This week I am in Raleigh, NC on business. At the car rental company I asked the two attendants at the desk, “If there’s one place I need to eat while I’m here what is it?” They looked at each other, nodded knowingly, and looked at me and said, “Is there any way you can stay for two nights?”
They both insisted I needed to visit a BBQ spot called “The Pit”. One of the guys looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, it’s real casual.” as if I might have mistaken a place called the Pit as a white tablecloth restaurant!
They both agreed, however, that if I only had one night (I do have two btw) that I should visit Poole’s Diner.
The chef and owner of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh is Ashley Christensen, a 35 year old woman who now owns a self-built restaurant empire in Raleigh, appeared on Iron Chef America against Bobby Flay and wears a tatoo that says, “Life is rich and full”! I love this woman already!!
I arrived in Raleigh this afternoon by Amtrak (a story for another time) and it is my first time visiting the capital of North Carolina. I checked into the Sheraton and was beginning to feel like I was the only person here until around 8;00 when I walked a couple blocks to Poole’s and discovered a bustling lively scene!
The atmosphere is that of an upscale diner, darker than any diner, but with many counter seats and only a few tables. It is very unassuming from the front without so much as a sign. The menus are written in hand on chalkboards that you really cannot see from your seat–at least at my age.
The walk from my seat to the chalkboard was well worth it. There were three chalkboards alone for just alcohol! They had an extensive wine selection and the servers were quite knowledgable. The beer was a quality selection if mostly in bottles, but the cocktails were all southern charmers. There was bourbon, bourbon and bourbon.
I was immediately taken in by a cocktail called the “Gardens & Guns” and for some reason it was like an intimate visit with an old friend!
The food was spectacular! I was sitting at the counter and barely had to ask the people to my left and right for advice. One told me to try the Carpaccio of Beef Tenderloin which I would ordinarily enjoy but this didn’t seem like the place for it. To my left, a woman visiting from South Carolina, a Cisco Sales Rep (the company I was visiting the next day) told me I was in the south and I needed to have the Fried Okra and the Shrimp & Pork Shoulder Sausage with Red Peas.
She was so authoritative I confidently ordered exactly that! Boy was she right! Thank you Milbre & Jenny! The okra was perfect! If you’re going to indulge in fried food, this is the way it should be done. Whole okra is split lengthwise, battered and fried. It’s served with a corn relish and a pitcher of hot sauce and I scarfed up every bite.
As I waited for my entrée, I noticed numerous people with a huge bowl of something in front of them. When I say huge, I mean whatever it was looked like a lot of food for two people and it was their signature Macaroni & Cheese! These folks must have known something I didn’t, but I had already eaten a plate of fried okra.
The shrimp and pork sausage was fantastic. It had rice that just tasted southern. There was a nutty flavor to it, and the peas were perfect. The people were friendly and the server asked, when he brought my bill, what’s your hurry? We’re open till 1:00!”
There were numerous things on the menu I would return to try, but now I am curious to try another of Ashley Christensen’s restaurants…and I have to also try the Pit!