Monday, January 31, 2011

Special food report: Durham A Day

If Charlotte streets are a ball of yarn, Durham is a tangled skein. You need a GPS to get from 15/501 to Duke Street, and even when the GPS says "you have reached your destination," you may be sitting there, yelling, "Where? Where is my destination?"

That just adds to the fun. Chapel Hill and Asheville may be hip, Charlotte and Raleigh may be all business. Durham is something else entirely. What Durham has is a food entrepreneur class, a lot of young people who came for college or fun and stuck around to do what they love. I spent last Friday trolling Durham, and I heard variations of this over and over: "The economy is lousy, there are no jobs. Might as well do what we love. And what we love is food."

I'll bring blog reports all week on a half-dozen places I tried. Starting with:

Scratch Baking, 111 Orange St. Phoebe Lawless started out selling her pies at farmers markets and opened a bricks-and-mortar bakery last year. Finding it isn't easy: Orange Street isn't actually a street, it's a brick-lined alley tucked behind the City Complex. If you see the bull statue near Mangum Street, you're a block away.

I've interviewed Lawless and was hoping to meet her, but she was out tending to a sick kitten. Her employees were happy to help, though. The menu is a bit quirky. One employee called the style simply "Phoebe's whims." She likes old-fashioned pies, like chocolate chess, and she likes seasonal pies, like fig and pear tarts. The drinks menu includes "Candy Milk" because Lawless' 5-year-old daughter likes to order steamed vanilla latte with a candy stick to stir it. So they put it on the menu so she could order like a big girl.

There's a whole chalkboard just devoted to local producers, and pies come and go so quickly. So check before you get your heart set on anything.

I went with the Shaker Lemon Pie, one of Lawless' favorites in the category of "rescued farmhouse recipes."
You have to really, really love lemon. Luckily, I really, really do: The filling is creamy and yellow with a taste of buttermilk, and it's filled with strips of lemon peel. The crust literally flakes when you press down with a fork. It's bitter and sweet, creamy and crunchy.

Truly fine pie. And a fine place to start off a Durham eating day.

Next up: The Food Truck Revolution.


Tiffany said...

That sounds like a great stop! I haaaaaate driving around downtown because of the parking dearth, but I really do appreciate good pie.

Anonymous said...

Correct on the perils of navigation and driving in downtown Durham. I've lived here 25 years and still dread going downtown, which I can never do during the week, so Pheobe's pies come to me from the Durham Farmers Market or 3Cups in Chapel Hill. That said...Durham's current morsel inventory makes it well worth it along with free valet parking downtown! So much food, so little time:-)So pleased to see a Charlotte food writer crowing about us!

matt dudek said...

The Bull City Connector is also a great way to get around downtown. It is a free circulator bus and goes around frequently. My partner and I bought a home near downtown so everything is easy biking and walkin distance.

And as for scratch, my favorite item there is the chocolate sea salt crostada. Very rich and filling, with the flakiest crust. The atmosphere at Scratch is also very sunny and inviting. I love walking my dog threre on a Saturday morning and grabbing a coffee to sit outside with. Scratch is my favorite addition to the downtown food scene.