Among the things in my list of to-dos is to visit an American city Iâ€™ve never been to before. Sadly, thereâ€™s a lot on that list, so I at least wanted to check two off in 2010. For my first effort, I recruited Lily to join me in my weekend shenanigan after an eat-and-bitch session about not seeing enough of our friends because theyâ€™re all in different places in their lives. (Read: babies) We ended up in Raleigh, North Carolina because the flight was within our budget and it had an outdoor museum I wanted to check out, plus a downtown with up and coming dining places.
Before I left New York, I had emailed the food editors of New Raleigh for their restaurant recommendations. When two of them suggested Poole’s Diner, I knew I shouldn’t miss it. The â€œdinerâ€ in the name did not deter me. If thatâ€™s what it’s like in places outside New York, Iâ€™ll still give it a chance. We had already decided to eat brunch at Poole’s but decided to pop-in after an oyster and mussel dinner the same night. I wanted a palate cleanser that wasn’t going to make me feel stuffed, but “mixed greens with your choice of dressing” didn’t really sound so good at the raw bar. We took the free R-line downtown and walked to Pooleâ€™s in the hopes that they would have better salad options even though it was getting close to 11pm.
At Poole’s, I read lettuce with shaved Parmigiano and vinaigrette on their blackboard and I told Lily that that was exactly what I wanted to finish off with. I was immediately intrigued by the dinner menu that consisted of braised pork shoulder and ricotta gnocchi (for that end of the month Italian superstition, of course), complemented by appetizers using the ingredients we saw at the NC State Farmers’ Market earlier. Sprite melon was a cocktail with Stoli and Contreau and corn was a velouté as a starter. I wanted it to be the next morning already so we can eat a complete meal! Lily indulged with a coconut tart and a Jamaican red bush hot tea before we called it a night.
After we checked out of our hotel the next morning, we parked our rental right in front and waited for Poole’s to open for brunch. We sat at the bar and watched as the restaurant filled up by 11:30am. By the time we started eating, there were already several couples waiting to be seated. The maître d’ from the night before recognized us, and so did our waitress, which then prompted a conversation about how we ended up choosing Raleigh as a place to visit. The bartender was told and so was the chef, Ashley Christensen. When there was a quick lull in the kitchen, she came out to say hi and introduced herself to us and we quickly talked about the New York City food scene. It turned out that she had just come from the Spotted Pig and is prepping for a partnership dinner and wine tasting with El Quinto Pinto. Learning about her work with two of my favorite restaurants in New York confirmed my suspicion about Raleighâ€”it will be the next city to explode in the dining scene.
My roasted beets came with a buttermilk blue cheese dressing on the side. I barely touched it because the mesclun was dressed perfectly with a balsamic-based vinaigrette. Lily’s zucchini frites were so lightly fried that the roasted tomato gravy didn’t seem so thick at all. Pickled green tomatoes were a surprising crunchy touch. (Noted to add to my repertoire.) My carpaccio of salmon served with avocado was brilliantly executed. I wouldnâ€™t have opted for salmon if I didnâ€™t immediately trust that the kitchen will represent it pretty well. A mango vinaigrette added a touch of sweetness, while slivers of Poblano peppers gave the dish a much-needed kick. It was easily one of the best brunch dishes I’ve had in a while and I’m not even a fan of salmon or avocados. The Bloody Mary was well done as soon as the bartender was legally permitted to serve it at noon and that made us request for the mac and cheese to-go which we ravenously enjoyed after we passed through airport security.
Pooleâ€™s Diner is at 426 South McDowell Street in Raleigh, North Carolina. No reservations are necessary for brunch, but there could be a wait. Call 919/832.4477 for upcoming dinner events and ask about the documentary they are working on about the Raleigh food scene.