Sadly, Big Mouth Billy Basses—the plastic, singing fish that were popular 10 years ago and thrust back into the light of day on the walls at Durham's Fish Shack (2512 University Drive)—will soon return to their dusty spots in local attics.
According to Dan Ferguson, who owns the Fish Shack and its neighbor, the Original Q Shack, the fried-fish eatery officially closed its doors last Sunday due to low sales. "I really loved the concept and thought it would work," Ferguson says of his business.
But after a mere nine months, the Fish Shack couldn't survive. "It was just like digging a ditch. It just couldn't recover," Ferguson says.
On a better note, Ferguson says that the Original Q Shack continues to prosper. When I spoke to him on the phone just moments ago, I could hear the bustle of customers in the background.
It’s National Pie Day today—not to be confused with National π Day, celebrated on March 14 (think about it)—and thus, it seems a good and right and joyful thing to spend this Sunday night eating 3.14 slices of pie. Personally, I’ll be assembling my allotment from a great variety of pies (say, 1/3 of a slice from each of 10 pies), because this evening heralds my longtime friends’ Annual Pie Party in Durham.
Their guest list is closed, but you too can throw a pie party. Here’s how my friends do it: Most years, ten or so pies are entered in their Best Pie contest, and though only one baked good can go home with the title of Best Overall, slightly lesser pies will receive honorifics such as Most Original, Best Crust, Most Decadent, Best Presentation, etc. Everyone attending may vote; votes are recorded in color-coded crayon on a master pie chart for each category (Key lime with a green crayon; chocolate mousse pie with a brown, and so forth). As votes are talleyed at the end of the night, hosts can entertain the anxious bakers with a well-chosen pie-laden soundtrack, culminating in a sing-along of Don McLean’s “Miss American Pie” (if possible, hand out printed lyrics, but after a few glasses of dessert wine, who needs them?). Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” is optional.
For my entry, I’m tackling the tall Rye Pecan Pie served at Diner in Brooklyn. The recipe was devised by pastry chef Avery Wittkamp.
My trial run on the recipe last Thursday went well; I found I did not need to chill the crust a second time after rolling it out, which saves 45 minutes or so. Now it's in the oven. (Here's a photo of how it looks baking. This pie is made in a springform pan using an extra-stretchy crust to allow the crust to stand up tall when the springform is removed.)
Your assignment? Go grab a hunk of butter, some salt and flour, and make your own party, or read through last year’s Indy pie-hunt issue for a restaurant to help you celebrate tonight appropriately.
2 cups rice flour (or gluten-free all-purpose flour mix)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk (or 1 cup plain or flavored soy yogurt blended with 1 cup rice or vanilla soy milk and 2 tablespoons lemon juice)
1/4 cup softened butter (or replace with dairy-free margarine)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1. Blend ingredients in mixer until batter is smooth, about 1 minute. (You may need to add another few tablespoons of rice/soy milk if the batter seems too thick.)
2. Pour desired amount of batter onto a hot greased skillet. When pancake bubbles and is lightly golden on the bottom, flip it over with a wide spatula. Cook until golden on bottom and remove to a plate. Stack until you have used all the batter.
3. Serve warm with syrup or your favorite topping.
Store in Ziploc bags in the fridge or freezer and reheat in a microwave while covered in paper towel for 20-30 seconds.
Source: The Kid-Friendly Food Allergy Cookbook by Leslie Hammond and Lynne Marie Rominger
Our 2011 diet resolution? Consume as many calories as possible in the Bull City.
The New York Times recently listed Durham among the top 41 Places to Go in 2011. Sandwiched between Kurdistan and Kosovo, and listed among some of the world's most exotic, surreal landscapes and wild cosmopolitan cities, Durham stands her ground at #35. (And one of only four domestic locations.) She's found her cool, all right, exuding from the increasingly famous and vibrant food scene. The story praises restaurants Scratch Bakery, Revolution, Rue Cler and Parker and Otis, as well as Durham's own Counter Culture Coffee.
Where do you go for quintessential Durham eats? One of my favorites: Joe's Diner. It's the only place where I can get a 1/2-lb. hot dog wrapped in pastrami, with a side of animated conversation from owner Joe Bushfan or any neighborhood customer. I like that it's off the beaten "foodie" path, too.
We asked a few Durham food bloggers where they go. Check out their top haunts below, and share your favorite Bull City meals in the comments section.
"By far my favorite spot in Durham is Six Plates Wine Bar. Matty [Matthew Beason] is one of the best restaurant owners around; they really practice what they preach when it comes to supporting local business and farmers. The menu is inventive, always changing and never half-assed. Their wine selection is affordable and extensive, and the staff is always eager to share their knowledge and help customers really learn about wine. I always feel at home when I walk through the door. A few other places I frequent are Toast, the Bulkogi truck and Dos Perros." - Matt Lardie, greeneatsblog.com
"Fed [The Federal], of course. Its affordable, diverse menu, extensive beer list and casual vibe get my vote every time. Where else can you get coq au vin one night and a burger and fries the next?" - Chris Reid, carpedurham.com
"Watts Grocery is my favorite Durham restaurant because it's the epitome of everything that makes Durham food and drink awesome. Chef Amy [Tornquist] locally sources as much food as possible, which contributes greatly in flavor to her Southern-inspired, New American cuisine. The menu experiments with fun combinations, and the cocktail and dessert offerings are always inventive, not to mention delicious. Yet the atmosphere is bright, cozy, relaxed, and a little eclectic; it's fantastic food and drink without pretense." - Becca Gomez Farrell, thegourmez.com
"Had a hard time just coming up with a single favorite restaurant. My ultimate treat and to-die-for restaurant: Vin Rouge. They have the best French onion soup on the planet. Honestly, anything Matt Kelly puts out, you know it's going to be good. It is also my go-to place for oysters. Out to dinner and fun with friends: Dos Perros. Consistently good food, great atmosphere and Charlie [Deal] has done a wonderful job stocking up on good beer for us Durham beer nerds. Simply Thai, my utmost favorite family-run restaurant. And the Farmhand Foods truck. For God's sake, the sausage with pimento cheese on a pretzel roll is to die for!" - Johanna Kramer, durhamfoodie
"I swoon when I think about Vin Rouge. From their 'sweetbreads of the day' that is on their standard menu to their daily specials. One special that sticks out to me in particular is the '"au pied de cochon': local pork trotter beer-braised (in local beer of course) and stuffed with black truffle. I get hot flashes just thinking about that dish." - Christie Vasquez Hadden, myrestaurantguru.com
Ninety-nine barrels of Two-Hearted Ale on the wall, 99 barrels of beer ...
Hey, we'd be grateful to could find even a single bottle of Two-Hearted Ale in stores, but we've finally gotten to the bottom of the shortage of the popular beer.
Demand for the India Pale Ale has outstripped the brewing capacity at Bell's Brewery, according to Marketing Director Laura Bell. Distributors are apportioning the supply to stores—Peace Street Market in Raleigh had none in stock, nor did Sam's Quik Shop in Durham—and Whole Foods in Durham is out for the season. (A reasonable substitute is the Hopsecutioner IPA by Athens, Ga.-based Terrapin Beer Co.)
But Two-Hearted fans shouldn't despair. The brewery, headquartered in Kalamazoo, Mich., plans to break ground in April on an expansion, which will include additional fermentation space and a 200-barrel brewhouse to augment its current 50-barrel one. A barrel is 31 gallons; 50 barrels is 1,550 gallons.
Bell said she doesn't have year-end production figures yet, but that Two-Hearted is its fastest-growing brand.