The answer was stuck to a wall. A yellowing piece of paper listed contact information for Mary Jacob, who had run the stand for years before. Sue called. Soon after, Jacob returned to Mama Ann’s, willing to teach the Rhas everything she knew about cooking. “We were just beside her learning,” Rha says of their time together. “We catch up pretty good.”
But they didn’t just catch up. The Rhas mastered a traditional Southern menu. Five years after re-opening Mama Ann’s, customers prodded them to move their business a few blocks up Roxboro to what was then a failing meat-and-three, Current Cafeteria, that opened some 50 odd years ago. “You’ll be the right person over there,” Sue recalls of their conversations with her.
It was a good fit. Feb. 2 will mark the Rhas' 18th year at the restaurant, where they serve breakfast and lunch from a short hot bar. Stacked wood-patterned trays anchor one end where dessert is up first. A glass cabinet displays slices of pie before steam trays of vegetables and entrées.
Hanging high above the serving area, a menu with interchangeable placards displays the dishes available each day. But ordering is a conversation. When I visited on a recent Monday, Debra Craig stood behind glass, pointing out and describing each pan of food.
There was thinly breaded crisp fried chicken or chicken livers and a steaming pan of beef stew accompanied by green beans, tomatoes and okra, potatoes, cole slaw, mashed potatoes and cabbage, among other options. On top of the buffet, rolled tightly in wax paper, individual packs of greasy golden rounds of cornbread warmed under a heat lamp. At the serving area’s end, an entrée with two vegetables and bread rings up for a mere $4.70. “We try to keep as low of prices as we can,” Sue says.
The recession has made breakfast—fatback and red hot biscuits and egg plate specials—more popular than lunch. When I dined shortly after 1 p.m., only a handful of people were seated in the dining room’s red booths. Still, Sue says she is “blessed” by what business she does have. “I really enjoy this job. My children grew up here,” she says.
Others have, too. Sue estimates that her customers are almost entirely regulars. “Some people come morning and lunch. I know them, they know me.” She speaks to each of them.
“Be nice. That’s my main goal always,” she admits. And try to be clean and fresh.”
But with a 50-year-old cafeteria the desired look is “something not completely shining.” It’s Current Cafeteria but it’s well worn.
Current Cafeteria is located at 3002 N. Roxboro Road in Durham.
Cupcakes, pizza and bicycles will anchor the corner of Morris and Chapel Hill streets in Durham by mid-summer.
Scott Harmon of Center Studio Architecture announced that construction on the Five Points Project will start tomorrow. When finished, the building at the corner of Morris and Chapel Hill streets will house All City Pizza, The Cupcake Bar, Bullesye Bicycle and Harmon’s architecture firm.
Construction is scheduled to be complete by mid-summer.
Southern Living has selected Raleigh as one of the Top 10 “Tastiest Towns in the South,” according to a press release issued by the magazine today.
And now readers can cast their vote for the culinary champ—think of it as a Best in Show—from Dec. 23 through Jan. 31 at southernliving.com/tasty. One vote per day is counted toward the final tally.
Each finalist will be profiled in the April 2012 issue, when the winner will also be announced.
The other cities in the Top 10 are listed in the January edition of Southern Living. According to a magazine press release, here is the rest of the list:
· Baltimore, Md.—Restaurants with a fierce sense of place;
· Birmingham, Ala.—Includes local chef Frank Stitt, who changed the Southern culinary landscape;
· Charleston, S.C.—Iconic Lowcountry dishes and a thriving cocktail culture;
· Charlottesville, Va.—Farm-to-table freshness in everything from tapas to spirits;
· Decatur, Ga.—An emerging mecca for foodies who relish local farmers markets;
· Houston, Texas—A diverse ethnic food scene with a new generation of tastemakers;
· Lafayette, La.—A new breed of hometown chefs diving into the region’s culinary roots;
· Louisville, Ky.—Surprising food, bourbon bars and buzzy new neighborhoods; and,
· New Orleans, La.—Famed oyster bars. Gulf seafood and classic cocktails.
The magazine reports that Raleigh’s “fantastic farmers markets and chefs devoted to their culinary heritage” earned it a spot in the top 10.
If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution that’s simpler and less taxing than sweating on the elliptical machine, pledge to go meatless each Monday in 2012.
The Meatless Monday Pledge-olution was created by Eleni Vlachos, who co-organized last year’s Bull City Vegan Challenge and hosts the annual Vegan Thanksgiving Record Party.
“We want to do it in a fun way,” she said. “And harness the power of new years and resolutions. And address reasons why resolutions fail.”
Our best intentions fail because we take on too much—thus the one-day-a-week pledge—and we keep them private. Peer pressure has its benefits.
As an incentive, pledges can enter a contest to win a grand prize. That person will receive a gourmet dinner for two at Solas in Raleigh, a copy of the award-winning documentary, Forks Over Knives, two free passes to The Fiction Kitchen vegan brunch, cooking classes, cookbooks and more.
And if you’re already meatless, refer a pledge and you’re eligible to win the Karma prize. And we could all use better karma. The contest runs through Jan. 9. Get more details at trianglemm.com.
Christopher Astraikis is only scratching the surface of his enormous holiday baking task. It’s barely 8 a.m. a week after Thanksgiving and already Astraikis, a head baker at Durham’s Guglhupf Bakery Patisserie and Cafe, is facing down a few dozen mounds of flesh-colored dough, lumpy with assorted dried fruits. In a few hours, these will be rolled into “stollen,” a traditional southern German sweet bread that has helped turn Guglhupf into a nationally recognized bakery—and that turns the kitchen into a madhouse.
To say Astraikis is up to his ellbogen—that’s German for elbows—would be an understatement. He will make about 150 stollen today, on top of the 350 since the bakery started taking orders a week ago. There are about 3,000 more loaves of stollen to go—although he may need to make a few hundred more than that considering the treat’s popularity. Indeed, just this morning someone ordered 70 stollen, which perplexed him.
“Somebody’s got a big pile of money burning a hole in their pocket,” Astraikis says. “It’s probably corporate. I can’t imagine somebody needing 70 of them.”
But Astraikis, who has spent the last 11 years amid Guglhupf’s basement-level maze of bread carts, ovens and assorted restaurant equipment, seems undeterred by his task. A massive mixer whirs behind him as a handful of other employees buzz past. Until Christmas Eve, he will spend every day in this kitchen making stolen and the bakery’s other holiday treats.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little pressure,” Astraikis said. “You have to feel a little pressure to do anything good.”
Like clockwork, the calls start coming in every year, right after Halloween, when folks start turning their attention toward that annual event known as The Holiday Season.
“At the end of October, we get the first calls about the stollen and I say ‘No,’” German-born owner Claudia Kemmet-Cooper says, holding the ‘o’ for emphasis, as she shakes her head and widens her eyes. “It’ll be there the day after Thanksgiving. We’re gonna do holidays one month at a time … They would eat it in the middle of summer if we let them.”
UPDATE (Jan. 15, 2012): The Chirba Chirba Dumpling episode of My Family Recipe Rocks premiered yesterday, Jan. 14, on the Live Well Network. Catch it in full here and embedded below.
ORIGINAL POST FOLLOWS
Last Wednesday, the Chirba Chirba Dumpling truck doled out paper trays of porkedame and juicy buns as part of a routine lunch stop in Morrisville. Employees at ChannelAdvisor, an international e-commerce software company, lined up as as usual, though most of the women in line, and a couple of guys, squirmed, eagerly giddy.
As co-owner Chela Tu helped customers, a new employee nudged into the tiny window space and bellowed orders out in a jovially obnoxious inflection fit for entertainment television. Out peeks the man behind the voice: Joey Fatone, former *NSYNC boy-bander and host of a new food reality television show, wearing a signature yellow Chirba Chirba bandana. And the camera phones started clicking.
Durham food trucks have reached teenybopper levels of stardom. My Family Recipe Rocks launches Jan. 14 on the Live Well cable television network, part of ABC Family and Disney. In the reality-style show, host Fatone and a small crew tour the country looking for authentic family recipes. In each half-hour episode—about six have been filmed—home cooks will create meals unique to their families.
While on set in Raleigh working on a show about a secret collards recipe (look for that in the first few weeks of airtime), a producer dug more deeply into the Triangle's food scene and discovered the truck, the owners’ ties to Chinese culture and the authenticity attached to the menu. Tu received an email, and the crew set out for two days of shooting—one at the Cookery during dumpling prep and one with Fatone working the truck. Producers say the episode should air after the first three or four shows.
According to ChannelAdvisor support analyst Luci Thralls, Fatone was the “funny one” in the boy band. The 28-year-old Thralls says she saw *NYSYNC four times in concert at the height of their popularity. She says she always grabs dumplings for lunch when the truck makes its stop at her workplace, but learned about Fatone’s appearance through a mass email sent by a colleague days earlier. “It was pandemonium from then on,” she says after waiting to get a photo with one of her favorite teenage stars. “I kind of lost my mind and got excited and told everyone I knew.”
An hour before the truck began serving, Fatone upped the humor off-camera, repeating jangly “t” and “z” sounds as per Tu’s impromptu Chinese lesson.
“What am I saying?” he asked. “I like juicy buns?”
Tu smirked, rolled her eyes and got back to work. The entire Chirba Chirba crew, including Tu and another co-owner, Nate Adams, seemed unfazed by the celebrity, poking fun at one other while maintaining order on the cart. The instant rapport made for off-the-cuff moments perfect for when the camera was rolling.
An Italian-American Brooklynite, Fatone says he grew up eating fresh foods and learning to cook from his dad. Now a husband and father of two, he makes hand-made pasta for Christmas. He says his goal for the show is to help families create healthy meals and experiment with simple, new ingredients.
What does he think about dumplings?
“I love pot stickers in general. I’m definitely a dumpling kind of guy. But I never knew about the process. I think it’s a great idea to have a dumpling cart, because it’s easy, quick and on the go.”
He recently cooked on a truck as part of a celebrity challenge for the Food Network’s Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cookoff featuring Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray, to also air in January.
“It was not easy,” he remembers, commenting on the Chirba Chirba owners' dedication. “It takes a lot of guts to figure out how to do this and make a living for themselves.”
“I’m excited that Joey and the whole TV show are here because it’s our local movement that we’re proud of and enthusiastic about that’s getting noticed,” Tu says. “It’s a privilege. It’d be great if more viewers around the country paid attention to awesome places like Durham where local businesses are the star all the time and they really make the local economy tasty, colorful and full of unique things like dumplings. Maybe we’ll put Durham on the map? Durham food trucks as a destination? That would be hot.”
As Fatone taste-tested the dumplings, tray upon tray, he stopped to make his critique.
“If I had a life or death situation it’d be the juicy buns. They’re just really good. It complements the spicy … what is the sauce?”
“Chirba spicy!” screamed Tu.
“I don’t know what that is, but it’s really good.”
1 ham bone
12 cups cold water
1 package HoneyBaked Ham Bone Soup Mix
2 bay leaves (optional)
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes (I like to dice mine)
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onions
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. black pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp. salt (optional)
Place ham bone in large pot. Add 12 cups cold water and bring to a boil. Add soup mix with contents of seasoning packet. Return to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.
Simmer for 2 hours. Remove ham bone and allow to cool. Add remaining ingredients and continue to cook over moderate heat for approximately 60 minutes or until beans are tender. Remove the meat from the ham bone and dice until fine. Return the meat to the soup.
(Soup mix ingredients: small white beans, lentils, blackened peas, black beans, small reds, dark red kidney beans, baby limas, large limas, green split peas, Great Northerns, pink beans, yellow split peas, garbanzos, pearl barley, pinto beans, light red kidney beans, navy beans, cranberry beans)
(Seasoning: Salt, malto-dextrin, dextrose, onion powder, paprika, spices, garlic powder, dehydrated parsley)
1 to 1-1/2 lb. lean ground beef, browned and drained
1 can Campbell's beef bouillon soup (or 2 gluten-free bouillon, dairy-free cubes or 1 can beef broth)
2 cans Campbell's tomato soup
2 cans of water (or more as needed)
1/2 tsp. celery seed
Dash of pepper
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 potatoes peeled and cubed
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 package of frozen corn
1 package of frozen lima beans
1 can of green beans, drained
Salt to taste
Put all in crock pot and cook on low all day or put in a Dutch oven and cook on low until the potatoes and carrots are tender.
Recipe courtesy of Sabrina Ballenger
1 medium to large onion, peeled and chopped
2 or 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
Drizzle of olive oil
Handful or two of baby carrots, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3-4 stalks of celery, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/2-inch chunks
Two zucchini, ends cut off, sliced into spears and then into 1/2-inch chunks
Couple of handfuls of fresh green beans, ends cut off beans snapped into 1-inch pieces
Two 16-ounce cans of chopped tomatoes (plain or flavored, such as green chile or roasted garlic)
Couple of of big handfuls of shredded cabbage (can use packaged kind for cole slaw)
In a big soup pot, drizzle a little bit of olive oil, turn heat to medium and cook onion until it starts to soften. Add the garlic and stir for a minute. Add the carrots and celery and cook for a few minutes. Add the zucchini and green beans. Add the tomatoes and can of water. Let the soup cook for about 10 minutes, then stir in the cabbage. Season with salt and pepper to taste and let cook another 15 minutes or so.
Extras: You can add oregano or other spices as you'd like.
For heartier flavor, add some canned beef consommé.
If you want the soup to be less chancy, add water or tomato juice.
This recipe is loosely based on a Weight Watcher's Vegetable soup recipe.
Coming soon has finally arrived. For many months, an empty storefront in Durham's Hope Valley Square has promised that the Bull Street Gourmet & Market would open—and now the small, cozy shop is in business.
The deli serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in the cafe. On the lighter side, choose from oatmeal, yogurt and fruit, and for heartier appetites there is a bagel topped with sausage, cheese and egg. Lunch and dinner includes salads, sandwiches and soups, including a vegan option for the latter. Carnivores should be pleased with the selection of pastrami, chicken, turkey and roast beer. Vegetarian choices include a mozzarella sandwich with marinated and fresh tomatoes, walnut pesto and balsamic reduction. The tofu sandwich appears to be vegan—with pickled shiitakes, yum!—but it's always wise to ask.
There is a kids menu, and of course, desserts.
Hours are Monday—Friday 7:30 a.m.—7:30 p.m., Saturday—Sunday 9 a.m.—3 p.m.
It is located at 3710 Shannon Road.