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Trip Report: Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area

bmorecupcake | Feb 19, 201507:58 PM

We've had family move into the Triangle area past couple years, and we've made quite a few trips down there. This board helped me quite a bit, so I thought I'd contribute back with a report of our recent trip. As we all have kids, we prefer casual dining options.

We started with Baghdad Bakery. This place never disappoints. Their fresh samoon (thick, chewy) and tannoor (thin, light) breads run out every day it seems. We even brought some back with us.

The following morning we went to Cocoa Cinnamon. To be honest, we went to the Belgian Waffology truck which happened to be parked at Cocoa Cinnamon. My family in North Carlolina loves Cocoa Cinnamon, but my first experience wasn't that great. (The decor is great, though.) I'm mostly a decaf drinker, and finding great decaf anywhere is a chore, but I had high hopes since Counter Culture produces great decaf. Oddly, Cocoa Cinnamon chose to go with another roaster for their decaf. Turnover must also be an issue because the decaf tasted stale. Our tea wasn't brewed well either, and it's the first time I've experienced a place underbrewing tea. Usually, it's overbrewed. (Just another oddity, I thought.) We also had a solid, but not mindblowing, espresso. The regular Ethiopian coffee we had, however, was outstanding. The croissant and cookie we had were just okay, but locally sourced. Yet, I would still return because everyone here really gives maximum effort, and that's all I want. I was a bit apprehensive at first given the long line, but I felt the staff took their time and put care and attention into every order. They could probably expand or open another location, but I think they'd dilute the experience, So kudos to them for valuing attention to detail over profit.

Belgian Waffology was my favorite stop all weekend. I'm a purist at heart, so I went with the classic liege waffle. The flame under the waffle irons creates beautiful irregularities where some pearl sugar pieces are caramelized more than others. To my horror, everyone else with me ordered a liege waffle with toppings. I sampled a few, I mean, I was forced to eat some of them, and the Cinnawaffle (speculoos spread, whip cream, cinnamon) really stood out. And I don't understand why, I don't even like cookie butter. It doesn't hurt that the owner actually speaks with a Belgian accent, either. I would be at this truck every weekend if I lived here.

Next we visited the Durham farmers' market which had a surprising number of vendors given the cold weather. Right next to that was a food truck meetup. There was even a food truck offering pourover coffee and an extensive tea menu. Seems like there's great coffee everywhere in the Triangle.

Later, we went to Parker and Otis for lunch. At first I thought, "This is a typical touristy place." Then I discovered, it's a touristy place executed very well. I found some toys I haven't seen anywhere. They have a decent coffee shop with most baked goods made right there in the shop. And I (grudgingly) liked their sandwiches and tomato-dill soup. The vegetarian sandwich special with bean sprouts, avocado, and pimento cheese had no business tasting that good. The bread here comes from Weaver Street. I'm not a fan of Weaver Street bread ever since they shifted to a factory-style operation, but Parker and Otis made it work.

Afterward, for a sweet snack, we initially stopped by Hummingbird Bakery. Something about this place didn't resonate with me. I felt like I couldn't tell how fresh some of the pastries were and the service wasn't great at this particular hour, so we left and went to Monuts Donuts instead. If you haven't guessed, I'm a donut snob, and when I was told their donuts were fried in shortening, I thought about walking out. Then I thought, I've been pleasantly surprised thus far, so let's give them a chance. I'm glad I did. These reminded me of long ago when each Dunkin Donuts location fried their own donuts in-house. (I'm sure these are still better, but back then I wasn't such a snob.) We had the plain raised donut, tangerine raised donut, chocolate sea salt raised donut, chocolate Earl Gray cake donut, Strawberry White Chocolate cake donut, and a slice of banana bread. We were pretty much stuffed and everything was still good. Even the next morning, the leftovers were still good. Monuts Donuts was very affordable, too, and I like how they kept bringing out fresh donuts instead of frying very large batches.

For dinner, we went to Flame Kabob. We've been here quite a few times and were looking forward to it. We went right at closing this time, so I didn't expect much. The food wasn't as good as usual, but even then it was solid. There are some caveats at Flame Kabob, though. First, their desserts have often been sitting in the refrigerated case for a while, so I would pass on those. Second, there's always a different standout each time we go. This time it was the beef tenderloin kabob (last time that was the "worst" one.) So we always sample each kabob and then order more of the ones that are better that day. Also, the lamb shank has been "Today's Special" forever. It's time for another special already. These are extreme nitpicks. They have three different types of rice, too, and all are good. And free, unlimited tea is always a plus in my book.

For brunch the next day, we went to La Farm. The setup of this place is wonderful. I was lost for a half hour before I regained consciousness. Unfortunately, we weren't as impressed once we tasted the actual offerings. (And more than $2 is too much for a macaron in my book.) I found everything -- bread, cinnamon buns, croissants, scones, brunch items -- mostly satisfactory, but not stellar. For bread, I prefer places like Bread and Butter. My theory: At one point this place was great, but with the sheer volume they produce now, I don't see how they can keep up with those previous standards. The white chocolate baguette was my favorite item here. The blueberry hand pies were good, too. We had multiple poached eggs, all overdone, and the bread texture was odd once it soaked all the egg yolks and sauce. The technique on the french toast was excellent, but again, the bread itself let it down. Our spinach quiche was great, however. I will probably end up here again because our relatives are huge fans. And that's okay, it's far better than, say, Panera Bread.

In my opinion, the food trend in most cities is to expand at the expense of quality. So most of all, I'm glad that establishments in the Triangle are content focusing on quality at a single location. I can't ask for more and, nitpicks aside, we were happy at every one of these places and wouldn't mind returning to any of them. New York, San Francisco, Seattle, you expect to find treasures there given the population levels. The density of good food with respect to population in the Triangle area amazes me. I can't wait to return.

Cocoa Cinnamon,
La Farm Bakery,
Panera Bread
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