Raleigh, NC

Day 1 – Raleigh

When we stepped out of the airport on Sunday in Raleigh I commented to Erin that the air smelled sweet, perfumed by the pollen of nearby trees.  When we stepped out of the airport yesterday in Chicago the air smelled of cigarette smoke and diesel exhaust.  Home is no longer where the heart is, but that’s been the case for a while now.

From the airport we drove to downtown Raleigh, which was pretty inactive due to it being a Sunday morning.  There were signs of life though around the bus station, in Moore Square and at various restaurants setting up outdoor seating.  We walked around the area, my legs heavier than lead from service the night before that ended about 9 hours previously.  To feel the warmth of the sun was worth it all though.

Eventually we decided to get in the car and drove west on Hillsborough – a street we’d read had some restaurants on it.  It does, right around NC State, but mostly just college stuff.  On our drive west we came across a flea market (apparently not just a flea market, but a weekly event held at the State Fair Grounds) which Erin decided we’d stop in at.  We wandered around awhile, looking at the various stalls that were set up, but our stomachs were now telling us that they needed to be fed.  So we drove around some, finding a Border’s to use the bathroom at – and to buy a (marginally) better map than that provided by the car rental place.

Finding a suitable restaurant when you don’t know an area is one of the most annoying activities I can think of.  Eating at chains is unacceptable, and amazingly, we didn’t see one BBQ joint.  Even if we had seen a BBQ place it would have been closed due to it being a Sunday.  Ultimately we drove back to downtown and ate lunch at The Big Easy, one of the restaurants we noticed setting up outside earlier.

After a pretty good meal – who knew our first meal in Raleigh would be cajun/creole? – I asked our server if he could recommend a BBQ place.  After consultation with the kitchen staff they came to a unanimous decision, but couldn’t remember the name of it and could only remember roughly where it was.

With full bellies and a couple of beers we checked in at our hotel in Cary and proceeded to take naps.  Mine was less nap than it was outright sleep.  Erin woke up considerably sooner than I did and thankfully did some research for dinner.  When I arose we headed to Glenwood Avenue and walked around.

For some unknown reason I was really craving something with a Mediterranean bent to it.  I can’t explain it.  We walked around some, checked out 518 West Italian Cafe (it looked good and was pretty full but was too traditionally Italian) but decided to continue on.

Ultimately we decided on (or rather my weird craving decided on) Enoteca Vin which suited my Mediterranean craving just fine.  To start we split the baby arugula salad with shaved fennel, endive, goat cheese and roasted red onion.  It was a nice, light way to start the meal.  Erin decided to have the special of tagliatelle with white truffle and rabbit sausage.  I decided to have the duck confit with stinging nettle gnocchi, mustard greens and roasted tomatoes and was served in a broth of some kind.  For dessert we split the vanilla panna cotta with strawberries.

The food was good, really good, and was amazingly pretty cheap.  Everything came to $70 – which included a handful of drinks.  In Chicago we’d have paid around $120 for a comparable meal.

After a full day we retired to our hotel room for the night.



Day 2 – Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh

Our second day began at the Waffle House just in front of our hotel.  I opted for hash browns with biscuits and gravy while Erin had hash browns and a biscuit of some kind.  It was delicious.  Oh how we’ve missed you Waffle House.

Armed with two shitty maps and pretty much no plan, we drove on I40 to Chapel Hill to have a look around.  There was a restaurant I was aware of that I was possibly eager to check out (at least see) because I knew they were open for lunch and open on Monday’s, but I couldn’t remember the name or where it was located.  Turns out it’s in a strip mall we drove right past.  Incidentally it’s called Jujube.

We ended up parking on Franklin Street, paying a meter and walked west.  For a town with a population of just 50,000 there is certainly a ton of shit to do, though this is probably due to the presence of UNC.  Two restaurants that caught our eye (but were closed) on Franklin Street were Elaine’s and The Lantern.

After walking around some we got some beverages – Erin water and me lemonade (by the way, what’s up with places not carrying Mountain Dew, afterall I was in the south, no?) and headed north towards Durham.  It didn’t take us long to get “lost” – have I mentioned how bad our maps were? – heading north towards I85 through some pretty rural areas.  Also, we still had yet to come across a BBQ joint – how was this possible?

I was at least aware that Allen and Son BBQ was near Chapel Hill but didn’t have the faintest clue as to where it actually was, plus we were still full from our breakfast.

So onto Durham we went.  We made an attempt to find Duke, which it seems we skirted by.  The woods surrounding the campus were certainly beautiful though.  And then we found our way into downtown Durham, which was as we were prepared for – depressed and ugly.  I’m sure Durham has it’s nice areas, it’s just that we didn’t find them on this trip.  We did however locate a Whole Foods across the street from the East campus of Duke which we went into to get some bananas.

Wandering around was pretty revealing.  They had the largest spring onions I’ve ever seen, sunchokes a plenty, mustard and collard greens, in fact, all sorts of shit you can’t find in Chicago.  Hell, they even had dried kombu on prominent display, not exactly an every day item in the American diet.

By now we were decidedly becoming hungry, so we thought we’d attempt to find the BBQ place our server from the previous day had recommended.  We drove on I40 for a while but decided to get on route 54, which would take us through the Research Triangle Park, Morrisville, Cary and then into Raleigh.  In Morrisville we noticed our first BBQ place!! and both thought to ourselves, is that the place they were talking about?  It seemed a bit far out, so we continued on.  Eventually (like 20 or 30 minutes later) we hit Hillsborough and looked at each other.  Wasn’t there supposed to have been a white building on the right just before we hit Hillsborough?  We turned around, there was no such place we decided, so we drove back out to Morrisville to the BBQ place that we’d seen about 40 minutes previously.

Starving, we pulled into their parking area and got out of the car.  My initial reaction was “Why don’t I smell it?”, but after about two steps my nose was assaulted with the smell of smoke and fat.  Aahhh.  We entered, ordered and sat down (I lost Erin at one point but the woman who took our order was kind enough to help Erin out).  When our food was brought out I noticed the sign indicating their hours – M-F 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Our first reaction was to think of the limited hours of Hot Doug’s and how we thought he had it good.  I then pulled out my phone and noticed it was 1:53 and felt somewhat like an asshole.  There were at least a few other people there, and not once were we ever made to feel like we needed to hurry up. 

As for what we thought of the food, it was delicious.  The pork was actually pulled, not chopped, and was excellent.  Hush puppies come as a side with two other choices – Erin chose baked beans and mac and cheese while I went with coleslaw and potato salad.  If anything our hush puppies were a little cold, but we did get there 10 minutes before they closed.

The name of the place is Smokey’s BBQ Shack and we’ll be back whenever we find ourselves in the area permanently, just not when they’re closing.

Next we drove to the JC Raulston Arboretum off of – guess which road – Hillsborough.  What seemed like a small and disappointing garden turned out to be considerably larger than our first impression gave us.  It was also nice to walk off the lunch that we had.

Afterwards we drove around Cary trying to find an asian market that I’d located on-line.  After driving through a number of strip malls (these things are huge) we gave up and went back to our hotel room to locate it on-line.  I also did some research to try and locate the bbq place that our server from our first day had told us about.  We had success on both fronts and headed back into the car. 

Not five minutes later we were wandering through the Grand Asia Market in Cary.  The produce was good but it was the meat selection that was stunning.  Pork belly, beef tendon, all kinds of tripe, tongue, bung from some kind of animal (it’s exactly what you think it is) that I can’t remember, beef hooves, duck feet, boneless duck feet, whole birds (head and feet attached), pork kidneys, pork livers, testicles and penises of various animals, etc.  I was fascinated.  I don’t even know where to get this stuff in Chicago.  Most of the asian markets here don’t seem to sell meats, only fish and poultry along with other products.

We then found the elusive bbq joint and then drove to Glenwood Ave to enjoy some beers and alcohol.  Neither of us were all that hungry, so drinking was our only mission.  Our first stop was The Hibernian Pub.  We’d have sat there for a while but the bartender was a meathead (I just noticed his photograph on their website), so we walked across the street to Stool Pigeons and enjoyed a few beverages.

Our next stop was at a Harris Teeter where we purchased some salads and beer for the hotel room.  On our drive we noticed it had just rained and rolled the windows down to enjoy the smell, which was so much more powerful than I could have imagined.  The smell took me back years and brought up so many memories.  Chicago, with all of its big city sophistication has nothing like that to offer – just a simple drive down a two lane road with the sun setting and the windows rolled down.  It’s not that I don’t like you Chicago, it’s just that I’ve outgrown you.  I need a better, cleaner existence, for my body, for my soul.  I need to live somewhere where people look you in the eye when they speak to you, where doors are held, where people say “please” and “thank you”, where I didn’t hear one person honk their horn.

Day 3 – Raleigh

Our 3rd – and final – day began at the State Farmer’s Market.  We wandered aimlessly through the produce building – yes, building and were pretty much amazed at the quantity and quality of fresh produce available at reasonable prices.  One stand demanded that we try their strawberries – “Just pick whichever one you want”.  So we obliged, it wasn’t hard to find one that looked good – it was fresh and delicious. 

We talked to a couple of the vendors who all encouraged us to move.  Erin was talked into buying a slice of seven layer cake.  Between this market and the Asian market we may never shop at traditional grocery stores ever again, except for things like toiletries.

Our next stop was the Mordecai area of Raleigh, just northwest of downtown.  We walked through the park and surrounding neighborhood, noticing the houses for both rent and sale.

We then ventured on to that BBQ place that had been haunting us since we arrived, called Ole Time BBQ.  We each had the bbq pork.  The hush puppies were delicious.  Erin’s sides were fried okra and mashed potatoes without gravy.  I had collards and potato salad.  The main difference between this pork and that from the previous day was that this was chopped and not pulled.  A minor difference really, but I think I preferred the pork from the day before a little more, though both were good.

After lunch we headed to William B. Umstead State Park and hiked around for quite some time.  This was our first proper hike in nearly 8 years.  In Illinois all the parks have paved trails – sad, isn’t it? – so we don’t really count that as hiking.  We ended up hiking for a couple of hours through the woods, coming across some toads and lizards and a creek that you can only eat the fish from once a month (if you dare at all) due to the PCB levels.  Sounds delicious.  For some unknown reason (at least to us) there’s a site in the park where there used to be a mill.  It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, and there really wasn’t any explanation as to why there used to be a mill at that site and how people actually got there.

After heading back to our car we headed back towards downtown Raleigh, drove on the east side of town, since we hadn’t done so yet.  There didn’t seem to be too much there but we didn’t really try that hard to find that much either.  We then parked back downtown and walked around, where there were all sorts of TV cameras set up – presumably because of the primary election that was taking place.

We then treated ourselves to some beers at Tir Na Nog, attempting to kill some time before dinner.  We then drove over to Glenwood Ave for dinner, but had to kill some more time before the restaurant opened up.  We walked around, found a house Erin had found on line that’s for rent, visited The Cupcake Shoppe Bakery for Erin to get a cupcake – I got one too and it was tasty and had some more drinks at Stool Pigeons.

Finally, the restaurant we wanted was open, so we headed over and sat outside.  The name of the place is Zely & Ritz, a small plates restaurant that has partnered with Coon Rock Farm just outside Raleigh to provide the restaurant with fresh, local and organic produce.

For dinner we had the cheese plate with camembert, “pig in pajamas” roasted CRF bratwurst wrapped in puff pastry with mustard dipping sauce, tuna tartar with radish, scallion, cilantro and passion fruit sauce, pan seared farm raised cobia with shrimp and lemon grass broth, creamy risotto with local asparagus with asiago cheese.

Everything was good, or better than good, but the number of beers I’d had had taken a toll so my judgement may have been slightly off.

Stuffed and tired from a long day we headed back to our hotel where we ate our cupcakes.

Yesterday we had our last breakfast at the Waffle House before heading to the airport.


So now that we know that we want to move to Raleigh all sorts of shit has to happen.  Upon returning to Chicago we inherited a cat – Jerry – from our neighbors and landlord below us.  So he’ll be moving with us whenever it does happen.  We’re both confident that we’ll have moved before the weather turns cold again.  We both just have a few hurdles to get past before we can leave Chicago though.


2 thoughts on “Raleigh, NC

  1. Glad you and Erin enjoyed our fair city. I read Erin’s reports yesterday and wanted to send an email, but alas, I couldn’t find one on either of your blogs (and Erin has been kind enough to link to my blog!).

    Please be sure to let me know the next time you’re visiting, as I can give you all the guidance and directions you need.

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