Chew on This: Former Newsday restaurant critic embraces Triangle food scene

aweigl@newsobserver.comJanuary 21, 2014 

Sylvia Carter.


  • Here are some of Sylvia’s favorite restaurants in the Triangle

    • Vietnamese: Pho Far East, 4011 Capital Blvd. #133, Raleigh, 919-876-8621

    • Turkish: Bosphorus, 329 N. Harrison Ave. #A, Cary, 919-460-1300,

    • Dim sum: Dim Sum House, 100 Jerusalem Dr #104, Morrisville, 919-380-3087

    • Cuban: Old Havana Sandwich Shop, 310 E Main St, Durham, 919-667-9525,

    • South Indian: Udupi Cafe, 590 E Chatham St #112, Cary, 919-465-0898,

    If you want to take one of Sylvia Carter’s classes, check out Duke University’s OLLI website for those and others:

Sylvia Carter likes to say that she moved to Raleigh three years ago “for love and butter beans.”

I’ll come back to the love story that prompted her relocation. But what I admire about Carter, 67, is that she used the skills she learned from her former life in New York City to make her new life in North Carolina.

Carter had spent almost 40 years writing and editing for newspapers. For many years, she wrote New York Newsday’s Eats column. She didn’t review the fancy-pants places, that era’s equivalents of Le Bernardin and Eleven Madison Park. Instead, she scoured the boroughs for the best chili, dim sum, soup, shish kebabs, tacos and French fries. She critiqued the restaurants where the rest of us eat. Carter’s Eats reviews are said to have prompted The New York Times to start reviewing budget-friendly eateries.

If you hadn’t noticed, she wrote today’s main food article about lard’s resurgence as a cooking ingredient among chefs and home cooks.

After settling into the Triangle, Carter started teaching classes for Duke University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers continuing education classes for the retirement set. Last fall, she taught an “ethnic eating class,” giving students a tour of various cuisines from Cuban to India’s Hyderabadi via restaurants from Morrisville to Durham. (She will teach that class again this fall.) She’s currently teaching a coffee class, taking a dozen students to small and larger roasters all over the Triangle. This spring, she will teach a class on Southern food writers, which will take students to restaurants that match the writer’s voice and subject matter.

One of her students is Bob Jacobson of Durham who retired here from Queens, New York, where he discovered Carter’s restaurant columns and found them to be “entertaining and reliable.”

“When I saw that someone whose food advice I trusted for so long was teaching classes on the food scene in the Triangle, I was eager to take her classes,” Jacobson wrote in an email last week. “Now that I have come to know her on a more personal level, I see that she is warm and has a very positive attitude about enjoying life and conveys that positive attitude to the members of the class. Finally, I understand and trust what she says.”

The classes have also benefited Carter. “It’s been a wonderful way to learn where to eat here,” she says. “It’s expanded my circle of friends.”

And that brings us back to who brought Carter here in the first place.

Carter met Tom Hawkins when they were both students at the University of Missouri. They were friends, but not romantic. They took different paths in life. Carter went to New York to chase her journalism dream. Hawkins came to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to study creative writing. He is a poet and short story author.

Carter was involved with the same man for 20 years but never married. Hawkins married his wife, Anna, who died from ovarian cancer in 2000. Their friendship had survived all those years but Carter says they had not been the best of pen pals in the last decade or so.

Finally, in 2006, Carter picked up the phone and called Hawkins to check in on her longtime friend. They talked for an hour and then talked or emailed each other every day after that. They married on Thanksgiving weekend in 2010.

And now Carter says she can’t believe how blessed she is to have found Tom again and to be lucky enough to live in a place where she can buy fresh butter beans.

Weigl: 919-829-4848 or; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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