If you're looking for a quick and casual lunch, it can be challenging to find the ideal spot in downtown Raleigh. Several fine places offer good food and ambiance, but they're more suited to hour-long lunch breaks or marathon business lunches with a side of deal-making. You could seek out a food truck, but once you've purchased your meal, there's the matter of finding a place to eat it.
An unlikely location has bounced onto the scene as a mid-range casual lunch choice: Pogo, the restaurant tucked away in the Marbles Kids Museum. Pogo may look exactly like what it is, a museum cafeteria, but its food belies the surroundings.
Since Pogo is housed in a children's museum, it's natural that a sizeable portion of the menu is aimed at the preschool-to-grade school set. Kids seem to love the Pogo Stix, which consist of your choice of chicken, beef, shrimp or veggies on a skewer. Who wouldn't love a dish that is both tasty and can be used to repeatedly poke your annoying brother or sister? Other kid-friendly options include non-fussy sandwiches such as grilled cheese, PB&J and ham, plus basic burgers and hot dogs. French fries and mac and cheese have obvious kid appeal, and treats such as LocoPops, cookies and cupcakes will end almost any youngster's meal with a smile.
Even sans kids, adults might want to pop in for a quick lunch. The Thai chicken salad is dressed in ginger-orange sauce with generous bits of meat, crunchy noodles and a subtle amount of spice that sneaks up on your palate. Alternatively, you could order the Thai wrap, in which a spinach tortilla envelopes sesame chicken and spicy slaw.
If lunchtime means sandwich time, you can build your own burger, beginning with grass-fed North Carolina beef (or for vegetarians, a black bean burger). You can choose from panini such as the Don Tomasino (ham, mozzarella, basil and tomato with a balsamic glaze) and the French Press (roast beef, sautéed onions, peppers and cheese—get it on the cibatta bread).
Sides include black beans, green beans, broccoli salad, sautéed vegetables and potato salad. Fried okra is also available, but pan-seared okra would be more apt. It is served in a translucent golden coat of batter, with little to no crunch when you bite into it. If you don't mind your okra being soft to the teeth, then you may love it, but I will remain true to my Deep South roots and pass next time.
Unexpectedly Pogo offers beer and wine. Although the selection is small, there is a reasonably good spread of styles and tastes. North Carolina beers on tap include a Pickwick Mild Ale from Hillsborough-based Mystery Brewing and a wheat beer from Mother Earth Brewing in Kinston.
Belly up to the counter and perch on a tall chair, where you watch the two TVs behind it. (On a recent morning one was tuned to Nick and the other to The Cartoon Network.) Background music consists of the likes of Pink, Fleetwood Mac and Gotye. When the weather is nice you can escape the cafeteria ambiance and sit in the patio area. That is an especially welcome option when the restaurant is crowded, as the inside noise can reach a medium-sized din.
Pogo's emergence provides downtown diners a welcome option for a meal that may be cafeteria-quick but is often a cut above cafeteria quality.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Go ahead and jump."