I was just in Raleigh, NC this past week for Internet Summit ’13 and what a week it was. I was happy to reconnect with some friends I made at MozCon in July, in addition to making new connections and learning from some really dynamic people. The conference didn’t disappoint. Neither did Raleigh. It rocked.
I had never been to Raleigh before and didn’t know what to expect on the Foodie front, but I was beyond pleasantly surprised. In fact, I was pleasantly wowed. I headed into town a couple of days early so I’d have some time to explore and check out the local fare.
When I arrived on Saturday, we headed to Tobacco Road to watch FSU trample Wake Forest (Go Noles!). I had the chance to try a local to NC beer, Weeping Willow Wit, it was light and refreshing and it hit the spot after my afternoon flight.
I had a great time catching up with my friend Maria who lives locally. We chatted and made plans for dinner that evening. She is also a fabulous foodie, so I knew she’d pick a great place. She sure did!
After the football game, I went back and checked in at the Marriott City Center , took a cat nap, and got ready for our night out. The Marriott was a great place to stay for Internet Summit. Very convenient location and had a fantastic staff, but I’ll get back that to later.
Maria picked Bida Manda for dinner, an adorably cozy Laotian restaurant. We didn’t have a reservation so we decided to grab a drink at the bar (naturally) and wait for a spot to eat. I decided to go with the Autumn Highball with bourbon– and boy, was it delicious! I am going to have to get some apple soda and make these. I think they’d be great to serve at Thanksgiving to go along with my Autumn Spiced Mimsie which I like to serve with appetizers.
For my entrée, I had a hard time choosing. Everything looked so fantastic. I decided on the CrispyPork Belly Soup (Me Ka Tee) which is made with coconut curry, Julienned vegetables, herbs and rice noodles. Oh my wow, was this awesome. It was a light and flavorful bowl of Laotian comfort food. The noodles were delicate and perfectly cooked, swimming in the savory broth. And you can’t beat the price! Less than $15 for the dish, which home in Florida could have gone for twice the price. I ordered the pork belly to be extra, extra crispy, and it was perfect. The crispness and slight saltiness paired beautifully with the creamy coconut curry and light noodles. I wanted to save each piece of super crispy pork belly to be my last bites.
My only regret, not asking if there was cilantro, which I know a lot of people love– I’m just not one of them. I highly recommend you go to Bida Manda.
On Sunday, I had some time to meander through the streets and parks of Raleigh. It was a lovely day, and the weather was just perfectly autumnal. Coming from South Florida, I was stoked to have some cool weather and breathe in some autumn air. I also wanted to have a chance to get to Cat Banjo, a store I’d heard about from a friend that previously lived in town. They do some wonderful rescue work for dogs which is near and dear to me since I have two of my own. I’ve seen their posts on Facebook for years, so I was looking forward to the chance to shop there. I got some absolutely adorable gifts and a couple presents for myself. If you love rescue pets and fabulous stuff (like, jewelry, clothing, home decorations), check them out online or in person. If you have a rescue pup of your own, you should for sure order their “Rescue Dogs Rock” shirt. I know mine sure do.
After walking around a bit, I decided to look for a place to grab brunch. The sole bummer on my brunch excursion, the lack of Mimosas (wah wah). I could have waited until noon, but I was hungry from my walk and wanted to do some people watching. I found Joule which covered all the bases– coffee, brunch and a view of passers-by.
I was seated up front at the window bar and given two menus, one for coffee and the other for food. Being a coffee junkie, I was pleasantly surprised to see all the choices and brew methods they have there. I started with a cold pour over with La Golondrina which is well-rounded with caramel notes. Hello, Sunday! I was caffeinated and content.
For my meal, I chose the Shrimp and Grits. After years of living in Charleston, I often find myself missing the warm, filling, Southern comfort foods. I don’t indulge often, but this was totally worth it! The sauce was light but, flavorful. The shrimp was tender and perfectly cooked. The grits were dreamily creamy. Another win on the Raleigh food scene.
Raleigh is an adorable and welcoming town. The people are such a pleasure to interact with.
I was delighted to see that there were still some autumn colors around. I so dearly miss being in New England this time of year.
There are many breweries local to North Carolina and Raleigh itself. I tried to sample a few of them (without going crazy) and was very happy to find Big Boss Brewing Co. beers, and sipped on Hell’s Belle and Angry Angel. If you can find some, get some. I enjoyed them both. I wish I’d had time to visit the brewery, but it sadly wasn’t in the plans.
On Sunday evening, Maria picked another winner! Poole’s was awesome, awesome, awesome! It’s a restaurant in the same group with Joule, the Ashley Christensen Restaurants. We barely had to wait, which I understand is unheard of, so I was excited to get right to it.
I have been on a bit of a Bourbon kick lately so I started with the Garden and Gun Club which is stirred up with–Makers Mark, Cointreau, Lemon, Regan’s Bitters, and Doling Dry Vermouth. It was smooth, warming and it absolutely hit the spot. It went beautifully with the slight bite of the house made Pimento Cheese, which was one of the best I’ve had.
I followed it up with the Joseph Lenn (below), made with George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey, Canton Ginger Liquor and Orange Zest. I really liked this one, too. I only had the two drinks there, but the whole bevie menu looked great.
For dinner, I was told we HAD to have the ‘to die for’ Mac and Cheese. That was an absolute truth. This was, hands down, one of the best Mac and Cheese dishes I have ever had–and I’ve had my share. It was creamy, with slight crispiness from the baked cheese topping and had well-rounded flavor from the various cheeses. I didn’t want to over do it because my entrée selection had me quite excited and I wanted to leave plenty of room.
I went with the Rabbit Confit- with Trumpet Royales, White Acre Peas and Ricotta Gnocchi.
Oh. my. God.
I wanted to savor every bite of this. Every. single. bite. It was one of the most divine plates I’ve ever had. The gnocchi was light and delicate and had been exquisitely prepared. The rabbit was beyond tender, lean and flavorful and paired delightfully with the mushrooms and peas. The sauce was light and complimentary with just the right level of flavor. There was no competition in tastes, just the perfect symphony of flavor in each bite. I can’t encourage this enough. Go get some.
The food was so good at Poole’s, that I went back and took a friend who’d arrived from New York, the next night. I’d raved so much it took no convincing.
For lunch on Monday, I went to Beasley’s Chicken + Honey for another dash of Southern fare. This is yet another in the Ashley Christensen Restaurants group, which has now become one of my favorite collections of dining establishments. Without a doubt, one of the best restaurant groups I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling. The staff at Beasley’s was top-notch. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch their names but, the bartender and hostess were an absolute pleasure to chat with and made the dining experience all the more delightful.
I chose the Chicken and Waffles which was out of this world. The chicken was light and crispy, tender and flavorful, just enough batter to make it crisp but light enough to top the waffle. The waffle was a perfectly airy vessel for the bites of chicken. I mixed their maple syrup with some Sriracha and Frank’s Hot Sauce and it was the ideal accompaniment.
For a side, I just wanted a bite of the Ashe County Cheddar Pimento Mac and Cheese Souffle. I mean, how could I not? I really only had one marvelous bite, but I wish I could have taken it with me.
I’d worked up a thirst sending so many emails on my working lunch, so I had to quench it with some more bourbon. I started with the American Trilogy– Brown Sugar, Orange Bitters,Rye Whiskey and Captain Apple Jack. It was a petit but delightful cocktail.
As a follow-up, I had the simply delicious Gold Rush– lemon, honey, bourbon. I didn’t want to over do it, so I stopped at one but, I could have had (many) more of these. I’m craving one now. It brings memories of slow, relaxing, Southern afternoons I miss so much and remember so fondly.
I went back to Joule to grab a cuppa Joe after the cocktails. It was just as smooth, dreamy and perfectly caffeinating as it was the day before.
And, don’t be too jealous… but, a perk of attending Internet Summit was a sponsored concert with Coolio! He was great to watch and still had engaging performance energy. Not the largest of music catalogs, but it was still a fun way to enjoy a night with friends. Internet Summit had some very social happy hours provided by the event sponsors. It was a great opportunity to chat and meet new people. Can’t beat connecting over a couple cocktails.
On the last full day of the conference, we went to The Pit for some authentic Southern BBQ. We’d heard great things so everyone was looking forward to the dishing over barbecue bites. We started with sharing some fried green tomatoes and cornbread which were stellar. I went on to order collards, black-eyed peas and Chopped Barbecue which came with golden, light hushpuppies. I mixed the sauces they had on the table for my own tasty twist.
There was delightful conversation and laughter to go with the noontime nourishment. The raves were right on point. Everyone loved their meal.
For dinner on Thursday, a group of us went to Calavera Empanada and Tequila Bar to keep the fun going and fabulous food coming.
We shared some Guacamole and ordered up dinner. I knew right away I was going to have the Elote when I saw it on the menu. It is sweet yellow corn on the cob, ‘Mexi Style’ topped with a light dash of mayo, cayenne pepper, and cotija cheese. Just the right combination of crunch and creamy, it was delectable. Who doesn’t love food on a stick?!
To accompany the corn I chose two empanadas starting with the Bulkogi– Korean style BBQ short rib marinated with soy, ginger, sesame oil and scallions. As my second, I picked the Piggly Wiggly– slow smoked, Carolina style, pulled pork. They were both great choices! The empanada pastry was rich but flaky, with delicate layers. The fillings were deliciously seasoned and splendidly cooked.
To wash it all down, I picked the Brown Sugar Mojito, Absolut Orient Apple, Brown Sugar Simple Syrup, Apple Cider Fresh Lime and Sugar Cane. Yes, it is as wonderful as it sounds. Delicioso.
On the last morning of my foodie fun-filled trip, I made my way once again back to Joule, because Joule rules. I was happy for the chance to have another cup of La Golondrina coffee. I went again with the pour over with cream and the raw, cubed, brown sugar they provide. It was just sweet enough and made my morning all the better.
I wanted to try something new, but apparently couldn’t stray from their grits offerings. This time I went with the insanely yummazing- Twice Cooked Grits, made with sharp Vermont cheddar, scallions and topped with an over easy egg. Holy moly! The decadence and richness of the yolk swimming with the creamy, smooth and lusciously smooth grits. I can’t even. It was sublime.
I loved the coffee so much, I was thrilled to see there were beans available for purchase. I grabbed up a bag and can’t wait to brew some at home. If you like and appreciate good coffee, you should definitely give this a try.
Now, a little bit more about The Marriott. I was so pleased, by the end of my stay, that it was the hotel chosen to accommodate the attendees of Internet Summit. The rates were reasonable, the rooms were clean and comfortable and the staff was polite, pleasant and attentive. Even the ladies in the gift shop were absolutely delightful to talk to and very accommodating. If you are ever in the Raleigh area, I encourage a stay there.
I spent a bit of time at Bar Posta and the guys over there are a hoot! They made me feel right at home, and by the time I left I felt like Norm from Cheers. If you are ever around, stop in and say hello and have a glass of whatever. It was a great place to watch some football, chat with other conference goers, and do some people watching.
I was in town for just under a week and had the opportunity to try so many fantastic restaurants and meet some incredible people– and I’m quite thankful there was so much to enjoy. I hope to be back soon to see my new friends and dine on some of my favorite new fare.
What restaurants do you love in Raleigh?
Let me know so I can check them out next year when I head to Internet Summit.