Durham dining is booming

N&O Restaurant Critic and Food WriterAugust 15, 2007 

The latest focus of the downtown Durham renaissance is the Five Points area, where new restaurants are popping up faster than iPhones on Duke's campus. There, a block-and-a-half stretch of Main Street -- which just a few months ago was reeling from the loss of Joe and Jo's Downtown Diner and Latin Grill -- will offer at least five new dining options by the end of the year.

Guajillo's Mexican Grill didn't waste much time in moving into the space vacated by Latin Grill. Guajillo's is owned by the same folks who own El Rodeo in Brightleaf Square, and it offers an abbreviated version of that popular restaurant's menu, with a focus on the lunchtime crowd. The offering includes tortas, huaraches (thick soft corn tortillas named for their sandal-like shape), burritos and quesadillas with a variety of filling options ranging from steak to chicken tinga to picadillo. Guajillo's is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Bull McCabe's Irish Pub (427 W. Main St.; 682-3061) followed Guajillo's lead, setting up shop in the old Joe & Jo's spot. The eatery, whose salvaged church pews, high-backed booths and a 100-year-old bar scavenged from upstate New York give the place an instant well-worn neighborhood pub look, serves a mix of American and traditional Irish pub fare. The offering is supplemented by a rotating list of nightly specials such as blackened cod, crab cakes, chipotle chicken and Cajun-style grilled rib-eye. Diners can wash it all down by selecting from 16 draft beers. The pub serves lunch Monday-Saturday and dinner nightly.

Inspired by the success of these two ventures, Blue Mountain Catering has dipped its toe into the restaurant waters. The shop, which had been a catering-only concern, now serves lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Offerings include gourmet sandwiches (chopped barbecue, jerk chicken and veggie burger, to name a few) and entrees such as shrimp curry, roast chicken with bourbon-molasses glaze, and fried catfish, each served with your choice of two sides.

A few doors down, Steven Matherly plans to open Five Points Cafe the day after Labor Day. Matherly, who grew up in Durham and once owned the now-defunct Rhythm Alley, is developing a menu of light fare - soups, salads, sandwiches and pastries -- and plans to serve beer and wine. Initially, the restaurant will be open from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, with expanded hours a possibility down the line.

Five Points should really be cooking on all burners by November, when Toast is expected to fire up the panini grills in the old People's Clothier spot. The restaurant is the first for Durham native Billy Cotter, whose star-studded resume includes work in the kitchens of Magnolia Grill and Lantern, and his wife Kelli, an experienced server at Magnolia Grill. I'll have more details as the restaurant's opening nears.

Greg's Hot List: Prime Pints

Hmm, what to eat to beat the summertime heat? I don't know about you, but when the temperature hovers near the century mark, I say who cares? What I'm really hankering for is a good beer. With a pint of prime lager or ale in front of me, then -- and only then -- can I turn my attention to food. Here are a few of my favorite places to cool off from the inside.

Carolina Brewery, 460 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill; 120-100 Lowe's Drive, Pittsboro 942-1800 (Chapel Hill); 545-2330 (Pittsboro).

Flying Saucer, 328 W. Morgan St., Raleigh.

Horniblow's Tavern, 1249-A Wicker Drive, Raleigh.

Milltown, 307 E. Main St., Carrboro.

Porter's City Tavern, 2412 Hillsborough St., Raleigh.

Tir na nOg, 218 S. Blount St., Raleigh.

Top of the Hill, 100 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill.

Tyler's Taproom, 102 E. Main St., Carrboro; 324-400 Blackwell St., Durham, 929-6881 (Carrboro); 433-0345 (Durham).

Contact Greg at ggcox@bellsouth.net.

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