Food in Durham is no bull. Asheville and Chapel Hill are hip, Charlotte and Raleigh are all business. But Durham is something else. I spent a day last week trolling Durham, where young food entrepreneurs are skipping the lousy economy and building their own food world.
Exhibit A: Food trucks. They've moved beyond construction sites to become a phenomenon. In New York and L.A., food truck festivals bring out mobs of fans and Twitter posts pop up daily to tell you where to find the latest players. Charlotte has joined in slowly, with just a couple of trucks, including Wingzza and Harvest Moon Grill. But Durham has really grabbed it. The web site Carpe Durham tracks trucks daily on a map, and there are trucks with real personality, such as the Daisy Cakes baker who sells cupcakes on Saturdays from an Airstream trailer.
With only one short day, I set my sights on Only Burger. After starting as a truck, it opened a restaurant, in Hope Valley Square, 3710 Shannon Road. But the truck is the original, and a quick check online showed it would be at Lemond and Gregson streets near downtown at lunch.
When I pulled up, the truck was hard to miss, with the slogan "Only Burger: When Only the Best Will Do." They were having parking issues, though, so I settled in to wait until the truck was safely stowed in a community center parking lot and the generator had fired up with a roar like a lawn mower.
The truck menu is simple: Hand-cut fries and burgers made from hormone-free beef ground daily at Cliff's Meat Market in Carrboro. While I waited, I talked to Nolan Brodalski, 30. He moved to Durham from Atlanta in search of work and got so hooked on Only Burger, he was eating there two or three times a week. Finally, he got sick of his real job and quit to take a job working on the truck.
"When I first moved here, I never thought there'd be so much food," he said. "I love this town! I'm definitely not leaving."
My bacon cheeseburger was definitely the best one I've gotten from the window of a truck. But the fries were the best: Long and thin with crispy edges, they were served in a brown paper sack. Along with the salt, I was even happier to find flecks of black pepper. Even places with great fries forget the pepper to balance the salt.