It began innocently enough: dinner had been arranged for myself and Jennifer Noble Kelly at Durham’s Piedmont restaurant after the TASTE Opening Cocktail & Hors D’Oeuvres Reception at TOPO Distillery in Chapel Hill.
The reception turned into an old-home kind of thing with a bunch of friends I hadn’t seen in ages, two of whom joined us for dinner. That made four: Jennifer (Jennifer Noble Kelly Public Relations), Jill Warren Lucas (Eating My Words), and Colleen Minton (TerraVITA Food & Wine Event), and myself.
It’s hard to be inconspicuous with those three, each of whom are well known in the Carolina food world.
I talked with Piedmont’s Executive Chef, Ben Adams, for quite a while during the reception, so knew he wasn’t going to be be at the restaurant that night. Instead, we were treated like royalty by General Manager, Crawford Leavoy.
A few things before talking about the amazing food and drink we experienced at Piedmont. First, everywhere I went in the Durham area, people would tell me, “I keep getting asked if I’ve been to Piedmont lately? Everyone’s raving about how good it is under Adam’s and Leavoy’s care, saying if you haven’t been lately, you need to go.” Second, this was an epic gastronomic experience requiring an epic number of photos. Get yourself a snack, drink, or both. Make yourself comfortable, and enjoy.
Crawford also happens to be an exceptional Sommelier and Mixologist. He shared three of their most popular cocktails with three of us while we waited for the fourth.
Jennifer is a Negroni lover and worried about non-standard ingredients. She needn’t have worried. We all loved it, including Jennifer.
Jill happens to like Rye, so the 95 sq. miles was right up her alley.
The Bee’s Knees was light and refreshing without any one flavor overpowering another.
Cocktails run between $9 and $12, averaging $10. They have a local beer selection, quite a few liquors and an impressive wine list. Bring your specs for the wine list.
Before I get into the prodigious tastes offered us this evening, I want to mention Piedmont’s tag line: “inspired food”. Really, it could be read a couple ways – “Piedmont, inspired food”, or “Piedmont inspired food”. Owned by the same folks that own Coon Rock Farm, Piedmont sources as locally as possible, beginning with Coon Rock.
We were all pretty hungry and our fourth was taking longer than expected, so we ordered a couple appetizers to share, saving some of each for her.
Smoked Carolina Trout Dip (Sunburst Trout Farms), made with horseradish and served with house-made lavash was up first. Delicious. The lavash was delicate, but firm enough to hold dip, which was flavored with just the right amount of horseradish.
Root Down Farm’s lettuces mixed with spiced pecans, strawberries, Great Hill Dairy Blue, before a light toss in date vinaigrette was the perfect compliment to the trout dip. Yes, those lettuces were fresh!
This is when Crawford stepped in, saying there were a few more dishes he wanted us to try. Here’s one I would have ordered myself: Roasted Beets with Granny Smith apple, fire-roasted onion, pickled daikon, and fresh Goat Lady Dairy Chevre mixed with mint-shallot vinaigrette. Between the apples and beets there was a nice mix of sweet and tart, mellowed by the Chevre.
Crawford came to the table with glasses of Chardonnay (Jean-Claude Thévenet & Fils, Blanc de Blancs, Brut, Máconnais, Burgandy, France, NV), saying “soup and sparkling” is the way to go. Right behind him was our server with a lovely bowl of Chilled Cucumber Vichyssoise. This, my friends was a most fabulous dish, full of amazing flavors. I’d say it was one of the evening’s standouts.
Those aren’t just Littleneck clams, those are pickled Littleneck clams, mixed with Coon Rock Farm’s shaved radish, fennel, and horseradish. Hopefully it’ll be on the menu for a long time because you definitely need to try this. And yes, it went perfectly with the sparkling Chardonnay.
Take a look at these beautiful Fried Rappahannock Oysters. Under that buttermilk-dressed frisée are oysters sprinkled with pickled shallots and olive crumble, on top of luscious duck liver parfait. So good!
Crawford paired the oysters perfectly with a lovely Dry Rose of Pinot Noir (Dr. Konstantin Frank, Finger Lakes, New York, 2013).
Not especially photogenic, but pretty tasty, Chapel Hill Creamery “Calvander” Risotto, made with stinging nettle pistou, spring ramps, green garlic, Woodfruit mushrooms, kale, and lemon. If I’m not mistaken, the ramps and mushrooms were both foraged locally. The thought of preparing and eating stinging nettles intrigued me. Crawford filled us in on proper preparation. No help needed with eating.
Another standout was this Pan-Seared Carolina Red Snapper. Portioned perfectly for one, the four of us devoured it. What caught all our attention was the play between the perfectly cooked snapper, brown butter Root Down Farm’s carrots, and fennel-parsley slaw. You might think that’s mashed potatoes next to the snapper. Piedmont takes it up a notch, serving silky, buttery Robuchon potato purée instead. The surprise of the evening was the mouthwatering carrot butter sauce. Not a drop was left!
Why do little packages of love, aka ravioli always call to me? Melina’s Handmade Sweet Pea and Mint Ravioli in just the right amount of sauce, topped with braised lamb neck, Four Leaf Farm’s pea tendrils, spiced pecan crumble, and Chapel Hill Creamery Calavander were no exception.
Oh, that lamb was so tender and flavorful. I tend to like a little “crunch”, so was happy with the spiced pecan crumble. And what a creative way to incorporate the classic lamb and mint combo!
At this point, we took a turn toward poultry: Roasted Springer Mountain Farm’s Chicken. Tender, juicy chicken served with roasted cauliflower, Carolina Gold rice, Anson Mills’ benne seed, and braised pine nuts with “marbella” jus. I’d put this dish in the “comfort food” category. Chicken, grains, smokey-roasted cauliflower and a gravy of sorts. Can’t go wrong with this one.
If you’re a fan of duck, this Maple Leaf Farm’s Crispy Duck Leg Confit is for you! The photo makes the dish look like a “mess of something”, and it is. It’s a mess of scrumptious: Duck done right with Melina’s ricotta gnocchi, Uncle Henry Farm’s collards, braised cipollini, roasted Root Down Farm’s radish & turnips. Really. You need to try this.
The other white meat. Piedmont presents their Whitman Farm’s Pork Chop smoked. Tender and juicy, the chop’s served with an Anson Mills’ grit cake, sautéed Italian chard, Cottle Farm’s asparagus, green garlic, and fresh ramps in a red eye jus. Nothing less than delicious.
Another standout – Grass-fed Cox Farm’s Coulotte with Triple J Farm’s sweet potatoes & smoked bacon hash, roasted brussel sprouts, and black garlic. OMGosh this was good! I’ve got to say the coulotte (aka top sirloin) was just as good as it could be – and I’m a known steak-lover. But that hash . . . over the top fantastic! It’s one of those things that when you take a bite, you’re eyes widen in surprise at the taste.
Another perfect pairing that went well with all four entrées above: 2012 Jean-Paul Brun “Terres Dorees,” Gamay; Cote de Brouilly, Cru Beaujolais, France. It’s available by the bottle – perfect to share.
Our eyes rolled back in our heads at the suggestion of dessert. But what the heck, we were in too far at this point to turn back. Thank goodness we said yes, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known about this Rhubarb Tart. Can you imagine the time it takes to place those strips of rhubarb concentrically in the many almond frangipane tarts they make? It’s served with house-made brown butter ice cream topped with maple-almond crumble. Delicious, of course.
And finally, there’s no way to go wrong with Dark Chocolate & Hazelnut Torte served with house-made espresso ice cream and toffee crunch. Finishing dinner off with espresso is always a good choice, right?
Did I say finally? Crawford had one more treat in store for us: R.L. Buller Fine Muscat from the dessert wine menu. Be sure to turn the dessert menu over so you don’t miss the fine selection of after dinner drinks. If you’re a Madeira fan, you’ll love this Muscat.
Every dish we had was on Piedmont’s regular menu. They do change the menu according to what’s in season and available locally, so it could change by the time you go. Trust me when I say you are safe ordering anything they put on the menu.
Some back story:
Haven’t been to Piedmont restaurant since Adams and Leavoy took over? Read about the $20,000+ kitchen makeover overseen by Adams, which included installation of “the kind of equipment generally found in the kitchens of five-star restaurants”.
- Crawford Leavoy is a pretty interesting guy. He explained that one way he finds balance in his life is by coaching a local high school debate team.
- Entrees run in the low to mid $20’s, averaging about $23
- Parking in the evenings is free and plentiful in lots across the street from Piedmont.
If you haven’t been to Piedmont lately, or not at all, go now.
401 Foster St
Durham, NC 27701