Durham: Feeding its tourists with dignity

As a classic clutcher of a glass-half-empty, I’m always aware when visiting a new city that I’m probably not going to eat quite as well as I do at home in New Jersey, where I know my fair share of hidden gem restaurants as well as what spots are grossly overrated.

Unfortunately, when traveling, I don’t have this kind of advantage. Instead, I’m at the whim of what restaurants are within walking distance of my lodging, passing recommendations from Uber drivers and how many stars a particular eatery as garnered via a quick Google search.

However, during my recent stay in Durham, North Carolina, for a wedding, I have to say that for one of the only times in my life, every restaurant that we sampled was simply fantastic. Here’s my recap.

Carolina-style ribs.

Carolina-style ribs.

The Pit at 321 W. Geer St.

North Carolina is known for its barbecue, and to no surprise, we don’t have quite the sampling of the sticky meats in New Jersey as we do in the Old North State. So, obviously, the first thing we did after a delayed flight (and a speeding ticket) once we got to North Carolina was to head to one of the most well-known barbecue restaurants in Durham.

The Pit serves authentic whole-hog, pit-cooked barbecue in downtown Durham in a clean, casual setting accompanied with reasonable – if not cheap – prices. We started out with the Sampler appetizer, with jowl bacon bruschetta, BBQ soul rolls, southern-style deviled eggs and fried pimento cheese and $12.99, a perfectly sized appetizer for two people.

Having never had Carolina-style ribs, I went with the half rack for $15.59 which also includes two appetizers – I grabbed the collared greens and potatoes and gravy. I can’t really think of a better way to have started my weekend in this small but friendly and sunny city.

The Sampler at the Pit in Durham.

The Sampler at the Pit in Durham.

M Sushi at 311 Holland St.

Normally, I would never go for raw fish so far away from the nearest beach (Durham is about 130 miles from Wrightsville Beach), but I was feeling pretty hungry – and hot – strolling through Durham that when I saw the sign for M Sushi pointing to seemingly nowhere, I went for it.

M Sushi is located in a sort of basement setting with a very chic, upscale feel and I can’t imagine that we would have gotten in at dinnertime, but luckily, it was around 2 p.m. on a Friday and yet it still had a fair-sized crowd around this time.

Although it was by no means cheap (a bento box was $24) it was, quite honestly, the ‘prettiest’ sushi I have ever seen. And, it tasted awesome (obviously). I got the roll combo for $16, which included the piano roll (shrimp tempura, real crab meat, avocado, special sauces) and a salmon avocado roll, which was enough for one small person who wasn’t super hungry.

Chicken and waffles at Dame's.

Chicken and waffles at Dame’s.

Dame’s Chicken and Waffles at 1917 Yearby Ave.

If you mention that you’re looking for chicken and waffles pretty much anywhere in Durham, they will point you in the direction of Dames, which is unfortunately where you will find a crowded bunch of both locals and tourists at anytime of the day.

We got there around 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday, since the restaurant opens at 9 a.m., and tables were already filling up – for good reason. People were already stuffing their faces with country fried chicken and waffles of all styles.

Since I wasn’t really feeling fried chicken at 9:30 a.m., I went for the organic blueberry waffles and a maple pecan spread, which was to-die-for, as well as a side of turkey bacon. You literally cannot go to Durham and not make your way to Dame’s for a true North Carolina breakfast.

 

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