasted good. My wife had handmade pappardelle with shrimp. The shrimp was a little rubbery but it was very tasty dish, nice and spicy.

            Dessert was chocolate cramel tart for her and orange spiced creme brulee with biscotti, which went well with the coffee. Both were very good. Only complaint was that the menu said $4/each for dessert but we were charged $5, but I wasn't about to ruin a nice evening by complained about $2.

            The Highland gaelic Ale the waiter recommended was excellent. The service was perfect and we got our food in a timely manner.

            Piedmont isn't up there with Magnolia Grill or Four Square but I don't think they are trying to be either. Their competition is Vin Rouge, Parizade, Pops, Tosca, etc. I give them the edge over these establishments.

            1. i just went for lunch, but it was excellent. i had the pastrami sandwich. the pastrami is made in-house, and has a marvelous smoky flavor, with the perfect amount of tenderness balanced with texture. i chose the salad to come with it, which consisted of a quality green mix tossed in a house dressing. the pastrami was stacked on the sandwich, and for $6 it was one of the best bargains for a high quality meal in durham.

              the lunch prices on the website are actually higher than on the real menu, so i expected to pay about $10 for the meal, which would have been worth it, but not a place one can hit often (on my budget at least). it was only $6.42, to my surprise, which was great, because i would have gladly paid $2 or 3 dollars more. i'll definitely return. the only complaint i had was that the service was slow and kinda flippant, but what do you expect from a lunch waitress? i used to work in the industry, so i remember who got the lunch shifts.

              1 Reply
              1. re: MOOKIECOOKIE

                That pastrami sandwich is something to be proud of. It either made me like pastrami or has ruined me for all other pastrami. I'll make it back for lunch for that alone.

              2. Just came back from a meal there tonight. I loved, loved the location and atmosphere. It felt totally comfortable but still nice and elegant, and in the grand tradition of Durham fine dining, completely at ease in neighborhoods many aren't familiar (or comfortable)with. I think this is a good thing.

                As for service, very friendly if a bit slow -- I'll take slow if it means good things are happening in the kitchen. The duck liver mousse was interesting and full of flavor, and if you like that sort of thing you'll enjoy trying it. The green tomato jam served with my cheese was about the best thing I've ever tasted. The menus change every day.

                There are still some kinks to be worked out, including a few bucks overcharge on the bill and warm chardonnay, but all in all I think this is such a promising addition to downtown Durham. As a longtime fan of Andy's at the Federal, I'm happy to see him get his own place. I'm excited to try the brunch.

                1. Just had our first meal at Piedmont and were very impressed. We will be back again, and soon.

                  The missus started with a beet salad that had a hint of grapefruit in it. Everything balanced wonderfully--it was a lovely dish. I had the duck liver mousse, which was phenomenal, and quite filling. I could see stopping there for just that and a glass of wine and leaving quite satisfied.

                  For entrees, my wife had the hog cheek ravioli, which she described as "tremendous." The few bites she shared with me confirmed her assessment. A subtle red sauce complemented the dish without overpowering the meat, which was of course the star of the plate. I had the leg of duck confit with a few lightly roasted brussel sprouts halves and a sweet potato and grapefruit puree--the grapefruit was just there as a slight highlight, adding a nice sourness to balance out the sweetness. The duck was served over the puree and worked nicely together for the few forkfuls they shared. I'm pretty partial to duck on its own and didn't want to take too many bites that diluted the 'duckiness.' Bottom line, the dish worked either way.

                  With a lovely bottle of Barbera the entire meal came to under $80 before tip. As I said up top, we'll be back again, and soon. This place is everything I hoped the brains behind the Federal would come up with once they started their own restaurant.

                  The room itself, BTW, has a nice casual-but-elegant feel to it. The service was friendly, unhurried, and professional.

                  1. As a counter-point to Tom from Durham, I'd like to enter my assessment of Piedmont. My wife and I ate dinner at Piedmont last Saturday and it was very, very good.

                    We had a bit of difficulty finding the place. Downtown Durham such as it is always confuses me at night. Once I remembered that it was near the Farmer's market, it all fell into place.

                    Once we arrived, we found the space to be open yet not too loud. One nice touch we noticed was the layout. We sat at a two top with the typical bench and chair set up. There was ample space between our table and the others. I think of many bistro experiences where I could practically put my elbow in the soup of the patron at the next table. It was not the case at Piedmont.

                    The drink selection was fine: Nice wine list, a good selection of cocktails, including some with house made cordials, and a pleasant selection of beer, two drafts and several bottles with the obligatory macro will along with several slections from microbreweries here and abroad.

                    Onto the food, my wife opened with a flourish, cheese from a local cremery and a nice soup. She loved her sweet potato soup with onion rings on top.

                    My appetizer was braised pork belly with sweet potato puree and roasted cippolinis. My experience with pork belly has been mixed, I first had it at Jujube where it trascended mere meat and became something more. I last had pork belly at Vin and the portion was meager and the preparation uninspired as if the chef wasn't willing to acknowledge the unctiousness of the cut. At Piedmont, they threw down a huge slab of pork belly that was smoky and chewy. It was wonderful. The only quibble I had was that I would have preferred a more crisp preparation, but I thought the execution was excellent and this dish set the tone for the rest of our meal.

                    On to the entrees, my lovely wife ordered the monk fish and she really liked it. I had duck confit over lentils. It was crisp and tasty throughout. Both entrees were excellent.

                    Desserts were served with a chocolate bread pudding for me and a spiced creme brulee for the little woman. Again excellent execution within the palette of the menu. Every item that we had contained some underucurrent of winter. I really appreciate the fact that in early December in NC, there were no tomatos or peppers.

                    We were suprised by how small the check ended up. Service was solid. Attentive without hovering. My wife pronounced Piedmont to be one of her 3 faves in the Triangle. I'd have to agree. Let's hope that the early success is the start of a wonderful tradition.

                    1. Based on this thread, I went to Piedmont last night with high expectations; not a problem – the place lived up to them. We had a hard time seeing it from the street, but once we got in we were impressed. Great looking space, and we were met by a friendly hostess. I started with the bruschetta with roasted beets, greens, walnuts and gorgonzola ($8). It was absolutely fantastic. It was served more like a salad with the toast slices on the side, and had just enough of each ingredient that you could get a bit with each bite. My husband started with the salad of farmer’s lettuce with roasted shallot vinaigrette. He liked it, although he felt it could have had more dressing. One weird thing (in my opinion) happened around this time. We were each given 2 pieces of bread (foccaccia and baguette), and as soon as my husband finished his, they took his plate away. They tried taking my bread plate away while I still had a couple of bites left, but I stopped them. What’s up with this? If they’re trying to get the message across that you’re not allowed to have more bread, they’re definitely succeeding, but it seemed a discordant note in an otherwise very welcoming and warm environment. They also took my husband’s first glass of wine away when it wasn’t quite finished yet (“rather see a church burn” as Granny Major used to say). My main course was lobster risotto (at $19 – the most expensive thing on the menu). The waiter had told me that they had cooked this in lobster broth, and you could tell. Strong and wonderful lobster flavor, and the risotto was cooked just right – still a tiny bit of crunch. My husband got the poulet rouge (some special kind of free range chicken) with potatoes and pan fried rapini. He said it was good. For those who are interested, there were also two vegetarian entrees available. There was a crispy polenta with spicy squash ragu, and a tagliatelli with squash and rapini. We had the tempranillo (sp?) by the glass, which was very nice (so nice that I wish I had gotten the menu back to find out in more detail what it was ... would love to buy a few bottles). We finished by sharing the cherry almond tart (sorry, forgot to check the price) which was good, rustic and not too sweet. Aside from the bread/wine incident, I though the service was great, the menu very interesting (it was tough to choose), the food wonderful, the prices reasonable and overall a great experience. We’ll definitely be going back.

                      1. What's the verdict on well-behaved kids at Piedmont? I've got two girls, six and nine.

                        Thanks in advance!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: peetoteeto

                          I think if you went early you'd be fine. When we were there a family came in with a young, well behaved boy, and there was no problem.

                        2. I just got back from lunch at Piedmont. I had dinner there a couple of weeks ago (but elected to post about it to alt.music.chapel-hill instead of here -- gotta spread the love) and it was every bit as great as everyone else has suggested. The pork belly singlehandedly cured my aversion to eating giant inch-thick slabs of pure porkfat. That's probably not a good thing in the long run, but mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

                          Lunch today was a madhouse -- some servers were AWOL so Andy & Abby were waiting tables & running food & doing about 18 other jobs at the same time. I had the pastrami, and as promised above, it was outstanding. I must've looked like a nutcase because I kept smelling my sandwich, but the meat was giving off the most amazing smoky aroma and I couldn't get enough of it.

                          Despite the staffing issues, the place was full & they were still managing to turn over tables in a relatively timely fashion -- I didn't notice any walkouts or even any upset looks from anybody. Of course, I didn't spend the full 45 minutes scanning the room, mostly because I was sitting at the bar & was spending most of my time watching the high-speed mayhem in the kitchen.

                          One thing I noticed that I hadn't realized before: in addition to curing their own meats, they're also baking at least some of their own bread--I saw at least 2 batches of baguettes going into the oven. I asked Andy about this, and he said it was definitely something they wanted to keep doing, but that it was starting to get difficult due to a shortage of oven space. (I personally think they're freaking NUTS to try to bake their own bread *and* do all the other labor-intensive stuff they're doing, but by god, bravo to them for trying)

                          As far as the prices go, I'd have to say that at lunch, at least, I think they're unsustainably low. A sandwich that good, with fries or a salad, has no business costing $6 in 2006. I've gladly paid closer to $8 at Sandwhich for something roughly similar, though not as good.

                          It's not so much a question of whether they can turn a profit at lunch or not; it's more the fact that all three owners were there busting their asses at noon, on a day when they're almost certainly all three going to be there until midnight. And they're doing two meals a day 6 days a week.

                          If you're succeeding wildly in part because the principals are pulling 90-hour weeks, then you gotta figure something's going to have to give, or somebody's going to have a nervous breakdown ;-).

                          And I would gladly pay a little more at lunch (or, <sob>, give up lunch altogether) if it could guarantee a long happy future of amazing Piedmont dinners.

                          1. Had a nice luch at Piedmont today. The house wasn't packed by any means. There were perhaps 7 or 8 tables occupied at 12:45. Of course, a lot of downtown employers are closed for the holidays. The two servers were managing fine, and things were quite relaxed.

                            I had the pastrami sanwich, which is actually more like a pastrami pannini. It was rediculously good. Also tried the sliced beef and bleu d’auvergne on baguette. It was fine, but not particularly noteworthy. The baguette was pretty good, but you could barely detect the meat and the cheese over the crustiness of the bread. The side salad was fine. And the frites were decent, but they were just warm enough to not feel like we were being served cold fries.

                            Overall, we really liked Piedmont, and I look forward to trying dinner there. I think it's a spectacularly good value, and I welcome it's addition to Durham's restaurant scene.

                            1. Piedmont? Not so much. I don't understand all these raves because when two of us visited one night last week, it just wasn't all that good--service or food quality. I really looked forward to visiting, too, based on what I've read here and heard elsewhere, and I love Rue Cler and adore Van Rouge and couldn't wait to support these local Durham guys. When we arrived, the place didn't seem to be really bustling. Which makes me wonder why the service was so slow (I mean REALLY slow - I had to ask if I could order a glass of wine after my server left my table for the third time). My minestrone soup, once it arrived, was almost warm. We also ordered the bruschetta, which just wasn't anything special at all - a mish-mash of flavors and textures that on their own are dynamite, but just didn't work for this dish. I ordered the chicken cacciatore on the suggestion of our waiter, and it was so salty (and I'm not shy about salt) I just couldn't eat it.
                              Again, maybe it was an off night for the crew, but I really don't see myself returning any time soon. There's enough good stuff going on in these here parts with Van Rouge, Rue Cler, and others that I'm just going to pass on this one.

                              1 Reply
                              1. I think comparing Rue Clar and Piedmont is pretty much apples and oranges, so to speak.

                                I've eaten at the Piedmont 6 times and loved it every time. And I've had fine service every time, as well.

                                I love the atmosphere, love Drew and Andy's cooking, love the physical space, love the friendly staff, love the prices, and really love it that everytime I go in I see people I know. That speaks volumes to me.

                                Well done Drew, Abby and Andy!

                                1. A friend of mine and I went for brunch on Saturday. Very nice feel in the restaurant. My friend had the cheese plate and I had the chicken sandwich with mixed greens, avocado, and viniagrette on a baguette. I was very impressed with this place. Would like to go back for dinner.

                                  My friend knew one of the other patrons there who is getting ready to open a new bistro at the corner of Gregson and Main. Sounds good as well.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: steveindurham

                                    In the former bike shop, right? I think I heard, back when it started, that one of the owners of the James Joyce was somehow involved . . . does that sound right? They've been under construction since before Piedmont started their construction, and I keep expecting to see some outward signs of progress . . .

                                    1. re: rossgrady

                                      Fergus (one of the owners of James Joyce) is involved. I think they said they would open in Feb. They will be hiring some of the former staff from Fowler's so that is a good thing for those people.

                                    2. re: steveindurham

                                      Alivia's Durham Bistro plans to open February in the old Bull City Bicycles location. The chef (I forget his name) was formerly in Bret Jennings kitchen at Elaine's and Michael Klinger formerly of Fowler's, Vin Rouge and Four Square will be managing the front of the house. The cuisine is inspired by French Bistro fare, but using typical southern US ingredients in a less obvious way than we've seen before. Sounds really interesting, and promising.

                                      1. re: tablewines

                                        Word from the inside is that this restaurant will indeed open in a couple of weeks. In addition to a menu focused on seasonal ingredients, the bistro will apparently be open in the mornings as an espresso bar. Which could be good - without Fowler's, that area of town is lacking a good coffee place. The chef was apparently at Lantern previously?

                                        1. re: dubedo

                                          Went to this new bistro in question on Friday, it goes by Alivia's. Large crowd and an impressive-looking menu (the lunch and late-night appeared especially good). However, for my situation, it was all down-hill after the drink order. (And I understand they just recently opened and that was certainly taken into account, however...) The first courses were decent: pork bone soup and a whole leaf romaine salad (complete with a cold, stiff "poached" egg). Then we waited for 45 minutes for our second course, all the while never being asked if we needed a drink (or anything) or given any info on when we might get our food. When we did inquire what was happening our server immediately offered the explanation of kitchen mix-up (which we did not doubt, just didn't understand why no one would let us know) and an offer to speak to the manager. We declined and finally received our plates. My companion had a tartlet which was rather enjoyable but I had a truly awful and deceptively-worded dish. The menu listed "spice-rubbed half chicken" with chickpea fritters, vegetables and fried okra. There was no okra and the chicken was baked and extremely heavily breaded, not to mention bland except for the taste of salt. I literally had to play "find the chicken" and once I had, my plate was covered in castaway breading (which most resembled the coating of a cheap seafood place). There was no "spice" and the whole thing was a $15 rip-off. The service did not improve from there either, no asking of how things were (especially troublesome in light of how long we waited). Most other diners appeared to be enjoying things and the place was bustling. I'm curious to know what experiences other diners have had there. Until then I am very reluctant to return.
                                          On a side note, I went to the Piedmont the following night and it was top-notch (in all ways) once again!

                                    3. Our experience at Piedmont was excellent aside from some questionable service issues on a busy night. I'll be going back regularly. Another feather in Durham's culinary cap! Great work Piedmont team!

                                      PS: I love that the wine list at Piedmont is simple and effective. I'm all for the end of the over-purchased monstrosities that so many restaurant owners feel they have to create to show off. Less is more.

                                      1. I brought some food-wise out-of-town guests to Piedmont last night (Friday) based on previous good visits. It was busy, but we were all disappointed. The farmer's salad consisted of lots of flat Italian parsley, basil leaves, dill and leaf lettuce in a watery vinaigrette. It was easily the worse salad I was ever served in a restaurant. The frito misto consisted of a large plate of battered and fried okra, squash slices and sardines (not better than it sounds, alas). The coating was tough and chewy, the sardines (not fresh) were salty and greasy. The vegetable ragout with polenta was fairly good, although somewhat bland. My guest who ordered the local pork chop was pleased with its taste and preparation. Ditto for one who ordered the swordfish...except that, inexplicably, copious amounts of the Italian parsley and basil were dumped over the whole dish. My guest said the parsley overwhelmed the flavor of the swordfish and he scraped the greens off. Did we over-order parsley and basil that night?

                                        1. Oh the frequent woes of Chowhound and the lack of thread merging. This SEEMS to be most populous Piedmont topic. I digress...

                                          Popped in for lunch at Piedmont on Friday and had a pretty solid experience. The food was quite enjoyable, but the service was somewhat deficient. For just one course, a sandwich, we ended up at lunch for over an hour, with no unreasonable time spent chatting before or after the meal. Mainly it just took quite a while for the food to come out. Our server went missing at the end of the meal, so that was kind of annoying, too. The conversation made it such that the wait didn't seem dragging, but if I was in a hurry there would've been more of a problem.

                                          Anywho, the food was nice. I had the fried trout sandwich with pickled onion. Nice combination. Fries were very good. I wish they'd expand the menu slightly and do some pasta or something a bit more substantial. Obviously they have the chops based on the work from kitchen during dinner, and I think the market would bear at least one item in the $12-$14 range.

                                          1. Piedmont has ended up being one of my fave spots because of how comfortable it is. We can step up to the bar and comfortably have our meal, and chat with the bartender.

                                            the menu selection is not tremendously ample, but i love its simplicity. and the simplicity in flavors extends to the dishes. portions perfect. we have always had an extremely pleasant sensory and comfortably intimate experience there, even at the bar.

                                            for the apertif cocktails...try the Rose marie. Gin, grapefruit juice, and a rosemary syrup...amazing!

                                            1. We had another wonderful meal there last night. They kindly let me order a half order of one of the main pastas as my appetizer (butternut squash ravioli with brown butter and pecans - heaven). Then got the snapper veronique over fried potato cake with sauted chard. Also very good. My only quibble was that the white wine by the glass that I was getting was served waaaay too cold. But I do really like this place a lot.

                                              1. Stopped by at Piedmont last night for a drink. Two new-ish fall cocktails are on the list that I much appreciated seeing. In fact, they were pretty much exactly what I was craving. One is a take on a Manhattan, the other is a apple rye drink with thyme. Didn't get to try the Manhattan, but my friend enjoyed it. Would still like to see real, hard ice to prevent chipping into the drink, but I suppose that would be asking a bit much. My rye drink was nicely composed, but the thyme-sugar on the rim was a bit overboard. Next time I order it, I'll have the tender go much lighter on the sugar. Otherwise, a good drink.

                                                1. Loving the offal-ish items that show up from Piedmont menu from time to time. Headcheese is pretty tame, no chewy or crunchy bits of ear or anything like that. Not very game-y tasting, very loose construction. I was very pleased.

                                                  Bollito misto! Yes. Seriously. I doubt you can get this anywhere else in the Tri. When I saw it on the online menu, it decided that I would have to go. Tongue, some brisket, housemade freeform sausage, a chicken leg. Good stuff.

                                                  1. I was desperate to try Piedmont so I went by myself for a very late lunch (pushing close) last week. My service was perfect; no one ever made me feel like I was keeping them late.

                                                    More importantly what I had of the food, a local greens salad with a roasted shallot vinaigrette and smoked chicken, was superb. I mean perfect. I had a glass of house grüner veltliner which was fine. My only complaint was that my wait couldn't make the right pairing recommendation. I knew the veltliner was wrong but I had it anyway simply because I wanted to try that particular label.

                                                    Oh, I forgot to mention, VERY reasonably priced.

                                                    I am looking forward to enjoying a more extensive meal there. Great food, nice service.