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 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.