A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
I’ve been visiting Durham ever since I graduated college there some years back. I’ve been averaging about 8 weekends down a year, spending time crashing on floors in my old fraternity section, wandering the familiar halls of yore, walking around campus, and visiting friends. It was rare that I ventured off campus in my time at Duke. It’s partly because I didn’t have a car for much of my time there, partly because my friends were shut-ins, and partly because I didn’t think Durham had much to offer beyond student bars (not my style) and overpriced eateries (even less my style).
In the past year, I’ve started to apply my new travel mentality with my old home and have come across some new gems in a familiar land.
Allen and Sons BBQ – I learned about this place from a top 10 BBQ Joints in America list compiled by Marlboro. While I may not take all recommendations from a cigarette company with equal weight, BBQ seemed to be one I could trust them on. And boy was that correct. They didn’t note the BBQ place near campus that everyone I went to school with liked. Nor the place in Chapel Hill that seemed to have a lot of buzz. Neither one had impressed me. They recommended this place where the staff has to turn in or turn off cell phones when they show up, the doors close at 8:30, and they aren’t open on Sundays. In the South, that is promising for good food.
Upon sitting at the plastic checkerboard tablecloth, I was gaining confidence. The menu solidified it. There are very few items on the menu. Pulled Pork BBQ. Burger. Brunswick Stew. There are a smattering of sides – fried okra, mac and cheese, fries, and a few others. And all meals on the menu are combinations of these items. The BBQ pork platter comes with home fries and a choice of side. For $1 more, they double it. The amount of food that comes out for $11 is enough to cover you for most of the day. The chili cheese burger is arguably the second best burger I have ever had (after Ann’s Snack Bar in Atlanta, GA), and for the price, is really phenomenal. These meals are the perfect combination of cheap, unpretentious ingredients and loving skill in the kitchen. And any place with a dessert menu of 20 different cakes and pies has my vote.
Joe Van Gogh Coffee – I met a new friend here for coffee on a Sunday afternoon. In many ways the place is unremarkable. The coffee and tea selection seemed about normal, though their naming was cheeky. The place was fairly crowded for space with small tables and small chairs maximizing seating in the small place. There were no couches or armchairs. There were no well-manicured tables. The place seemed like a coffee shop in a record store that had just slowly taken over everything. But for a place as crowded as it was, I could carry on a conversation at a level comfortable enough to hear the other person, without any neuroses that the people around us were listening in or cared that we were there. How a place best captures that feel I cannot say. But there are restaurants I won’t go to because the volume of ambient conversation is deafening, or because the place is so quiet I fear talking. Here was a perfect midground, and all achieved without distracting background music.
Guglhupf Bakery – I’ve now been here twice. The first was for the bakery – a German-style provider of any number of breads and pastries. They sold us a dark rye (for a vodka tasting), a grained and dense breakfast bread (for days I’m running late to work), and a pastry (just because). The couple refrigerators had fine cheeses, meats, and niche sodas. The person working had advice on which rye would be best for our purposes and packed our order with a handout detailing the proper storage and care of our loaves. I trust a bakery that cares enough about your enjoyment of their product to detail how best to maintain it.
The second trip was for the attached restaurant for brunch on a following trip down. A variety of fine breakfast items filled the menu alongside some high quality paninis. Sides include cucumber salad. And my reuben got washed down with one of my favorite sodas, Sprecher, one I don’t often see on the East Coast.
Seeing my former home from a new vantage point has been somewhat eye-opening. To some extent this is made possible by the levels of revitalization that have hit Durham in the past 5 years. Family eateries have been set up, restaurants are trying new things, and the community around has started to take much better advantage of the fact that they have a fairly captive audience of several thousand moneyed individuals. But this is also happening because I’ve learned to leave my comfort zone a bit more, to explore what is around, and to eagerly try new places because the reward for a good one is usually greater than the loss on a bad one.