A scrappy scene of artisans devoted to coffee beans, brews, and the craft of humble foods.
With a reverence for life’s everyday pleasures (we’re talking restaurants, coffee, beer, pizza, and pie here), a passionate mix of chefs, farmers, brewers, bakers, and baristas have quietly transformed Durham into one of the hottest food destinations in the South.
Part of what makes Bull City compelling is the confluence of old and new: Its foodie future is gradually wiping out its tobacco past, yet remnants of the town’s first industry provide a backdrop for its current scene. Both the American Tobacco Historic District and Brightleaf Square, two mixed-use developments brimming with restaurants, bars, and live music venues, are housed in former tobacco warehouses that date back to the 1800s and 1900s. The town’s top tastemakers are also drawing national attention. Durham recently scored four James Beard Foundation Award semi-finalist nods, includ- ing one for Scott Howell at Nana’s for Best Chef Southeast.
But it’s not white tablecloth restaurants driving the scene here. Instead, it’s artisans committed to crafting their own to-die-for takes on simple culinary delights. Take Phoebe Lawless, owner of celebrated Scratch Bakery, who left fine-dining kitchens to create swoon- worthy pies. Durham is also home to the South’s best buzz, thanks to beverage makers Counter Culture Coffee, the acclaimed roaster that schools baristas across the country, and Fullsteam Brewery and Tavern, which uses locally sourced grains and native ingredients like sweet potatoes, figs, persimmons, and chestnuts to produce brews with a distinctly Southern flavor.
Story by Paula Disbrowe