Parker and Otis
A strange and wonderful coffee shop – restaurant – gift shop (details here), located in historic Brightleaf District at 112 S Duke St., Parker and Otis is a one-stop happy place where you can grab a espresso, breakfast or lunch, chocolate, candy, books, cookware, specialty beer, wine, toys for kids, gifts for friends & yourself.
Locals were thrilled when Parker and Otis’ reopened in February, 2013 after repairs and remodeling to fix damage from a December, 2012 fire.
PIC and I got there early for breakfast and a look-see. P&O passed our latte test with flying colors. And although breakfast offerings are fairly basic, they’re made with fresh ingredients and are portioned and presented nicely.
Breakfast at a window table, served on colorful Fiestaware is a great way to start the day.
Right outside the back of the shop, by the coffee counter, is a large multi-layer deck. Be sure to check out the artwork that passes as railings.
Reading about Brightleaf Square’s history here will also give you background on the district.
Warning: You may find yourself spending more time at Parker and Otis than planned.
When there’s a public cry for “more!”, places like Scratch happen. Owner/Pastry Chef Phoebe Lawless went from home production, to borrowed commercial kitchen, to her own shop in 2010, due to demand – plain and simple. And like folks in Durham, you’ll find her pastries are simple, but in no way what you’d call plain.
Chef Phoebe and her staff at Scratch are busier than ever. The best way to keep up with what’s going on is by Liking their Facebook Page. This is where they post pictures of their Breakfast/Lunch/Brunch chalk board menus for the day. I’m not sure whether they keep the same menu for a few days or are too busy to post the photos every day, but you’ll get a good idea of what to expect by looking at a few shots.
Scratch is also considered their neighborhood coffee shop by many locals, seating somewhere around 20 comfortably. Staff know the regulars and, obvious to both PIC and myself, have a passion for the shop and its mission.
Their coffee lineup and seasonal, daily menus are posted on chalk boards. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of their espresso drinks. Staff understood the machine and pulled fine shots for us.
A closer look at that enticing sweet and savory countertop:
And here’s what their cold case looked like that day. Salads and sweets.
Sam Poley and Heather Darnell, of the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau, had let Chef Lawless know we were coming. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to be there, but she left plates of samples for us. The variety, and more importantly, the quantity was a (happy) shock. Sharing, tasting, comparing and note-taking began as we settled in with our laptops, taking advantage of outlets and free Wi-Fi.
Chef Phoebe is well known for her Crostatas (rustic tarts). And for good reason. Simple, but delicious crusts cradle seasonal savory and sweet fillings. Yes, the muffin was good, tasting just like a donut, but the crostatas . . . sigh. If you are a Scratch newbie, start with a crostata.
Crusts are made with flour, salt, a little sugar, and butter (unless something’s changed – unsalted Cabot). Lawless has been quoted as saying, “I use good old American butter”. What you’ll get with that recipe is a substantial crust with some air pockets left by melting butter – meaning it will hold its filling without leakage and have a good, crisp-chewy bite. These are perfect “hand pies” and travel well.
Another Lawless trademark is depth/intensity of flavor. Take the two pies below, especially the Shaker Lemon Pie.
Plate 2: (left to right) 1. Shaker Lemon Pie; 2. Chocolate Chess Pie
Staff frequently advise customers about the intense lemon flavor of the Shaker Lemon Pie, saying things like, “it’s not like lemon meringue pie, just so you’re aware.” They’re right. Biting into Lawless’ version is like biting into an actual lemon – tangy more than sweet. As with the traditional Shaker Lemon Pie recipe, Chef uses the whole lemon, peel and all. But – she macerates them two to three times longer.
Chess Pie has a long history in the South. Traditionally made without the variety of flavorings seen today, like this delicious chocolate version, it was sometimes called a Vinegar Pie.
“Chess Pie is a very old Southern pie, made with ingredients any farm cook would have on hand – eggs, sugar, butter, cream, a bit of flour or cornmeal for thickening.”
~ The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock
For a little more Chess Pie history and recipes, here’s Southern Living’s take.
Plate 3: Buttermilk Sugar Pie
Another traditional Southern pie, unfamiliar to most current-day Southerners, is Buttermilk Sugar Pie. It’s also made with basic ingredients. Lawless adds vanilla bean, and I’ve heard but not verified, uses brown sugar rather than white. Best eaten at room temperature, macerated seasonal fruit can notch it up.
I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of this pie and was just a little hesitant until . . . that first bite. Fabulous! I understand it’s a Scratch favorite, and for good reason. It’s a “must have” when you go. Think of it as tasting a delicious bit of Southern history.
When you’re finished with your Scratch-made meal, coffee, or treat, buss your table. The station’s to the left at the rear of the shop.
Epicurean Notes: Chef Lawless was named a 2013 James Beard Semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef. And, feather in Durham’s cap, three other local chefs were named 2013 Semifinalists: Matt Kelly’s Mateo Tapas for Best New Restaurant, Sean Lilly Wilson of Fullsteam for Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional, ad Nana’s Scott Howell for Best Chef, Southeast.
Mateo Bar de Tapas
It was wonderful – probably the best dinner we’ve had in Durham – but our evening at Mateo was not ideal for a review so I’ve been putting it off. Our table was overflowing with tapas, drinks and plates, my camera, note pad and pen were in my purse on the floor – a long reach from my perch on the backless, jacket draped, high-top stool.
We arrived early to avoid the rush. See how that worked out in the photo below. We were asked to move toward the back of the restaurant to wait for our reserved table to open up. It got more crowded as we waited. Apparently, crowds three deep at the bar are not uncommon.
Words like hip, casual, and romantic come to mind when describing this Mateo. Large Edison lights strung above the bar create an almost vintage feel along with the tin ceiling. Owner/Chef Matt Kelly has described Mateo as having a Spanish heart and a Southern soul. Authentic Spanish and Southern dining aren’t all that different when you consider warm dispositions and love of comfort food at the heart of both cultures.
Johanna Kramer (Durham Foodie) and her husband, joined us for dinner. Well, they joined us in the back of the restaurant, waiting for our dinner table. They ordered glasses of wine and beer (respectively) from the bar. Just as they got their drinks our table was ready.
Evening specials were on a board as well as recited by our server table-side. Remembering the first few by the time the last were rattled off was a challenge, so the board was helpful.
Tapas are perfect for sharing, and that’s just what we did. We each chose something to order for the first round. I say “first round” because once you begin a meal like this, it progresses at a pace determined by appetite and conversation. Tapas arrive as they’re prepared, beginning the evening’s “flow”.
Among the four of us, we chose three of the evening’s specials:
- Roasted Bone Marrow with short rib marmalade, clementine, radish & toast. A dish not widely available designed to linger over and savor. Kelly’s rendition was lovely and plenty for four.
- Chicken Pot Pie Empanada with gravy and pea shoots. One person ate most of this, but we each had an approving taste or two.
- Bacalao & Calasparra Rice Fritters with a citrus aioli (pictured below). Crispy fried fritters filled with a mild cod/rice mix. Perfect flavor match with the citrus aioli.
If memory serves, this is Ensalada de Manzana y Manchego made with Bibb lettuce, apple, almonds, manchego, orange, sherry and membrillo vinaigretta. This worked well as a counterpoint to some of the heavier tapas.
This is where I begin to feel like a “hack”, posting photos of unnamed tapas. They were fabulous, and not a drop remained in either bowl, but by this point we had descended into convivial tap-oblivion.
Our server had excellent timing, refilling glasses, retrieving empty plates, bringing more to fill the gap.
Mateo, I’m coming back and promise to take better notes and photos!
- If I had to choose one word to describe Mateo, it would be “gusto”. They serve hearty, richly seasoned traditional Spanish tapas.
- Mateo has one of the largest Sherry menus in the United States
- Hooks under high tops for light jackets and purses would be nice.
Mateo Bar de Tapas
109 W Chapel Hill St
Durham, NC 27701