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Help Requested For 'Best' Triangle Dining

We’ll be in the Triangle area for a couple of days later this month (midweek) and would like help finalizing our restaurant list.

As background, our motto is ‘Sleep Cheap, Dine Fine’ and afterwards we’ll be heading up to Town House in Chilhowie. So we’d like some excellent ‘lead-in’ places, with a strong desire to try stuff that we’re less likely to find elsewhere in USA.

I’ve searched this board, and have narrowed down to several places – would appreciate help in finalizing my choices (and a heads-up on anything I’ve missed).

ON PAPER I’m most interested in Fearrington House – but I’ve had mixed results at other Relais & Chateaux places – sometimes excellent, but sometimes pretentious with the menu exceeding the reach of some chefs. No recent reports on this Board – how is it?

STRONG second choices are Elaines and Magnolia Grill (although both seem up-and-down). Which of these (and why?) should I choose – or are both worthwhile and drop Fearrington (although maybe too similar to do both)?

Considered but currently only backups:

Lantern (dropped as Toronto – my base – is awash with Asian based restaurants, both authentic and fusion) – but give me a reason to reconsider!

Cypress On The Hill – seemed less ‘southern’ than Elaines and Magnolia Grill (I NOW KNOW THIS HAS CLOSED)

Nana’s - again, less ‘southern’ – but use of the word Kobe on their menu REALLY bugged me – if they don’t describe the beef accurately, can I rely on anything else they say?

The above is obviously for evening – lunch will be BBQ!

Currently favoring Allen & Son – but also considering stopping at Hursey (in Graham) on way out as I had a great breakfast there a few years back.

Anything I’ve missed (or should consider)?

Thanks in advance.

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Fearrington House Restaurant
2000 Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, NC 27312

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  1. Toronto is a huge city and on top of that has a lot of ethnic communities so what is special for are things we have a hard time getting like authentic Chinese (see Gourmet Kingdom and SuperWok as Sichuan) or Northern Style Delis. Food trucks are a big thing, but I hate to say that BBQ may be the only thing that you couldn't find in Toronto that you can find here. I mean calabash style (see fried and piled high) seafood is another. We have fine dining establishments and I'd sooner go to An (pan asian but then again you turned down James Beard winning Lantern) or Herons (at the Umstead) if you don't want Fearrington. Cypress on the Hill is no more. Magnolia Grill and Watts and Vin Rouge are sturdy choices but I wouldn't call them unique. Watts is more a take on Southern flare to me than Magnolia and will Vin Rouge is French. If you want unique, but inexpensive, take a travel out to Saxapahaw and check out The General Store. If you can hit up the Durham Farmer's market on Saturday morning, grab some baked goods from Scratches stall. Also I'd recommend One in Chapel Hill. Revolution and well if you can't get authentic Latin American streetfood that far north think about cheap eats at places like La Vaquita and Los Comales. The chain Bojangles (chicken and biscuits and sweeter than sweet sweet tea) is a bit of an institution in NC and some people swear by it. I'm getting to a point of rambling. Maybe a better question to ask is what DON'T you have in Toronto or something you've heard about that we may have in NC?

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    Los Comales
    2103 N Roxboro St, Durham, NC 27704

    Vin Rouge
    737 9th St, Durham, NC 27705

    General Store Cafe
    39 West St, Pittsboro, NC 27312

    Gourmet Kingdom
    301 E Main St, Carrboro, NC 27510

    7 Replies
    1. re: burgeoningfoodie

      I had missed Herons – thanks. Checked the menu and it seems to have the ’standard items’ (although a few interesting accompaniments) – maybe a test to apply is

      ‘If dropped blindfold into a restaurant, would I be able to determine (roughly) WHERE in U.S. I am sitting?’. If there is a ‘North Carolina cuisine’, where can I find the best example(s)?

      I do like the look of Watts – am investigating further – anybody else been there?

      General Store Café – has some interesting items – unfortunately no grilled items at lunch, so I’ll miss it (this time).

      And Bojangles was completely unknown to me – we rarely get biscuits in the frozen North, so I’m tempted to check one out for breakfast (at least).

      Toronto does ethnic very well – but ‘fine dining’ is sparse. We miss BBQ (all styles) and Mexican (the latter isn’t a favourite cuisine of mine anyway, and not searching for any in N.C.) but are fairly well represented with most Asian origins (including SE Asian). Most of our seafood ISN’T local, but good transportation means (in theory) we can get anything that’s available in New York (say) – but the seafood tends to be more ‘International’ cuisine. Any local ‘treats’?

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      General Store Cafe
      39 West St, Pittsboro, NC 27312

      1. re: estufarian

        I think you're getting some good recs on the fine dining so won't add more than to note you haven't included any Raleigh mentions. Not sure if you'll be in that area but I think Poole's is worth checking out if you are, especially this time of year given all the great produce and local ingredients available.. I would also add that my experience with Herons, Magnolia, Fearrington (in that order) have been great to good so even if not entirely local / southern-centric think they make a worthy fine dining choice for folks from anywhere in the world.

        As to bbq and other cheaper lunch items, I really like Allen & Son and would recommend them over Hursey's. On its best days the bbq at A&S is really sublime but everyone here has their own opinion on bbq. For other biscuit examples, you could also check out Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, Biscuitville or if you are really brave Time Out in Chapel Hill if a Bo is not nearby. We love biscuits around here and that's certainly a worthy local breakfast adventure if it appeals to you.

        Do they do BLTs in Toronto? Even if so bet you haven't had one like the kind you'll find at Merritt's Store in Chapel Hill if you are interested in pork of a different variety for lunch one day. Best enjoyed on the a bench or table outside the store in the humidity.

        My grandmother would tell you the best lunch (and best so maybe the best example of an old-time NC summertime lunch) this time of year would be to find a just picked tomato, a couple of slices of wonder bread and some Duke's mayo and have a tomato sandwich. May not really find that out anywhere though--everybody these days has to gussy it up with basil and mozz and fancy bread. If that doesn't fill you up, there's also pimento cheese. (Gee, I think it must be lunch time.)

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        Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen
        1305 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

        1. re: Guilty Gourmand

          no one gives a shoutout to neal's deli's biscuits? i prefer them (gasp!) over sunrise biscuit kitchen, particularly their pastrami, egg and swiss biscuit sandwich. i'm always looking for excuses to go there...

          1. re: cervisiam

            I like there biscuits too but I eat lunch there more often so it was not at the forefront of my mind.

            1. re: cervisiam

              Also added to my breakfast list. Any votes for Neal's Deli vs Sunrise vs Bojangles?

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              Neal's Deli
              100 E Main St Ste C, Carrboro, NC 27510

              1. re: estufarian

                Where are you staying? Neal's Deli and Sunrise both have great biscuits, but if you've never had a biscuit for breakfast, Bojangles or Biscuitville will do the trick. In general, if you see a sign in the morning that says "Hot Biscuits", especially at a gas station it's worth checking out.

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                Neal's Deli
                100 E Main St Ste C, Carrboro, NC 27510

      2. Just to be clear, the General Store Cafe in Pittsboro (linked in the post) is different from the General Store Cafe in Saxapahaw. In Saxapahaw, they have hot lunch specials that aren't on the (woefully out of date) menu on the website.The best bet is checking their facebook page (menus about 50% of the time or calling to find out what is on for a particular day.

        I'd go to the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen for my "only in the South" biscuit fix, but I acknowledge that Bojangles works in a pinch.

        I'm not a huge fan of Hursey's for BBQ. Again, if I'm there and hungry sure, but I'm not going out of my way for it.

        I've always harbored the opinion that Elaine's is more southern than their polished menus and presentations let on. Particularly this time of year.

        1 Reply
        1. re: brokegradstudent

          Thank you - indeed I had the wrong General Store. Now that I've found the right one this looks like a good candidate for the Saturday morning, as I'll be heading west to get to Chilhowie.

          And vote for Sunrise noted.

        2. I love that some have recommended Bojangle's as a fast food requirement. If it's convenient, it's a must. Not only for the biscuits - which are available all day long - but also for the cajun fried chicken. It's quite light and spicy - and not too greasy. I like the Supremes (which are the tenderloin pieces) and the Cajun Filet Biscuit or Sandwich.

          4 Replies
          1. re: cackalackie

            Even if it gets beaten out by Sunrise for breakfast - still on the list for lunch.

            1. re: cackalackie

              Biscuits are one of those things that oddly, the local/regional chains actually do quite well. Nothing wrong with a biscuit from Hardee's or Bojangles.

              1. re: cackalackie

                I finally have to voice my thought that Sunrise Biscuits are seriously not "all that." They used to be but, having given them many chances to prove otherwise, are resting on past laurels and not worth a line of cars on the street. The first sign was precooked, super thin bacon when they used to serve what seemed to be bacon and sausage from a farmer. I do appreciate the option of getting a drive through sprout sandwich for lunch. And, searching for a new source, Time Out biscuits are not great either, odd baking soda taste and bad texture. I will try neal's biscuits and revisit Bojangles after the accolades here.

                I'd vote for Fearrington...for the atmosphere as much as the food. It does seem like you're in someone's Southern home and, if it's not 100 degrees, enjoy a wine on the porch. I vote for pulled pork at Allen & Sons. And, if you don't go to Magnolia Grill to eat, maximize your experiences and at least try to go for dessert. I'd also second a farmer's market but you'll be here mid-week...so, if you can, buzz over on I-40 to the state farmer's market in south Raleigh which is open almost all the time. It's great for NC atmosphere and free tastes of sweet melon. (My mouth is watering...must...have...melon.) You could also get a fish/seafood lunch there.

                BTW Town House in Chilhowie was an absolute delight, enjoy!

                1. re: tryityoulllikeit

                  Not sure where I'll hit - any of Neal's Sunrise or even Bojangles - now have fixed hotel in Durham, so will depend where we tour (for sure will include Chapel Hill).

              2. Many of the top places have been hit above, but I would definitely second Watts Grocery, Magnolia Grill, Scratch Bakery, and Poole's Diner in Raleigh. Crook's Corner does good Southern food as well and is a Chapel Hill institution. I also think Allen & Son's is unsurpassed for bbq. Some of the Mexican food here is amazing too, but you said you weren't seeking that. The Saxapahaw General Store can be great too, and is an interesting side trip. Speaking of side trips, I've heard great things about The Chef & Farmer, but it's in Kinston (well east of Raleigh). Another place receiving good comments, and a lot more casual, is Dame's Chicken & Waffles in Durham. That's something you might not find in Toronto. Finally, one other place I would like to add is The Pig (in Chapel Hill). Their bbq is quite good but they also do a lot of other tasty things with pork. The pork belly sandwich is awesome, and their side dishes are very good.

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                Watts Grocery
                1116 Broad Street, Durham, NC 27705

                Crook's Corner
                610 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

                3 Replies
                1. re: brsmith2

                  Still researching Watts – any dishes particularly recommended?
                  Doing more homework on Crook’s Corner (also looks good).
                  Saxapahaw general Store now on shortlist for Saturday morning.

                  Dames Chicken & Waffles – you’re right – not common in Toronto! Is this as ‘heavy’ as it sounds? If we do decide to try chicken & waffles this menu does look appetizing – followed by an afternoon nap, I speculate.

                  The pig also looks good – any second opinions on this from anyone?

                  And won’t make Kinston (on this trip).

                  1. re: estufarian

                    I think sometimes the straightforwardness of Watts might initially seem less interesting. The flavor and the ingredients are much, much more than the descriptions cover.

                    That is part of why I think Watts is a good choice. This straightforward, no putting on airs is part of the Southern tradition - you don't toot your own horn. Simple ingredients, handled with finesse to create dishes where the sum is greater than the parts. They do this really well. They cook from a Southern perspective on every level.

                    As far as dishes, I haven't been this season. I have had excellent pork dishes in the past. Their vegetables have always been sublime. I seldom have dessert, but I did have a bite of an amazing goat cheese cheese cake which was on the savory side. Immediately ordered two - one for there and one for home!

                    1. re: meatn3

                      Now confirmed - Watts on Friday.

                2. Doesn't Susur Lee have a Toronto spot? I didn't think about Raleigh maybe due to the mention of you heading west. There are some nice spots along the way in Greensboro too. Oh check out Panciuto in Hillsborough. I haven't been personally but it gets good reviews. Jujube in Chapel hill is also good but also pan Asian and more moderate than dressy fine dining.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                    Susur Lee was one of the most amazing and creative chefs around. A true 'artist' - but never ran a REALLY successful restaurant - couldn't keep his staff happy, nor did he stay out of the management side.
                    20 years ago we would go EVERY month and always had the table closest to the half-open kitchen (view of the pass) and watched him in action - best food 'education' I ever had. Obsessive about quality and presentation (Example: Saw hime reject a soft-shell crab appetizer as the crab was too small (the smaller ones were only served as part of a tasting menu) and had the dishes for the entire 4 people re-prepared just because of this too small crab.
                    Some of the best dishes I've ever had came from that kitchen.

                    Sadly, although the food is still good (but not exceptional) he's 'seen the light' and is probably more profitable by seeking the younger hipper crowd. Service has really suffered and I 've only been once this year (disastrous service - even had to ask for a new server because of inattentiveness), after maybe 6 times last year.