Now presenting: the Now Serving Gift Guide 2008. Here's what I think you should get your favorite local food lover.
IDEA 1: Gift cards or certificates to local food places. The national media is all frowny-faced about gift cards this year, bleating dire warnings that mass-market retailers issuing cards may not be around to redeem them. But some locally owned places sell gift cards, too. For example, I'm a big fan of Randy's Pizza and was thrilled to see gift cards available at two of its five Triangle locations. The stores on Hope Valley Road and Martin Luther King Boulevard, both in Durham, offer gift cards (randys-pizza.com or www.randyspizzartp.com).
Gift certificates are lower tech, so some local places that aren't set up for gift cards may have gift certificates. Ask your favorite restaurant, wine shop or even farmers' market vendor.
IDEA 2: Locally made edibles. Coffee, sausage, beer, wine, cupcakes, cheese, chutney, chocolate, pie, cheesecake, salsa ... all made right here in the Triangle. If you want suggestions, search the Now Serving archives online, using the item you want as a keyword. Or just head to your local farmers' market and peruse the yummy options.
IDEA 3: Tickets to a food-related event. Our local restaurants host wine dinners, beer dinners, farm dinners, even liquor dinners, all the time. They range in price from casual (serving light tapas) to fancy (more courses for more dollars). Reservations are usually required.
Humble Pie (317 S. Harrington St., Raleigh, 829-9222, www.humblepierestaurant.com) hosts food and wine tastings every first and third Tuesday. Chef Raymond Cordova and wine purveyor Mark Morrow of Dionysus Wines put together a three-course meal paired with wines. Cost is $30, or $10 for wine only, and reservations are required. Elaine's on Franklin (454 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 960-2770, www.elainesonfranklin.com) serves a three-course "tasting menu" each evening from 5:30 to 6:30 for $35 per person, which is perfect if you are heading out to an evening event such as the theater.
For a special holiday meal, check out the Italian-style Christmas community dinner Dec. 18 ($55 per person) or the New Year's Eve dinner Dec. 31 at Panciuto (110 S. Churton St., Hillsborough, 732-6261, www.panciuto.com).
IDEA 4: Cooking classes. National trends say we are cooking at home more and eating out less. But whatever your reason—educational fun or serious skill-sharpening—the area has plenty of cooking schools. Many cater to kids, and January schedules are available. Search the Indy archives, do a general online search, or open ye olde yellow phone book.
IDEA 5: Food-related merchandise, often available on the Web. Do you love Big Boss beer (www.bigbossbrewing.com)? Then you might like to drink it out of a Big Boss glass ($3.50). If your honey stops at the Open Eye Cafe (www.openeyecafe.com) every day for coffee, an Open Eye double-walled travel mug ($20) might be just the thing. Fans of Sara Foster and Foster's Market (www.fostersmarket.com) can order their very own Foster's apron ($35).
Know about a fun food happening in the Triangle? Send it to Now Serving at firstname.lastname@example.org.