Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Chapel Hill: Historic college, good beer and great food

Chapel Hill seen from the deck of Top of the Hill.
If cuisine is your thing, Chapel Hill, NC, is your place, Levelers. It's flat and full of mouth-watering options.

Situated as the southwestern base of the isosceles triangle that is completed by Durham and Raleigh, Chapel Hill is home to the University of North Carolina, one of the America's three oldest public universities, and Southern Season, one of the country's best gourmet markets and cooking schools.

Add primo hostelries likethe beloved The Carolina Inn and The Siena Hotel, a Marriott boutique property, both with restaurants to write home about, and you have a delicious destination.

Begin with a bit of history and education. UNC at Chapel Hill is full of both. The downtown campus is beautiful, dotted with huge trees and mature plantings, plus a few must-see sites.

The Davie poplar, battered but still standing.
The Davie poplar, for example. Versions of who other than Revolutionary War general William Richardson Davie the 350-year-old 100-foot-plus-tall tree should be named for, but legend says if the poplar falls, so will the university. Southern legends are nothing to trifle with so after several lightening strikes and numerous storms, on March 16, 1918, a grafting, Davie Jr., was planted.  As part of the university's bicentennial celebration, Davie III was planted Oct. 12, 1993. A more recent legend says that if a couple sitting on the stone bench beneath the tree kisses, they will marry.

Want good grades? Legend says drinking from the Old Well on the first day of class is the pathway to A's. It's easy to spot, covered by a replica of Versailles' Temple of Love. You might also catch a marriage proposal being made there.

No legend, the popular journalist and UNC alum Charles Kuralt is buried at the School of Media and Journalism which also houses his former New York office.

Appetite whetted? On to restaurants.

There are many reasons to catch lunch at Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery. It is as casual as its entrance isn't, an elevator in a tall office-type building. The food and beer, which is brewed there, are good and the upstairs deck provides a great spot from which to watch downtown Chapel Hill. You might try a  USDA certified organic vodka, gin or the only fully organic NC grown 100 percent wheat whiskey. They make those in the Top of the Hill Distillery nearby.

Crook's Corner Cafe and Bar has been a hot, literally and figuratively, spot for years and was named an American Classic Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation  in 2011. Chef Bill Smith, semi-finalist for the Beard "Best Chef in the Southeast" in 2010, cooks up an impressive array of choices with a distinct palate and personality. Inside, surroundings are cafe casual; outside is a tropically decorated covered patio. The spicy Shrimp and Grits talks and sometimes shouts to your mouth, the cornbread is tastefully sugar free and ice tea is sweetened with simple syrup. Each Wednesday barbecue from a different North Carolina restaurant is brought in.

Bad photo but to-die-for banana pudding.
Don't miss dessert. If you luck into honeysuckle season, the honeysuckle sorbet is as heavenly as the scent of its flavoring flowers. In any season, the banana pudding is a religious experience.

Il Palio is an Italian experience of the most delicious kind. Described as a fine restaurant with a luxury hotel (Siena) above it by by Chef Teddy Diggs, the kitchen lives up to the dining room's elegant decor. His philosophy, "We take the best ingredients and treat them as gently as we can."

Dessert tasted as good as it looked.
The result is entrees with flavors as distinct as their primary ingredient; salads dressed with intriguing but not overpowering flavors; seafood presented with sauce that enhances its inherent flavor, desserts that add a sweet and lingering satisfaction rather than cloying excess.

Shrimp and grits.
My dinner at the four-diamond, four-star Crossroads Chapel Hill Restaurant in The Carolina Inn was an extravaganza of Carolina Cuisine. Between us, our group of travel writers shared all of the starters, ordered our own entree and then tasted all of the desserts.

Crispy NC oysters.
My faves: the crispy NC oysters for starters followed by the grilled asparagus and fried green tomatoes. The shrimp and grits here were milder than at Crook's Corner but more to my palate. The desserts? All were worth the calories.

Leave half a day at least for Southern Season. We began with breakfast at its restaurant, Weathervane, in University Mall. Suffice to say what a way to start the day. Would love to return for lunch or dinner; the space has a good feel to it from bar to patio to mezzanine.

A small part of the candy section.
Filled to the gills, we then began tasting our way through Southern Season next door. Walking in there was entering the adult version of a candy shop, including the candy.

Want a frying pan? Freshly baked croissants? The latest tea pot? A fine wine? Place mats? A new sauce? Exotic cheese? Flowers for the hostess? Mixing bowls? Table settings of china, silver, stainless, napkins, crystal? The most esoteric kitchen gadget? They have it.

Southern Season cooking school.
Can't cook? They can take care of that, too, with a cooking school. I didn't want to leave.

Felt the same way about Chapel Hill. #SATWchapelhill #satwraleigh

Leia Mais…
Friday, June 24, 2016

Raleigh shares the art of life

Good food, good times, good art and music. Subtract misguided state legislation and Raleigh, NC, is a great place to visit. I was there for a four-day meeting this spring and began wishing for less meeting and more free time to explore, always a good sign.

 Downtown is particularly full of things to do, see and hear.

It gets hot in the summer so start with a cold beer. Trust me, whatever your favorite brew, you will find it at Raleigh Beer Garden, where they claim to have the world's largest selection of draft beers; 135 at last count. Good bar food, too.

Pedicabs dropped us off at DECO.
Cooled down, you can either walk it off or treat yourself to a pedicab ride. The cheerful pedalers work for tips only and can take you to any of the following.

A truly Contemporary Art Museum.
CAM is a most unusual museum. The Contemporary Art Museum has no collection of its own, rather it showcases a different exhibition of cutting edge work by an international cadre of artists every 16 weeks.

The huge spaces at CAM are perfect for contemporary art.
Admission is a nominal $5 but no one is ever turned away for lack of it. Do seek out a docent to introduce you to it all. Middle school students are taught to do just that, giving them public speaking skills and art education as well as hefty doses of self confidence.
 Tip: Use the elevator to go from ground floor to second.

See what some of the area's best artists are creating at Art Space, a re-purposed 1911 livery and car dealership. Painters, fabric artists, sculptors, woodworkers, jewelers and potters find studio and exhibit space here while locals enjoy the classrooms for lessons.
Tip: There is an elevator here, too.

DECO's "parklet" with the only bench downtown.
Deco is a unique shop well worth a visit with work by more than 60 local artisans and its own parklet complete with handsome bench. Open seven days a week, too.

The North Carolina Symphony fills concert halls all over the state, but if they are home in the handsome concert hall downtown, take advantage of it and catch a performance.

Also made in Raleigh are  Holly Aiken's clever designer handbags, Cold off the Press Juice and Raleigh Denim's high-end ($300-plus) custom handmade jeans.

Satisfy your sweet tooth at Videri Chocolate Factory, where Sam and Chris Ratto turned their dream into a delicious array of all tings chocolate.

Beyond downtown is the must-see North Carolina Museum of Art. Situated amid a 164-acre park with sculpture, a theater and a separate building for special exhibits, it can easily entertain you for a day's outing.

The history-spanning collection strong in pre- and Renaissance work of Giotto and Botticelli, not to  mention the 29-statue Iris and B. Gerald Cantor collection of Rodins and 20th century modern and contemporary art. Time your visit for lunch at Iris, the museum's excellent restaurant.

iris Restaurant
One of the best, most enjoyable meal I've had in a long time was at Iris.
You won't go wrong ordering Moroccan fare at Babylon.
Speaking of good meals, here's my favorite from Raleigh. Babylon,  a Moroccan restaurant from courtyard and pool to interior decor, thanks to its ebullient owner Samad Hachly and his long-time French chef John Paul Fontaine.

Even the ceilings are works of art at Babylon.
Our jolly group was greeted by Samad, who orchestrated a memorable meal of Moroccan fare. Entrees run $14 and up, but splurge as we did for the Moroccan sampler at $45 per person; your taste buds will thank you. Dish after dish enriched the palate-pleasing flavors. Highly recommended.

The Umstead Resort offers idyllic settings and view-worthy art.
We were quite happy at the well-located Marriott but if you prefer a more resort feel, the upscale and elegant Umstead Resort and Spa is nearby in Cary.

 Levelers will find Raleigh an easy city to navigate with much to enjoy without undue stress.

Next: Chapel Hill.

Leia Mais…
Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Fun in Fayetteville

Levelers will like the gentle terrain around Fayetteville, NC.
North Carolina is so filled with interesting destinations that many worthy stops are ignored. Fayetteville, in the state's Sandhills area, is one. Levelers will find its gentle elevation changes easy going.

What are your interests? Patriots, the area's African-American or Gaelic history, adventure, antiquing, the Civil War, period architecture, historic markers, geo-caching, Lafayette, literature, transportation, arts and gardens, religious freedom or junque treasures? Each has its own trail described, pictured and mapped in a Fayetteville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau publication

The Saturday morning downtown crafts and farmers market outside of the Fayetteville Area Transportation & Local History Museum first drew our attention and checked off several trails' stops.

Fayetteville's namesake, the Marquis de Lafayette.
After a bit of retail therapy outside, we entered to learn more about the city's connection to Marie Joseph Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. The town may be one of many in the USA named for him, but it has the distinction of being the only one actually visited by the French supporter of the American Revolution.

Browsing in the Livery.
While there, do a little antiquing at The Livery across Maxwell Street.

The Constitution was signed here.
Nearby, a focal point of the city is the Town House, formerly known as Market House, before it was burned and rebuilt.  This is where North Carolina ratified the Constitution in 1789 and where Lafayette addressed in citizens during his visit in 1824, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Airborne and Special Operations Museum.

Patriots of many eras are honored at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum,
the only facility showing and telling the comprehensive history of the U.S. Army Airborne. Visiting it and the memorials and museums nearby will swell your admiration for our military and put more than a few lumps in your throat.

"Iron Mike," everyone's favorite photo op site.

Everything here has a meaning and a story we discovered during a tour from Paul Galloway, director of the foundation supporting the museum. The rocks around the "Iron Mike" statue outside are from Toccoa, GA, where the first airborne jump took place. Look for the family of rabbits that live there.

 Everyone loves "Constant Vigilance," the bronze statue of a Belgian Malinoise, the world's only memorial to special operations canines killed in action.

 The facility itself opened August 18, 2006, anniversary of the test platoon, "the first fools to jump out of an aircraft." Inside, visitors find four full aircraft, a 509 Geronimo tank and hundreds of fascinating stories, including the true account of Black Hawk Down.

Tip: Don't go without trying the Pritzker Simulator 5-minute 12-second glider ride and jump that takes you through war experiences from from France to the Euphrates River.

Don't leave the area without strolling through the rose bushes to the North Carolina Veterans Park.

The memorials here are as engaging, creative and meaningful as any I have ever visited.

Horticulturists will want to stroll the 80-acre  Cape Fear Botanical Garden, known for its native big leaf magnolias, yellow wood trees, loblolly pines and 175 different varieties of camellias blooming from 300 bushes.

The garden also features a Patrick Doughetry stick work, "Just Beyond the Forest Curtain."  Completed in June 2015, the sculptural environment was designed to decay which means visitors will have another year or two to enjoy it.

If you are up for an active adventure, the program at  ZipQuest is so outstanding that USA Today lists it as one of the top 10 in the country. Introduction and instruction is excellent.

Tip: This is a 2-hour experience that includes 15 tree platforms and traversing four spiral staircases and three sky bridges.

Hungry? Beer lovers will appreciate The Mash House Brewing Company with its local quaffs and  wood-fired oven fare. It's worth seeking out the New Deli Restaurant - it is hidden  in a medical and office complex - for its pizza, paninis, creative grilled sandwiches and signature desserts. The Scrub Oaks Restaurant is a good choice for upscale comfort food in an attractive suburban setting.

Leia Mais…