Dishcrawl, Durham-style

Jul. 16, 2013 @ 11:52 AM

I’ve long been intrigued by the notion of a pub crawl. But I’m a shockingly cheap drunk. So after the first half of the first spirituous libation, I’d be dancing on top of the table, closely followed by napping underneath it.

Thus a pub crawl ain’t my bag.
But last week I went on the first Durham Dishcrawl. It’s a progressive dinner, but in local restaurants, instead of private homes. We went to four eateries in and around five points (downtown at the intersections of Main, Chapel Hill, and Morris streets).
Our group was quite large. There were 42 culinary pilgrims. The inaugural evening had sold out so quickly, a second event was held the night before. Our fearless leader Hayley Teater, and her boyfriend, Jay, split us into two, more manageable groups.
We congregated at Pop’s Restaurant (605 W. Main St.). Out on the patio, chef/owner Chris Stinnett greeted us and gave a quick Pops' history and philosophy tutorial before waiters began bringing out our grub.
We dined on lovely penne pasta dressed with a summer pesto and fresh tomatoes.  Chef also prepared a creamy, delicious risotto with shrimp and locally grown mushrooms.
The hit of the three dishes, and one of my new favorites, was a real puzzler. Chef Chris had made us an okra hash. It was yummy, unctuous, and spiked with spinach and fresh sweet summer corn. It normally includes bacon, but Chef said some people don’t like bacon (I’ve never met those people).  With a bit of cream added, every bite was rapturous.
The enigma though, is that the okra was breaded, fried and mixed into our bowls—but still crispy.  Frankly, I’m not too concerned about the hows of this magic trick, I just want more.
Our next stop was Taberna Tapas (325 W. Main St.). Each of us was presented with a rectangular plate bearing three items. A chicken and bacon croquette drizzled with a paprika aioli was enjoyed by all. A large crostini covered with chorizo sausage and avocado was perfectly balanced. But then came my second huge surprise of the night.
It was another crostini, with a schmear of goat cheese, and layered with smoked salmon. Being a fish-o-phobe, with a special and passionate dislike for the fatty orange fish, I cautiously approached it for my one polite nibble.
Then the miracle occurred. I enjoyed it. I took another bite to figure out why it wasn’t awful, and another one. By the last bite, I had given up the personal reflection, and was just eating for fun.
Honestly, I was so stunned by this turn of events, I almost fell off my chair.      
Our next sojourn had us at Revolution (107 W. Main St.). We’ve eaten there a few times, and always enjoy it. I especially love their venison carpaccio (Go raw red meat!). There we noshed on a trio of gourmet finger food.
The fourth and final stop was for dessert. Hayley decided to keep the destination under wraps until the last minute. Petey and I had discussed it earlier, and his guess was The Cupcake Bar (101 E. Chapel Hill St.). Being in an ice cream state of mind, my prediction/hope was The Parlour (117 Market St.), just across from the bronze Durham bull.
I won.
I was worried, because days earlier, longing for a visit, I’d gone to their website and noticed that in addition to the famous salted butter caramel, they had blueberry buttermilk; the flavor of my fave Locopop.  I was afraid of dithering over my choice until the sun came up.  Luckily they’d made my decision for me, and we were soon all devouring creamy blueberry buttermilk, topped with honeysuckle whipped cream speckled with fresh blueberries.
I asked for, and was graciously given a taste of the caramel version. There is a very good reason why that exquisite flavor is being talked about all over town. Scrumptious.    
I arrived home satisfied, but not too stuffed, because we were able to walk off each course before the next one. You can find out more about the Dishcrawl at http://dishcrawl.com/durhamnc/.

It was very cute, like a new mom, Hayley was quite concerned that we’d enjoyed ourselves.

Hayley can relax. She did good.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is momsequitor@gmail.com.