Day 76–A Locavore’s Lunch–Crema on Fayetteville Street

When it comes to food, you really can’t tell a book (or a restaurant) by its cover. I’ve been to some trendy “local” restaurants where it was clear that they spent more time picking the font for the logo than testing the menu. Conversely, I’ve been to some wonderful places that, from the outside, didn’t have a lot of spark, but actually had satisfying, fresh food. Crema in downtown Raleigh, is like that. Good food, but it’s easy to miss. Glad I remembered it yesterday when I was running low on energy and didn’t have any leftovers to bring for lunch.

Crema is on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh, just a 1/2 block south of the Capitol. It’s main claim to fame is homemade ice cream, which in the summer is actually hard to find downtown. I’m not ready for all that, although the temperature was 85 degrees yesterday afternoon. I was looking for a fresh and light lunch, so I entered the easily passable storefront and I was in for a wonderful surprise. Crema purchases much of their ingredients locally and they make almost everything from scratch.

In the end, I took my marinated tomato and brie sandwich with cucumber salad to the grounds of the Capitol for a picnic lunch. At $4.99, it was a genuine bargain for a downtown lunch. The sandwich was so good, I need to remember to make it at home, where olive oil dribbling down my chin is a little more accepted. The sandwich was just sliced tomatoes marinated in a vinaigrette, with slices of brie cheese and field greens on a warm baguette. Easy and more interesting than the standard sandwich–so why don’t I ever do this?

Crema is open 6 days a week, so if you are looking for the elusive downtown Saturday lunch spot, give them a try!

Day 62–A Locavore’s Lunch–The Busy Bee

The Busy Bee is located in what was the Busy Bee Cafe in the 1920s.

I have to say that lately, I’ve had such great lunches from home that I haven’t been eating out for lunch much (good for my health and my wallet!). But when I do get lunch out, I typically frequent one of our many downtown lunch spots that serve local food. The Busy Bee on Wilmington Street (www.busybeeraleigh.com) is one of my all time favorites. They were, in fact, the catalyst for my new love of the fish taco!

Located in a former cafe of the same name, the Busy Bee features fresh, local, organic produce and NC sourced seafood. Their beef apparently comes from a distributer (according to my server), but much of the rest of the menu comes from local and/or sustainable sources. My favorites are the fish tacos and the spinach and artichoke burger (a hand-made veggie burger with spinach, artichoke and feta). Their sides are also wonderful. If you are a mac & cheese lover, get thee to the Busy Bee! Lighter than many mac & cheese dishes, it is very flavorful and filling. I usually go the unhealthy route on the sides with either the mac & cheese, tater tots (seriously–so good) or the fried green tomatoes.

I’ve also gone to the Busy Bee for staff happy hour, and the place has a terrific vibe in the evening. If you like beer, they have a pretty incredible selection of artisanal brews. If you don’t like beer, I can vouch for the Queen Bee martini with local honey and elderflower (a note: I do not sample adult beverages at lunch. Not that I haven’t been tempted, but still…).

If you’re in the Triangle looking for wonderful, fresh, locally sourced food, give the Busy Bee a try! And if you’re not local, check out their menu for some great flavorful inspirations that you might try at home!

Day 42–A Locavore’s Lunch–Market Restaurant

The Market Restaurant provides fresh, organic, locally produced food!

I work with some really awesome people who, thankfully for me, seem to “get” me. For my birthday, they gave me a generous gift card to a restaurant in Raleigh called Market. Market serves primarily locally grown, seasonal food and locally produced, pasture-raised, pasture-fed meat. How did I not know about this place??? So on my birthday yesterday, my husband and I walked to lunch at Market and enjoyed a very healthy and delicious lunch!

Market is located in Raleigh on the north end of Blount Street (for you Raleigh natives, it’s down near the Pilot Mill Building, where Halifax Court used to be). In a converted service station, Market is on the small side, with about 15 tables inside and a few more on the patio. Lunch begins at 11:30 and when we arrived at 11:20, there were already people waiting to get in. By the time we left at about 12:15, it was full, so get there early! They also serve dinner and sometimes Sunday brunch.

The menu clearly articulates the mission statement of Market and lists their local producers (yay!!). Was glad to see our favorite Mae Farm listed! Since Fridays feature $5 Friday specials, we both had the specials and I had a house salad, which was very fresh and probably the best salad I’ve had in a while. I had the vegan 3 bean chili special, which was a thick, spicy chili served over jasmine rice. On a chilly winter day, it was perfect. My husband had the pulled pork sandwich with apple/cabbage slaw and he really liked it, although he didn’t like the pickled onions served on the sandwich (easy fix, scrape them off and move on). Other specials included rockfish tacos and risotto with mushrooms and squash. Other entrees included fried duck salad and a variation of pupusas.

When we left, we felt full, but not stuffed, which was nice. The portions are satisfying, but not overly huge. Would love to try their brunch sometime. The staff regularly post specials and events to their Facebook page and Twitter, so it’s easy to keep up with the menu.

I hope Market is just the beginning of socially conscious dining in Raleigh. They certainly prove that you can be organic, sustainable and local and still have really yummy food!

Day 26–A Locavore’s Lunch–Big Ed’s

Honey

Honey. If you are the kind of woman who hates being called “Honey” then by all means do not eat at Big Ed’s in Raleigh. Big Ed’s is one of those wonderful restaurants that has become an institution in and of itself, serving up large plates of locally grown vegetables and blue plate specials of NC pork, catfish and chicken pastry. And the waitresses WILL call you “Honey.” Or Sweetie.
Or Sugar. My advice? If you’re averse to such nicknames, suck it up and deal with it. Why? Because it’s meant in the nicest way possible (not in that creepy, condescending way that salesmen and politicians use), the service is amazing and friendly and the food is really good. Gut busting good. Paula Deen needs to come down here and learn herself a few things (and that, I promise, is my last Paula Deen reference).

Southern, homestyle food is not coated in sticks of butter, fried to within an inch of its life and drown in sugar, no matter what celebrity chefs say. True southern cooking is has its roots in necessity, practicality and, in some cases, poverty. Most southern cooking depends on lots and lots of vegetables. Why? Because in our agricultural state, vegetables were more plentiful and affordable than meat. Meat is more often used as a seasoning, stretching out what folks had for as long as possible. And people ate seasonally because, well, you ate what you had. Even desserts rely mostly on local, seasonal fruit (the exception is banana pudding, but that is sacred territory).

If you want to taste true southern, homestyle cooking and you can’t go to your mama’s house, Big Ed’s is a great place to try. All the vegetables at Big Ed’s are purchased from the State Farmer’s Market a mile or so down the road, so the vegetable selection is not only local, but seasonal (don’t ask for strawberries in January). The pork and most other meats are sourced to NC as well. When I asked about the vegetables, the cashier looked nostalgic and said, “Sam even grows some of the vegetables in his own garden. Oh, you should taste those green beans. We sell out fast on those days.” She had such a happy look on her face that I made a note to definitely COME BACK in green bean season. And at $6-$7 dollars for a plate (meat, two vegetables, biscuits, drink and dessert), this is locally sourced food at an affordable price.

My lunch was delicious pulled pork barbecue (NC pork), collard greens, black-eyed peas, biscuit, fresh cabbage slaw and a piece of yummy sweet potato cake. You can also get breakfasts made with local pork sausage and local farm eggs. Or pancakes as big as your head (and I am not kidding).

I’m glad that my town celebrates local eating and locally sourced food both on the high-end and at the homestyle end of the eating spectrum. Because after all, locally sourced food should be available to everyone, honey.

Day 21–Changing Diets, Changing Bodies

Caffeine

Three weeks into our journey, we’re taking time to assess how our dietary changes have influenced our bodies. We’ve already seen several benefits from our reduced caffeine and soda intake.

My husband says he feels great and has added both speed and distance to his daily runs on the treadmill. He doesn’t miss diet soda like he thought he might and he’s doing really well without coffee. So far, he also likes the different meals we’ve been cooking and really liked trying his hand at pizza making last week!

My seemingly chronic insomnia has abated and I’m sleeping better than I have in a long time. I can’t tell you how awesome that is. I’m even dreaming, which I don’t remember doing for months. I had attributed my sleeping problems (I could fall asleep, but not stay asleep) with pre menapause, but clearly, caffeine had a major role in that problem. I don’t miss diet soda either and drinking more water has definitely helped me feel more energized during the day. Either that or I just have to take more bathroom breaks and that’s making me get up from my desk 🙂

Our pre-teen weighed in with her opinions of the change. She feels like she has more energy and she said she feels happier with fewer mood swings during the day. With the exception of the bison chili we made, she has enjoyed everything we’ve been eating so far and really liked our pizza challenge.

The only challenge I’ve had so far has been a small weight gain, which seems to be reversing itself nicely. I think it’s taken my body a while to adjust to “real” food during the day instead of Lean Cuisine and Diet Coke. Since I’m still going to the gym and working out regularly, I’m not concerned about this, but it was a surprise at first.

All in all at week 3, we are happy with the changes we have made and all three of us see positive benefits. So, onward we go!

Day 18–A Locavore’s Lunch–The Remedy Diner

20120117-130845.jpg

I try to be a good friend, but most of the time I feel like I fall short of the kind of friend I would like to be. You know, the one who always has a warm bundt cake or soothing casserole ready for a friend in need, or a fresh pot of chicken soup for someone who is sick. Or someone who just remembers to call.  I fall pretty short of all of those bars. So, on those occasions when I can reconnect with a friend over lunch, I savor every moment of time spent talking about children, relationships and kindhearted gossip. And I should savor every moment, because friends are good for us. Friends boost our immune systems, they increase our endorphin levels and relieve stress. They are the remedy for many of life’s ills.

So it was fitting that lunch with a friend was at the locavore-friendly Remedy Diner in downtown Raleigh. The Remedy has a good selection of vegetarian and vegan entrees as well as traditional sandwiches and salads that feature dairy and/or meat. They strive to use local foods “whenever possible” and make all foods from scratch. I had the turkey reuben, which was actually not a heavy sandwich  and featured plenty of good-for-you sauerkraut. I had a side of red cabbage slaw, which was also very light and healthy.

Food as Remedy?

During our lunch, we talked about how the folks we know having severe health problems are no longer parents of our friends, but they are now our own friends. How we reached this age, I have no idea. Weren’t we 20 just yesterday?

We shared stories of two very wonderful people in our lives who have struggled mightily with cancer. We were also astonished that both of these women, after completely changing their diets to organic whole foods, no GMOs, no processed foods, little meat or gluten, have been able to dramatically alter the progression of their diseases without palliative chemotherapy. Now, I am not a doctor and am not advocating that cancer patients disregard their oncologist’s advice. Both of these women were terminally ill (and still are, for that matter) and given very little time to live. But still, the impact that dietary change has had on their overall health and their bodies’ ability to deal with the disease is truly amazing. I wish I could say that their cancers disappeared completely, but that isn’t true. They have gained stamina, energy, and boosted immune systems, making the time they have left more enjoyable and, hopefully, longer. I can’t help but think–if this way of eating can improve the lives of people who are so ill, what can it do for the rest of us who are not ill? And good lord, what does it say about what processed foods are doing to our bodies???

Food as remedy. The stories of these two wonderful women are sustaining me through this journey. And I hope they will sustain you as well.

Day 10–A Locavore’s Lunch–Beasley’s Chicken + Honey

 

I woke up thinking today is Friday. It is Tuesday. Is it me or do other people do that, too? Sometimes, when the week stretches in front of you like a yawning chasm of time, there is a remedy. It’s called the Girls Lunch Out.

So, in the interest of self-preservation and blog research, we headed out to one of Raleigh’s newer, trendy lunch spots, Beasley’s Chicken  + Honey. Using all sustainable and many locally produced ingredients, Beasley’s serves fried chicken drizzled with local honey, locally produced veggie sides and desserts.

Beasley's Chicken + Honey uses local and sustainable foods for its menu

Beasley’s chicken is sustainably raised with no growth hormones or antibiotics. Although it sources from Georgia (why???), we like that it still meets our sustainable criteria. The vegetables (and there are many) source from primarily NC, although our server couldn’t give us any detail.

My 11-year-old companion (not yet tracked in at school) had the fried chicken biscuit, a fried chicken cutlet on a HUGE biscuit with pickled green tomatoes and a honey Dijon sauce. She had NC sweet potatoes on the side. “It was the perfect combination of flavors.” She finished about half, so she has lunch for tomorrow, too.

Chicken quarter (dark) and Ashe Co. pimento mac & cheese. Oh my.

I had the quarter chicken (dark), which came drizzled with honey and was very juicy and delicious. I had the Ashe County pimento mac & cheese for a side and that was better than the chicken. I took about half of my lunch home, too. I just can’t pack away fried chicken like I used to (and this is probably a good thing).

The service was good and we liked the industrial chic decor. At $25.00 for both of us, it was pricey, but it helps that we will each get 2 meals out of our lunch. And with fried chicken and mac & cheese, this isn’t a regular lunch spot for health reasons. Good to know that downtown Raleigh has delish sustainable/local fare!

Still wish today were Friday, but now I can face the week again!