It’s a blessing and a curse to be the special occasion spot, as birthdays and anniversaries come but once a year.
Durham’s farm-to-table pioneer Piedmont will get more casual in the new year, shifting somewhat away from fine dining, which has been its identity for nearly a decade, to more of a neighborhood restaurant.
Piedmont will close for a week after the new year and reopen Jan. 10 with a new, more playful menu that’s built around smaller plates and a few shareable entrees at lower price points.
Jamie DeMent, who owns Piedmont with her partner, Richard Holcomb, said dining in downtown Durham has changed significantly in the eight years they’ve owned the restaurant. She said they’ve watched the city grow younger, with residents going out more, but not necessarily to fine-dining spots.
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Along with that, apartment buildings have sprung up all around downtown Durham, with the Liberty Warehouse Apartments just a short stroll from Piedmont’s front step. Downtown Durham is more of a neighborhood, and DeMent said they want to gear Piedmont to be more of an everyday spot.
“We love being the go-to for the birthday or anniversary dinner, but being the fancy fine dining restaurant isn’t the best way to pay the bills,” DeMent said. “Relying on special occasions, it’s harder to make ends meet. We want to be the place you can go to a couple times a week.”
Piedmont chef John May, who grew up in Durham, said it once was OK to survive as the celebration restaurant. But demand forthat has waned as restaurants have brought fine dining attention to detail to more casual food. Plus, tastes have trended toward sharing, making a meal out of what is on the table, not just on the plate.
“We wanted to take ourselves a little less seriously and be a little more relaxed,” May said. “There’s not really as much clamor for special occasion now, which we really are kind of labeled as.”
There’s still a raw menu with oysters, crudo and tartare, but now a “snacks and bites” section with a charcuterie plate, a dish of pickled clams and crispy sweet potatoes and a biscuit plate with jams, butters and pickles.
Instead of treating vegetables as sides, Piedmont has a section of completely composed small dishes from the garden: cheese-crusted carrots with salsa verde; fried mushrooms with black garlic; a sweet potato roasted in embers and glazed with hoisin.
But there are some serious wild cards. Catfish corndogs and ducks in a blanket are exactly what they sound like, catfish fried like it’s at the fair and duck meat subbing in for a hot dog, wrapped in dough with fig mustard.
A neighborhood joint needs a burger, and Piedmont adds one with housemade American cheese, bacon and an onion roll. There’s also fried chicken, a bowl of grits with trout pastrami and a trio of pastas, all priced between $13-$15, or about half the cost of Piedmont’s current entrees.
There will also be a few dishes meant to be shared by the table: a whole roasted fish with fennel-spiked potato salad, a short rib with kimchi and a cabbage pancake.
On the drink side of things, there will be more wines by the glass, often lesser-known varieties or younger wine makers, meaning less expensive and more eclectic, May said. Piedmont had been serving only North Carolina beers, but May said they’ll cast a wider craft beer net, bringing in offerings from Grimm and Prairie breweries, and the cocktail menu will see more mixes with mezcal.
DeMent and Holcomb own Coon Rock Farm, which often supplies much of the produce and meat at Piedmont, where as much as 80 percent of the menu may come from within an hours drive of Durham.
May said the mission of Piedmont will remain, staying strictly local and seasonal, just the vibe will be more fun.
“We want it to be fun and upbeat and create a place that’s exciting any day of the week,” May said.
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson