Sunday, August 30, 2009


Tonight was Pops' night. It's down in the Brightleaf area, tucked away in the corner on Peabody Street behind the bar scene. After a rather lengthy discussion on the proper pronunciation of Peabody, we got down to business. Though Pop's bills itself as an Italian trattoria, it doesn't necessarily give off an Italian vibe. It rather makes you feel like you're in some couple's nicely appointed rural home down South that just happens to have a bunch of dining tables decorating a cavernous space and open kitchen bar.

We didn't share much in the way of apps or entrees, but I can speak to the fact that my NC grouper with littleneck clams and red potatoes in a seafood broth was just what the doctor ordered to end GI. Though the fish was actually slightly chewier than it could have been, the broth was impeccable - as fine a jus on fish as I have had in quite a while. I managed to finagle a taste of the scallop special from an ILE teammate, which was served with a veal jus over cabbage and sweet potatoes with honey and garlic - a creative combination that worked well given the nice sear on the scallops. Others enjoyed the array of personal pizzas on offer, including a truffle oil thin crust reminiscent of New Haven style pizza less the burnt crust. Dessert for me was a local blueberry and South Carolina peach crisp served a la mode with vanilla ice cream. The cobbler itself was actually a bit runny, but the fruit was flavor packed and the brown sugary goodness of the crumb and vanilla bean more than compensated.

I think all would agree the most impressive part of the night was actually the service. We were looking for a bottle of white wine to share that was neither too sweet nor too dry. Unbeknowest to me, there are white rioja grapes, and the waitress actually recommended this varietal which was the cheapest bottle on the menu. That doesn't happen often, and so when it does, I tend to listen. All four who partook enjoyed the wine immensely, and as graduate students waist deep in debt we were proud of our value play. The waitress not only provided separate checks, she even split out the wine onto four bills and split desserts as appropriate. What a nice added value, and we were all too happy to oblige with the automatically added 20% gratuity.

Ultimately, Pop's was much better than I recall from my other two experiences there long ago. It's a nice restaurant that won't break the bank, but can still be considered a nice occasion restaurant. The menu left me completely indecisive, so odds are that I will return sometime soon to try one of the enticing pasta dishes or possibly their famous granny smith apple and brie pizza. It was clear that others felt the same way. Gotta have my Pops.

Watt's Grocery

Watts Grocery update:

Had a really solid meal here tonight. Bourbon glazed pork belly over toasted cornbread was a great starter. Others ordered a chicken liver terrine and crab cakes which were ok, not spectacular.

Grilled Trout Filet with almond brown butter over grilled summer vegetables and a bacon, potato, and corn vinaigrette was a standout. Something about summer Carolina corn pulls everything together. NY strip that I tasted was perfectly cooked and the pork tenderloin was also very nicely prepared, though not as much blackberry flavor going on as had hoped for.

They have a short and sweet specialty cocktail menu (had a sweet tea vodka drink like an Arnold Palmer - kind of pricy for what it was), good list of rotating local Carolina beers on tap, didn't peruse the wine list too heavily but looks solid.

Desserts were excellent - Lemon Coconut Chess Pie with blackberry sauce and fresh whipped cream, and Peach Upside Down Cake with rose geranium ice cream and brown sugar sauce.

They do a local North Carolina fish dish each night and have a vegetarian pasta dish and appetizer special which is nice for our non-meat eating friends. They also have a late night menu which makes the bar a cool spot to grab a drink and an app. Biggest downside was service was kind of spotty as it took a while between courses, but server recommendations were spot on and place was busy for a Tues night. Overall a good nice occasion meal or affordable weekly if you just get an entree and drink instead of full load.


Went with a couple of people tonight to Toast on W. Main St. in downtown Durham (b/w Brightleaf and the Stadium -

I discovered this place on my interview day here as it was not open during my undergrad days. They basically serve sandwiches - both closed and open-faced - with super fresh, local ingredients partnering with local farms and fisheries. Panini ($6), tramezzini (cold panini - $6), bruschetta ($6), and crostini ($2). This is a great dinner value or an amazing lunch spot if you have time between classes.

They also have some starters as well as specials of the day, which generally includes two soups and tonight, a yellowtail crudo with marconi peppers and a lemon vinaigrette which I gladly ordered. A crostini special topped with sweet sungolds (local yellow tomatoes) and balsamic vinegar was a nice sweet intro to counter the crudo. I also ordered a bruschetta with NC shrimp, pancetta, and radicchio - good quality shrimp, pancetta was essentially ignored in the preparation, and radicchio was a bit bitter but that's what I get for ordering radicchio.

An olive plate starter was served warm which was curious, but not terribly offensive. The rest of the crew enjoyed their dishes, including main menu staples of a spicy tuna, olivada, fennel, and lemon panini, as well as a really light and summery bruschetta topped with roasted beets, ricotta salata, orange, and mint.

They also have a nice assortment of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages - two wines per night at good value available by the glass, quartino, or bottle, and a bunch of bottled brew of all regions, varietals, and quality available. We enjoyed a bottle of crisp Italian white outside in the pleasant Carolina evening, but the downside is that they're only open until 8 pm so keep that in mind if planning to go (though we sat outside well past then).

There was a group of second years that showed up as well, so it seems this place could be a Fuqua favorite - it certainly is a newfound gem and great addition to the upcoming bustling downtown Durham scene in my opinion. The owners were exceedingly gracious, exhibiting Southern hospitality to a tee, which included a recommendation to hit up Pin Hook - a bar near the restaurant Revolution with some live indie bands - and Dos Perros, a new refined Mexican joint with a very reputable chef that's been open just two weeks. The advice was to sit at the bar for drinks and some small plates, and I think that may be next on my agenda! It is right next to where the Eno Market and Restaurant from Springboard will open - at the intersection of Magnum and Roxboro.

Thursday, August 20, 2009