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Feast: Watts Grocery

November 9, 2010

One thing a Bostonian can’t help but notice about North Carolina is how freakishly friendly everyone is. When I arrived at the airport, the man driving the rental car bus got OUT of the bus, took my bag, and carried it up the stairs for me -when he reached for my bag I almost smacked him. The lady at the rental car place offered me a bottle of water – I turned it down out of fear it had been tainted. The wait staff at La Farm Bakery offered to deliver our order- we declined, assuming that they would spit in our food for the extra effort.

Huh. Maybe it’s more that Bostonians are paranoid and less that North Carolinians are friendly?

Regardless, people in the south are awfully sweet, ya’ll. And while the town of Durham may not have the bells and whistles of a bigger city, it does have an excellent and much acclaimed restaurant in Watts Grocery.

There is something welcoming about a restaurant whose staff dresses in shirts adorned with a pink pig outline.  It says “come on in, there is pork to be had.”  At Watts, not only is the pork local, but many if not most of the ingredients they use come from suppliers just down the road- from the list on the menu: Chapel Hill Creamery, Fowl Attitude, Four Leaf Farm, Latta Eggs. The atmosphere itself plays up the local aspect as well, with the bar made of glass counters that house pictures and memorabilia. The restaurant is cozy but not overly so, they are happy to see you but there is still a touch of sass in the place. When I asked our server what she thought of one of the mixed drinks on the menu, she sized me up and said “You look like you prefer sweet drinks, so that’s probably fine for you.” Um, I’ll take a double vodka, but thanks.

We started with the Pan Fried Chicken Livers with Duck Fat Potatoes and the Fall Beet and Blue Cheese Salad with Endive. I never really got into the beet fad, but my dinner companion had been dreaming of beets all day – who dreams of beets? – so I gave in. Both were good, but the chicken livers were the star. The staff knew to ask us how we wanted them prepared, and they arrived with an almost creamy texture and light, not gamey, flavor.

For dinner I asked our server what she preferred, the Braised Short Rib with Tomatoes, Fennel, and Farro, or the market fish of the day- a trout. She looked me over again and pronounced “You get the rib.” Ok, sure. I can’t say she steered me wrong (though I can say she was starting to give me a complex)- the short rib was tender and the sweetness of the tomatoes was well enhanced by the fennel. The farro was the best touch, I thought, for a dish that is often served with mashed potatoes or risotto -neither of which provide a good contrast to a very tender piece of meat. The farro had a nice chewy bite to it, as well as some nuttiness that made the dish unique, if a tad under-seasoned.

However, it became clear when I tasted my partner’s dinner- the trout special – that our waitress clearly preferred him to me. The trout was the best thing in the entire restaurant that night. Seared to a perfect crust on the outside, wonderfully salty and served with a light vegetable slaw, I’m lucky I was able to barter a few bites of short rib for this fish. If nothing else had been edible, this would have been a reason to go back.

We ended with an Apple Pear Croustade with Cinnamon Ice Cream and Brandy Caramel, which was exactly what it sounds like. I’m rarely blown away by desserts, and this was good but not overly exciting. We did eat almost all of it, and when the waitress asked if we’d like to take the last bite home, we jokingly said yes. She, not jokingly, brought back the last bite in a neatly wrapped box a few minutes later. You win lady, you win.

Overall, Watts Grocery was a lovely southern dinner with a saucy southern server and delicious local food. If I ever happen to be in Durham, North Carolina again, I will happily return.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary permalink
    November 9, 2010 6:19 pm

    First, you totally lied about not being here that long if you had a chance to go to Watts. Boo hiss for missing SB when she was here.
    Second, Watts is a favorite of ours, though we typically go for brunch– hello, homemade churros and chocolate sauce.

    But if you come back, trust me when I say that Watts isn’t unique at being a great meal in Durham. Food down here is spectacular, and I can think of several places off the top of my head where you will get truly spectacular meals, better than Watts.

  2. Ben permalink
    November 10, 2010 12:05 am

    Watts is one of our favorites in Durham, but we have a lot of favorites. Next time you’re in town, let us know.

  3. November 15, 2010 2:54 pm

    Just wanted to say thanks for the feedback about Watts. I appreciate you all coming to our restaurant and hope you will consider joining us again, even though there are many other wonderful places here in Durham to try.

    • bestthingslicedbread permalink*
      November 15, 2010 3:00 pm

      Thanks for your comment Amy! I’m honored you even read my piece on Watts- your restaurant is fantastic and I will absolutely return if I am in the area!

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