Rue Cler Bakery

Not that Rue Cler, Durham’s premier French restaurant, needs any more good press, but for some reason I never remember about their bakery and cafe. That neuron was one of the few to fire this morning, and I thought that there would be no better way to recuperate from an awesome first night of the Troika Music Festival than coffee and beignets at Rue Cler’s bakery.


Rue Cler, which is right across the corner from the post office on East Chapel Hill St., was one of the first upscale restaurants to venture into downtown Durham, paving the way for many other venues.


I got a half-dozen beignets and the crepe du jour (egg, roasted peppers, bacon and gruyere). The crepe was exactly as good as it sounds.

Egg, roasted peppers, bacon, and gruyere crepe

Egg, roasted peppers, bacon, and gruyere crepe

It’s hard to describe how good their beignets are. They’re like flaky, chewy pockets of fried heaven. They also make fresh baguettes daily — they come out at about 2 pm, so show up early if you want one.

beignets at Rue Cler

Donut heaven: beignets at Rue Cler

While not as incredible as the Screaming Females show at the Pinhook last night, the bakery at Rue Cler made me feel like a new (and much fatter) man this morning. They stop serving crepes and beignets at 10.30 am, so don’t miss out!

Rue Cler Bakery (map)
Monday: 7.30 am – 4 pm
Tuesday – Friday: 7.30 am – 6 pm
Saturday: 8 am – 6 pm

Published in: on November 7, 2008 at 1:03 pm  Comments (7)  

Andrew’s Kountry Kitchen

Andrew’s Kountry Kitchen (2108 Angier Ave.) is a homey east Durham institution that’s been serving hot meals for more than 50 years.

Are you ready for the kountry?

"Are you ready for the kountry?"

According to a great article from the Durham News, the Andrews family owned and operated a grocery store on Angiers back in the in the 1930s and 40s.  This area of Durham (now a “grated community”) was once a bustling center for working class folks.  



One of the Andrews opened the restaurant in the 50s, and in the 70s, his cousin Gary bought it and continued to run the place, from cooking to waiting tables, until he passed away this year. They just reopened a couple of weeks ago, and there were many indications that he was well-loved, from the sign in front of the restaurant and the memorial picture inside to the way the ladies who worked there spoke about him. 

Chicken and dumplings, cabbage, and pinto beans

Chicken and dumplings, cabbage, and pinto beans

Of course I went for the food and was very happy with what I got. As is the case for many soul food places, they had one entree per day (from a rotating menu of fried fish, oxtail, etc.) and when I went it was chicken and dumplings.  Although it wasn’t quite what I expected — the “dumplings” are basically chopped up thick noodles — it hit the spot. The chicken was just peppery enough, and the vinegary cabbage and smoky pinto beans were great too.

Incredible lemon cake

Incredible lemon cake

I had to try the lemon cake, and I’m so glad I did. The halo of delicious that you can see from the photo says it all.  They also have an extensive breakfast menu (more red hots and liver pudding!) and the standard grill items for lunch.  My lunch, plus a sweet tea, came to about $7.

...because it's time to go

"...because it's time to go."

All in all, Andrew’s is a both a great soul food restaurant and a Durham time capsule.  Like the lady running the kitchen said, it’s food just like my grandmama makes it.

Andrew’s Kountry Kitchen (map)
Open 6 am – 7 pm 

Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 9:47 am  Comments (4)  

The Mad Popper

The Mad Popper is a gourmet popcorn store in Homestead Market down by Southpoint Mall (the same shopping center as Shiki) and is one of the best niche boutiques I’ve seen in the Triangle — think Locopops but with popcorn.

The store is the result of a fortuitous meeting at Rockfish (you can check out the back story here) and is a perfect match for Durham. The interior is adorable, the co-owner who helped me couldn’t have been nicer, the popcorn is inventive and delicious, and everything feels very well thought-out, from the decor to the mail-order service.

I tried two sweet varieties (hot apple cider and sweet tea), two salty varieties (white cheddar and Carolina BBQ), and the flavors of the week, carmel coated apple (below) and the chocolate option, candy corn (which was dipped in white chocolate — yum). They were all great, especially the Carolina BBQ. Needless to say, it was all gone in a couple of hours.

Not only do they ship orders, but if you buy a tin, you can refill it for half-price. Their website has all the size and pricing information, but it seems like a great deal.  

My favorite thing about The Mad Popper, besides the awesome popcorn, is that it made me feel like a kid in a candy store.  I can’t wait to go back and try the kettle corn and strawberry flavors. Go check them out!

The Mad Popper (map)
Monday – Thursday: 12 pm – 6 pm
Friday: 12 pm – 7 pm
Saturday: 11 am – 6 pm
Sunday: closed

Published in: on October 22, 2008 at 10:45 am  Comments (3)  

Tokyo Fun!

Toyko Fun (4325 Highway 55), RTP’s latest Japanese restaurant, loves being part of Durham, and it shows.

They’ve got a full sushi menu, as well as noodles, bento boxes, etc., and for starters we got an appetizer called “Negimaki beef” — thinly sliced beef wrapped around green onions and covered with some super-umami sauce.  The beef was delicious but the onions tasted a little wimpy.  I get the feeling it would be a bit fresher during lunch, when it’s probably much more busy.

I’d heard some great things about their sushi, so we went for the Angry Dragon roll (shrimp tempura, cucumber, eel, crunchy spicy tuna and 4 kinds of tobiko on top), which was right up there with Shiki and Sushi Love.

Since Tokyo Fun also has a 2-for-1 sushi deal, we got the unbearably cute Durham roll (crab, cucumber, avocado, tobiko), which was the special roll of the night. That is some honest-to-goodness Durham love. Both of the rolls were beautifully done and delicious.

The sushi was good, but my favorite dish was the Yaki udon noodles, which are pan-fried and served with steamed vegetables. I could have eaten two or three of these plates on my own.

The decor was fun and thoughtfully put together — especially one set of overhead lights that was covered by a bunch of oversized inverted drink umbrellas — and the staff was incredibly nice. Go for the sushi, noodles, and service and stay for the mesmerizing rococo lamp contraption.

Tokyo Fun (919.544.9696)
Sunday – Thursday: 11 am – 3 pm, 5 pm – 9 pm
Friday: 11 am – 3 pm, 5 pm – 10 pm
Saturday: closed for lunch, 5 pm – 10 pm

Published in: on October 14, 2008 at 2:48 pm  Comments (5)  

Home Plate

Home Plate (3327 Holloway Street) is fun.  This east Durham restaurant specializes in southern cooking served up cafeteria style.  You can check the daily specials in advance on the restaurant’s website.  Every day Home Plate serves main course items including Fried Chicken, Brunswick Stew, Chopped BBQ and Fried Trout and adds a couple daily specials.  Same goes for Home Plate’s sides repertoire: a core lineup with a few alternates rotated on a daily basis.  I went on a Sunday because the specials roster included the killer combo of pork chops and fried apples.


I liked my chop.  Gigantic, crunchy and greasy on the outside, and cooked well done on the inside.  Fried apples were served warm, which I enjoyed.  The mac & cheese had big hunks of cheese.  Banana pudding was very good. 

The Sunday lunch crowd is quite a scene—check it out! 

Home Plate: 3327 Holloway Street (corner of Hwy98 and Clayton Road)
Monday-Friday 11am-8pm
Saturday 11am-6pm
Sunday 11am-2pm

Published in: on September 25, 2008 at 11:06 pm  Comments (2)  

Los Portales

Los Portales (2405 Holloway St.) may look like a run-down burger stand from the 70s, but make no mistake — it’s a full-fledged taqueria.

This awesome sign is posted right next to the covered park bench situation for those who’d like to eat their take-out as soon as possible.

The drive-up window is on the right, and the walk-up window is up front, next to the menu. After ordering, I tried to look as casual as I could while frantically soaking up all the amazing smells coming out of the kitchen.

This is all the information they have posted — no hours or prices — but it gracefully gets the message across.  I usually hate superfluous quotation marks but for some reason I loved the “menu.” I got two tacos (lengua and pastor), a carne asada gordita, and an horchata for $9.

The pastor was delicious — smokier and slightly sweeter than other pastor I’ve had, and definitely the highlight. I can imagine the pastor burritos (which come highly recommended) being fantastic.  The lengua was better as a template for the red and green salsas (both of which were terrific) than as a taco filling — it didn’t have much flavor compared to other lengua out there.  Sadly I didn’t specify corn tortillas, so I got reheated flour tortillas.  Gringos like corn tortillas too!

The gordita was almost exactly like a torta (refried beans, asada, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and queso) and was really good, although the asada was way fattier than most other asada I’ve had in Durham. Not to mention the fact that it was super messy — good thing I got to take it back home.  Have you guys tried their burritos?

Published in: on September 25, 2008 at 5:23 pm  Comments (5)  

Tier’s Grill :)

Tier’s Grill won me over for sure.  Tier’s (601 W. Chapel Hill St.) opened September 12 in the grill space at the gas station on the corner of Chapel Hill St. and Gregson (across from the Police Station).

I was walking along Chapel Hill Street towards downtown and saw a smiley-faced Tier’s Grill sign announcing breakfast and lunch.  I’ve gone to the grill at this location during various proprietors’ runs and was curious to see what was going on with Tier’s.

My take on what is going on at Tier’s Grill is that the food is served up quick and as you like it.  The folks running the grill know what they are doing and have a nice touch with both customer service and making food.  I hope Tier’s lasts a good long while.

The burgers at Tier’s are delicious and cost $2.  The red hots have an easygoing kick and are nicely prepared (and also cost $2).  First I went to Tier’s for a snack, and then later that same day I went back for a feast.  Round one: one cheeseburger with the works (onion, tomato + condiments). Round two: one hamburger with fat back and the works, a red hot (plain) and a side of pig’s feet.  I liked all of the food I ordered a whole lot.

Tier’s “Breakfast on Toast” (from seven choices) is available from 8-11am.  Lunch starts at 11am and the grill closes at 7pm on weekdays and 5pm on weekends.  I will return to Tier’s to try the Lunch Plate–at $5.50, it includes 1 meat (from eight choices) and 2 veggies (from eight choices).

Published in: on September 20, 2008 at 2:16 pm  Comments (1)  

Blue Mountain Catering redux

Today I revisited Blue Mountain Catering on Main St., and the verdict is in: it’s my favorite lunch in Durham. I love Wimpy’s and Toast and la Vaquita, but Blue Mountain Catering really tops them all.

Although their chicken and waffles (obviously the greatest meal ever devised — see previous post here) wasn’t available, and won’t be available until October (I’ll update when they’re serving it again), this second visit confirmed BMC’s awesomeness. CDB got the fried catfish platter with homemade tartar sauce, coleslaw, potato salad, and a baked sweet potato. I got a catfish po-boy with baked beans (meant to get the BBQ pork, but I wasn’t about to complain).

One of the many reasons that BMC does Southern food so well is that they know how to distribute their attention: the amazing tartar sauce was clearly a labor of love, but the baked sweet potato was just that — a baked sweet potato, wrapped in aluminum foil, served with a small dish of brown sugar. Perfect.

The catfish was almost as good as the fish at Leo’s, and the potato salad had chunks of cucumber, which lightened it up considerably.  The baked beans were delicious and unlike any I’ve ever had before — more like the pinto beans you’d get from most soul food restaurants, but slightly smoky and sweet (thanks to the bacon and molasses). Thankfully, I called dibs on the last piece of red velvet cake right before they ran out.

This was one of the best slices of cake I’ve had in a restaurant in a long, long time. Unlike most red velvet cake (which is basically chocolate cake with red food coloring), this was clearly a yellow cake with cream cheese icing.  Lots of people try to emulate the light, moist crumb of box cakes at home, and the people at BMC absolutely nailed it.

Maybe best of all, they offer anything on their menu for pick-up after hours, for individuals and families. After going back today, I’m determined to try everything on the menu (I can only imagine their take on shrimp and grits), and the most expensive item is about $8. Inexplicably, their Tuesday – Friday lunch menu can’t be found anywhere on their website, but I’ll try to post it soon.

Blue Mountain Catering (map)
Tuesday – Friday: 11.45 am – 2.30 pm

Published in: on September 12, 2008 at 3:47 pm  Comments (3)  

El Compadre ‘Factory’

First off, allow me congratulate the proprietors of this establishment on selecting a fine name, translated from the spanglish as “the buddy factory,” that puts a grin on my face. Their selection of both interior and exterior paints is equally cheery, a bright green outside and a light violet interior.

It seems that El Compadre Factory (2900 Holloway St) has recently changed ownership and name. Formerly, as Chino Latino, it had dancing on some nights. The booths still hug the walls and there is one of those multicolored disco ball lights hanging from the ceiling. The road sign outside made it unclear whether or not there is still dancing on the weekends (as well as the name of the place).  But more importantly (to some) than dancing, the proprietor told us that it will be open for breakfast.

Before I get to the food, I would like to share the highlight of my visit: the typo (probably…) on the sign by the entrance. It really made the trip out down 70 to East Holloway worth it.

The food is pretty standard taqueria fare: generous portions, low prices and an impressive variety of options that led to some serious wikipedia-ing afterwards. I now know that ‘cecina’ is a type of salted dried beef, ‘longaniza’ is a pork sausage similar to chorizo but differently seasoned and ‘pambazo’ is a Mexican hot sandwich dipped in guajillo pepper sauce. All things I need to try if I return. I took a photo of the menu for future study, but it may look different next time–the owner assured us that they would be adding an English menu.  She assumed (understandably, as we are purely, unmistakably gringos) that we didn’t know what a torta was and helpfully explained everything.

This trip, I chose the torta cubana and YAR selected a taco al pastor and a carne asada huarache. The torta cubana ($6) featured a nice crusty roll filled with chicken, carne asada and a hot dog topped with lettuce, avocado and tomato. While I initially raised an eyebrow at the hot dog, the overall sandwich experience was quite nice, especially when I added the grilled green onion garnish, some of the house red hot sauce (I believe a chile de arbol) and a squeeze of lime. Munching on some the radishes between bites, it made for a filling meal.

The huarache (which translates to ‘sandal’) consisted of a thick, oblong corn tortilla, probably made in house, topped with refried beans, carne asada, and cheese, drizzled with fresh crema. I enjoyed it topped with some pico de gallo (which may have been intended for the taco), though it was a bit difficult not to slice the wax paper beneath it into each bite. Definitely a lot of food for 3 bucks. The taco al pastor was probably the best item we tried, though it didn’t have any pineapple. It was seasoned very well, but I couldn’t resist adding a bit of the salsa verde to it for a bit of that tomatillo citrusy zing.

Overall, a decent cheap eat find with a lot of room for exploration. I think I’ll stop by next time I’m in the area, try a pambazo and make sure the beast sign is still there. I take solace in little confirmations of the universe’s bad sense of humor.

Published in: on September 4, 2008 at 11:45 am  Comments (4)  

Fresh Madeleines at Daisy Cakes

Tanya Catolos, the pastry chef at the Washington Duke Inn, just opened Daisy Cakes, a mobile storefront (technically a 1978 chrome Streamliner) for her cupcakes and other baked goods, located a block up from the Farmer’s Market.

Here’s the Streamliner in context, on the corner of Foster and Geer, right across from the Manbites Dog Theater and the now-defunct King’s Sandwich Shop.

After some truly heinous cupcake experiences in the Triangle, I was really happy with Daisy Cakes. That’s the Pink Lemonade cupcake (lemon with raspberry buttercream frosting). The cupcake itself is more cakey than spongey, and the frosting is creamy and super light but not at all airy like grocery store frosting.

If I ever buy a madeleine mold pan (or mini loaf pans) my masculinity will be officially rescinded, so I’m pretty elated I can now get fresh madeleines in Durham. It doesn’t get much better than warm, lemony discs of pound cake.

One of the cuter items on hand are “Pop’t-Arts,” which is basically flaky shortbread with a layer of strawberry preserves. They’re warmed before serving, but they really open up when you toast them at home too.

They’ve got a couple of tables set up next to the bus, great local coffee (Counter Culture), and tons of adorable in the vein of Locopops. I hear they’re starting to get swarmed, so in case supply doesn’t keep up with demand, you may want to show up earlyish for your Pop’t-Art.

Daisy Cakes (map)
Saturday: 8 am – 1 pm

Published in: on August 16, 2008 at 9:27 am  Comments (20)