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Sep 11, 2013 06:27 AM

Joule, in Raleigh

We had breakfast at Ashley Christensen's new restaurant/coffee shop -- Joule, on South Wilmington Street, in downtown Raleigh -- this morning.

The are just getting started, but the food we had was really delicious. The grits with fried egg were the best grits I've had, and I've had a lot of grits -- rich and full of flavor.

Baked goods -- croissants, biscuits, muffins -- and an order of bacon and eggs were also really delicious. They are definitely off to a fine start.

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  1. I've had the privilege of going to Joule several times for a variety of coffee and espresso drinks which were all excellent. Went for brunch Labor Day weekend but it was too crowded to get inside so haven't made it for brunch yet. Did make it for lunch today and had a great lunch as well. Here are my quick thoughts / impressions:

    1. What I liked: Excellent coffee and drinks and very good food. I've tried the pour over coffee and the drip and tried several different beans and really enjoyed all of them. Haven't had french press yet but am sure it is great. The space inside is fun and hip and has a very nice open feel to it. Haven't been at night but am sure it's hipster heaven. The service has been very friendly and helpful and the place is well-staffed.

    2. What I don't really like: The place is pricey. Given the quality, this may be appropriate and a good value but it is still pricey for my budget. A pour over cup of coffee to go is $4. It's a very nice cup of coffee and if I had a long time to hang out and enjoy a french press with a friend, etc. I could see paying $4 but I'm typically grabbing a cup of coffee to go or just wanting a quick cup in between meetings. The drip is less--$2.50 or so I think and not a bad deal I suppose but I've got to walk by a couple of very good and cheaper places where I can get more coffee for that price so it's a hard sale. I do not care for the "coffee restaurant" concept with wait service even if you're just getting a cup of coffee and a muffin, etc. Not sure how you could really split the space between regular food and coffee and not have wait service throughout but I have avoided going there when I knew I had a short amount of time and just didn't want to deal with that level of formality, etc. or the need to leave a "decent tip" when all I've gotten is a cup of coffee and a muffin. Speaking of wait service, while they have always been super friendly there, there is a lot of staff which is great but I for one could trade some of the level of attention, etc. for counter service with a less expensive cup of coffee. Also, I'm not crazy about the overall location there by the bus station walkway. I don't mean to sound snobbish but I think you would have to look really hard to find a greater contrast of people between those hanging outside during the day and those inside. I suspect many of the people outside may not have $7 to their names much less available for a smallish cup of coffee and muffin. Not much we can do about that or the location at this stage I suppose but I sometimes suffer guilt pangs passing through there and the Joule prices make those pangs even worse. I found the "glossary" on the menu a bit patronizing--suspect it can be very helpful but maybe better if it were just there and not labeled a glossary? On lunch (or I think it is really an all day menu), the food was great but it too was more than I typically want to spend for a lunch out with a co-worker or two. If we are going out to a business lunch, we're likely to pick a more formal / true restaurant place, etc. with broader offerings so I'm not sure exactly who the market is for this menu mid-day. I'm hardly ever going to want to grab some mussels for a Monday lunch outing so I'm hopeful they may add some soup or sandwiches, etc. of some sort.

    Some will take this as a slam against AC, etc. which it absolutely is not meant to be. She has her image and idea of what she wants to open up / provide to the downtown market and more power to her. I am merely offering my impressions and the things that I personally like and don't like about the concept with a hope that others may chime in with their thoughts as well. In the end, I suspect AC will make some adjustments to perhaps broaden the menu or tweek the service concept but all that's her call and I say more power to her. I understand she was not out to simply kick the Wlimoore offerings up a notch and is going after a whole different thing but, that said, I really do miss the Wilmoore and its great coffee and casual, high quality sandwiches at a very good price.

    16 Replies
    1. re: Guilty Gourmand

      Yes this is completely the AC style. Which is why I don't frequent her restaurants. However, people love it and it's making her money. So kudos, I guess.

      1. re: panthur

        I agree. I am one of the ones that love it--except for the price. Wish I could afford to eat there more often.

        I have been back a couple of times for coffee when I have time to go and sit down and enjoy a pour over cup there. Always very good and very good service . . . but expensive. Last time I went, I had a pour over coffee and croissant and both were excellent but with tip it was around $10.

        I understand they have revised the lunch / meal menu a bit and include some soups / salads / sandwiches, etc. now but I have not tried yet. I'm sure I will do so sometime and am sure they will be excellent . . . but expensive.

        1. re: Guilty Gourmand

          +1. The food is good, but the price of everything on the menu is not a good value when you consider the kind of food being offered - at least during breakfast hours. I was reminded of this when I had brunch at Joule yesterday. A plate of biscuits and gravy is $12!

          The description of said biscuits and gravy is pasted below from the Joule website menu:

          "SHORT RIB MILK GRAVY over buttermilk cheese biscuits - $12".

          I'm sorry to have to say this, but even if these happen to be the best biscuits and gravy in the south, this dish is still southern food at its most basic level and it is inexpensive by definition. Otherwise, the poor, hardworking people who toiled in the farmlands from my ancestry would never have known what biscuits and gravy tasted like.

          BTW, my wife's grits bowl (dubbed "The Hangover" on the Joule menu) was $16 (!) after she opted to add eggs to it.

          1. re: ToothTooth

            It's definitely pricey!

            I have since made it back for lunch and ordered the chicken sandwich with avocado and tomato from, I believe, the "all day menu." Seems like it was around $9 without a side of chips or whatever. The sandwich was really great and fairly good sized and I thought an appropriate thing for a bit of a splurge lunch. I know I can find a cheaper chicken sandwich around but not sure I can find one with as much flavor in the same price range. (By the way, I think they have this all day menu (and brunch, etc.) posted on the website now.)

            On the other hand, I'm a fat southern boy that likes my bojangles (and biscuitville) and am happy to take the $9 or $10 savings on my gravy biscuit and grab an extra serving (or 3 or 4).

            1. re: ToothTooth

              Perhaps the biscuit had Ashley's thumbprint impressed upon it?


              1. re: ToothTooth

                Recently had brunch at Joule and absolutely loved it. Cool space, great coffee and fun menu. It's certainly not dirt cheap, but I found the prices very fair for what we got. I don't get griping about what your meal costs when the prices are clearly printed on their menu. Hangover is $12, two farm eggs are $4. It's not like they surprised you.

                We ordered a large cappuccino that was $4.25. For great coffee, that's a normal price. They do use great coffee beans across the board, which I fully expected before our visit.

                The food was fantastic. We ordered biscuits and gravy (loaded with short ribs, delicious), Huevos Rancheros (perfectly cooked eggs, big flavors), and benedict (killer porchetta in place of bacon, perfect eggs again). My expectations were that the eggs would be local farm eggs (they are), the short ribs would not be from cargill (they aren't), the porchetta would be made in house from local pig (it is), and the cooking would be technically spot-on (it was). I think prices are very reasonable, service was great and food was great. Definitely high on my brunch list.

                1. re: veganhater

                  Yes, veganhater, I'm aware that the prices are clearly printed on the brunch menu at Joule and I certainly wasn't surprised by how much things were going to cost as I consciously and purposefully ordered my food. There's no need for you to be patronizing. Further, I recognize the fact that I am very fortunate to be able to easily afford the luxury of eating out at good restaurants multiple times a week. When I dine out, I prefer to frequent restaurants that serve food that I cannot easily replicate at home and that use high quality and locally sourced ingredients. I will always happily pay a premium for that. However, I am generally turned off by restaurants that attempt to "fancy up" the basics in some small way and then charge premium prices for what has historically been simple food eaten by poor people. In other words, I tend to avoid places where I consider the overall value proposition to be low. Joule is on that low-value list along with fondue restaurants and most "gourmet" burger and pizza joints, just to name a few.

                  Feel free to add all the short rib, foie gras, and truffles you want to your plate of biscuits and gravy but, yet, they remain "just biscuits and gravy" and, therefore, the $12 price tag strikes a nerve.

                  1. re: ToothTooth

                    I found the dish to be an interesting riff on biscuits and gravy. The gravy had a deep, beefy flavor and was chock full of short rib. I will admit I like when chefs play around with peasant dishes (Keller's pork and beans and apdc's foie gras poutine come to mind). Regardless, the rest of the menu doesn't qualify as fancied up basics, unless you consider nicoise salad, eggs benedict and heirloom tomato salad as basics. I find a plate of NC shrimp and stone ground grits at $14 to be a good deal. Ditto for the Nicoise salad. I also thought the coffee prices were reasonable considering what they serve. $4.25 for an 11 oz cappuccino and $2 for a 12 oz. drip coffee seems fair.

                    The reality is, after eating there I was surprised at the negative comments. I would kill to have Joule where I live. I wasn't in a rush to check the place out partly because of reading this thread, but it may have replaced Scratch as my favorite brunch stop in the Triangle. Where are y'all going for brunch that offers up great food and coffee that's so much better of a value?

                    1. re: veganhater

                      Although I've enjoyed the brunch food I've had at Joule on two different visits I must say that, with the exception of one or two items, I find all of Joule's brunch menu to be a perfect example of overpriced basics -- pancakes ($12), bowl o' grits w/toppings ($12), shrimp & grits ($14), tomato salad ($12), BLT ($13), biscuits & gravy ($12), huevos rancheros ($12). Beyond the pricing of these items, each one is a simple dish that can easily be replicated at home which further decreases their value proposition. If any of the above mentioned items we served with a side dish or any sort of accompaniment, these prices might be a little easier to justify but, as it stands, these menu items just simply aren't interesting or appealing choices for the prices being charged.

                      Personally, I find much stronger brunch value at Rue Cler, Piedmont, Vin Rouge, Scratch, Daisy Cakes, Tonali, Saxapahaw General Store and The Eddy Pub. Each of these has great coffee and excellent food.

                      1. re: ToothTooth

                        We will have to agree to disagree. I thought everything we had was delicious. $14 for shrimp & grits is a good deal in my book. The ny times seemed to think highly of Joule as well.

                        1. re: veganhater

                          Ha ha!! I don't disagree with The New York Times that Joule has a tasty brunch. I simply disagree with your notion that Joule's brunch offerings represent anything remotely resembling a good value or anything tasty enough worth going out of your way for. Especially when there are so many other restaurant options in the area that offer food that's equally as good or better. And with less of a forced hipster vibe. To each his own, though. I certainly don't mean to throw a wet blanket on anyone trying to enjoy a $13 BLT that comes with no sides.

                          1. re: ToothTooth

                            I'm agreeing with the NY Times on this one, not tooth tooth. The food and drink are great and it's possibly AC's best effort. The prices are in line with many other brunch options around, including some you mentioned. If you're this worried about paying $12 for a brunch plate, it's probably not the place for you. Maybe you should call Ashley up and explain to her you know how to price her menu better than she does, and see if she could stop piping in the imaginary "forced hipster vibe" you sense. I'd certainly go out of my way to eat here, especially for the unique biscuits and gravy. Many others seem to agree as it's been busy on every visit (3).

                            1. re: veganhater

                              Yes, you're correct. Its definitely not the place for me. I gave it two tries and I don't see a compelling reason to go back. I simply find myself much more satisfied having brunch at numerous other places in the Triangle. Enjoy your $13 BLT!

                              1. re: ToothTooth

                                The "brunch" menu sounds like a total ripoff. The same BLT (minus the avocado) is $8.50 during the week. Ridiculous.

                            2. re: ToothTooth

                              I have the same feeling when I am eating at Lantern, not liking that I'm paying $32 for a similar noodle and meat dish that costs $15 at a hole in the wall mom-and-pop Asian place up in DC that's just as flavorful. I respect that quality of the ingredients stands out e.g. free-range chicken, and the presentation is better, but I still have that reaction, like calling BS on a $13 BLT :-).

                          2. re: ToothTooth

                            Most of those are a bit over priced with the exception of maybe the shrimp and grits.

                            Funny enough the other restaurants you mention save for Daisy Cakes or Scratch are also in that 9-16 dollar price range for basics that you could get for cheaper at Elmo's diner.

            2. Had a nice glass of iced coffee there during Hopscotch. Service was friendly and the place was very nice inside. Looking forward to visiting again and trying the food.

              1. Had breakfast at Joule this morning with my husband. Coffee was very, very good and a nice selection of different beans for pour-over. Food was very good, but expensive for what you get. Grits were a stand-out, incredibly creamy and rich.

                Totally agree with Guilty Gourmand's assessment about the price as well as the discordance about location.

                Overall, glad to have it as an option (especially when the coffee fanatics in my family will be visiting) but won't become a regular.

                2 Replies
                1. re: greeneggsnham

                  Whatever the deal is with Joule -- and I like the food at Joule very much -- the reception of Joule seems to have slowed the development of Ashley Christensen's other new restaurants.

                  There is a building on Hargett Street that was to have housed Christensen's next venture -- a restaurant on the first floor and catered rental space on the second floor.

                  There was a lot of construction going on there for a long time. But I drive past there at least a couple of times a week and I haven't seen any activity in that space since last fall.

                  1. re: jnwall

                    She has been doing a lot of traveling too.