For several months now, Quality Grocery has been historic Oakwood's not-so-dirty little secret. Since debuting last October, this corner country store, located in this downtown Raleigh neighborhood, has been the spot for residents looking to get a quick beer, a nice meal or some ice cream.
Located on the corner of East Lane and Linden streets, this property is more than a century old, opening and reopening in various incarnations since 1909. This current version, run by Jason Howard and Jay Wellons, who also own the Rockford and Brooklyn Heights Bar, prides itself on selling food made in North Carolina. Nearly everything in the store has a Tar Heel stamp: the Ashe County Cheeses from West Jefferson, the Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork products from Seven Springs, even the Escazu chocolate bars, which are crafted nearby on Blount Street.
The prices on some of these items are a bit steep ($9.99 for bacon—seriously?), but many locals flock to this place for other reasons, one of them being beer. Quality's coolers are fully stocked with the favorites: selections from Raleigh's own Lonerider and Big Boss breweries, as well as Winston-Salem's Foothills ales. If you're not picky, there's always Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Another reason is the food, which is served fresh off the grill every day. Quality is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Get a burger or sandwich to eat at one of the grocery's tables (inside or outside) or to go. There are also side items like French fries, cole slaw or, my favorite, pasta salad, which they make with pine nuts and olive oil. For those looking to have an evening meal without leaving the neighborhood, the store has daily supper specials Monday through Saturday.
In keeping with the store's all-natural down-hominess, the specials are Southern-themed, cooked with local ingredients and Whole Harvest non-GMO oils. Several of their specials are satisfactory, if not particularly spectacular. The ground beef lasagna, which the store drops on Wednesday, is a respectfully substantial pasta square, served with garlic toast and a side salad. The N.C. swan, aka quarter-fried catfish—crispy, flaky and simple—which comes with jalapeño cheese grits and green beans.
The store does excel with its Monday special, which is, for lack of a better word, a beast. Three pieces of buttermilk fried chicken—a wing, a thigh and a large breast—are served with cole slaw and creamed corn. The chicken is juicy and succulent to the point of ridiculousness, not to mention the buttermilk-battered skin will most likely fill you up before you get to the meat. I dare anyone to finish this all in one sitting.
The Thursday special, turkey with mashed potatoes and green beans, continues to be a work-in-progress. The store fluctuates between having seasoned, boneless turkey slices and pale, unseasoned slices from a bone-in turkey breast. When the meal is prepared with the former, it's delicious and savory. But when it's the latter, it tastes—shall we say—worrisome. There was one occasion where I wondered if the turkey was cooked all the way through. (The server informed me that it was.)
We really need to talk about the gravy. On some Thursdays, there's a cook who makes gravy with turkey drippings, cranberry juice, white wine, rosemary, hopes, dreams, Mandy Moore's phone number and other wonderful things. I am not a gravy guy, but I am a ride-or-die fan for this stuff. I use it as a dipping sauce, dropping my forked pieces of turkey or green beans in this cup of instant Thanksgiving, as my server referred to it. Unfortunately, on those Thursdays when that guy isn't working, the gravy is the same ol' combination of drippings, salt, pepper, flour and disappointment.
Quibbles aside, the meals at Quality Grocery are filling to the point where, if you're walking to and from the place, you may feel like lying in the middle of the street and taking a nap to sleep it off. Whether it's the food, the beer or the Pandora station full of lite '70s rock playing in the background, Quality Grocery is trying to offer the Oakwood neighborhood a relaxing, comfortable time. Now, if they can just drop the price on the bacon.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The rest is gravy."