I have a globetrotting friend who finally wants to plant some roots and buy a house. He and his wife work from home and can move anywhere their hearts desire. So they enlisted me to help them vet their options, and I was specifically tasked with researching the restaurant scene. Last weekend we all packed our bags and spent a few days exploring one of their top contenders – Raleigh, North Carolina.
Choosing a city that will be your “forever” home is a weighty venture. There are countless variables to consider, which can overwhelm even the most Zen among us. And after carefully analyzing everything from the local economy to the proximity of Whole Foods to your front steps, you may still end up with a shitty next-door neighbor.
That’s why it’s great to start your research with something digestible like restaurants. It’s an easy and entertaining way to map out different neighborhoods and get a feel for the area’s demographics. A thriving farmer’s market can speak volumes more than the dry statistics posted on the city's website. It’s also an opportunity to interact with the locals or simply people watch. And if after all your careful planning, you still manage to move next to a Ned Flanders, at least you know you can eat away your pain with some good grub!
Here are a few of the stellar meals we had in Raleigh.
Stanbury: This hip eatery is tucked away in a charming residential neighborhood only minutes from downtown Raleigh. The restaurant exudes cool, from the tasteful Star Wars/taxidermy decor to the stylishly dressed servers. It's clear that the Stanbury isn't boxed in by a theme, and this is reflected in it's eclectic menu. I enjoyed oysters from North Carolina and an African steak tartare served with injera, the spongy flatbread served with every Ethiopian meal. Next up was the standout dish of the night, the grilled broccoli. It had an Asian flare, with its delicious black bean sauce and crushed peanuts, and was served next to a deep fried, soft boiled egg. The meal stayed strong with perfectly cooked scallops and an Indian cherry pound cake.
Merritts Store and Grill: We zipped over to Chapel Hill to try the legendary BLT from Merritt's Store and Grill. I loved this place from the moment I walked through the door and was hit in the face with bacon fumes. The aroma of bacon was so dense, that I could smell it on my clothes all day (NOT a bad thing in my book). I ordered the BLT with avocado on sourdough; the bread was fresh, the bacon was thick, and the cooks didn't skimp on the mayo. My eyes were rolling into the back of my head as I ate - it was that good! As a sweet bonus Merritt's sells homemade versions of classic Hostess pastries. They are also not to be missed.
Videri Chocolate Factory - I've been a long time fan of Videri's handcrafted bean-to-bar chocolates, and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to stop by the factory and watch the chocolate makers in action. The care that goes into these chocolates is mind boggling. The cocoa beans are hand sorted before they are ground and tempered into a rich, intense chocolate. While there, I snagged a few Stumptown Coffee Truffles and an incredibly delicious hot chocolate at their coffee bar.
Trophy Brewery & Pizza Co.: During the trip we encountered nothing but mixed precipitation and freezing cold temperatures, so pizza and beer was in order. Trophy Brewery satisfied our craving. The beer out-shined the pizza, and I especially enjoyed the Double Death Spiral, a floral and fruity IPA. The pizza dough lacked depth and the springy chew I love, but there were a plethora of interesting toppings to choose from: herb roasted carrots, swiss chard, ghost pepper salami, and lamb sausage to name a few.
Neomonde - When I first visited Neomonde Lebanese Deli 6 years ago, I was a novice to Mediterranean food. I was accustomed to bland hummus and dense baklava, so the diverse options in the sprawling deli case was eye-opening. I was impressed when asked if I wanted a drizzle of olive oil and a few olives to top my baba ganoush. And the delicious white sauce that came with the tender, chargrilled kabobs was unapologetically garlicky. The pastry case was jammed full of exotic desserts I'd never heard of, such as maamoul, basbouseh, and namoura. I saw that Neomonde baked everything onsite, so every pita and dessert I tried was fresh from the oven. Now every time I'm in Raleigh, I make a point to get my Neomonde fix.