has joined another elite cast: Esteemed critic Bill Addison named chef Ashley Christensen's Raleigh flagship to Eater's second-ever National Top 38 restaurant list
. It is the only North Carolina restaurant to earn the honor, which aspires to answer the question that drives Addison's work: "'What is essential dining?"
"Poole's is one of the South's great modern restaurants," Addison told the INDY
. "The restaurant's macaroni au gratin may be its most famous dish (every time I'm there I spot people ordering only it for dinner), but beyond that decadent icon, the menu revolves with the seasons in precise, always-appealing ways."
Christensen is in New York this week, where she cooked Thursday for Women in the Kitchen
, a Southern chef event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Southern Living
magazine. Kaitlyn Goalen, director of marketing for AC Restaurants, says Christensen is fine with adoration of the justifiably famous mac 'n' cheese,
even though she strives to create new dishes to wow customers.
"We're always grateful and thrilled that it remains on the list of things for people to try," says Goalen, noting the side dish has been on the menu since Poole's opened in December 2007. "It's what Poole's is about—really classic comfort food recipes that are re-imagined, but which still tap into a lexicon of flavor that we're all familiar with."
Addison adds that he admires the James Beard Award-winning chef's creativity and appreciation for local and seasonal ingredients. "I know right where I am and what time of year it is when I eat at Poole's," he says. "Ashley Christensen sets national standards not just in terms of the beautiful food she and her team execute but in her leadership—with seven businesses now under her umbrella—and in her commitment to community with events like Stir The Pot
that benefit the Southern Foodways Alliance
Goalen says the AC team had no advance notice about making the National Top 38 list, though it is bound to make it even more difficult to get a table at the often-crowded Poole's, which does not take reservations. The nod is sure to drive interest in Christensen's six other Raleigh venues too, including Death & Taxes and Bridge Club, both of which opened last fall.
"We're quite excited to be in the company on that list, and thrilled to have a North Carolina restaurant included," Goalen says. "We share it with the whole community of Raleigh. It speaks to how dynamic the food scene has become here."
Christensen has another eatery in the works, a pizzeria scheduled to open next door to Poole's in 2017. And October will see release of her first cookbook, a collection of some 150 recipes. Follow Poole's on Twitter
to learn about some of the recipes as they're tested.