Go to Durham — the foodie capital of the South

Durham, North Carolina, has one of the most exciting and varied dining scenes of any Southern town, with everything from regional favorites like biscuits and barbecue to tastebud challengers such as beef tendon crackers and black garlic ice cream. Here’s how to keep your belly happy all day — and night — in Bull City.


Start your day at Scratch, which — as the name implies — makes all its baked goods in-house. Bypass those tempting pies and fuel up with a real breakfast, like shirred eggs with a wedge of thick buttery toast ($5), or, the antidote for any hangover: a fried duck egg sandwich with cheddar cheese, pickled onions, bacon jam and roasted garlic mayo tucked inside a soft bun ($9).


Hanging out on the back patio of Parker & Otis is a Durham ritual — and one of the most peaceful times to visit this gourmet eatery/gift shop is on a weekday morning. Breakfast is basic but tasty — two eggs with bacon and a house-made cheddar cheese biscuit will run you $6.99. The java is freshly brewed from noted local roaster Counter Culture Coffee.


You don’t want to miss the perfectly charred wood-fired pie at Pizzeria Toro, but the evening wait can be a long one. Drop by for lunch instead, when you can easily secure a spot at one of the blond wood tables. Go old-school — red sauce, anchovies, garlic and basil ($14) — or try a seasonal specialty, like white pizza with fiddlehead ferns, nettles and grated artisan grana ($17). Even tired kale salad gets a kick here with a dash of spicy chilies, tossed with toasted pine nuts and shaved parm ($10).

The grill masters at 250-seat barbecue shrine The Pit don’t mess around — smoking whole hogs on a hot summer day isn’t for the faint of heart. Slathered in East Carolina-style hot sauce and vinegar, the pork is served chopped, pulled or sliced; complementing your meat-fest are staple Southern sides like collard greens, fried okra and black-eyed peas. The Pit also offers a massive selection of bourbons, with many hard-to-find local ones like Slow & Low, crafted from rock candy.

You don’t have to buy a ticket to the Rafael Viñoly-designed Nasher Museum of Art to enjoy the organic fare at the Nasher Cafe — and contemporary art lovers should peruse its outstanding collection. The cafe (which also does a weekend brunch) has gorgeous salads with produce and meats sourced from local farms; if it’s a nice day, the patio, with its bucolic wooded setting, is the perfect place to enjoy your meal.


Chef Matt Kelly is busy building an empire in Durham. He started his career at the French-inspired spot Vin Rouge, opened the Spanish-themed Mateo Bar de Tapas in 2012 and will reveal two more downtown spots this summer (Lucky’s Deli and Mother & Sons). Mateo, which earned Kelly a James Beard nomination, is Spanish but with Southern influences, too — like North Carolina-sourced hams and cheeses among the traditional jambon and queso offerings. It also boasts one of the largest sherry selections in the country.

Set on the ground floor of the year-old 21c Museum Hotel, Counting House has one of the city’s most dramatic interiors — a towering 23-foot ceiling, double-height windows and sleek white walls dotted with artful animal sculptures. But the menu soars, too, with local seafood and regional specialties — Carolina rice salad, shrimp and grits — expertly prepared in the open kitchen. Cap it off with an after-dinner cocktail inside the historic downstairs bank vault.

Two stories of Asian bliss, Dashi offers hearty bowls of ramen noodles on the first level, while upstairs — look for the patterned manga wallpaper — is the izakaya, where you’ll find some of the most interesting cooking going on in Durham. From the grill is a smorgasbord of meaty goodies, from spicy miso chicken to wasabi beef tongue to yuzu kosho (spicy chili) marinated pork heart ($4-$7). The takoyaki hushpuppies ($8), based on the ball-shaped Japanese snack, is made with octopus and served with a citrusy yuzu mayo. Careful: the black sesame nori popcorn ($4) is quite addictive.


Set a 1937 former bank in downtown Durham, the 125-room 21c Museum Hotel (from $200) — the fourth in the 21c chain — features Deborah Berke-designed interiors that pay homage to the building’s Art Deco past while incorporating modern furnishings and amenities. The rotating collection in the multi-level galleries — which are free and open to the public 24/7 — feature new and notable contemporary artists; many works are chosen to engage with the local community. To that end, restroom signage, designed by artist Peregrine Honig and titled “We Don’t Care,” was recently installed — in response to North Carolina’s controversial transgender Bathroom Law.

Across the street is the new 53-room mid-century modern Durham Hotel (from $279) which features an indoor/outdoor rooftop lounge and a restaurant from James Beard Award-winner Andrea Reusing.


50,000 bees on the walls


Bees the size of small dogs crawl over a brick wall on the fringe of downtown’s American Tobacco Campus.

Most of them cannot fly – they haven’t had their wings painted on yet.

The bees are the product of muralist Matt Willey’s paintbrush and have been commissioned by Burt’s Bees, whose corporate hive exists just behind the brick.

Willey, 46, a New York City transplant who sleeps in Asheville, has embarked on a bee-themed mural marathon. Willey’s goal is to paint a total of 50,000 honeybees in a series of murals in public spaces across the U.S. and the world.

Why 50,000? According to his website, www.thegoodofthehive.com, the number represents the population of honeybees in a healthy hive.

Bees bigger than bricks command attention, which is Willey’s intention, ever since he first read about declining populations of pollinating bees in the United States.

“I can make them big enough so people can see them more clearly,” he said.

The mural is a nature-scape superimposed over the Lego-like masonry of the American Tobacco architecture. The artwork puts bees and people eye to eye.

On a recent weekday morning downtown, a group of four kids and two moms out on an app-driven geocaching expedition took notice of the mural.

“I like the way that the bees are gathered together,” said Piper Barnes, fifth-grader-to-be. Piper was impressed by how the mural bees reflected the group behavior visible in the bustling “live-hive” of real bees that Burt’s Bees maintains right around the corner from the painting.

Durham recently was certified as a member of Bee City USA, an organization born in Asheville that promotes pollinator-friendly cities.

Paula Alexander, director of sustainable business and innovation at Burt’s Bees, contacted Willey about a mural after his crowdfunding video drew her attention.

“I’ve helped him get through hoops,”Alexander said.

“Every job has a ‘champion,’

” Willey said. “I need someone on the ground to deal with logistics.”

When work on the mural began in late April, Alexander asked Willey whether the 400 employees at Burt’s Bees could help him paint.

“I wasn’t open to the idea,” Willey said, “until I said yes to it.”

Willey and Alexander settled on having each employee, from the general manager on down, paint an individual petal of the flowers that will line the bottom of the mural.

“Once we compartmentalized (the participation), I loved it,” Willey said.


NEW EXHIBIT in the Power Plant Gallery

Welcome William Paul Thomas, the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Power Plant Gallery.

While in residence, Thomas will paint portraits and document video of local residents for his experimental project, Mood Swings.

“My goal,” Thomas says, “is to compose a series of enigmatic and endearing living portraits that stitch together the lives of a diverse group of people using their own words.” 

Anyone who is interested in learning more about the project, or participating is invited to visit during the gallery’s summer hours (below), or contact the artist directly by email at wpaulthomas@gmail.com. Participation is free and voluntary. Participants will likely be asked to smile in front of a camera for an undetermined amount of time.

Artist’s Talk and Discussion with William Paul Thomas
Reception: Friday, June 17, 2016, 5p.m.–8p.m.
Artist’s Talk begins at 6:30p.m.

The Power Plant Gallery is open to the public Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 11a.m.–6p.m. Come engage with Thomas or simply observe the artist’s process. More information at powerplantgallery.org, or call us at 919-660-3622.


This month the Power Plant Gallery inaugurates a residency program for individual artists and artist groups. Three separate one-month public studio residencies will be held in June, July, and August at the 1,500-square-foot gallery, located at the historic American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham.