Food Across America: Raleigh-Durham, NC
"The Triangle is a lot like Berkeley now," observed my friend Amy Tornquist, "but with more ham." Like the chefs in California, those in North Carolina's Raleigh–Durham–Chapel Hill area, a.k.a. the Research Triangle, are now obsessed with buying meat, fruit and vegetables locally. Of course, talented Triangle cooks have been using great regional products for years: Scott Howell opened Nana's in 1992, and I've been a fan of Magnolia Grill's Ben Barker since he was an F&W Best New Chef in 1993. But now there's an emerging style dubbed the "new New Southern" that features lighter dishes made with extremely local ingredients.
After spending a few days in the Triangle, I have to agree that its chefs are as fixated on local produce as they are on pigs. Amy, who just left a job as chef at the Café at the Nasher Museum of Art to open her own place, Watts Grocery, serves my favorite amalgamation of the two: an amazing BLT salad with local greens. She took me to the excellent eight-month-old Piedmont, in a former warehouse. Co-chef Drew Brown, who looks young enough to be one of the city's countless college students, has a charcuterie section on his dinner menu that includes house-made country pâté and foie gras terrine. (Brown says he was a vegetarian before he started cooking at Thomas Keller's Bouchon in Las Vegas.) Nearby, the 10-month-old, French bistro–styled Rue Cler sells hot, powdered sugar–covered beignets by the dozen.
The Research Triangle also has a fancy new place to stay near Raleigh, the Umstead Hotel and Spa, which opened in January on 12 gorgeous wooded acres full of walking paths.