Last week, TROSA Grocery held a small press conference at Joe's Diner (joesdinerdurham.com), announcing that it would close the store adjacent to the Durham restaurant (see "East Durham's TROSA Grocery announces it will close" on our food blog). Joseph Bushfan, part owner of the building, crossed his arms and rested them on the red vinyl tablecloth, fresh off a lunch rush.
"We're surviving," he said of his restaurant. "And we're not going nowhere."
If you've ever had trouble finding Joe's Diner, just roll down your car windows. Chances are, on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, the smoky aroma of barbecue ribs will lead you straight to it. For the past three weeks, Bushfan has been serving ribs right off his 4-foot outdoor grill to encourage more people to walk to the restaurant and share a meal with their neighbors.
Joe's Diner consistently provides hot meals at reasonable prices, along with the conversational camaraderie that develops naturally from an open kitchen style and a wide counter setup. It helps that Bushfan is a solid, brawny guy from Roxbury, a notoriously rough neighborhood of Boston. The former private bodyguard is also armed with a charismatic wit that helps fill his business with a diverse set of customers.
Large framed photographs of Bushfan rubbing elbows with celebrities like Spike Lee overlook the booths. Handwritten posters advertise all-you-can-eat pancake plates and build-your-own omelet specials. My sincerest thanks go to whoever Diana may be (a mysterious diner muse?)—her namesake hot dog comes enveloped by melted Swiss and pastrami, then loaded with sauerkraut.
This week, Bushfan and his team of cooks will serve up the ribs with Southern sides like cornbread, a "signature mac 'n' cheese," collards, potato salad and other fresh vegetables. In his typical wry, jovial fashion, Bushfan says: "We plan on people looking for us in the daytime with a flashlight. That's how good it will be." Joe's Diner is open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
April brings a couple more ways to honor food and community. Panciuto has teamed up with Daylight, a local art and photography nonprofit, to launch Single Source Suppers (daylightmagazine.org/content/single-source-suppers), a series of fundraisers for the organization. The first dinner will be Wednesday, April 18, at 121 W. Margaret Lane in Hillsborough. Aaron Vandemark, Panciuto's James Beard-nominated chef-owner, has prepared a menu completely sourced from Eco Farm's fresh produce (turnips, collards, arugula), strawberries, pork and more. At $130, the event includes short film screenings, live music by The Hammond Eggs and the promise of "the quintessential buttered popcorn." To purchase tickets, call 919-732-6261.
Rows of home-baked pies, savory and sweet, will grace the tables at the SEEDS Pie Social and Skill Share Auction (seedsnc.org) on Sunday, April 22, 1–5 p.m. at 706 Gilbert St. in Durham. Top pie purveyors will be competing for Best in Town. Ten dollars gets you four slices, a tour of the community garden and more. All proceeds benefit Durham Inner-city Gardeners, SEEDS' youth program.
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