Monday, May 26, 2008
- by Robert J. Nebel
It was getting late on a Saturday night and we were getting hungry during our recent visit to Durham, N.C. Since my wife was in search of authentic Tar Heel barbeque, we asked some locals where we could find good “’cue.” We were pointed in the direction of Hog Heaven Bar-B-Q, a Durham culinary institution.
I went for their legendary Chicken and Dumplings. My wife had the Bar-B-Q plate while my nine-year-old daughter, Caitlin, requested the usual: Macaroni and Cheese with French Fries. Within minutes, our orders arrived and we were truly in “Hog Heaven.” During dinner, I discovered that Tar Heel residents and visitors alike have been enjoying this original hand-chopped fresh ’cue for years. Hog Heaven was the start of our Eastern North Carolina adventure.
After we finished Hog Heaven’s entrees, hush puppies and banana pudding, we called it a night and drove to our hotel, the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club on the campus of Duke University. The Washington Duke is filled with 271 guest rooms and suites. From the moment you arrive under its canopy, bellhops converge on your car and quickly load your luggage on their carts. As we approached the Duke’s front desk, we were greeted by the professionals on the property’s staff who assisted us to our well-appointed room. The family-friendly unit provided us with top-notch amenities and a sweeping view of the property’s golf course. After a night of peaceful slumber, Caitlin tugged at me to go for a swim in the Duke’s indoor pool. The long trek from our room to the pool, gave me time to appreciate the inn’s decorated corridors that feature vivid paintings of the Duke family for which the inn is named. By the time we got to the pool, I was ready to relax in its perfectly heated pool and hot tub.
Delectable dining in Durham
When we were in search of a place for brunch, we looked no further than the inn’s concierge. He pointed us to Elmo’s Diner in downtown Durham. On any given weekend, this bustling institution is filled with students, parents, locals and curious visitors like me. The wait staff seriously hustles among the crowds to deliver mouth-watering offerings from Huevo Rancheros to Salmon Cake and Eggs.
At the end of our meal, we were satisfied yet sad the experience was over. Our waitress gave us directions to some of Durham’s historical points of interest including the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the Duke University Chapel. We were awestruck by this chapel’s beauty with its detailed architecture and stained-glass windows.
Nothing to ‘fear’ at Fearrington Village
With the Duke University Chapel in my rearview mirror, we were driving on U.S. Highway 15-501 in search of tranquility. We found it at Fearrington Village, a community of shops and services that operates on a farm that dates back to the 1700s. When entering this sprawling property, we were greeted with belted cows, goats and donkeys. “There’s a farm and shops. How could we stay here for the night?” I queried. That worry was quelled when I found the front desk to The Fearrington House Country Inn. Filled with a European charm, I was impressed with each of its rooms as Marketing Manager Phoebe Fox gave us a tour of the property that is festooned with scores of flowers and well-manicured shrubbery.
Since the Fearrington House is geared for couples, Caitlin felt like a “third wheel” on this portion of the trip. But, the staff was great as they provided board games for her in their inviting sunrooms where afternoon tea was held. The sunrooms were special to me. In the mornings, I took my copy of The New York Times and relaxed on one of the couches.
Phoebe Fox’s husband, Chef Graham Fox, is The Fearrington House’s talented Executive Chef. During our stay, Fox tantalized us with his exquisite dinners and breakfasts. Chef Graham serves the freshest ingredients in his dishes such as, Celebrity Farms Goat Cheese with Red Beet Salad, Dried Figs and Pickled Walnuts.
Without a doubt, Fearrington Village is a great romantic getaway or a quick escape.
‘Sideways’ in Tar Heel Country
After leaving Fearrington Village, I decided to scout out some great places for wine. The business owners in the town of nearby Pittsboro, pointed me in the direction of the Silk Hope Winery in rural Chatham County. With a little bit of luck and driving skill, I found the winery on a winding road Silkhope-Gum Springs Road. My Toyota Matrix climbed the steep gravel drive leading to owner Wally Butler’s “paradise.” Butler, who found his calling after serving in the U.S. Forestry Service for several years, toured me around the grounds. He eagerly sho wed me how he cultivates the Tar Heel soil and keeps it disease-free.
Once the outdoor tour concluded, Butler escorted me, my wife and Caitlin into his cask room where we sampled Butler’s treasure trove of Chamborucin, Vidal Blanc, Traminette and Cabernet Franc. Oh yes, Caitlin was offered a glass of root beer.
In the city
Our destination after the winery was the Marbles Kids Museum in downtown Raleigh. Caitlin loved this museum that is filled with scores of hands-on, interactive exhibits that set her imagination reeling. Marbles worked up an appetite for all of us. We headed across the city’s park to Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant where we had some great Southern cooking.
Our last stop before heading homeward was the Umstead Hotel and Spa in nearby Cary. Filled with 123 modern European guest rooms and 27 suites, the Umstead is the ultimate lodging experience. In addition to its marbled bathrooms and wireless Internet, the latest gaming devices are also offered and Caitlin tried out the Umstead’s Wii. The Umstead features a restaurant, world-class spa and brilliant artwork throughout the property. Since it’s located in a preserved state park, the Umstead is surrounded by natural beauty.
The drive back from Raleigh is about six-plus hours. We decided to break things up by staying a night at a luxurious Embassy Suites in Concord, near Charlotte. This Embassy Suites features spacious rooms, a full-service spa, premier golf course, state-of-the-art fitness center and pool.
The Embassy “recharged our batteries” with a great night’s sleep and full morning breakfast. It all made the drive home so much easier.
Whether it’s barbeque joints, unlimited shopping, first-class dining and lodging, North Carolina‘s Triangle area offers so much in the fall.
(Robert J. Nebel is a journalist whose works have appeared in several publications He is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers.
His websites are at: